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By: Prakash Adhikari
February 16, 2014, around 9:30 AM, I got a call from French Embassy Kathmandu. They told me that a French girl is missing on Thorong-la. Thorong-la is 5,416 meter high pass on the “round Annapurna” trekking route. Having workeng at the HRA for over 20 years, my mental physiology has been so tremendously changed that when someone calls and asks my assistance, I forget everything else and concentrate on helping the victim to the best of my capacity.
When I received this call from the French Embassy, I was eating my Daal Bhaat. I quickly finished eating and went to the Himalaya Rescue Assoication (HRA) office. On the way I made a couple of calls. I am used to talking on my cell phone while riding my motorcycle. As soon as I reached the office, I called up even more people. I called the Chairman of HRA to report the missing French lady. He told me to call a Secretariat Meeting of the HRA. Then the other person I contacted was Mr. Binod Gurung, the owner of Hotel Yeti in Manang and requested him to help. I told him that this is an opportunity for us to help someone and also project a good image of our country. Then a staff from the French Embassy called me and gave me the telephone number of a person who had called up the French Embassy in relation to this matter. I called him up and he told me that on 15th February at 5 AM two Belgium couples, two French couples, two American couples, a French girl, and a Nepali guide and a porter a total of 9 people had started to trek up to Thorong-la pass. It was inclement weather with heavy snowfall. There was more than a meter of fresh snow on the trail. It was very windy and cloudy. Everyone from the team were walking at their own pace. Everyone except the French girl was able to cross over the pass. Everyone assumed that she would come later but she did not. So this particular person decided to inform the French Embassy in Kathmandu.
After I talked to this person, it was easier for me to understand the exact situation and make a strategy in my mind about how to go ahead. Then I called Mr. Binod Gurung agin asked him the telephone number of High Camp lodge which is on the way to Thorng La. I dialed the number, but the owner’s sister who lives in Kathmandu received the phone. The sister gave me the another number. I dialed the number and it was switched off. By this time Binod Gurung himself circulated this news about the missing French woman in most of the lodges along the trail of Thorong-la pass. I again called the contact thae French embassy had given me. He gave me the cell number of Tashi Tshering, a lodge owner in Muktinath. Tashi is a very helpful man. He answered all my questions. He helped me to circulate this news about the lost French woman in all the lodges in Muktinath and above where she could have been. Tashi also gave me the telephone number of the hotel at High Camp.
I tried to put it all together and figured that the missing girl would probably return down to the lodge at High Camp. With this hope I called the High Camp hotel several time but she did not return back to High Camp hotel until late night. Mr. Dhokpa Gurung, the manager of High Camp hotel was also very helpful.
I called Nepal Tourism Board to try to find the the copy of TIMS permit. They could not find it. I again called TAAN and asked to try to find the TIMS permit but was unsuccessful.
I even called the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MOCTCA). It was good that the Ministry of Tourism could talk to the Chief District Officer (CDO) of Manang . MoCTCA also talked to Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). Next morning MOCTCA called me and said if necessary the CDO of Manang could send some police to try to find something about the missing girl.
Until the late afternoon we were not able to find the actual name of the missing lady. The French Embassy also could do nothing until the missing person is identified.
TIMS permit could not be of any help to find the detail of missing French girl. Then I decided to contact ACAP. I told my staff to call ACAP and find the telephone number of ACAP check point at Dharapani, which is the entry point of Thorong-la pass trail. Finally they found the name Amelie ------------, 25 year old and her passport number. She was registered on 10th February, 2014 at ACAP check point at Dharapani . Then I informed this detail to the French Embassy. It was French name and French Passport. The French embassy asked me what can be done in this situation. I advised them to try to find and contact of her family and her insurance details.
The chairman of HRA was present at the HRA to support to expedite the search of the missing girl. Mr. Tulsi Gurung, member of the search and rescue committee of HRA who is also a mountaineer was also present at the HRA to provide advice on the technical aspect of the field situation.
I ordered my staff to prepare the first aid kit, oxygen, and stretcher. I also said Tulsi Gurung to contact the search and rescue persons who may need to take a chopper to fly up in Thorong La to conduct search and rescue mission. So that the search and rescue member could prepare their gears and equipment.
I was also trying to get the help from local people. If some locals could go up and conduct the search that would be great. Mid February is still very cold and off season for trekking so there are not many locals and lodge owner in the mountains.
In this situation I tried to spread the news of the missing girl in all the hotels and lodges along the way to Manang Yak kharka, Letdr, Throng Phedi, Thorong high Camp, Muktinath and Jomsom.
Binod and I had the same notion that we should do our best to find this person and be able to tell the world about how helpful are the people of Annaprurna region . Tashi Tshering also did his very best to help me in finding the missing.
On the evening of 16th February I received a call from High camp hotel and found that she went down to Muktinath with some tourist and a Nepali guide. It was very good news but not complete.
I was very careful when I talked to local people and lodge owners. I was always very polite and tried to be very kind and nice to them so that they liked to talk to me and answer my questions.
Next day on the morning of 17th of February I got a call from the mobile phone of Tashi Tshiring who was in contact with the missing girl. I talked to her. She was crying. She was unable to speak clearly. I could understand that she was very tired and exhausted. She could not speak much with me. Anyway this was the most joyful time for me as she had reached Muktinath safely. Very quickly I informed the French Embassy so that the French Embassy could talk to her in French.
She was actually found by a trekking guide and 3 Australian trekkers in a closed teahouse on the Thorong la Pass, and she was taken down together with them. The Nepali guide carried her 20kg luggage and helped her to walk down. As she was so tired and had some frostbite she could not walk properly so that they could not reach Muktinath on the evening of 16th February.
On the eighteenth of February the person from ACAP Check point, Mr. Pun who I had previously established contact with, gave me the telephone no of Tek Bahadur Gurung who was the guide who found her .
I called Tek Bahadur Gurung and asked how he found the girl. Tek Bahadur Gurung and three Australian Trekkers were trekking to Thorungla. They stayed at the high camp hotel on the evening of 15th February. They had heard about the news of missing French girl.
Thorong Phedi is 4400m and High camp is 4600m. Most of the trekkers spend a night either at Phedi or at High camp. They start very early in the morning to go over the Thorong Pass at 5550m. While Tek Bahadur Gurung was walking up on the slope of Thorong la he looked everywhere for the girl. He did not see any sign anywhere until the top of Thorung la.
There is a small tea shop on the top of the pass which is closed during off season. Tek Bahadur knocked on the door of the teahouse. A faint voice came from inside the tea house. Tek Bahadur pushed the door and found the girl in a miserable condition. She was shivering with a fear and cold, and appeared exhausted. When I called Tek Bahadur He was in Jomsom Airport waiting the aero plane along with the French girl.
Tek Bahadur is a 52 years old and lives in Pokhara Pumdi Bhumdi village just on the otherside of the Phewa Lake. He has done the Thorong pass trek over 155 times! But amazingly he does not have trekking guide licensee.
Tek Bahadur is a great person truly helpful to many people who trek over the pass. Tek Bahadur desperately needs trekking guide licence. He should also be rewarded for the tremendous help he rendered this French girl.