Asia

Nepal's national mountain bike team turn rescuers

A girl is saved by a Nepali cyclist Image copyright Santosh Rai
Image caption Having been on a training ride on the day of the earthquake the mountain biking team set about rescuing people in Chobar

On the day a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal in April, the nation's top mountain bikers were out preparing for the national championships.

They soon found themselves thrown into the emergency rescue effort, pulling victims alive out of the rubble.

In the aftermath of the disaster, which killed more than 7,500 people and injured more than 14,500, the cyclists found their riding skills invaluable.

They are still working to access remote mountain communities vehicles cannot.

Nepali national mountain bike champion, Ajay Pandit Chhetri, told BBC Radio 5 Live Daily he and his team mates were training on a single track in Chobar, about 10km north of the capital Kathmandu and close to the epicentre when the quake struck on 25 April.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The day job: Ajay Pandit Chhetri in the men's cross-country final of the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea

"We were scared. We were nervous and thought about our families and friends around Nepal. The communication was disconnected," he said.

The riders soon heard screams and dug out a woman and child who were buried alive.

They had been preparing for a national championship race scheduled for 2 May, but it was cancelled as the full extent of the humanitarian disaster in the country unfolded.

Image copyright Santosh Rai
Image caption Riders helped a rescue team the afternoon after the earthquake in Kathmandu
Image copyright Santosh Rai
Image caption A third of the population has been affected by the country's worst natural disaster
Image copyright Santosh Rai
Image caption Ajay Pandit Chhetri gives out aid in the team's main project area in remote Shikhar Besi
Image copyright Santosh Rai
Image caption Ajay Pandit Chhetri leads riders on their favourite single track on the way to help at a school in Bhimdhunga

They spent the first few days after the quake helping in Kathmandu.

Mr Chhetri, a former cycle mechanic who had been due to defend his title, said: "The bike is always valuable in Kathmandu but at that time it was even more valuable to get around, access remote areas and find out what help was needed."

A picture of one of the team's rescues is on the Nepal Cycling Association's Facebook page. A user remarks: "This is why I love cyclists."

Eight million people - a third of the population - have been affected by the country's worst natural disaster and the UN has estimated three million are in need of food aid.

Nepal earthquake relief

$415 million

needed for humanitarian relief

  • 3 million people in need of food aid

  • 130,000 houses destroyed

  • 24,000 people living in makeshift camps

  • 20 teams working to reunite lost children with their families

AFP

Mr Chhetri and other members of the national mountain biking team including Narayan Gopal, Roan Tamang, Rajkumar Shrestha and Rajan Bhandari, soon realised they were in a unique position.

They could ride to remote mountain communities that vehicles could not reach and use their knowledge of mountain trails to deliver aid and gather information about the scale of the damage.

They set up Nepal Cyclists Road to Rescue (NCRR), comprised of members of the national mountain biking team and Himalayan Single Track, a Nepalese biking tour operator.

Mr Chhettri said: "We were the first there in Shikhar Besi - 100 km north of Kathmandu - we were there five days after the earthquake, then two weeks later the government and international agencies came with the food."

NCRR says that in Shikhar Besi about 95% of buildings have been destroyed. Eighty per cent of the area is inaccessible by car.

It has set itself the target of building seven temporary schools in seven weeks there.

Asked about the conditions, Mr Chhetri said: "People are living in small tents. They are very busy in the fields planting rice and aiming to clear their houses. All the food was lost.

" In the villages most of the houses are piles of stone. They are slowly trying to get back to normal life."

Asked if the aid effort was good training for their professional careers, he said: "I can't say it's good training at the moment but it's good exercise. We're learning new things which is nice."

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