Kathmandu Darbar Square- A Day After the #NepalEarthquake

Basantapur's Trailokya Mohan Temple
A day after the #NepalEarthquake, Basantapur was crowded by people who wanted to escape the aftershocks.
A day after the #NepalEarthquake, Basantapur was crowded by people who wanted to escape the aftershocks.

A day after the #NepalEarthQuake, I went to Kathmandu’s Darbar Square. The scale of devastation was massive. Many of its attractive buildings, former palaces and temples, had either completely collapsed or were heavily damaged. The landmark Kastamandap building had been reduced to rubble. Two other beautiful temples nearby were not where they once stood. The “nau talle” darbar [the Basantapur tower, above] was still standing but it had lost its gajur. Several heritage buildings had their walls cracked. For a regular visitor of the Darbar Square, it was difficult to comprehend the sudden change brought about by the quake. A crowd had gathered at the Basantapur chowk. Most of them were lying on the ground, some facing the sky; others chatting with each other. They looked tired. Somewhat scared too. But they were generally calm. There was uncertainty on their faces. These people were very different from the ones that Basantapur used to see in normal times. Like many open spaces in Kathmandu, Basantapur too was crowded with people who wanted to escape the aftershocks.

Souvenir shops crowd Basantapur in normal times.
In a normal day, souvenir and curio shops occupy the open space at Basantapur side of the Kathmandu Darbar Square.
Basantapur's Trailokya Mohan Temple
Basantapur’s Trailokya Mohan Temple

Cultural hub

A top tourist destination in town, Kathmandu Darbar Square in normal times is a bustling place. People from all over Nepal and and the rest of the world can be spotted here on a typical day. Here, vendors annoyingly follow tourists to sale souvenirs and curios. Dope dealers loiter around looking for customers. Tea sellers serve thousands of cups of tea. Singers come to perform. Artists stage street dramas. Politicians and activists gather to lecture and shout. Temples and palaces fight with each-other for a visitor’s attention. Rickshaw pullers jostle with taxi drivers to get passengers.

Once a place for kings and queens, Kathmandu Durbar Square today houses Gods and criminals, in close proximity and with no discrimination. Perhaps a slight one. Convicted and suspected ones live in police custody in the notorious Hanumandhoka lockup, of course, while the Gods and Goddesses, both living and those immortalized in statues, live free. Not only inside the temples and houses but also out in the open. This is the place where rituals and ancient traditions of many kinds are performed with great enthusiasm and participation of both public and the state. This is a place of utter paradox. An oasis of calm in most days, this place also witnesses some of the most violent cultural activities. That includes slaughtering of thousands of goats and buffaloes on certain days of the year. All in all, this is the cultural heart of Kathmandu. To be precise, this is the most prominent and visible cultural centre of one among many Kathmandus that exist in Kathmandu. But today, a day after the 25th April earthquake, this world heritage site is deeply shaken. Continue reading

What Did Dharahara Mean to You? (#NepalEarthquake)

Perhaps the most famous landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is no more.

Collapse of the Dharahara tower symbolized all quake-related devastations. But did the Bhimsen Stambha embody our pride and morale?

Soldiers and volunteers launched rescue efforts at the fallen Dharahara tower
Soldiers and volunteers launched rescue efforts at the fallen Dharahara tower

The #NepalEarthquake claimed thousands of lives. A million houses have been destroyed, most of them in rural villages. If there was a symbol of this destruction, it was the fall of the Dharahara tower. The tower’s collapse resulted in the death of more than one hundred fifty people. A few survived. This included some who were at the eighth floor circular balcony, enjoying the view of the city, when the quake hit.

Perhaps the most famous landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is no more.
Perhaps the most famous landmark of Kathmandu, the Dharahara tower is no more. A pro-democracy rally in 2005.

Judging by the way people have reacted to the destruction of the eleven-story minaret with Shiva’s statue at the top, I feel that its collapse symbolized all quake-related devastations. It was as if Dharahara was somehow indestructible (though quakes had damaged it in the past too). “Even the Dharahara fell, can you imagine?,” was a typical reaction.

A man from Sikkim who had come to quake-hit Sindhupalchok with relief materials told journalist Kiran Bhandari, “We heard in the news that even the Dharahara had collapsed. We could only imagine what might have happened to Kathmandu. We were shocked.”

In most post-quake writings and social media comments, the Dharahara has been implicitly or explicitly portrayed as the pride and morale of the Nepali people. Images of the destroyed tower along with the words “we will rise” have been circulated widely. This show of affection to Dharahara greatly surprised me because the monument had largely been ignored.

After much reflection, I have reached the conclusion that the Dharahara did not represent the pride and morale of the Nepali people. Certainly not mine. My pride and morale didn’t fall along with the tower to the extent of saying ‘we will rise’ on the social media along with the image of the undamaged Dharahara.

It was made for and by the rulers. The commoners had no say in the way it was built and in the way it was used. The tower was not built for the general public to use it though it was opened to the commoners for climbing in 2005.

Having said that, the monument was the postcard representative of the city of Kathmandu. Indeed, in the hills where I was born and raised, Dharahara symbolized the city of Kathmandu.

“So what will you see in Kathmandu?” That was the question grown-ups asked kids who were about to leave for the capital.
“Dharahara!”, excited kids would scream back.
“So what did you see in Kathmandu?” Adults would ask kids who had just returned from the Valley.
“Dharahara!”, the kids would reply. Continue reading

The #NepalEarthquake Day

Severe cracks on Kaushaltar-Lokanthali section of the Japanese-built highway. The quake not only inflicted damage on the sturdy road but sunk the residential area the size of about 10-15 football fields by about 1.5 feet. A few concrete houses in the area have suffered serious damage.
Severe cracks on Kaushaltar-Lokanthali section of the Japanese-built highway. The quake not only inflicted damage on the sturdy road but sunk the residential area the size of about 10-15 football fields by about 1.5 feet. A few concrete houses in the area have suffered serious damage.

Like everyone else, I knew it was coming. But I didn’t know when. I had no idea about its magnitude. It’s devastating impact. That’s because, like a generation before me, I had not experienced a strong earthquake. Like most Nepalis, I wasn’t prepared for it. Also, no one can predict an earthquake. So why think about it when you never know when it will strike.

My go-bag (given to me) was gathering dust somewhere in a corner of my house. I wasn’t sure that I would find time to grab the bag before running out in the event of a quake. Would I be even at home? As it turned out, I was several kilometers away from my house when the earth shook violently on 25th April (12 Baishak 2072). Instead of a go-bag, I had in my hands a bundle of investigative newspaper articles that were to be judged for a competition. I was in a teashop that was fortunately only a meter away from an empty road.

Within hours, most of open spaces in Kathmandu had been occupied. Even the VIP area at the Tundikhel military parade ground which is normally restricted for the public was opened. I had never stepped into that part of the parade ground before.
Within hours, most of the open spaces in Kathmandu had been occupied. Even the VIP area at the Tundikhel military parade ground which is normally restricted for the public was opened. I had never stepped into that part of the parade ground before.
The restricted area of Tundikhel's Military Area provided safe heaven to people terrified by the earthquake.
The restricted area of Tundikhel’s Military Area provided safe heaven to people terrified by the earthquake.

What I remember of those 40 seconds is a strange noise. The sound of structures colliding or something to that effect. I was struggling to stand upright in the middle of a blacktopped road. It was as if I had suddenly found myself in a small boat in rough seas. A woman nearby started to cry. Her husband held her. She continued to scream. A group of people gathered on the road. A few of us tried to console her. By the time the earth had stopped shaking, the people around me had been thoroughly shaken.

One of the first things that came to my mind during the first few seconds into the quake was to be aware of the buildings around me. The building that housed the teashop looked particularly threatening. At one point I thought it would collapse. But it didn’t, like many concrete buildings in Kathmandu. A pleasant surprise. There are many explanations floating around for this. The epicenter was too far. The earthquake wasn’t shallow enough. Houses were built strongly. My own observation is that we were just too lucky this time around.

Immediately after the quake I rode across the city. Except for some old houses with load bearing walls and heritage buildings I saw that most residential concrete houses had survived. The perimeter walls of several landmark buildings had crumbled over hundreds of motorcycles that had been parked by the walls. The collapse of the compound walls of the Nepal Police headquarters, the Prime Minister’s official residence and the Narayanhitti Palace Museum looked particularly astounding. But, by and large, Kathmandu had remained intact at the first glance. Later in the day, reports of substantial damage to recently built high-rise apartment buildings started to come in. As people regained composure, they also noticed cracks, small and big, in their still standing concrete houses. Continue reading

माघ १९ (१ फेब्रुअरी २००५)

[Remembering the day 10 years ago when king Gyanendra staged a bloodless coup. Newspapers reacted very strangely. Follow the link at the end.]

तत्कालीन राजा ज्ञानेन्द्रले कू गरेको १० वर्ष पुगेको अवसरमा आज माघ १९ मा कतिले त्यो दिन अनि त्यो बेलाको सम्झना गरेको देखें । कान्तिपुरका समाचार सम्पादक हरिबहादुर थापा अनि सोहि पत्रिकामा माघ १९ ताकाका समाचार सम्पादक गुणराज लुइटेलका दुइ संस्मरणात्मक लेखहरू क्रमसः कान्तिपुरसेतोपाटीमा पढें । उल्लेखित दुवैजना माघ १९ को दिन र त्यसताकाका मेरा अग्रज सहकर्मी हुन्, कान्तिपुर दैनिकमा । अनि मलाई पनि त्यसैगरी माघ १९ सम्झिन मनलाग्यो । र, तत्कालै केही ट्वीटहरू लेखें । तव पो झल्यास्य सम्झिएँ, २०६१ माघ १९ (१ फेब्रुअरी २००५) को दिन अनि त्यसपछिका घटनाहरूलाई लिएर मैले उतिबेलै अर्थात् १२ फेब्रुअरी २००५ मै लेख्न भ्याईसकेको रहेछु, “न्यू काइन्ड अफ् जर्नालिज्म इन नेपाल” (भाग १) शिर्षकमा। त्यो लेखमा मैले कसरी माघ २० को कान्तिपुरको सम्पादकीय लेख्ने जिम्मा आइलागेको लगायतका कुरा उल्लेख गरेको थिएँ । कूको भोलिपल्ट चारुमती नृत्यमाथि सामान्य दिनको भन्दा दोब्बर लामो सम्पादकीय सार्है अनपेक्षित थियो। उसो त त्यो दिन सामान्य कहाँ थियो !

आजका ट्वीटहरू:

=+=Happy to have written that Chaarumati editorial for 20 Magh edition of Kantipur. Was based on my report on same issue published on Magh 19 [Feb 1, 2005]

=+=To be honest, I hadn’t expected to write an editorial that day– let alone on Charumati, that too double the length of the usual piece

=+=Soon after I reached office on Magh 19 knowing King had taken over, the then editor @narayanwagle asked me to write editorial on Charumati.

=+=It wasn’t difficult at all to write the Chaarumati editorial on Magh 19 BUT maintaining the extended length to fill the space was challenging

=+=About those ‘strange’ editorials (this entry was written a week after Magh 19 royal takeover) http://t.co/1vLz8GJJDl

मिलाउॅ हाम्रा हातहरू

Dinesh Wagle:

In this season of handshake (modi-sharif@saarc2014)…..my Dec 2007 piece on the act!

Originally posted on ब्लगमान्डू:

दिनेश वाग्ले
वाग्ले स्ट्रिट जर्नन
यो लेख आज शनिवारको कान्तिपुर दैनिकमा प्रकाशित छ । पत्रिकाकै पेजमा हेर्ने भए यहाँ क्लिक गरेहुन्छ ।

काठमाडौं- लिफ्टबाट निस्केर म तीव्रगतिमा अगाडि हुत्तिइरहेको थिएॅ, एकजना सहकर्मीले मुसुक्क मुस्काउॅदै दाहिने हात अगाडि फैलाए । देब्रे हात गोजीमा थियो, दाहिनेमा मोबाइल तर उनीसँग हात नमिलाई, हेन्डसेक या गुड नगरी अघि बढ्नु उनलाई इन्कार गर्नचाहेको जस्तो हुने पक्का थियो । त्यसैले म झ्याप्प रोकिएॅ, भुईंको मार्बलमा खुट्टा झन्डै चिप्लिनेगरी, देब्रे हात निकालें, त्यसमा फोन थमाएॅ र समय धेरै नभएकाले एउटा कृत्रिम हाॅसो तत्कालै निकालेर उनको हात समाएॅ ।

Koirala and Prachanda

‘हेल्लो’ मैले भनें । ‘हेल्लो’ उनले पनि भने । चाहेको होइन, तर उनका हात महसुस नगरी रहनै सकिन । तातो । अलि कस्तो-कस्तो । हल्का खस्रोजस्तो । मेरोभन्दा केही ठूलो र मोटो । उनलाई मेरो हात चिसो लाग्यो होला, किनकि म भर्खरै किबोर्डमा टाइप गरेर झरेको थिएॅ । सायद हामीले त्यो कर्मका लागि तीन सेकेन्डजति बितायौं होला, तर हुनेजति…

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