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Basantapur's Trailokya Mohan Temple

Kathmandu Darbar Square- A Day After the #NepalEarthquake

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. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

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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. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

In Chandanpur village, a grandma looks for lice in her granddaughter’s hair.

चन्दनपुर गाउँ [Chandanpur Village]

In Chandanpur village, a grandma looks for lice in her granddaughter’s hair.

In Chandanpur village, a grandma looks for lice in her granddaughter’s hair.

मैले अाफू घुम्न अाएको भन्दा सुन्नेले पत्याउन सजिलो थिएन । त्यो अनकन्टार गाउँमा काम नपरी वा कतैबाट सरूवामा नपरी किन पुग्ने । कुरा ठिकै हो । धेरै ठाउँमा त्यसरी नपत्याइएको स्थिति मैले सामना गरेको छु । तै पनि म “हो, घुम्नै अाएको हुँ” भन्न छाड्दिन । एकछिनपछि मान्छेहरू पत्याएजस्तो गर्न थाल्छन् । अनि मलाई वेवास्ता गर्दै उनीहरू अाफ्नै तालमा गफिन थाल्छन् ।

होअोअो… त्यो क्षण । उनीहरूको बीचमै रहेर पनि उनीहरूले मलाई ध्यान नदिएको त्यो क्षण म उनीहरूका अनुहार हेर्दै ध्यानपुर्वक उनीहरूका गफ सुन्न र मनमनै कुराकानीको लवज अठ्याउन रूचाउछु ।

तर अाजको यो साँझ साहुनी अामै (माथि तस्वीरमा नातीनीका जुम्रा हेर्दै) ले मलाई वेवास्ता गर्न छाडेकी रहिन छिन् । म त्यो हुटेलका बेन्चीमा जम्मा भएर बात मारिरहेका पुरूषहरूको गफ सुनिरहेको बेला उनले मेरो अनुहारमा हेर्दै अनि मलाई छक्क पार्दै भनिनन्- “मैले चिने तपैलाईं ! तपै पत्रकार बनेर अाउनुभएको थियो हैन ?” त्यसो भन्दा उनी अाखिभौं उचाल्दै मुस्काईरहेकी थिइन् । सौर्य बत्तीको मधुरो प्रकाशमा उनले मलाई घोरिएर हेरीरहेकी थिइन् ।

म लगभग पक्राउ परेको अवस्थामा पुगेको थिएँ । त्यो किन भने मैले उनीसँगको अलि अघिको कुराकानीमा अाफ्नो परिचय दिएको थिइन ।
पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

lalitpur bhatte danda around 1

Bhatte Danda

The idea was to revisit the areas of Lalitpur where I had gone in 2011 in a fun trip (which, in those days, would almost always come out as “work” trip too. My favorite quote from this story: “खोलामा खुट्टा टेकेर निस्किँदा त्यो कसको हो थाहा हुँदैन ।”). Recently I went up to Bhatta Danda and may be four kilometers below the Danda. It was all fun up to the Danda– wide  and graveled road with little traffic. The dirt track– officially called the Kanti Rajpath or highway– began at the Danda. Just below the Danda, I came under a downpour and the road became slippery. Those enormous hills that looked inviting only a while ago suddenly felt scary— I could count more mudslides in the stretch of a kilometer than fish in Ranipokhari pond. I didn’t want to stuck between two landslides. So I did the sensible thing. I returned. But I will go back to see how Asrang and Pyutar villages where I had gone in 2011 are doing in 2014. I am waiting for October to come.

2011 links:

A trip to rural Lalitpur (outside Kathmandu Valley)

यस्तै छ साथी हाम्रो हाल

Tea Lady of Basantapur, Kathmandu

15 December 2015: Marking the ‪#‎InternationalTeaDay‬ by highlighting the entries on cuppa on the home page: https://t.co/gtYtR7OKUA

[A day after the earthquake… this spot was under rubble.]

Past entries on tea:

Cuppa

A Cup of Tea and Nizamuddin

Our Cups of Tea (by Deepak)

And one on coffee:

A Lot Can Happen Over Coffee

 

Views from the top

A part of the Kathmandu Valley

A part of the Kathmandu Valley

A tiny village and the largest city of Nepal

A tiny village and the largest city of Nepal

पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्

Old Men of Bhaktapur

Old men of bhaktapur 01

I saw a group of elderly men relaxing at a sattal in Bhaktapur in a recent afternoon. They were soft-spoken folks who chatted with each other in Newari/Nepal Bhasha. Some smiled occasionally while others maintained an unchanged facial expression for long. Some frequently moved their bodies and adjusted their sitting positions while others didn’t even move their hands for long– especially the man on the left in the front row. They briefly, but separately, looked at me as I was taking this photo (second and third are cropped versions of the first) but, it appeared to me, all of them lost interest in what I was doing as soon as they looked at me. Which was good and what I wanted. I spent at and around the sattal for about two hours observing these men and trying to understand the overall atmosphere around the sattal.

I concluded that these sattals are a great place for people to hangout. They are very essential to most of these people who live in houses that are so closely attached to each other that there’s no space between them and in the neighborhood that doesn’t have public spaces like parks. Kathmandu is a park-less city, a jungle of concrete fortunately surrounded by green hills mostly full of trees.

This one is a very old Newari settlement of Kathmandu valley. These old settlements have sattals like this that serve as major hangout spots for locals. But many new colonies and residential areas that have sprouted in the Vally in the past couple of decades don’t even have these kind of places where people of the neighborhood can come and mingle with each other. A reason why Kathmandu is a very difficult city to live in.

Here’s the first half of the frame:

Old men of bhaktapur 07

And the remaining half:

Old men of bhaktapur 06

Tucked between her mama and papa. Kathmandu. Originally spotted by George Georgiou.

Tucked between her mama and papa. Kathmandu. Originally spotted by George Georgiou.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu

At a hilltop near Kathmandu city. The old ghiring cables, now defunct, go underneath the bijuli transmission lines. These towers separate Kathmandu from Makwanpur district.

At a hilltop near Kathmandu city. The old ghiring cables, now defunct, go underneath the bijuli transmission lines. These towers separate Kathmandu from Makwanpur district.

Looks like the ghiring (the ropeway) was pretty useful when we didn’t have a wider network of roads. I think they should be revived. This from RopewayNepal:

In its glory days, the 42km Hetauda-Kathmandu cargo ropeway/ghiring used to run 10 hours and transport 22 tons of goods every day. The construction of Highways and cheaper fuels for the vehicles in those days [and mismanagement of government people] caused the ropeway to lose its charm and it stopped its operation in 1994. It did serve the valley for the last time by transporting vegetables and other food products when the flood washed away both part of the Tribhuwan and Prithivi Highway in 1993 AD. पढ्नेक्रम जारी राख्नुहोस्