“Buddha was Born in Nepal” was emblazoned on the front window of a bus. One of the first things I saw when I woke in Kathmandu, Nepal. And thus begins this tale of suffering, death and rebirth.
Twenty some years ago, some friends and I landed in Nepal. Jet-lagged, we woke at dawn and took a walk to SwayambhunathTemple perched on a hill overlooking the city. We climbed the 360 steps to the top in a morning mist. There was group there with drums and other instruments singing. We wandered around the various ancient temples, spun the prayer wheels and watched the city wake up below. It was a magical experience.
Back in present day, after the quake, damage is significant, but sporadic and inconsistent. There are neighborhoods where damage is extensive and others that seem unscathed. Cracks still materialize with each aftershock and aftershocks also bring the odd falling brick. I missed the big shocks, so I’m much less sensitive. Those who lived through it are acutely tuned into any movement of the earth whether caused by seismic activity or a semi truck.
|Dominoes. Building on left is still vertical.
In the capital, looking at some buildings, it is surprising that more didn’t fall as they look rickety
to begin with. In older areas of town and a number of heritage sites are woefully damaged. It will take years of work to get them back. Thankfully, these places are under guard now, so hopefully no treasures will be lost.
Many are sleeping with extended families in a single ground floor room. Some can’t bring themselves to sleep inside even though their homes have been rated as safe for habitation.
Life is worse in rural areas. It is amazing to me, with the world shrunken so with digital communication, that places can be so cut off so easily. Villages a mere 40 kilometers from the capital city are now a 6 hour bus ride plus a 3 hour hike to reach. I don’t know if this has reached BBC or CNN, but one village has been entirely wiped out by a landslide triggered by an earthquake and later rains. It seems a glacier was loosened by the shaking and lubricated by the rain and just rushed into the valley below burying a popular tourist area under 100 meters of rock and mud. An associated air blast from the slip was so powerful that it denuded and flattened trees for acres in front of the slip.
Getting supplies in has required monumental efforts of aircrews and transporters. All made difficult by a lack of open roads and lack of helicopters. Desperate people early on had been raiding trucks on occasion making distribution even harder.
Available open spaces are dotted with tents and people seem to be settling in for a while.
At the same time, there is an incredible amount of resilience at least in the city. Some 10 percent or more fled for the country in the days after the quake. Slowly, the city is regaining her people back. More and more shops are open. People are talking and laughing more. There are lots of veggies for sale and I saw a truckload of flat screen TV’s being loaded into a store, so there must be a demand. At night, the city has been quiet, but in recent days bars and clubs have been discretely opening. No garish lights, but if you listen hard you can hear the strains of old cover tunes.
Rather quickly people are cleaning up. Without waiting for an insurance settlement, crumbled bricks have been chipped free of their mortar and stacked neatly on site for reuse later. Sidewalks and city streets are all open. Some buildings, though notably listing, are frighteningly being used for business even though the doors don’t open all the way.
Though bouncing back, these people need help. Aid has started to flow in. One would think that after an eternal line of tragedies and disasters we’d know how to distribute aid safely, quickly and equitably, but it still starts slowly and at the top and trickles down. One man, being pragmatic, painted a sign outside his shop. “Stop Praying, Start Paying. Support the Nepali People!”
Given that tourism is so important here, I worry how these people will survive after the giant news eye turns its focus elsewhere. It may be that the next best thing to sending money is saving up for a trip to this mountain country after the monsoons depart. It would provide some much needed capital.
All around though, people are creeping back to normal. Legend says that a woman wanted to honor the Buddha and asked the king for land on which to build it. The king said she could have all the land that was covered by the skin of a water buffalo. The woman, being crafty, cut the skin into one long, very thin strip and encircled a piece of land 150 meters around. The king stuck to his bargain and thus the Boudinath, the world’s largest stupa was built. In the evenings, the Nepalese gather to circumambulate. Walking thrice around slowly, spinning the prayer wheels as they go, or just talking with each other as a way to wind down the day. It is remarkably crowded.
I spotted a girl there in a green shirt with flashy gold letters. She’s taking it in stride. The words on her shirt read, “Everything Happens for a Reason.”
My last morning I tried to recreate my experience of 20 years ago. I woke at dawn and headed back to the temple. There was some effort to barricade the place, but scores of the faithful were there already. I hiked up the steps and over fallen bricks and broken glass, and there, with the sun rising, it was exactly how it was twenty years ago. There was singing and blessings and offerings. Forget twenty years; it’s been like that for hundreds of years.
One man told me they rebuilt everything after the big earthquake in 1934 using all the stuff that fell down. We’ll build again. I heard another local saying. “We’re Nepali. There is always another story.”