Kathmandu after the earthquake

Abandoned homes are too dangerous to return to.   

Abandoned homes are too dangerous to return to. 

 

Workmen securing structures in Durbar Square

Workmen securing structures in Durbar Square

"Is there something wrong?" I asked.

Bikram hesitated after thumbing through the $100 I had just given him. He broke into a wide smile before answering. "No no - but you must understand - your business is my very first since the earthquake. I had forgotten what dollars look like! No tourists want Nepal now and we also have monsoon." The rain was indeed hammering against the roof of his tiny office and I was soaked through within a minute of my departure.

Two months have passed since the 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal and some eight thousand lost their lives. At first sight you could be forgiven for noticing little sign of damage. The city has hardly been razed to the ground and large parts remain unaffected. Only when you take a walk through the back streets from Thamel do the cracks - quite literally - begin to appear. If ever a city could be bedraggled then this is it; the monsoon showers, huge billowing tarpaulins and fallen electricity wires. The shop owners have less spark than normal, less reason to jump from their chairs and chase your business. The local paper reports that as many as seventy thousand homes may be declared unsafe. 

I watched two men pitifully digging through the remains of their collapsed house, cruelly for them their neighbours were completely unaffected. Only when you see the manual labour required to shift heavy piles of wet rubble can you begin to appreciate how terrifying, and how weighty, a collapsing home must be. An abandoned gas cooker hung from the first floor, only the connecting pipe preventing it from landing on the street below. Further along I saw an exposed bedroom, all privacy long disappeared, now unreachable and teetering on collapse, while at my feet a child's shoe poked out from a saturated pile of mud and bricks.

At Durbar Square, the heart of Kathmandu's cultural heritage, the devastation is very apparent. Some of the wooden temples that dot the 5 acre site have totally collapsed while others are being held aloft by inadequate props and supports. These structures are precious to the Nepali people but restoring them will take time, money and great expertise. There were a handful of workmen on the sight but they seemed to be working with little direction. Where do you start? Gaddi Baithak, the white neon-classical part of the palace looked to be intact but on closer inspection the entire facade had all but separated from the main building. These structural cracks are surely irreparable and in a country devoid of plant machinery, cranes or even decent scaffolding I fear much will have to be demolished, or more likely simply neglected. 

On the way back to my hotel I reminded myself that I was in the wealthiest part of the capital. The streets were still full to bursting with mopeds and rickshaws and business was brisk - at least between the locals. Most people here have the means and capacity to rebuild and move on. I fear the story out in the country will be very different indeed.

I was saddened - if not annoyed - to hear from Bikram that groups were cancelling for this coming October when the trekking season begins. To do so is completely unnecessary - the tourist infrastructure is barely affected and the Nepali people need your tourist dollar more than ever before. I can only blame it on the earthquake fear factor - illogical now that the seismic tension has died away. So if you're a traveller with the world at your feet please put Nepal on your agenda - I guarantee you'll be assured of a warm welcome.

A rickshaw driver waits for customers against the backdrop of earthquake salvage.

A rickshaw driver waits for customers against the backdrop of earthquake salvage.