I was last in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city some eight years ago. I’ve always wanted to go back and at last got the chance en-route to Tibet this summer.
On April 25, 2015, a violent 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. Weeks later a 7.3magnitude aftershock made things even worse. Almost 9,000 people were killed, with an estimated 22,000 injured, and some 800,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Kathmandu was seriously affected, with many affected housed in tents for months afterwards.
It was at the end of July 2016 when I landed at the airport. First impressions were good, as there seemed to be less damage remaining than I’d expected. Certainly the landscape looked very similar as the plane skirted over the capital before landing. Even the drive through the city to the hotel, and the walks through the heart of the city over the next couple of days suggested that those in the capital have taken little time to continue with their lives.
The effects were most noticable when we went to visit some of the ancient stupas and monuments. There were piles of rubble in some places, and extensive renovations afoot at some of the more prestigious Buddhist shrines. That was expected. What was less expected, and that’s probably nievity on my part is that many of those that needed help the most were not getting it. The city of tents is still there – we drove past a little too quickly for me to get a photograph, and virtually everyone I discussed the earthquake with had tales of government promises that had just not been met. Agencies that claimed to have rebuilt hundreds of buildings were found to have pocketed the money they had been given instead, and the slow machinations of an unstable government (one that is ranked well inside the world’s top 20 in terms of corruption) meant that many improvements were, at best, disorganised. Few of those I spoke with believed that any of the aid given by agencies and charities had reached those it was intended for.
The Nepalese are a friendly lot. They accept their situation, and are still proud of their country, their families and their everyday lives. Thamel is still a fantastic place to haggle with friendly shop-keepers, although it is far less busy than it was eight years ago. ‘Please tell your country that we are still here, that we want you to come to Nepal,’ one shop-keeper told me as I handed over 200 rupees for the Westlife CD I’d discovered in one of the few remaining shops that sells CDs. He was closing his shop for good at the end of the summer, but was happy that I’d found a foreign CD consisting of tracks that my better half doesn’t have in her collection.
Nepal is still open. They need visitors to return. Kathmandu hasn’t been flattened, it’s still there. It’s not a dangerous place to go, yes there’s corruption, but it’s friendly, it’s beautiful and it’s one of my favourite places on Earth.