Back in November 2014, I had the privilege of visiting Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, before the earthquakes struck in April 2015 killing more than 9,000 civilians and injuring more than double that amount. Century-old buildings across Kathmandu were destroyed, many among them being UNESCO World Heritage sites. Those earthquakes are written as one of Nepal’s worst natural disasters in recent decades. Now, just over two years later, I find myself back in the ancient city, bearing witness to the aftermath and progression of the affected community since that fateful day on the 25th of April, 2015.
Arriving in Nepal after coming from chaotic India felt like coming home and a breath of fresh air, despite all the smog. I fluidly navigated through the familiar customs and immigration and nabbed a cheap taxi ride with a Californian couple to Thamel, the bustling tourist hotspot within Kathmandu. Getting out of the airport proved to be much smoother this time around as opposed to my last visit. You learn from your errors.
I was beaming with smiles as everything glowed with familiarity and the fact that Thamel seemed to remain in mostly intact and unaffected by the earthquakes, at least from what I could remember. I planned on spending at least a couple of months in Nepal, so I went and bought a sim* for my phone and bargained for some winter wear to keep warm in the mountains later.
*If you plan on getting a sim for your phone in Nepal, know that sims are much cheaper in Pokhara than they are in Kathmandu, specifically Thamel. This should come in handy especially with anyone who plans to trek Annapurna and wants to stay connected.
In contrast to my prior visit in 2014, when Kathmandu was spilling with tourists, it was now comparatively desolate. I wasn’t sure if it was because it was the low season (January and February are considered not to be an ideal time for trekking in Nepal because of the unfavorably nippy weather), if the earthquakes frightened tourists from visiting or if it was a combination of both. It was made even more apparent when I attempted to bargain shop, which is the norm in Thamel, and many sellers pleaded to me that times were tough and that I was one of their only potential customers for hours at a time.
I settled into a neat hotel smack-dab in the middle of Thamel and had dinner with the Californian couple. They were here to tour Kathmandu. I was here to relax for a couple of days before I head off to Pokhara to reunite with my Nepali host family in Padeli. But first, I went to pick up a friend who would be joining me from the airport.
Hamish opted to join me in Nepal after I told him about it in Fiji a few months ago. He was inclined to tag along and I was happy to have him, but I forewarned him that Nepal is more of a culture shock than tropical Fiji and that the village we would be living in is pretty darn rustic, but an authentic Nepalese experience. He was down. (We’ve been in Nepal for over a month now and I’ve come to find that Nepal may have been more of a culture shift than he was initially ready for. More on that in a later post.)
Now that he was here, I was ready to reacquaint myself with Kathmandu, two years after the earthquakes. We walked from Thamel to Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the devastation from the quakes were more apparent. Many of the temples and courtyards I’d seen here before were gone or collapsed to rubble.
There used to be rows of smalltime sellers here with tourists whipping up a bargaining storm.
Many buildings were lined with support beams to help with framework and balance after their structural integrity had been compromised from quakes and numerous aftershocks. Piles and piles of crumbled bricks and debris laid in plots where spectacular works of architecture once stood.
We walked twenty minutes west of Durbar Square to the Swayambhunath Stupa, a historic religious monument on top of a hill in Kathmandu Valley. Because of the complexity of its name, many people commonly refer to it as the Monkey Temple, in reference to the population of ‘holy’ monkeys that live there and dominate the hillside.
After further investigation, I found that most of the temple was still intact from what I could remember, but there were obvious signs of destruction and even less monkeys frolicking around. The outer bounds of Swayambhunath were lined with half-toppled structures, no doubt a result from the earthquakes.
To say that Nepal has made progress since the April earthquakes would be the absolute truth. I saw some of the physical destruction, but I did not hear one local basking in the tragedy or even mention the earthquakes once. Progression is being made to recuperate, rebuild, and restructure the tourism industry, which Nepal so heavily relies on. Finding a way to get the visitors back in Nepal seems to be a priority.
As a firsthand witness, I can attest to the fact that Nepal is just as neat as it ever was (minus the loss of unique ancient sites). Prices are a bit cheaper to reel back tourists and locals in the tourism industry are hankering now more than ever to give foreign visitors a quality experience to show that Nepal hasn’t lost its stride in spite of recent tragedy, and is ready to get the country back on its running legs.