It was just another Saturday in the city of Kathmandu. There were the usual sounds of motorbikes and car horns. Shop owners and patrons haggled over prices, while momos and dahl baht were served to a multitude of tourists gearing up for a trek of a lifetime. The Himalayas have created this dynamic world of mingling foreigners, and on this day people were doing as they normally would do in the vibrant and ancient city of Kathmandu.
I was in my hotel room chatting with Richard, my friend and author of the book Growing Ageless, who had arrived the night before. It was around noon and everything was normal. Then everything began to shake. We held still for a moment and then the shaking became more violent. That is when we heard a building collapse and people screaming. The only thing to do now was to run for our lives, and run we did — down four flights of stairs in record time as everything shook. We got out. But the Hotel Silver Home in Thamel won’t be the same again, nor the lives of the people of Nepal.
The quake lasted 58 seconds, but its effect on Nepalese society will continue haunting them for decades to come. With all of the aftershocks and the follow-up quake 24 hours later, coupled with the already rattled nerves, nobody felt secure inside any structure. Thus began a mass exodus to parks and any open spaces. People in droves erected makeshift dwellings and tents, which were dispersed wherever and whenever available. Tourists, locals and children endured the elements of rain and mud, as they feared that the worst was to come. This fear, in my opinion, is a part of this catastrophe that has deeply scarred the collective emotions of the people of Nepal in as much as the total destruction to structures has scarred the landscape. It would be 10 days before people felt safe enough to open up their businesses again or even just enter a building. In spite of the loss of life and the massive destruction to villages and Kathmandu, it was a day for re-establishing normalcy and putting the worst behind. Unfortunately, this reprieve would be shattered by a 7.4-magnitude quake two weeks later that ended the hopes for many. This was a spiritual back breaker. All of the same fears resurfaced, and as the communities re-erected their tents, they knew that life would not be as it had been, and uncertainty would reign highest in the minds of all of them.
The day of the first quake was a day that changed history for Nepal. Of course, Richard and I were fine as were all of the guests and employees of our hotel. However, we walked around and saw the worst. The building we heard collapse was the Hotel Budget in Thamel. It was a seven-story structure that collapsed into a four-story architectural depression that killed approximately 35 people, including a group of women who used the depression for doing laundry. It was reported that three people were uncovered alive but by an awful misfortune with a tractor, one of the survivors was crushed by the digging basket. It was a horrific site and would become a common theme in Nepal. The worst was yet to be realized as the death toll was rising minute by minute, hour by hour.
Some buildings were completely destroyed and some severely damaged, and most of the rest had visible signs of cracks and ssures. Walking through the streets of Kathmandu felt unsafe and many people were already on the run-running to know if their loved ones were safe or running to get away. Streets were cracked and sidewalks broken. Rubble lined roads and alleyways. Many people were leaving. In the midst of all the confusion, I snapped several photographs with my faithful Nikon. These images are just reflections of the catastrophe, but this time, pictures are not worth a thousand words. These pictures can in no way illustrate the wave of fear and uncertainty that swept the once normal lives of the ever so genuine and beautiful Nepalese people. This is fear will live on with them now and forever. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #277 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.