There are places we go in our lives where we feel more connected. An affinity that stays with us long after we’ve departed. Sometimes that leads to a desire to relocate. Sometimes to visit again and again. I’ve been fortunate to have more than one of those places – in some the bonding was instantaneous, in others it took awhile for the rhythm of the place to become an ingrained part of me.
Nepal as country was, for me, instantaneous. The first time we crossed from India into Nepal the transition – the sights, the sounds, the relative calm, were a welcome, and enduring, respite from the sensual cacophony that had engulfed me in the week that we’d been in India. Oddly, Kathmandu, was not instantaneous. But it was enduring. So enduring that when we got married seven years after our first trip, we chose Kathmandu for our honeymoon. So enduring that when the Nepalese Royal family was massacred by the Crown Prince ten years later I was devastated, and knew that things could never be the same. And now, another fourteen years have passed, and I am shell-shocked. Heartbroken is the word that first came into my head.
All human tragedy, natural disaster or wrought by man, is difficult to bear, but some is more abstract than others. It is always easier to relate when you have a frame of reference. Have you had a similar experience? Are you familiar with the geography?The tsunami of 2005 was less abstract because places that I’d been, had spent months living in, were impacted – but fortunately no one that I knew was directly affected. I was stunned by the loss of life, but it didn’t seem to consume as much space in my head. The earthquake that struck outside Kathmandu feels personal, somehow, even though I’ve not been back to Nepal since October 1991. And so, I reflect on the Kathmandu Valley that I once knew, and still look back on with many happy memories. And I know that now, even as much had already changed, things can truly never be the same again.
We first went to Nepal in 1984, and for a variety of reasons ended up staying nearly two months – mostly in Kathmandu. I’m not a city person, and Kathmandu was noisy, smelly, crowded, and pretty much the worst of what I’d seen since we’d arrived on the Indian Subcontinent (even Pokhara was far more laid back). Taking the advice of Lonely Planet, and some fellow travelers, we headed to the Thamel section of the city, and booked ourselves into the Kathmandu Guest House. It was a wise choice. It offered enough sanity, and the Thamel area was so full of fellow travelers with reasonable experiences to share, that we had the chance to get our bearings. And quickly realized that Kathmandu was actually a wonderful place with an incredible amount to explore. And when Bill was briefly sidelined by a stomach bug, it also became apparent that it was remarkably safe for me to wander around alone – a rarity no matter what continent we were on. Almost inevitably, for when you get too comfortable somewhere you become less cautious, I came down with giardia. This led to a big delay in our return to India while I was being diagnosed and treated by the Canadian-run clinic. Actually, it was a fortuitous delay. We were still in Nepal when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. In the ensuing chaos and confusion – and suddenly poor availability of newspapers, all we knew was what overland travelers had reported back – the land crossings into India were briefly closed on the Nepali side, and for a slightly shorter time, the airport also has India bound flights backed up. When we finally located the International Herald Tribune and the Times of India, we realized that contacting home would be a good idea. While at the telegraph office, with a couple dozen other Americans and Europeans, the goal became to figure out how to send the least expensive message out. One Dutch boy won with “Safe in peaceful Nepal”. No further explanation was really necessary.
When we got married in 1991, Kathmandu, and the Guest House, were where we headed. This time with a bit more money, a camera, and a fixed departure date. Obviously the city, and the country, had changed a great deal, but it was surprisingly easy this time to re-acclimate. We did more exploring of the region, and even found our way to lunch at the Restaurant At The End of The Universe in Nagarkot. Which was in an awesome location with fantastic views of the Himalayas when the clouds would briefly part. The temples, and intricate carved wood windows, of Patan. The Tibetan refugees, Swayambhunath, Bhaktapur, even the fruit bats hanging from the trees. So many memories of people and places that have now been largely destroyed. So many lives lost. So much devastation and ruin. In a region that is ill-equipped to deal with it. I’m at a loss for words.
I am heartbroken. Something that doesn’t affect me at all, has affected me deeply. It really feels like a personal loss. There is nothing I can do, or say, to fix this. But I can encourage anyone who is able to donate to any of the larger, more established aid organizations that are active in the region including the Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam, GlobalGiving. And I’m sharing some photographs that my husband and I took in 1991 – some of what we photographed has been significantly altered by the earthquake, and I’m grateful for the pictures to aid the memories.
These 2 were taken in Durbar Square in Patan:
This next set was taken in Swayambhunath – pictures of both Bill & I, plus what would pictures of the Monkey Temple be without monkeys?, and of course the top of the temple & a view of the valley below:
This next set is a view of the neighborhood around the Kathmandu Guest House from the roof, a street view a block away from the hotel, and a quiet spot in the hotel’s courtyard:
This a Nagarkot – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – with the Himalayas in view, 3 boys on the road that kindly allowed us to photograph them, and a view of the valley below from the top of the mountain road:
This last group was all from Bhaktipur – I wanted to include the amazing woodwork on the doors, windows & temple entrances, and also some of the beautiful stonework & statuary: