Just a few weeks ago, I was with my wife in the Kathmandu Valley. At the time, COVID-19 was a vague worry from the other side of the world. Looking back from my enforced homestay in Normandy, it is incredible that we just managed to squeak in (and, more importantly, out) before the Nepalese government closed its borders to French nationals.
By the time we went we thought that scars from the 25 April 2015 earthquake would have healed, but, sad to say, they are still very much in evidence. The earthquake, which occurred in Kathmandu and its valley, claimed around 9,000 lives and left approximately 22,000 people injured.
You may wonder what happened. So here’s the story from our driver while we were touring. The Nepalese government received millions of dollars thanks to international aid. Instead of redistributing all the money, they gave an allowance of $3,000 to each family whose house had been destroyed and kept the rest to themselves. The average salary is around $150 and building a house in Nepal costs approximately $22,000 with the result that many Nepalese were left entirely to their own devices. This happened to our driver’s family but that will be another story to come on Macfilos.
Everywhere you go in the valley, whether in cities or in the countryside, you’re bound to stumble on heaps of rubble from fallen houses. From what we saw, houses collapsed randomly and you wonder why one is down while another is still standing. Most original buildings were made of bricks with a timber frame and did not resist the 7.8 magnitude quake. Now, when rebuilding, the frame is made of reinforced concrete.
Click images to enlarge
As for the buildings that did not collapse, they are in a sorry state. The first image below was taken in Dhulikel, some 20 miles from Kathmandu. You can see cracks in the walls and an uninviting shape of the whole building. In some tourist spots (the two next images) such as Durbar Square in Kathmandu, the walls are still standing thanks to the huge wooden poles that prevent them from falling down.
Homage to women
We were pretty amazed at the work women do in rebuilding the houses. You often see men chatting in some town squares while women are working. Whether it is washing bricks or emptying cement bags into a cement mixer (if my memory serves, from enlarging my own house, a single bag weighs between 25 and 50 kilograms) or carrying sand in their wicker baskets, their physical strength is simply astounding. Many Nepalese should pay an homage to these women.
Wherever you go in towns and villages the Kathmandu Valley and city is being rebuilt. While women do the most tiring part, men often work in masonry. It is certainly a difficult job but, from what we saw, it was far less tiring than what the women were expected to manage. National monument renovations are often the work of foreign governments or wealthy donors.
Brick factories and kilns.
Of course, these re-buildings require tons of bricks. The brick factories and smoking kilns encroach upon the countryside. Huge acres of land is now being used to rebuild the region. Anywhere a few miles from town you’ll find brick factories with thousands of bricks drying in the sun.
For the trip, as you must have guessed, I packed my new GR II that I bought last year when the price of the camera went down with the arrival of the GR III. I had the camera dust-sealed with sellotape all around the lens hood, microphone and all the parts through which dust could enter the camera. I also attached a Hoya slim professional UV filter on the hood.
It’s not the sexiest of cameras but it did the job. One thing I noticed, though, was that battery life was somewhat shorter than that of the original GR — even when the wifi connection was off. The menu is identical to that of the GR so there was no effort in mastering the camera. The only change on my part was to use the positive film preset despite its tendency to show a reddish dominant colour which I had not noticed when using it at home. I did miss my GXR body with its nifty fifty for portrait-work, although I got the equivalent angle of view with the crop mode.