Home Features Nepal: Scars from the 2015 earthquake.

Nepal: Scars from the 2015 earthquake.


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.

My gear

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.

Read more from Jean Perenet


  1. This is probably the most searing travelogue you have given us. I second Wayne G.’s comment. The debris and reconstruction you portray leave a clear impression of the human cost.
    Just a nit-picking minor point of little importance: You say you get the same angle of view as a nifty-fifty with the crop mode. If I am right that the GRII has a fixed 28mm lens, then that is the angle of view even if you get the equivalent framing to a 50mm.
    Hope you can get to the bank before long!

    • Thanks John. The GR ii is indeed a 28mm lens but just like the Q you can crop the image to 35mm and 47mm with a loss of pixels of course but it works well in most cases. The lens basically remains a 28mm lens. I think pixel count with the 47 crop mode is about 7 MP. It’s OK if you don’t want to print larger than 30 x 45 cm. With the GXR 12MP 50mm lens module I can print up to 60×90 cm which I rarely do.

  2. A telling insight into the rebuilding efforts and their challenges.
    It prompts me to go back to my archives of last year when we travelled by vehicle from the China-Tibet border crossing back to Kathmandu. Eight hours to travel 150 km on the “new” road, because the “old” main road was still closed years after the earthquake. Rockslides, landslides, and just a narrow track in places. Slow going. But admirable how the local people are coping through the hardship. Often we forget how lucky we are in the developed economies.

  3. Thanks Kevin. As for the sponsorship, we’re sure of what we’ll be doing once Covid is over. Taking images of the consequences of the earthquake was the first idea that came to my mind when seeing the state of the building. Keep safe

  4. Thanks for illustrating the situation there so well. I liked the way you captured the action as the people worked. I hope your sponsorship efforts yield good fruit. I am very sceptical about charitable giving as I have seen money sent by well meaning people stolen by those close to the ones who were intended to benefit. Why help the neighbour when one can build a big house with a balcony on the second floor from where one can lift a finger to the neighbours below? I am certainly not saying that all giving is fraught with problems but I think your direct approach to someone you trust is a good way to go. I know that from personal experience. I salute you.

  5. The idea to sponsor the driver and his family is a generous and noble one. I hope he is able to get the help they need. A long while back I had come to the same opinion regarding how hard the women in the north-east worked while the men loitered about. This I saw specially on road works, which is hard and back breaking, work the women mostly did while men lounged about smoking.

    • Thanks Farhiz. It seems that everywhere I travelled in the east women are working really hard. The worst I saw was road construction in Myanmar

  6. Thanks Dave for your comment. In fact I was struck when I came home by the reddish hue. Apparently if I had to associate Kathmandu valley with a colour it would be red. I had dessaturated the images in post as they were much redder than what you see. I had not noticed this reddish hue while I was using the camera at home and colours were more balanced colour wise. It might come from the preset positive film I chose. I’ll have to find out. As for our driver we’ll be sponsoring the family as soon as I can get to the bank after Covid lockdown. It seems much safer than sending money to an NGO as you know where your and what for your money goes. As for your Leica X why don’t you try to buy a used evf for the camera. The EVF on the X2 although it’s a different model is a great thing as it can be tilted and make framing easy in awkard angles. From what I’ve seen the X evf is also tiltable and that’s a real plus and sometimes changes your approach to shooting. I often use my X2 as an old Rolleiflex with the EVFin the vertical position. I’d meant to answer you before in “the lighter full frame camera” article but forgot to do it. Hope you and family are safe as well.

    • Glad you are well in these strangest of times.

      Is the reddish hue a white balance issue. I had a few images from my X a few years ago that had a slight magenta tint, which just needed the most minor of white balance corrections to resolve. No idea why it happened, and it wasn’t in the whole batch of images just a few.

      I intend to get myself an EVF post Covid lockdown, and when Red Dot reopens its website to sales. My eye is firmly fixed on it, I will report back how it turns out once I successfully own one, and have had time to use it and appreciate it.


  7. Hi Jean,
    I hope you are all well in Normandy, and duly avoiding all things Covid.

    I love real and gritty scenes you have captured with that Ricoh, and you clearly found them aplenty in Kathmandu. One thing that stands out to me is the whole community approach to rebuilding their homes and surroundings.

    The slightly brighter reddish processing suits the images with so many orange or red objects. It makes them standout.

    I will look forward to reading the coach drivers story.


    Keep safe folks.


          • “..An invertible classic..” ..? You’re watching it upside-down, Dave?

            (Like the (brief) scene in “The Smallest Show on Earth”, when a man’s standing on his head to watch the film which the (temporary, inept) projectionist, Bill Travers, has threaded-up upside-down?!)

  8. If western governments are corrupt it’s nothing compared to the countries we visited in Asia and Nepal is no exception in that matter. I guess the best thing to do is to sponsor a family, which we’re going to do as soon as the covid lockdown is over.

  9. Great trip and you folks got home safe and sound.Ricoh and you bonded well, reaffirmed my gr2 purchase, except your results blow mine out of the water. Since the powers that be, grabbed the big bucks can climbing organizations do massive go fund me and have NGO distribute $ to people.

  10. The country seems a total anarchy, just like the traffic. The only thing that seems organized is trek agencies that flourish all over Kathmandu. Despite the mayhem it’s a country with wonderfully friendly people where we’d like to go back to as we did not go to the Himalayas this time.

  11. Thank you for reminding us about what happened in Nepal. It’s another casebook example of what happens when a poor country is hit by a natural disaster. Where do you begin to fix it? Who plans/designs new buildings? Are there building codes, and who checks them? Can you build in a system of fresh water and sanitation when you have wholesale building collapse? How do you preserve your history so that future tourists will want to visit?


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