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2015 June • Vidya Sutton returns to Kathmandu after the earthquakes

Patan Durbar Square in Lalitpur, Kathmandu is hot and humid in the lead up to the monsoon. Locals stroll past the temples enjoying the sun and space on the weekend. It looks like business as usual in the square: the museum, cafés and art thanka shops are open. Every so often a foreigner walks by.

The only immediately obvious sign that there ever was an earthquake are the many long beams wedged up from the ground into the top edge of the first floor of two temples, to protect against aftershocks. Closer inspection of buildings in the square shows some walls have cracks.

An eight storey traditional building of hand made bricks and intricate wooden lattice provides a strategic look out over the ancient city. The ornament at the top is asquew.

A golden figure squats on the top of a tall column giving a gentle namaste greeting to the upper levels of the elaborate tall temple in front. Thirty paces away a taller column stands bare. The upper sections are now around the base making convenient seats for visitors. There is no sign of the statue. Perhaps it is in the museum.

It begins to rain and people shelter under the beautiful tiled roof of a small temple with intricately carved wooden beams. The temple is raised above the rain on two-levels of a brick and stone platform.

Close by is a 4-level brick and stone platform. Two elephants welcome visitors to climb up the central stone stair … that leads nowhere. Bricks and tiles are stacked discretely in neat piles behind the platform. Perhaps the carved beams are now in the museum.

I sit on this platform to view the square, think and write. Two lads join me. Gautam is in Year 10 at Vajra academy and he did well in his exams three months ago. He is pleased when I congratulate him. His friend Suman is shy. I ask what subjects they like and they laugh … they like playing. Gautam tells me theirs is the first green eco-friendly school in Nepal. Their school is in a forest and they travel there n an electric bus. They invite me to visit.

I am sitting quietly again and a young lass joins me saying her friends had dared her to talk to me. She is also in Year 10 and lives in a village 15 minutes away by van. Am I alone?! Where is my family? How long will I be in Nepal? She looks at the slender shrine in front. It has cracks. She thinks they will demolish it. I am surprised. I think all it needs is good mortar in the crack. She says Nepal is not safe. Aren’t I scared? I say I don’t know, I’ve not experienced an aftershock.

Is she scared? No. Her mind is on something else. What subjects does she like? She says science, unconvincingly. Her parents want her to be a doctor or a staff nurse. Which countries have I been to? She has been to India and would like to travel more. She looks pensive.

I go to a roof top cafe with a view of the square and the mountains beyond and I wonder how her life will unfold.

The light softens and a group of musicians, singers and children establish themselves on the balcony of a temple. The drums make a gentle rhythm and candles flicker. People quietly pass the safety tape and climb the stairs to join the ritual. Incense drifts on the wind.

I walk home through narrow residential streets criss-crossed with long beams angled up to walls, adding to the many and varied obstacles that pedestrians, motorbikes, cars and the occasional cow must negotiate.

Life continues with some adjustments in Kathmandu.

 

 

 

- Vidya Sutton

27 June 2015