9 May 2015

Broken Temples

Kathmandu is chaotic at the best of times.

At the worst of times it is worse.

It is dysfunctional.

It is the very worst of times now and I am here.

In the heart of it.

I am in Thamel.

I am in Kathmandu.

I wasn’t here for the big shake or for the many that rattled it for two days afterwards.

There were more than fifty.

It struck a few minutes after noon.

Local time.

My friends Bhimsem and Kumar and Mausam and Dolma all said they swayed from side to side.

However there have been many more since.

I felt one just a moment ago.

It was a little ‘un.

There was quite a big one this morning though.

An after shock.

I prefer unshaking earth.

I think most people do.

Being here is unnerving and I am shocked at all the damage done.

I am after shocked as well.

Buildings are leaning everywhere.

They are still falling.

Here are some:

Much has been lost and a lot of my very favourite places in the world are now just very large piles of rubble.

They were once very old temples.

Hindu and Buddhist ones.

Mostly Hindu.

Here are some:

There is much more damage in the villages closer to the epicenter of the earthquake.

Not even a hundred kilometers from Kathmandu.

Towards Pokhara.


I had to come here and see for myself and help if I could.

There are many like-minded people from around the world here.

Many are with Agencies.

Some are from Government and others are from Non Government Organisations.

The non-government ones are NGO’s.

We are very small potatoes but we are nevertheless an NGO.

The Japanese and Korean NGO’s are highly recognizable as they are walking around Kathmandu in full emergency suits.

They are wearing hard hats and respirators and complete emergency micro-organism prevention suits.

Nothing is getting in.

They are communicating on two-way radios.

They are exceptionally cute.

There is distinctive national identity on the streets here as well. Tee shirts are emblazoned with national flags and names of countries are clearly spelled out.

There will be no mistaken identity.

I am not sure why.

I am starting with the Snowland School – the Kathmandu facility with hostels for the Buddhist refugee kids from the uber remote Dolpo and Mustang and Humla districts in the high Himalaya.

Near the Tibetan border.

They are mostly without at least one parent.

My tee shirt is plain pale blue.

It has no name or country printed on it.

It has a small label that says ‘Cotton On’ on the inside rear collar.

And the letter ‘M’.

I am feeding the children of Snowland and I am fixing their buildings with Nepali laborers. I have bought supplies with me from Delhi.

We came by truck.

We are starting with exterior walls.

Between building I am playing cricket and badminton with the children and I am singing and I am dancing with them as well.

We have also had sleep and cook outs.

I have introduced the Australian barbecue.

Without any meat.

If I have excess bricks I may build a small castle.

For the little Snowland Nepali Princesses.

I will work my way from the city to the mountains.

Where the big damage is.

After Kathmandu, the place I know best and I love the most and will need some work is in a district called Dhading.

It is a village called Katunge.

Say it Kar-Toon-Jay.

Katunge is to the east of Kathmandu and it is lush with mango trees at this time of the year. It is nestled on the side of a valley that is tiered with rice or lentils.

It depends on the season.

Steep walking tracks connect the village to other villages of the ward. They are cut into steep precipices and are unchanged after more than 2,000 years.

They are well trod by man and beast.

Life in Katunge is peaceful and serene.

It is gorgeous.

The first road to the village was only built a decade ago and it is not much a of a road really.

It is a rutted track.

It is impassable in three to four months of the monsoons.

These are only five weeks away.

Katunge’s isolation is a part of its beauty.

And it’s people of course.

It’s children in particular.

They are delightful.

Katunge was far closer than Kathmandu to the epicenter of the earthquake and many of its buildings have been badly damaged.

Some have been lost.

Fortunately there were no fatalities in the village or the Ward. The schools we supported in the district are all gone though.

All of them.

They have been completely destroyed.

Here is a before and after the earthquake picture of one of them.

It had a Visitor Centre on the second floor.

I had stayed there often.

So had many of my friends and family.

We liked it a lot.

I loved it.

Deciding to come to Nepal was an immediate decision.

I knew as soon as I heard about the earthquake that I would come and I started to make travel arrangements straight away.

I didn’t muck around.

Then I came as soon as I could be let in.

There were initial travel restrictions and the airport was closed for twenty-four hours.

It was a no-brainer though.

The decision.

It was easy-peasy.

I used to agonize a lot over ‘big’ decisions.

Ones that involved an element of risk or a large spend or if it theoretically had the potential to change a direction in what I perceived to be my life.

Game changers.

However I don’t any longer.


I haven’t for quite some time.

I simply couldn’t be bothered.

So I just listen to my heart.

I disregard the consequences or any other factor.

I am guided by a moral compass.

It makes things quite simple really.

So when things like this happen its also a lot easier for me to accept them and process them and assess my place in them and mobilize myself to do something to try and make just a little bit of an immediate difference.

Its no more difficult than deciding what to have for dinner.

Or what to wear to work.

In this instance it is simple consideration.

I assume I have a responsibility.

I assume we all do really.

Things are usually done better in a team don’t you think?

An amicable and sensible team where egos and silly things get parked aside for a good portion of the time and the job get done and everyone goes home to enjoy things that don’t have anything to do with work.

That would be nice.

Terrible things seem to happen in very poor nations.

Malnutrition and a starvation of opportunity

It is an abomination.

Nepal is such a place.

This is such a time.

The toll of the wrath and fury of Mother Earth can be counted here in the loss of thousands of innocent lives

Thousands have perished and tens of thousands are missing here.

Hundreds of thousands have been made homeless.

Avalanches and rock slides have buried entire villages.

Many ancient temples have been broken.

My friend Kumar - who has lost his entire village was talking to my other friend Sanina - who has lost her entire village, and they started reeling off the names of all of the villages they know that have been destroyed by the earthquake.

It was a very long list.

It alarmed me.

The names of villages went on and on.

Tarpaulins and tents are the items most needed

The monsoon rains are only five weeks away.

Roads up to the mountains will then become mud and they will become impassable.

Supplies of rice and other imperishables must be delivered up now or very soon.

It is harvest time soon so food wont be a major problem but there is no time to rebuild all the villages that were totally lost. Shelter is going to be the problem. It is now. Tents or other temporary housing are the only viable options for the estimated hundreds of thousands of villagers displaced in and around the Gorkha Valley regions alone.

The logistics required are terrifying.

I have heard quite a lot on the International news lately that Tribhuvan airport – Kathmandu’s only international airport has been ‘restricted to just one runway’.

It has only ever had one runway.

As long as I have been coming to Nepal any way.

That’s a strange one.

Never mind.

I have looked today at the broken temples of Nepal.

I have been putting off this necessity.

Because of the sadness involved.

They were once ancient and marvelous and beautiful things.

To see them broken is harrowing.

The two Nepali men I was with were visibly shaken.

They had not yet seen them either.

They – as was I - were particularly horrified at the state of the Kathmandu Durba temples.

We had no idea the damage would be so extensive. Bhaktapur is said to be even worse

Yes the temples were very badly broken indeed.

There are more worrying matters.

Many more other buildings have been broken.

As I have already mentioned – but its very important so I will mention it again - hundreds of thousands of Nepalese village people haven been displaced and the monsoon rains they are a coming.

They are only five weeks away.

Dirt mountain tracks that are cracked and damaged already will become rivers of running water and torrents of mud soon.

There is no time to rebuild homes so temporary homes need to be provided and non-perishable foodstuffs and medical supplies stockpiled.

The greatest immediate needs up in the mountain villages are tents.

In the middle of Thamel a number of main roads are flooded from fractured underground water pipes. This is a catastrophe that could easily lead to disease.

It will.

It will require major excavation works in a narrow and winding and busy vehicular and pedestrian area – and it covers a very large area - but repairs must proceed immediately.

The water pipes must be extensively damaged.

It is a major worry.

Yesterday was a happier day. Dolma - the head organizer at the School and I and Kumar the Dolpo Guide took twenty of the Snowland little ‘uns to Boudenath – which is the Tibetan Buddhist temple complex that is connected to their Guru Rinpoche.

It is Holy and very dear to them.

It suffered only minor structural damage in the earthquake.

The kids and all visitors like to do a circuit of the Temple spinning the prayer wheels and receiving blessings.

Prayer wheels are the same concept and derive from the same branch of Tibetan Buddhism as do the colourful prayer flags – which the Tibetan Buddhists call ”Wind Horses”. Like the prayer flags - where every gust of wind and flap sends a prayer – every spin on the prayer wheel also sends a prayer. The mantra that is written on most prayer wheels is, Om Mani Padme Hum.

At Boudenath the 20 little ‘uns got off the bus in pairs and held hands and formed an orderly queue.

They were all very excited.

So was I.

They were excited waiting for the bus and then it built the whole bus journey.

On the bus we sang songs and I told not-very-funny jokes and then bawdy tales of my children Tom and Totty and of my brother Richard’s children Ben and Georgina.

They weren’t too bawdy.

These are very innocent Nepalese children.

I didn’t sing any of the songs either. They were all in Nepali.

My Nepali isn’t very good at all.

However all of these children have met my heavily inked and multiple pierced Thomas on a couple of occasions and they like him quite a lot.

He also likes them a lot.

Many questions were asked.

All were answered.

Typically most of the little girls questions soon drifted soon to the theme of the sea and mermaids and things about dolphins and whales and oceans and shells.

It always does.

Nepali girls love such things.

Their favourite movies are Saving Nemo – One and Two - and the Little Princess – One, Two and Three.

The boys love Peter Pan – the Robin Williams version.

They also like Shrek.

Blessed be the Apple Corporation for the device that allows me to download the movies on my Mac and then beam it onto a wall in a faraway school in Kathmandu.

The little children at a number of schools watch them over and over.

And over and over again.

Before we all got off the bus - Dolma explained to the little ‘uns - in what I thought was an unnecessarily stern voice - that we would form a single line and follow her to do a circuit of Boudenath and spin each wheel as we went. She would then say when we had finished.

I announced then we had all finished we would go get an ice-cream.

There was a mighty cheer.

All kids love Ice-cream.

The Snowland kids don’t get it very often.

Ice creams can soothe a child’s fear

It is tiny cooling rush of sweetness that might wash away for a blink or two the terror of last week.

It is 2 weeks today it all started.

It was ANZAC day for we Australians and New Zealanders and Turkish people.

The 25th of April, 2015.

It seems much longer ago than that.

Ice cream is a global remedy

It is an instant mood lifter

Even if it is only a momentary thing

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