It is now over a month after the big Nepal earthquake and I have just returned from two days in Kathmandu.
Let me get this straight right away: whatever you think the current situation in Nepal is, you are probably wrong. Nepal is not one big pile of rubble. Rather the opposite. The country is safe to visit. The hotels and guest houses are open, most of the hiking trails in the mountains are just fine and if you had plans to go to Nepal, there is no reason to cancel them.
Yes, you will see broken buildings and chances are that for months the people and visitors of Kathmandu will hear pneumatic hammers as they tear down badly cracked houses. But the numbers are way smaller than I had expected after seeing the destruction as presented on the news.
Here’s my message after I had a first-hand look myself: normality abounds.
Kids go to school.
Young buddhist monks have fun.
Street vendors wait for customers.
Workers build shelters for those who lost their houses.
Men hold a meeting under the village tree.
Workers repair the damaged Boudanath Stupa.
People watch people. (The masks have nothing to do with the earthquake, but are normal to wear in many areas of Asia.)
Paper makers make paper.
Kids hang out in front of daddy’s shop.
Workers dismantle a damaged house.
Kathmandu traffic being what it is.
Kathmandu is Kathmandu.
All these pictures have been taken on June 5th 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal. They are free for you to download and use any way you like, as long as you link back to this page and credit me.
The Nepali people are working very hard to clean up and re-build. I believe the main problem at this point are the media. They want attention, which they get by showing predominantly bad news. It’s always been like that. Just don’t believe the hype and come take a look yourself.
Let me put a few things in perspective for you. I have spent the last two days together with our Sherpa friends Chirin, Dorjee and Chhokpa, who have answered a lot of my questions. They have also taken me around on the back of their motor bikes to various of the sites that have been on TV – and to some that haven’t.
I don’t have any official numbers (the Nepali government seems quite useless in that regard), but here are my questions and the answers that I received from my friends:
Q: Do you know how many houses in Kathmandu have been completely destroyed?
A: We don’t know exactly, but from what we see, it’s probably in the range of 5%
Q: What’s the percentage of houses that have been damaged to the point where it is too dangerous to live in them?
A: Around 25%
Q: What happens to these damaged houses?
A: The government has assessed the buildings and given them either green (safe) status or red (unsafe) status. Unsafe buildings will have to be torn down. Some of that is done by the army, some of it is done by private contractors.
Q: Where do the people who lived in those houses stay?
A: Some have moved in with family, some with neighbours and some have gone back to their villages outside of Kathmandu. Some are still sleeping in tents.
Q: How long have you had to sleep in tents yourself?
A: Right after the earthquake, we stayed in tents for about 2 weeks.
Q: What is the damage to your own house?
A: There are only two cracks near the basement. Our house is built in the same style that many houses in Kathmandu are built, with a solid concrete frame structure. The earthquake also damaged our solar powered warm water system, so for now we have to take cold showers.
Q: What kind of houses were affected the most?
A: The houses that were completely destroyed are the old ones that are mainly made from bricks and mud. Many of the more modern constructions are intact.
Q: How about Bakthapur and Patan?
A: Those are the hardest hit areas in Kathmandu valley because they had many very old buildings and temples. Most of the pictures in the media have been from those areas.
Q: Will the destroyed temples be rebuilt?
A: We hope so. They were important historic and religious monuments.
Q: Most of the shops that I’ve seen in Kathmandu are open again. How long were they closed?
A: They have been closed for about 3 to 4 weeks. Life is getting back to normal now.
Q: How did the earthquake affect the city’s infrastructure?
A: There was no electricity for two days right after the earthquake. Luckily our solar battery allowed us to charge mobile phones and other important things. Mobile communications broke down for a few days too. Electricity and mobile networks are now up again as before.
Q: Can you get supplies? Food? Water?
A: Yes, we can get everything. Prices have gone up a little, but it’s manageable for most.
Q: How about the villages outside of Kathmandu and those in the mountains?
A: There has been quite some destruction there, as the houses are often old or have been built in a different way.
Q: Your parents’ house in the village?
A: Completely destroyed. They live in tents and provisional huts with corrugated steel roofs for now.
Q: How will the rainy season affect them? The monsoon is about to come on and the heavy rains will go on for about three months.
A: There are many issues. At this point, the hut they live in is too hot during the day, so it’s only of partial use. They also don’t have any good storage space for the potatoes they were about to harvest, so they will probably have to leave them in the ground and they will rot from the rain. Many of the farmers might lose their harvest this year.
Q: When walking through the streets, I noticed that there weren’t many tourists. How has the earthquake affected this?
A: Many tourists have canceled their travel plans or made changes to avoid Nepal. There numbers have dropped significantly. Maybe to 25% or lower.
Q: Do you see any reason for tourists to stay away?
A: No. In many respects life here is back to normal. Clean-up efforts are in progress and tourists will find that they are more welcome than ever. Hotels are open, restaurants provide their usual service, shops are open, street vendors sell their things, and if anything, tourists might actually see bigger discounts than usual, mainly due to the slow business. Tourism is one of the most important pillars of income for Nepal and the media have done us a big disservice by delivering a very one-sided message.
Q: Now that everything is back to normal, does that mean we should stop donating?
A: Of course not. Despite everything going back to normal, there are still areas where people need help. Tearing down the unsafe buildings isn’t cheap, there are still people who don’t have any other option than living in tents and the rainy season will make these efforts even harder.
Some people still live in tents…
…and the monasteries do their best to help the ones in need.
So in conclusion and based on my own experience here’s my message again: there is not a single reason for anybody to avoid Nepal. The country is safe, and if anything, they need the tourism. The next dry season starts in October with average temperatures of 20°C/67°F.
So if you don’t have any travel plans yet, Nepal is a wonderful way to spend a great time while really helping those who need it most right now.