Cracks were appearing even 20 minutes later, without aftershocks: Aussie tourist

by angus farrow (gus)


3 May 2015 00:40 AM AEST: When it hit I had just taken the stairs down from the rooftop café above the guesthouse I’d been staying at on Amrit Marg in Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourist district. I was on the 3rd floor of my hotel, Chillout Resort, and I fell to my knees as the ground beneath me liquefied.

It was all messy in my room, broken down glasses from the bulbs and bathroom fittings scattered all over the floor. I saw cracks on the wall when I got out but my hotel was still far better than adjacent buildings that showed major cracks and looked a bit lopsided. I could see that the water on the tap was full of dirt from the broken mains I guess.

angus farrow
Angus Farrow: Grateful to himself for not to have visited the Durbar Square on April the 25!

The street was full of broken tiles busted up from the shop frontages. Ten or twenty minutes later cracks were still appearing even without feeling aftershocks.

It lasted for around two minutes, but to be honest, I can’t say how long it went on as time seemed to have stopped.

I had been travelling in India for the last few months studying yoga and meditation and had arrived in Nepal around the beginning of April.

I returned from trekking in the Annapurna region on the 21st April.  Pokhara, Nepal’s second biggest city after Kathmandu, is the starting point of most of the Annapurna treks.  The bus route from Pokhara to Kathmandu runs almost directly through the epicentre of Saturday’s earthquake.  I am glad I didn’t return a few days later.

On the day, friends and I had planned to visit Kathmandu’s famous Durbar Square for some sightseeing.  We decided against it in the end and opted to relax at the guesthouse as we’d had a pretty big night the previous evening.  Once again, I am grateful that we didn’t visit as when the earthquake hit, the temples of Durbar Square were razed to the ground.

In the immediate aftermath of the first quake, friends and I wondered the streets of Kathmandu.  They were mostly deserted apart from the people accumulating in tent cities in the wide open spaces.  In the next few days, what struck me was how much the western media seemed to sensationalise the damage to Kathmandu. The media reportage I did see, which was mostly from CNN, portrayed the city in complete and utter disarray.  While there was damage done; building fronts lurching forward onto the streets; many sacred sites destroyed, a lot of the city seemed unaffected.  We noticed significant damage to the famous temple sites however we were surprised at how well some of the quite badly constructed buildings had withstood such a significant earthquake.

Nepal earthquake
Angus Farrow and his friends had been trekking in the Annapurna range before the Nepal earthquake.

Over the next few days I tried to get in touch with a good friend of mine who was completely uncontactable.  I was very concerned.  I witnessed an exodus of locals from the city of Kathmandu.  Where once the tent cities had been beyond capacity, they started to empty and buses leaving the capital for the rural areas started to fill.

On our final day we walked around the streets of Thamel on a usually busy business day. They were deserted.

All in all, the situation was pretty freaky. Some shops were being selfish and taking advantage of the situation. Taxis were charging up to 2000 rupees per ride. Interestingly, an Australian lady said she heard the Channel 10 crew was there but without food, using up the supplies the locals badly needed. She also said she saw aid workers starting to work only when the TV cameras were switched on!

The remains of the statues of Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha.
The remains of the statues of Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha.

As we drove to the Tribhuvan Airport to regretfully leave the people of Nepal and the many aid workers descending upon the country to work towards rebuilding a city in ruins, we spotted the Bagmati River alongside Pashupatinath, Kathmandu’s most sacred Hindu temple and cremation site.

The weight of the disaster weighed more heavily upon me in this moment as there was no denying the amount of bodies lined up to be burnt in the Hindu tradition.  Dead bodies overwhelmed the bank of the river.  The funeral ghats burnt as locals said their final goodbyes to loved ones, now lost. Damage has been done and Kathmandu Valley is only a small portion of a very big country.

Written by southasia.com.au’s associate editor Esther Nimmo, based on the conversation with Gus. 

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