‘He took away the relief money’

‘He took away the relief money’

“He was in the army. We were completely smitten with each other and eloped. We had four beautiful children before he got posted to Kathmandu and got involved with someone else. Now the only time he speaks to me is to fight with me. He says I was whoring around the village and that the children are not his. He doesn’t help with their education, he doesn’t provide for anything, and he took away the relief money the government gave after the earthquake.”

‘Once, I woke up to find a snake slithering in my bed’

“We lost two houses in the earthquake. Our original home in Ikudol and our rented house in Badhikel. We spent five miserable days under the open sky. When we asked for help from our Village Development Committee, they told us to request it from the place we moved to. When we asked here, they said we should ask our original VDC. So we fell between the cracks and received nothing. We managed to buy zinc sheets and begged our neighbours for the bamboo and wood we needed. Now, my parents, my sister and I live under one zinc roof. This single room is our bedroom, kitchen, sitting room and store room. It is too hot in summer, too cold in winter. Once, I woke up to find a snake slithering in my bed. But we’ll probably stay here for four or five years. I’m determined to work hard, earn money, and build a new house for my family.”

Photo: Naomi Mihara

‘I shall be alone for as long as I work here.’

“I have been working and living in this hotel for the past 15 years. I am the only security guard here. I want to be with my family but if I don’t work, there won’t be food on the table nor money to rebuild my home. Living away from them is not easy. It gets very lonely. All the staff members go back to their homes while I have to sleep in my quarters. I am alone at night, alone in the day, and shall be alone for as long as I work here.”

Photo: Namita Rao

‘I need to rise for the sake of the kids’

“That terrible earthquake buried everything. I lost my wife, my children lost their mother, I lost the business, I lost my leg. I lost everything. I don’t even want to remember that day. My wife, Mithu, used to fast, worship God and visit pilgrims, but that selfish God was not just to her and her family. Life has changed a lot for me since the earthquake. With steel fitted inside my injured body and two small children in my lap, I need to fight back against a life full of darkness. I need to go for medical checks every month. I have no plans for the future. Sooner or later, I need to rise for the sake of the kids. I am thinking of setting up the business again. Let’s see where time will lead me and my children.”

Photo: Mandira Dulal

The Village That Lives On Hope

“Every house in our village collapsed during the earthquake,” said Ram Sharan Parajuli. “It’s a miracle no one died.” We were standing at the spot where his home used to be, now reduced to mounds of stones and piles of wooden beams. “There used to be four houses here, but now it is all gone.”

The 24-year-old physics student had travelled from Kathmandu to his home for Dashain, the longest and most auspicious festival on the Nepali calendar. This year, along with the other villagers of Chimling Beshi, he was celebrating it in a temporary shelter. It seemed a bittersweet coincidence that Dashain – which celebrates the victory of good over evil – overlapped with the six month anniversary of the worst natural disaster to hit Nepal in 80 years.

We had set out for Sindhupalchok earlier that day on a bus packed with men, women and children wearing their best clothes, foreheads adorned with red tikas, on their way to visit relatives. Our overloaded bus climbed into the hills, swinging perilously around the corners of the twisting roads. The road journey felt dangerous, but when you look at the small, fragile houses on the hillside, many of them partially or completely destroyed, you realise that precariousness is a part of everyday life in this part of Nepal.

Chimling Beshi is one of many villages in Sindhupalchok district that was destroyed by the earthquake in April. Every house suffered severe damage and was rendered uninhabitable. The district suffered more devastation than any other, with around 3,500 deaths and nearly 64,000 houses – around 90 per cent –listed as ‘fully damaged’. The village is part of Mankha, the second most badly affected Village Development Committee in the district, where more than 7,500 people required immediate assistance after the earthquake. Six months after the earthquake, we were on our way to spend the night in the village, to see how life had changed for its inhabitants since the disaster.

Chimling Beshi

This is the new settlement of Chimling Beshi. All the houses in this village were damaged in the earthquake. Photo: Ritu Panchal

AFTER WE CLIMBED a steep path from the nearby town of Khadichaur, rows of glinting metal roofs peeking out of lush foliage came into view. The small shacks were built by the villagers within a week of the earthquake, using materials salvaged from their ruined houses and bamboo from the forest.

“After the earthquake, the rainy season started and people were scared of landslides,” said Ram, as we navigated a steep path. “It was very hot and we had to carry large tin sheets two at a time from our old house.”

Below the six rows of tin houses stood three temporary school buildings for the younger children, built by NGOs shortly after the earthquake. Other than 25 kg of rice per household and some tin sheets, the villagers received little in the way of relief goods. It was difficult not to feel a sense of sadness at what had happened to this community. And yet, Chimling Beshi was full of life. Children were playing cards, elders were placing tikas onto the foreheads of their younger relatives, and the villagers had built a giant swing (called ping in Nepali) for Dashain.

But the scene was very different at the site of the old village, which stood a short trek away, on an adjacent hill. Within six months, the jungle had consumed what remained of the village. The trails were hidden under a blanket of moss and grass, and creepers and wild flowers grew on the broken walls of what used to be houses. It was hard to imagine that the same place was a thriving, sustainable community, and that these ruins used to be homes, which echoed with laughter. Babies were born here, elders had died here – but now nothing remained except for the ghost of a settlement.

Foliage grows out of the remains of a house.

In six months, nature has taken over the remains of the houses at the former site of the village of Chimling Beshi. Photo: Ritu Panchal

We clambered over rocks that had plunged down the hillside to reach four families who had decided to build temporary shelters next to the remains of their houses, rather than move. Weren’t they afraid of landslides?

“During the rainy season, I can’t sleep,” said Saraswoti Poudel. “But we didn’t want to leave our animals and our land.”

Their biggest concern was having better shelter, which was too costly for them to build on their own. The yearning for a proper home would become a familiar tale that we would hear again and again during our stay.

It was beginning to get dark as we made the hike back to the new village. That evening, Radha, Ram’s mother, prepared a meal of lentils, rice and potatoes for us, all gathered from the farmland. Subsistence farming has become more difficult since the family moved to the new location, as they now have to walk further to gather food from their land, which lies near their old home.

As we ate our meal outside the shelter, we began to shiver. The day and night time temperatures in Nepal fluctuate considerably. Earlier on, it had been searingly hot; but now, there was a harsh chill. We could only imagine how cold it might get in the winter, which was fast approaching. The tin sheets would provide little insulation to the villagers.

Inside the shelter, two chipped but sturdy double beds occupied most of the space, in addition to two cupboards and a dresser. A line of colourful clothes were hung up across one wall. We slept that night in thick blankets provided by our host, the blare of TV sets from the adjacent houses clearly audible.

THE NEXT MORNING, we woke early to the sounds of a village beginning to stir. The clatter of pots and pans, the clamour from the radio, and the smell of burning charcoal filled the air. We could see villagers occupied with their morning chores. Several of them were making their way down the tapering trail, towards their old settlement to tend to their land and animals, to pick vegetables. Many were making multiple trips to carry water home from a remote tap<

“We are compromising on even our basic needs,” said Nikesh Parajuli. “So building a house is a distant dream.” The 16-year-old’s biggest concern was that he found it difficult to study: being in cramped clusters, the settlement offered little space and he found it difficult to concentrate amidst all the noise. “I don’t even dare to hope for that here,” he said.

Nikesh Parajuli

Nikesh Parajuli, a high school student, finds it difficult to find time or space to study in the temporary shelter. Photo: Naomi Mihara

Many villagers were hoping that their situation would be resolved soon. “For the time being, we don’t mind living here because it’s just temporary,” said Subash Battarai, a 21-year-old student, who had returned home for the festival>

How could they be sure, we wondered? “Hope is everything,” said Ram, simply.

Despite six months having passed, the villagers have no choice but to hold onto the promise made by the government back in April, of 200,000 Rs (around

When we broached the topic of politics, the sense of frustration was palpable. So far, households have only received 15,000 Rs (£95), a tiny fraction of the cost of rebuilding a house. One resident, Madan Krishna Adhikari, told us he had already spent that amount clearing the rubble of his old house.

“The government is not taking our problems seriously,” he said. “Even the plans of the earthquake-proof houses they proposed have not been released yet.” His biggest needs were getting basic construction materials, such as cement and iron rods, and the capital needed to build the house, he said.

Bal Kumari Parajuli and her granddaughter, Dikshika, who now lives in Kathmandu with her parents

Balkumari Parajuli and her granddaughter, Dikshika, who now lives in Kathmandu with her parents. Photo: Naomi Mihara

As we walked past the remains of another house, a sudden jolt shook the ground. A small girl ran past us into the arms of her grandmother, who had just emerged from a tin shack next to the rubble. It was the first time we had felt an aftershock in Nepal. But they occur frequently in this part, the villagers told us, providing a constant reminder that the next earthquake could happen anytime.

The elderly woman, Bal Kumari Parajuli, told us that before the earthquake her whole family had lived together in the house. But her son and daughter-in-law had decided to move with their young children to Kathmandu shortly afterwards. The children have returned to celebrate Dashain. But the earthquake and the destruction of her family home have traumatised Bal Kumari.Every morning she wakes up to the sight of her broken house, which is a perpetual reminder of what happened.

“I can’t sleep at night,” she said. “I miss my family and I am still worried about earthquakes.”

Like so many villages in Nepal, Chimling Beshi is a community in limbo, waiting for help that may or may not arrive so that they can rebuild their homes. Normality has been disrupted, but even these circumstances have become normal for the villagers now.

“Earthquakes come and go,” said Anant Kumari Adhikari, who allowed the other villagers to build their shelters on her land. “It has become like a habit.”

After The Earthquake: 8 Compelling Images Of Dashain

Dashain, the longest and most auspicious festival on the Nepali calendar, came to an end early this week. It was largely a subdued affair, particularly for those who lost their houses in the earthquake six months ago. Chris Maxted recorded how people in Gorkha—one of the severely affected areas, where many now live in temporary shelters—celebrated the 15-day festival.

“This Dashain festival is a sad one for many,” said Kshitiz Paudel, Medical Director at the rural Amppipal Hospital, Gorkha. “But there are also a great number of people who feel they still have a reason to celebrate and give thanks.” This time of year sees families travelling, often great distances, to be with loved ones for the undisputed high point of the Nepali calendar. But with many village houses deemed unfit for habitation, the people living in makeshift shelters have marked the first Dashain since the earthquake as a time for reflection.

“This Dashain festival is a sad one for many,” said Kshitiz Paudel, Medical Director at the rural Amppipal Hospital, Gorkha. “But there are also a great number of people who feel they still have a reason to celebrate and give thanks.” This time of year sees families travelling, often great distances, to be with loved ones for the undisputed high point of the Nepali calendar. But with many village houses deemed unfit for habitation, the people living in makeshift shelters have marked the first Dashain since the earthquake as a time for reflection.

 

Little Saroj Bhujel, 8, of Malatagaira was watching cartoons on his bed when the earthquake struck, destroying his house. “Everything is ruined. We are all living in tents,” he said. ”It is not the same anymore and Dashain is not a celebration this year.”

Little Saroj Bhujel, 8, of Malatagaira was watching cartoons on his bed when the earthquake struck, destroying his house. “Everything is ruined. We are all living in tents,” he said. ”It is not the same anymore and Dashain is not a celebration this year.”

 

His mother, Bhagbati Thapa, as matriarch of the family, receives kinfolk from far and wide to bestow tika, a significant blessing of good fortune for the coming year. “This is an important tika for us,” added Krishna. “We have to hope for the future.” Their house may be irreparably damaged, but it was still put to good use by the thirty friends and relatives who congregated outside in its shade to eat, chat and play games. For this Dashain, as in previous years, the hills of Gorkha resound with drumming, singing and laughter well into the early hours.

His mother, Bhagbati Thapa, as matriarch of the family, receives kinfolk from far and wide to bestow tika, a significant blessing of good fortune for the coming year. “This is an important tika for us,” added Krishna. “We have to hope for the future.” Their house may be irreparably damaged, but it was still put to good use by the thirty friends and relatives who congregated outside in its shade to eat, chat and play games. For this Dashain, as in previous years, the hills of Gorkha resound with drumming, singing and laughter well into the early hours.

 

After healing the initial fractures, cuts and bruises caused by the earthquake, at Amppipal Hospital they have seen a lot of post-traumatic stress cases among the farming communities in that part of Gorkha. “They just need someone to talk to. I have counselled some very anxious farmers who are unsure about what the coming season will bring,” said Paudel. “But the Nepali people are resilient. They will work together to find a way.”

After healing the initial fractures, cuts and bruises caused by the earthquake, at Amppipal Hospital they have seen a lot of post-traumatic stress cases among the farming communities in that part of Gorkha. “They just need someone to talk to. I have counselled some very anxious farmers who are unsure about what the coming season will bring,” said Paudel. “But the Nepali people are resilient. They will work together to find a way.”

 

Villagers apportioning buffalo meat. During Dashain, outside every Hindu house, the ground is first sanctified and then either a buffalo or a goat is sacrificed. Eventually, the meat is used for the preparation of a big feast.

Villagers apportioning buffalo meat. During Dashain, outside every Hindu house, the ground is first sanctified and then either a buffalo or a goat is sacrificed. Eventually, the meat is used for the preparation of a big feast.

 

Devi Pokharel of Phalam Khani waits by the side of the road with her goat, for a crowded bus to take them the dusty 150km to Kathmandu. Normally her whole family returns to her village for the festival. “Now my house is gone, and I have to get to the city because no-one will come here,” she added. “It is far, and very tiring for me. The fuel problem means it is expensive to travel now and there is very little room on the bus. Without cooking gas in the city I have to pay someone else 2000 rupees (US$20) to butcher and prepare the goat for the feast. If others would have come here, we could have done everything ourselves.”

Devi Pokharel of Phalam Khani waits by the side of the road with her goat, for a crowded bus to take them the dusty 150km to Kathmandu. Normally her whole family returns to her village for the festival. “Now my house is gone, and I have to get to the city because no-one will come here,” she added. “It is far, and very tiring for me. The fuel problem means it is expensive to travel now and there is very little room on the bus. Without cooking gas in the city I have to pay someone else 2000 rupees (US$20) to butcher and prepare the goat for the feast. If others would have come here, we could have done everything ourselves.”

Chris Maxted is a former schoolteacher from the UK, now a private tutor in Hong Kong. A regular visitor to Nepal, he was in the Gorkha district as a volunteer for the Gorkha Foundation.

 

Six months on, the village of Chimling Beshi awaits revival

The villagers of Chimling Beshi had an incredible escape from death in April. Nearly every house here suffered severe damage in the earthquake, but Chimling Beshi, which falls under Sindhupalchok, the district most affected by the disaster, lost no lives. “It was truly a miracle,” said Ram Parajuli, one of the survivors. As the disaster made their old settlement more vulnerable to landslides, the villagers have now relocated, building temporary shelters using the tin sheets they could salvage from the ruins of their houses and bamboo from the jungle. Six months after the earthquake, Naomi Mihara and Ritu Panchal visit the community.

Villagers celebrate Dashain festival in Chimling Beshi, Sindupalchok.

Dashain, the longest and most auspicious festival on the Nepalese calendar,  came just six months after the earthquake. Festivities this year were understandably muted, and many villagers are waiting for the government to distribute the promised compensation so that they can move out of temporary shelters.

Ram Sharan Parajuli next to his old house.

Ram Parajuli, in front of the remains of his old house. It’s hard to imagine that just six months ago there were habitable structures here. The wilderness has devoured everything. Unruly weeds grow on stray bricks, long wooden beams look like they have been carelessly tossed around, and bits of broken furniture poke out of the overgrowth. Ram has no choice but to face this sight every day, for his cows are still housed in a small shed here.

Inside the temporary shelter, which the residents built themselves from tin sheets and bamboo.

The shelters are small and cramped, especially during the festival season, when many relatives come to stay. At night, you can hear the sounds of TVs blaring from the different shelters, and there is little privacy.

Vikram Parajuli in Chimling Beshi

“If I had one wish in the whole world it would be to have my own house where my family can live happily and I can study,” says 13-year-old Bigyan Parajuli. “We don’t have enough space here. It is always crowded. People get drunk and fight outside and others play the TV loudly. I cannot study properly.” Bigyan knows the only way to forge a better future is to get a good education. “I think I might become an engineer someday.”

Collecting food in Chimling Beshi

Villagers now have to hike to the old village site some distance away to tend to their fields and animals, fetch water, and cut grass. Education has suffered further, as it now takes more time for school children to finish their chores.

Balkumari Parajuli in Chimling Beshi

Bal Kumari Parajuli used to live in a two-storey house, built just four years ago, with her children and grandchildren. After the earthquake her son decided to move with his family to Kathmandu, because his children were terrified of another earthquake. Now, she misses her family. She and her husband cannot move because they have animals to look after in Chimling Beshi.

‘He had seen Anju two minutes before. Two minutes after, she was gone’

“Anju was my daughter-in-law. She had just come back from the river, after washing clothes. She ran in to save her daughter, Anisha, who was eating in the kitchen. Anisha was saved, but Anju got stuck under the rubble.

“It took us more than an hour-and-a-half to locate where she was buried. She was under the rubble of two houses. There were continuous aftershocks at that time, which terrified us. Even our goats betrayed us that day. When we were looking for her, we heard a sound. We thought it was Anju, we dug out the rubble. But it was the goats. We saved them, but we lost Anju.

“I do not know if Anisha understands her mother is gone. She keeps asking for her. When she gets angry, she lies on the ground, asking for her mother. She cries covering her face. She wants her mother. We have not let her see the picture of Anju.

“My son Suresh has not been the same. He cried a lot. He was like a madman. It took a long time for the villagers to make him understand death is an inseparable part of life. Everyone will die once they are on earth. The only question is whether it is sooner or later. He had seen Anju two minutes before. Two minutes after, she was gone. He has not been able to forget that.

“My husband Damodar performed the funeral rituals. We received NPR 140,000 [about £880] from the government. Suresh has kept the money in a cooperative bank account in Anisha’s name. Six months have passed, but none of us are able to forget.”

Photo: Mandira Dulal

‘The winter is going to be harsh and they can’t go on living in this tent’

“The winter is going to be very harsh and that’s why I have been convincing them to rent a flat. They can’t go on living in this tent. My grandmother can’t walk much. This has narrowed down my options because I need to find a house on the ground floor. But because of the earthquake, everyone these days wants a house on the ground floor or the first floor. So the search just gets tougher each day.”

Photo: Namita Rao

‘We go to our old house for lunch and dinner, but we come back to the tent to sleep’

“We used to live together under one roof before it came down in the earthquake. Now, six members stay here in this camp and the other four have rented out a small flat. We all go to our old house for lunch and dinner, but we come back to our tent to sleep. We celebrated Dashain there and did the puja together. The earthquake broke up our family, but we can’t keep thinking about the old times and complaining about the situation. My sons will earn enough money. We have to rebuild our house and stay together once again as a big family.”

Photo: Namita Rao