Dolakha diaryI’ve always written news pieces and features about other people in pain, but now I’d like to pen my own story of returning to my birthplace
Twenty years ago, my father had built a house in Laaduk-8, Singati Bazaar, for business purposes. The building was severely damaged after the rocks from the hill above smashed through the second and the third floor. There is no prospect of rebuilding it. The district administration has already asked the Home Ministry of Nepal to relocate the villagers from my village in other places.
There was no human loss in my family since my family had taken shelter in a nearby Shiva temple immediately after the first quake. But I just couldn’t fathom the problems my family was going through: My mother had disappeared a year ago, and with my home and land now being destroyed by the Great Earthquake, my family had turned into squatters.
Despite so much loss, I did not shirk my responsibilities. For a week after the first quake, I stayed in Kathmandu, reporting as usual, while trying to forget the problems at home. I was busy following up on how much damage the earthquake had inflicted on our heritage sites, about the crowd of people trying to leave the Capital, the army officials who were saving people from destroyed houses, and the work done by the Nepal Police, APF and citizens. As soon as I found out that there was no tarpaulin at home in my village, I managed to procure some, through a friend, with the help of the Bhaktapur Police and Bhaktapur Red Cross and left for Dolakha with my wife. The first night at home, we had to cover ourselves with the tarpaulin since we weren’t able to set up the tarpaulin shelter immediately.
Since Dolakha had been the epicentre of many aftershocks, it felt like there was a tremor whenever the birds scattered or when the Tamakoshi roared or when there was lightning and thunder; even the rumbling of vehicles left us scared. I found out that Dolkhalis had gotten so accustomed to the continuous aftershocks, that when there was no tremor they feared that it meant a bigger quake was on its way. They were afraid when there was a tremor and they were afraid when there was none.
I came back to Kathmandu after making a temporary shelter for my father. He wasn’t just worried about the material loss from the quake; he was more worried about the family. We were constantly worried about not being able to contact my missing mother, and on top of that my sister-in-law’s delivery time was approaching. We couldn’t leave a pregnant woman in a temporary shed, so we looked for a room to rent in Singati Bazaar. After doing whatever we could to help my family, my wife and I returned to Kathmandu.
Two days after our return, there was another big quake, on May 12. The next day, I was determined to go to Dolakha on an army helicopter, as part of my reporting duties. My wife and daughter tried to dissuade me from going over to report from a place that had been so shattered by the earthquake and landslides. Even as I was reporting, they kept calling me to say, “Think about your life before your work.”
I, along with photojournalist Nimesh Jang Rai, flew to Charikot on May 14 in an Indian Army helicopter. When we landed at Charikot, it was eerily silent. The big hotels on the way to Charijhyang from Satdobato were crumbling and the streets were dangerous to walk through as the houses looked like they could fall down any minute. The main road had cracked and the headquarters’ electricity and internet services had been disconnected. We worked using the generator that the local telecom station had provided to the locals to charge their phones. Our goal was to reach Singati—the most affected area in Dolakha. But getting to Singati on a bus proved to be a problem because no driver was willing to take us there. They would say, “I won’t go to Singati no matter how much money you offer. I don’t want to die.” The hills had cracks all over and everyone was afraid that rains could induce landslides. Then I came across a driver bhai I knew and asked him to take us to Singati. He agreed, but asked for double the usual fare; we agreed to his demands as there was no possibility of finding another vehicle.
Singati had been completely destroyed by the recurring quakes—it wasn’t just the mud-and-stone houses that had been brought down, but concrete ones too. As soon as we got to Singati, we were hit with the smell of rotten bodies and we could see people trying to retrieve their belongings from under the debris.
I had wanted see my sister and her daughter in Laaduk. I had heard that their family had been stranded because of a landslide. The route to their home was difficult—the road had the Tamakoshi on one side and the rubble from landslides all along its edge. I was able to get near where the family was, but I wasn’t able to rescue them from the area.
As I was returning to Singati with a a heavy heart, the road was hit by a landslide and a rock fell right in front of me. Shaken, I somehow managed to make my way back to Singati Bazaar.
At Singati Bazaar, I came across Lal Bahadur Jirel, who was trying to mend his crushed utensils. “We don’t have other utensils to cook in, so we have to use these,” he said. I consoled myself saying that at least my situation was not that dreadful.
I then went to the Shiva Temple, where the people from the Bazaar had taken shelter. Around my father’s shed—which I had built during my last visit—were the body parts of people who had been crushed when their houses turned to rubble. As I talked to the locals about how they were coping, they told me that they had not gotten any relief supplies, that there was a shortage of drinking water and that people were falling sick from the foul odour of decaying bodies. As we bid them goodbye and were heading for Charikot, they asked me to convey their requests for help to the concerned authorities.
While we were leaving, I saw my father packing a pair of clothes in a 30 kg rice sack. His clean clothes were caked white with rice powder. He headed to the Bus Park area carrying the sacks; my brother was at the Bus Park too, retrieving bodies that were buried under the houses there. I couldn’t control my tears when I saw my father talking to my brother, who was pulling out bodies without even donning a mask and a pair of gloves.
I kept trying to imagine what my father was going through: His daughter was stuck in an area that had been hit by landslides from all sides; his younger son, in an army uniform, was pulling out decaying bodies from the debris, and his oldest son was reporting from dangerous places;
and the two houses that he had made with years of hard work were gone. I wanted to bring him with me to Charikot. But he kept insisting that he would not leave Singati under any circumstances.
I was finally able to bring my father and sister-in-law to Charikot, but my father wanted to go back to Singati, and that struggle with my father drained my enthusiasm for work. There had been a series of landslides in Singati and if the rubble dammed up the Tamakoshi or Thaado Khola, the whole village could get flooded. There was also the imminent danger posed by the nearby Tsho Rolpa Glacier’s breaking. There was no way that I was sending my father back alone to such a dangerous place. As it was, my father had started running a fever—I think it was a reaction to his losing all he had and because he was faced with the prospect not being able to rebuild anything.
The only solace I have found in this difficult time has been to continue doing my job. I can’t let my pain stop me from reporting about other people’s problems. I collect news all day and work late nights to submit them at the head office in the Capital. I will work through the aftermath of this disaster and do what I can for the people whose lives have been destroyed. I will never lose hope.