Part II: Kathmandu and Kakani
The first leg of my journey began in Nepal’s capital and largest city, Kathmandu. A city of 2.5 million inhabitants, Kathmandu is a metropolis I would have loved to visit under other circumstances, in my role as a travel professional. In 2013, Trip Advisor ranked Kathmandu as 3rd among the top 10 on-the-rise travel destinations worldwide. The entire surrounding Kathmandu Valley has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its plentiful medieval architecture.
An ancient city, Kathmandu is home to numerous palaces, temples, and historical museums, all against the magnificent backdrop of the Himalayas. While some of the city’s treasures were preserved in the recent quake, many historic sites are, sadly, part of the surrounding rubble.
I arrived at the Kathmandu airport on Monday and immediately joined relief efforts there. First I headed to the hospital near the airport, Kathmandu Medical Teaching Hospital. There, I assisted in distributing foods to individuals who were searching for loved ones still, hoping that they might show up at the hospital.
Next, I traveled to an emergency relief and distribution center where supplies were being given out. Blankets and tents were provided to set up temporary shelter in their own yards or one of the many tent cities lining the streets. Such tent cities are not serving as temporary shelter for thousands of Nepal residents.
We also made and distributed “care packages” with available raw goods at the center. Their contents included rice, dry milk, coffee, chocolate, sugar, lentils, and beans. These precious supplies were distributed to family members waiting there for loved ones.
My last stop on Monday was at the Chabad House (Beit Chabad), which has done an amazing job in providing not only for all the Israelis in the area, but also other quake survivors. There, I dropped off needed food supplies that had been requested from Israel. I also met with others to discuss how I might be able to help their efforts in the few days I would be in the country.
Before dawn on Tuesday, I left for the Village of Kakani, not far from Kathmandu. A scenic hour by car from the capital, the village is famed for its breathtaking views of the central and western Himalayas and the Ganesh Himal.
Two Indian nationals accompanied me to Kakani. These gentlemen were here for the same purpose as I was – to deliver rice to hungry villagers. When I say “rice,” I am not speaking about 2-lb. bags of rice from the local grocery store. Instead, we brought 25kg bags (about 55 lbs.), enough to feed 5 – 6 families for an entire month.
At the crack of dawn, villagers lined up for the rice, each trying to get a bag for their own little cluster. This method reminded me of moshavim, Israel’s cooperative agricultural settlements where everyone has a very small plot of land to tend.
This spirit of cooperation was heartening to see, particularly in people who had gone through so much. Over 50% of the village was destroyed in the April 25th earthquake, but 100% of the locals were sleeping outside in tents because of damage to their homes. They feared that the unstable adobes would fall, and given the reality of aftershocks, such a fear was not misplaced.
While in Kakani, I saw many injured villagers and heard many stories of what they had experienced. Some individuals didn’t find their loved ones for over 48 hours, while some still don’t know if others in neighboring villages are still alive.
After the rice distribution in Kakani, I headed back to Beit Chabad and reflected on everything I had seen in less than 24 hours. The contrast between the beautiful and serene Kathmandu Valley of less than three weeks ago and the devastation I saw all around me was poignant, to say the least. Even more troubling were the faces of individuals I saw at each stop. Many seemed dazed and flat – understandable given what they had experienced over the last few weeks.
When I arrived at the Chabad House, I met with others to discuss how we could best contribute to a village rebuilding project. After these initial discussions, I prepared to leave for the village of Bhaktapur, about 30 minutes from Kathmandu, where I planned to help built temporary shelters.
Suddenly, the ground shook beneath me – and I realized I was in the middle of another earthquake.
In Part III, I will share the experience of finding myself in Tuesday’s earthquake, as well as the next stage of relief efforts.