By Deepak Adhikari
A sky-blue, arched gateway engraved with miniatures of gods and goddesses beckons upon taking a left turn off the blacktopped road towards the outskirts of Kathmandu.
A large number of vehicles are parked, unusual for this small town. On the left are several makeshift tents, a common sight across the Nepali capital in the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake.
Behind the tents, the situation is less like the rest of Kathmandu.
Only a few meters ahead are signs of devastation: piles of rubble, old, dilapidated buildings in ruins and people anxiously hoping that rescuers would pull their dear ones alive from the debris.
In the historic Newari town of Sankhu, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, a Chinese search and rescue team, aided by Nepali security forces, digs through the detritus to recover the body of Prapti Shrestha, an either-year-old girl trapped inside her home.
The bodies of Prapti’s father, Prem Lal Shreshta, her mother Lalita and her three-year-old sister Prarthana have already been retrieved.
At work last Wednesday afternoon were Chinese rescuers from Blue Sky Rescue, a national disaster response group, headed by Wang Heng Ji, a senior rescue officer who led similar rescue efforts in the Chinese city of Sichuan in 2008, when an 8.0-magnitude earthquake killed more than 69,000 people.
Lalita’s brother, Suraj Prajapati, is the only blood relative around to check with the progress of the operation.
When the quake struck Saturday morning, Prajapati was praying at the nearby temple of Bajrayogini with his fiancée, who he was going to marry soon.
“When I arrived here in the afternoon, nothing was left. We lost everything,” Prajapati told The Anadolu Agency.
The ancient trade route between Tibet and India, which made Nepal’s capital Kathmandu a trading hub until the late 18th century, passed through Sankhu, which lies on the edge of Kathmandu.
The Newars, the Kathmandu Valley’s indigenous people, who take pride in their rich history and culture that dates back several centuries, were the local inhabitants of the town, where temples and traditional homes stand cheek by jowl.
They also share the largest number of casualty in the earthquake. By Wednesday, 125 of this town of over four thousand people were killed in the quake.
When a group of Israeli rescuers with sniffer dogs walked by her home, Mangala Devi Manandhar, 46, pleaded with a reporter to request them to search for her 20-year-old daughter buried inside a neighbor’s home.
“Please ask them to search for her. They seem to have bigger dogs that might help find her,” she said, her voice a mix of desperation and hope.
Brajita Manandhar, a college student living with her aunt in the city, was home for a holiday and was visiting her friend a few blocks away when the disaster struck. Her friend escaped but she was buried inside the house.
Her father, Dev Narayan Manandhar, who runs a grocery store and whose house withstood the quake, stared blankly. The couple’s 22-year-old son was with them and survived unhurt.
– Trapped, in between home and work
A roughly 10 kilometers drive into Kathmandu’s downtown brings home another tragedy: dozens of migrants, traveling abroad for work or returning home, the breadwinners for millions of Nepalis, were trapped inside multi-story buildings in the neighborhood of Gongabu, now a ramshackle mess.
Hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and lodges lined this once vibrant neighborhood, now a bleak landscape of collapsed buildings.
A French rescue team was deep in work at the site where a six-story building had collapsed. The broken signboard of Paschim Pokhara Guest House spoke of its former existence. The owner had named it after the tourist town Pokhara, perhaps to attract more customers.
Behind the pink building, now reduced to three stories after the rest of the floors caved in, a man in his twenties was rescued alive last Tuesday, according to Ishwar Pant, a police officer.
But an owner of a grocery store wasn’t lucky.
The middle-aged man running the ground floor store was taking an afternoon nap when he was hit by the disaster last week.
As hundreds watched the operation, a social worker arrived, armed with details of a pair of victims inside: a woman in her forties and her five-year-old daughter.
According to Bal Bahadur Gaha Magar, the social worker, on April 24, a taxi driver had driven through the day from Itahari in eastern Nepal, arriving late in Kathmandu with his wife and the daughter.
Magar said the driver feared that his landlord would be angry if he reached his room late into the night, and opted for a lodge, where his family was staying into the morning Saturday. The three had made the journey to treat the daughter who was suffering from an illness.
Also trapped inside the building was a 22-year-old teacher, who was stopping over in Kathmandu en route to a private school in Dolakha district, over 100 kilometers northeast of the capital.
Clusters of buildings in and around Gongabu have become the sites of a few miraculous rescue operations, generating extraordinary tales of survival and deliverance.