from my post in 2016 Harisiddhi
Harisiddhi is one of the ancient towns of the Kathmandu valley. When we visited there earlier in 2015 we found a place that, in part, time seems to had forgotten. Many of its buildings were in the traditional Newari style – brick and timber; the roads and alleyways narrow. Old people sat together chatting and soaking up the weak afternoon sun in the timber platform shelters created as meeting places.
Less than 12 months later, Harisiddhi is almost unrecognisable to us after the earthquake. Our visit there was sobering, to say the least. Whole streets have vanished. That means hundreds of people are now without houses – and are living in temporary corrugated iron or tent shelters. These are cold, uncomfortable places, without sanitation.
We met many people whose houses had been destroyed – there is a resilience in the Nepali people – they are stoic; but regardless of that, this a very traumatic event for them and nine months later it is still, of course, very very raw.
Coming up to two years after the earthquake, we again visited Harisiddhi to see how, or indeed if, the situation had improved for its residents. The hardship of people’s lives was very visible. Most of the temporary housing is still in use. Made of galvanised iron, these shelters are freezing in winter and very hot in summer.
Some reconstruction work is beginning. The streets are now not only full of rubble, but also sand and new equipment for the houses. People sit around together surrounded by all this incompleteness – many are old people and I wonder how many will live long enough to experience a rebuilt town or at least a rebuilt home.
It is bleak and certainly not a place, or way, one would choose to live. As we were looking at one caved-in house, we met a man who is building a new house next door. Without us understanding Nepali he told us it had been his home and broken by the earthquake – two of his family members had died there. His grief was palpable and without a verbal language to communicate in, I hope he understood our sorrow for him and the community.
It’s been another, so we hopped on a bus to visit Harrisiddhi again to see what progress had been made in rebuilding this Newari village. As I described earlier, many traditional and ancient buildings had been lost in the earthquake.
We were surprised to see how much had been achieved since our last visit. Although many people are still living in temporary housing, there is nowhere near the number of huts and tents that were present in 2016. Large multi-story homes have been constructed – and many are in the process of being built.
houses being built alongside temporary shelters.
remnants of the earthquake alongside a home being built
The village is a building site and much of its previous charm lost; unfortunately plastic and other pollution is ever present.
As we strolled around the village we met an old woman cleaning bricks from her former and destroyed home. A tedious job. She told us that her home had fallen down in the earthquake and as neither of us shared a common language, her story and sadness were conveyed by gesture and expression. The foundations of a new home had been made, so I guess it is just a matter of time until she, and her blind husband have a proper home again and hopefully she can relax a little in her old age.
the blind husband outside his temporary home.
Although the loss of the old Newari homes is heartbreaking, they were not conducive to a comfortable and modern life. The stairs are steep, there was no glass in windows, heating, or flowing water . Ceilings were low and there was no modern bathrooms or kitchens. it is not hard to imagine that the new, solid houses with modern amenity will mean a much more comfortable life for the residents – even if a lot of charm is lost. Nonetheless effort goes into constructing homes that maintain the village style, with shops below and homes in the upper storeys, with carved timber windows and doors.
some of the new buildings are sensitive to the important element of the Newari traditions.