As we walked past the whitewashed Constituent Assembly building, the blacktopped road started shaking violently. I struggled to stand up straight. It was 50 seconds or so before the juddering stopped. My friend and I held on to each other firmly and glanced at the newly built skyscrapers around us, to reassure ourselves that they were still intact. (Most were.)
We tried to call home and get through to other friends to check if things were okay. But after the first few calls, the phone network got too congested to have any more conversations. We decided to wait in the garden nearby of the Civil Hospital, realising that it would be safer than standing in the middle of the road.
As we entered the garden, the ground convulsed for a second time. We sat on the ground, as casualties began flooding into the emergency ward of the hospital. The bloodied face of a child made me numb. I turned back to look at the mountains far away. And then, there was another upheaval, of nearly equal intensity. In the distant mountains, I could see landslides.
People start flooding in with news: the Basantapur Durbar Square had crumbled, Nepal’s iconic Dharahara tower was a heap of rubble, people were trapped under fallen buildings in Bhaktapur and Sundhara. As we listen to these updates, the tremors continued. My friend and I decided that it was only a matter of time before we’d be killed too.
Next to us, a grave young man was recounting stories on the phone about how Kathmandu had been destroyed. Though the phone networks were jammed, he seemed to have no problem getting through on every call he made. He kept repeating the dire tales about the horrific sights he had witnessed. This only added to my sense of foreboding.
We decided to return to our families but we were afraid to walk, fearing that the roads would suddenly crack open, as they had done in many places. We were also afraid to board the bus, for fear that a falling pole would hit the vehicle. Undecided, we pottered around the garden for a while. We realised that the aftershocks seem to have stopped. This helped up muster up the courage to walk home. We strolled for a little while and then caught the bus.
Setting up camp
We came home, and decided to sit in an open field nearby until things got back to normal. But 17 hours after the earth started to shake, nothing was normal. We arranged for some dry food and set up a tent out in the field to sleep in. It can accommodate not more than a dozen people.
As the radio predicted more disturbances over the next 48 hours, more people from the neighbourhood flooded into our makeshift shelter. There are more than two dozen people here now, so a few of us were pushed into the open. We spread thin mattress under the sky and began to browse through social media on our phones. There was immense relief when we found relatives and friends posting “we are safe” statuses. But the photographs uploaded by journalist friends sent a chill down our spine.
It started drizzling. We moved to the verandah a friend's house. We drew a quilt over ourselves but kept our shoes on, in case we needed to start running. Every 20 minutes or so, the ground would shake, we’d dart out, return to our mattresses when the shaking had ceased and check our phones for updates. The cycle repeated itself endlessly through the night.
Sleepless, I came out into the field at 4.30 this morning and started to write this piece. As I reach the end of my narrative, I can feel the tremor once again. On the radio, the announcer informs us that the latest aftershock registered 5.5 on the Richter scale, and the epicentre was not far from Kathmandu.
More than 1,500 people have already been reported dead. Several World Heritage monuments have collapsed.
We have no option but to wait this out.
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