Most survivors of the cataclysmic events of 25 April that destroyed the village of Langtang, in Rasuwa district, are currently living in a relief camp in Swayambhu area, a hilltop with several Buddhist sites, located in the western part of Kathmandu Valley. The camp is inside the compound of the Yellow Gompa, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Gelugpa order. Following the earthquake, the monastery has offered its compound as temporary shelter for people who have lost their homes.
Survivors began to be flown in to the camp from the village of Kyanjin Gompa in Langtang Valley from 27 April. Further up from Langtang village, the impact of the earthquake on this village is less severe than other areas in Langtang. Almost everyone who has survived has either come, or been brought, to the Yellow Gompa for temporary stay. Between five to 15 new survivors of Langtang are flown in everyday and the total number of those in the camp is now 111.
The area of the camp is about half the size of a football field, consisting of several multicolored tents cramped together. Two large canvas tents, normally used by the monastery during religious events, operate as a billowing umbrella over the tents and open space underneath. The people there – whether young or old – seem listless. With the class 12 exams slated to take place in less than a month, several older students are finding it difficult to focus and prepare for the tests. A few young men help in unloading and storing consignments of food supplies, blankets and toiletries that have arrived as donations in a room provided by the monastery. All the supplies coming into the camp at present are donation, mostly from private tourist companies, trekking and mountaineering associations, Buddhist organisations, volunteers and foreign nationals. The monastery prepares the food from the ration received as donations, and also provides water for washing clothes. Most that have arrived in the camp only have the clothes they are wearing as their sole material possessions.
Everyone in the camp has lost one or more relatives, and nearly everything they own is lost. Their injuries range from bruises to multiple fractures. Many children appear oblivious to the fact that they are now orphans. Yet, understandably, many still dream of going back to Langtang and rebuilding their village as soon as things begin to settle down. “Langtang is our home. It is the only place and way of life we have known,” says Jangbu Tamang, an 18-year-old who lost his mother in the earthquake.
The dream for return, however, seems to be wishful thinking: initial reports indicate that the Langtang landscape will continue to remain dangerously unstable at least till the end of the coming monsoon. The villagers seem to be aware of this situation too, but at the moment they can’t think of other options of livelihood and settlement in Kathmandu Valley. Meanwhile, they are trying to negotiate with the monastery to allow them to extend their stay in its compound for a few more weeks, till they find another place in the city.
~Abhimanyu Pandey is a Kathmandu-based consultant with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
~‘Notes from the field’ is a reporting initiative, where we bring stories of the people and places that have been affected by the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal.