"We can come back. We can come back to our normal life. And one day, we can rise again." - Anup Shrestha
On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal and claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people. Roads and bridges across the country were uprooted, homes and historic sites collapsed in minutes, and an avalanche surged through Mt. Everest base camp. Chaos ensued.
The Gorkha Earthquake, named after its epicenter in the Gorkha region, became the most devastating earthquake in Nepal’s history, surpassing the fatality count of the 1934 Nepal-Bihar event. Although humanitarian groups worldwide mobilized to send aid and volunteers to Nepal, the seemingly boundless relief work demanded immediate and continued support from the local people.
For months after the earthquake, residents feared going back inside homes amidst the hundreds of tiny aftershocks and another earthquake on May 12th. Foreign aid organizations assembled sprawling tent camps and communities gathered to eat and sleep together in the streets.
Six months after the earthquake, the capital city of Kathmandu still bears the wounds of this harrowing time in Nepal’s history—but physical and emotional reconstruction has begun, exemplifying the power, resilience, and spirit of community.
Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the wind at Kathesimbu Stupa in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. The flags, which are ubiquitous in Nepal and the greater Himalayan region, promote peace, wisdom, kindness, and strength.
Swayambhunath Temple sits atop a hill west of the city and provides an elevated perspective of the cluttered and colorful Kathmandu Valley.
A local aid worker partners with residents to break down the remains of a collapsed residential building in Basantapur, Kathmandu.
Basantapur, Kathmandu’s most populated area, is a bustling maze. Support beams criss-cross nearly every narrow walkway to stunt the growing cracks and leaning walls. Collapsed buildings lay idle as piles of wood and brick, including several UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Faint sounds of rebuilding populate the air among the incessant buzzing of motorbikes and the soothing sound of temple bells. Shops and restaurants have reopened and preparations have begun for Indra Jatra, the largest street festival of the year in Basantapur.
In the neighborhood surrounding Basantapur’s Durbar Square, now a relic of one of Kathmandu's three ancient kingdoms, many groups united after the earthquake to lend organized support. The Mamadev Mahkan Club is one of those groups.
Celebration of life and history is essential to the reconstruction of Basantapur. As throngs of people gather to parade, watch dancing, and pay tribute to their gods, the sense of collective hope and commitment to the community burned bright.
Early morning light reveals a collapsed home in Basantapur, Kathmandu. Six months after the disaster, the damage lingers in most areas and serves as a somber reminder.
A dancer dressed in traditional Nepalese costume performs at Indra Jatra, an annual street festival in Basantapur Durbar Square and the largest religious street festival in Kathmandu.
Members of the parade at Indra Jatra march through Basantapur to the lively beat of drums and cheers from the crowd. Living gods, the military, and other local groups populate the winding procession.
Mamadev Makhan Club
Aman “Paka” Bhoj Joshi
Amit “Gupty” Gupta
Anup “Baga” Shrestha
Diwakar “Dusyo” Shrestha
Indromani “Jhapu” Kapali
Kabin “Marsya” Kapali
Joursotam “Dai” Ranjit
Roshan “Gane” Bajra Chorya
Samyhana “Sam” Joshi
Saren “Paka” Bajra Chorya
Sushil “Suku” Bajra Chorya
North of Kathmandu, in the foothills leading up to the snowcapped Himalayas, small villages dot an expansive green landscape of farming terraces in the Gorkha region. This was the epicenter of the April earthquake and among the most devastated in the country. The winding dirt road, laden with innumerable potholes and crossing herds of goats, continues to make aid distribution to these areas a challenge.
In September 2015, a group of volunteers from all over the world rallied to help build a model home in Arupokhari, Gorkha. This is the first of 90 homes in a plan devised by Prem Khatry, the founder of Kathmandu-based trekking company, Ace the Himalaya, who grew up in this village.
The manual labor, authentic cultural interactions, and relationships formed culminated in a transformative experience.
A collapsed building in the center of Gorkha illuminates the sheer power of an earthquake.
Volunteers from around the world camp in the Arupokhari village of Gorkha to help build an earthquake-safe model home.
Local kids from Arupokhari share a laugh with international volunteers after a long day of construction.
Kyle, Anup, Amit, and Sutton gather for one last picture on their final night together in Basantapur.
We thought we would talk to scientists—to the experts who could explain the inner workings of an earthquake. Or perhaps we would meet with relief and development coordinators who could describe why so much destruction occurred. Maybe when we arrived, we would have the opportunity to speak with helicopter rescuers, doctors, structural engineers, aid workers, or policemen.
These were all expectations from the planning phase of this project. But when we actually touched down in Nepal, it was overwhelmingly clear who the story of this earthquake was really about: the people who endured it and their stories of resilience.
Amit Gupta and Anup Shrestha, the two men we profiled in Kathmandu, approached us with the intent of sharing their experiences. Anup even pulled us aside once and said, “I want you guys to hear the real story, our story, and tell that one.” We looked at him with our budding journalistic eyes as if we had just struck gold. “Is that okay?” he followed up.
For the next two weeks, we cruised through the city on the backs of their motorbikes, shared momo (dumplings) at the neighborhood restaurant, and experienced first hand how a community can mend itself with its own history at Indra Jatra, the largest annual street festival in Basantapur.
Meandering through the wreckage in Kathmandu and in the peripheral villages, the sites didn’t mirror the spirits of the people who lived there. We saw community. We saw laughter. We saw strength. We didn’t see broken.
Writing / Photography
Video / Editing
Art Direction / Design
These stories were included in the series Don’t Wait For the Quake, in partnership with Oregon Public Broadcasting and the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.
We would like to extend a special thanks to the following people and organizations, without whom this project wouldn’t have been possible.
Ed Madison, Maya Lazaro, OR Media, and the UO School of Journalism and Communication; Louis Vargas and The Clymb; Prem Khatry, Sambhav Nepal, and Ace the Himalaya; Anup Shrestha, Amit Gupta, and the Mamadev Mahkan Club; the volunteers at the Gorkha home rebuild project; Greg Davenport, Keshab Raj Poudel, Rori Green, and all others who helped guide us along the way.