Then and Now (Kathmandu and Bhaktapur)

Changu Narayan Temple near Bhaktapur,
circa 5th century, being rebuilt after earthquake.

On April 20, 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck 53 miles from Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu killing 8,964 people and displacing hundreds of thousands. It changed the country for a generation.

Our first day wandering Kathmandu, Erin and I met Sahil, an Indian-born artist who shared with us some of his Hindu rituals (and then very politely showed us his beautiful artwork for sale). Among his young-life’s stories was his stoic description of losing his father and brother in the earthquake.

A few days later, we hired a local guide, Bhaskar, to show us around historic Old Town, conveniently located just south of the tourist area of Thamel. He immediately began pointing out the new buildings and explained that they look similar to the historic structures but now have concrete and steel bars for reinforcement. Much like historic buildings in our hometown of Portland, Oregon, much of Kathmandu is still multi-story brick buildings with no reinforcement. Unlike Portland, Kathmandu has little to no regulation and the resulting “anything-goes” made it vulnerable to catastrophe.

Shiva, our Free Walking Tour guide the previous day, talked about being in his office during the quake and how he quickly searched the recesses of his brain for where to go and then headed, terrified, for the bathroom.

Nearly 8 years later, the impacts of the earthquake are still evident throughout the valley and very present in the minds’ of the survivors.

During my 1999 visit, I explored Kathmandu and Bhaktapur after a month trekking and conducting plant surveys in the mountains. These cities were two of the three kingdoms that coexisted in the Kathmandu Valley starting in the 1500s (Wikipedia history here). The earthquakes and aftershocks of 2015 were particularly devastating to the historic buildings and temples in both cities. I was nervous to visit Bhaktapur post-earthquake since all I remember of it from 1999 were the intricate stone temples and old woodwork–perfect fodder for earthquake damage. Thanks to Erin’s help I was able to capture a few “then and now” photos.

Vatsala Devi Temple in 1999 and 2023. It was completely destroyed in the 2015 earthquake (see video below) and rebuilt. Strangely, it seems the building to the right has always been under (re)construction.
The temple you see (and bell you hear) come completely down
at about second 15 in this video is seen in my 1999 photo above.
Built 350 years ago, this temple to Lord Shiva collapsed in another big earthquake in 1934 and was replaced by a placeholder structure that became known as “Phasidega,” or pumpkin temple. This is what I saw in 1999 (picture above). After the “pumpkin” was destroyed in 2015, it was restored to its original height and glory (picture below).

4 thoughts on “Then and Now (Kathmandu and Bhaktapur)

  1. Wow! Love this. And I have to admit that of all the interesting and wondrous things shown here, the photo that I made Dave come over and look at was that wiring. Bonkers!


  2. Thanks for sharing your tour. Most interesting, I won’t be complaining about the building codes anymore.
    The many religions are fascinating. Are they sort of like our protestant varieties, Baptist, Lutheran, etc. or totally separate and distinct religions?


  3. Pingback: Nepal E50 Bird List 1 | Lower the Bar for More Fun

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