It was April 25, 2015.
In a state of peaceful joy, I was riding a bike in the countryside of Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, exploring the many temples scattered in the surroundings. Those were my last days in Nepal, after a 3-month stay, during which I attended an internship in Photojournalism at VCD Nepal, an NGO based in Kathmandu. I was on my way to India.
Then, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck. Many aftershocks followed, and, at the end, the death toll turned out to be over 9.000.
During those beautiful three months, I just fell in love with Nepal. The stunning landscapes, ranging from the Himalayan peaks to the savannah of the Chitwan National Park, simply amazed an open-space lover like me. The ancient culture, still so rooted in the daily life, gave me a feeling never experienced before: being living through the history of a place, witnessing rituals and customs left untouched in the folds of time. Probably, it’s indeed this blend of Hindu and Buddhist religion, orbiting around the concept of love and respect towards all the living beings, what makes the Nepalese such polite, smiling and lovable people.
When: April 2016
Photo by: Matteo Fabi
All this contributed to my choice of coming back here to develop my first photo-reportage with “professional” ambition. During March 2016, I quit (once again) my job in London, and flew to Kathmandu. My lovely VCD Nepal family was there to welcome and give me refuge. In the capital, even though life had already come back to normality, I could see the scars left by the quake. Nevertheless, I wanted to go deeper to the roots of the calamity.
In order to do so, I simply set out on a trekking to the Gorkha District, the area which was the 2015 epicentre. Here, I witnessed how the natural disaster, one year later, still affects the ordinary life of people.
My first stop was Gorkha municipality, the district’s capital. As soon as I got out of the bus, I sat for a tea at the first spot available. Here, I have been instantly approached by Tula Ram Ghale, a smiling and enthusiastic fellow from the area. He introduced me to his project of a commemorative bike ride from Kathmandu to Barpak, his home village, and gave me a first overview of the difficult situation which the Gorkha people still cope with.
Due to political inefficiency and corruption, the process of relief and reconstruction is quite slow. A lot of the inhabitants, especially in the most hit rural areas such as Gorkha, are still living in tents and tin shelters.
Being also a trekking guide, Tula Ram provided me with an itinerary through the area. The first designed stop was the village of Bhachchek.
During my stay in Bhachcheck, everything became clear. After one year, the most were still dealing with the reconstruction. People were crawling in the ground of construction sites, along with their children, playing with the same tools. Even the military had yet to rebuild their local barracks.
In the meantime, I accidentally got in touch with Gorkha Foundation, an NGO which operates in the area. They took me along in several trips, visiting schools under construction in the surroundings. I found students who spent the academic year in temporary tin-plated or bamboo structures, lacking of fundamentals as electricity, windows and blackboards. Really few institutes were ready, and still surrounded of building materials.
After six days, included the colourful Holi festival, I left Bhachchek. Making my way up to the next destination, I crossed villages where a general perception of stability was time by time vanishing, until eventually reaching Ghyachchock, probably the worst-hit place I found on my way. Here, the school was a bunch of rubble, with books sadly abandoned amid the dark rocks, their last sheet of knowledge floating in the wind.
After only one night, I headed to what is meant to be the real epicentre of the natural disaster: the town of Barpak. Hanging over an even higher ridge, this fairly extended hamlet is meant to be a major centre in the area, but conditions were not far better. To mention, the only daily hour of electricity was guaranteed by a diesel generator, fuelled with gasoline made expensive by the India’s blockade, yet by the altitude itself.
Down the streets, women swarmed everywhere with their typical conic carrying-baskets filled with rocks: the custom imposes them to carry the materials around, while the men are building. They are also responsible of refining the stones in the different cuts needed, just smashing them with heavy hammers.
While writing this story, I still am in Nepal. I keep on witnessing day by day people dealing with the aftermath of the catastrophe. Nevertheless, there is a special flame burning in the Nepalese souls: the flame of resilience. They never give up, and, remarkably, they never lose their smile.
All these pictures are dedicated to them, hard-working people of bright heart and unshakable spirit.
Photography and writing: Matteo Fabi
Many, many thanks to Gorkha Foundation, especially local coordinators Tim Maker and Ganesh Shrestha, for all the support and involvement they offered me spontaneously. Thanks to Tula Ram Ghale for having been an improvised, providential guide.