CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 27, 2015 – As the death toll rises in Nepal following the catastrophic earthquake on Saturday, geophysicists are saying they knew the disaster was eventually going to strike. It was only a matter of time.
Much like the powerful quake that rocked Haiti in 2010, the 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Nepal struck one of the poorest nations on Earth. More than 80 years ago, in 1934, Nepal was hit by a 7.8 magnitude seismological event that took the lives of more than 10,000 people.
Scientists have long monitored the movement of the Earth’s plates in the region because of their rapid movement beneath Nepal and Tibet. In essence, one of the reasons Mount Everest exists is the accordion-like “squeezing” of the Himalayas.
Not only did Mount Everest suffer a series of avalanches that left some climbers stranded, the capital city of Kathmandu lost numerous ancient pagodas and landmarks that were suddenly turned to rubble or covered with debris from surrounding crumbling buildings.
Though poor, Kathmandu was a thriving metropolis filled with temples, shrines and marketplaces where people gathered in the streets in a living outdoor bazaar.
Today it is more like an outdoor bizarre where the worst losses appear to be the majestic Shiva temple pagoda and its twin Narayan temple pagoda, which overlooked Durbar Square, the Times Square of Kathmandu.
Kathmandu has a long history of being haven for Western adventure seekers who backpack their way through the legendary country with its mysterious and exotic lifestyles to escape the pressures of the 21st century.
The capital of Kathmandu has become a gateway to Everest for thousands who plan excursions to climb to various levels of the mountain to experience the mystique of the region.
Among the most popular events in Kathmandu is a visit to the enclosed courtyard that surrounds the palace of the Kumari, Nepal’s Hindu virgin goddess. Though situated in the same square as the damaged pagodas, initial reports say the ornate buildings with their statues and carved wood facades appear to have survived the quake. Further investigation will reveal the extent of any damage.
Kumari makes only rare appearances when she comes to her balcony and waves to the people for a few minutes. Sightings of the Kumari are regarded as special events for visitors to Kathmandu; pictures are forbidden.
To date, due to the immediate needs for assisting the wounded and digging through the rubble for other victims, there has been no word about damage to the Swayambhunath temple on the outskirts of the Kathmandu. Swayambhunath, more popularly known as the “Monkey Temple” because of the wild monkeys that pervade the area, is an imposing hillside structure that is among the most famous places of Hindu and Buddhist worship.
Though the 2010 quake in Haiti was more than 20 times weaker than the one that struck Nepal, estimates of more than 100,000 deaths were thought to have occurred around the capital city of Port au Prince. Much of that was due to the desperate living conditions of the population, which was far poorer than Kathmandu.
On the other hand, there were similarities in that both events were anticipated and both were devastating because they hit areas densely populated by people surviving in third world poverty. Lack of proper infrastructure and failures to adhere to modern building codes further added to the death toll.
Approximately 1.5 million people live in Kathmandu, the majority in substandard dwellings. In Nepal the annual per capita income is around $1,350.
Still, Kathmandu is a city of temples, shrines, pagodas and landmarks that have a mystical appeal to travelers from all over the world. First, the process of finding the dead will continue, and then the rebuilding of the past will commence.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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