The Gorkha District in Nepal is located to the east of Kathmandu and historically is most important within the context of the creation of modern Nepal. It is here that the Shah Dynasty had its Royal stronghold and Palace and from where Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723-1775), King of the Gurkha Kingdom, created a unified Nepal, becoming its first King.
The old royal palace, locally referred to as the Gorkha Durbar, is located in the town of Gorkha on top of the hill behind the town. It takes about 1,600-1,700 steps to climb from the town’s Bazaar to the Durbar, which is located at about 1,000 meter altitude (3281 ft.).
The view from the Gorkha Durbar is spectacular on clear days, and overlooks the town of Gorkha and adjacent valley and hills, and towards the other side of the ridge, to the Manaslu mountain range. Manasalu Himal (Mount Manasalu, or ‘mountain of the spirit) is with its 8,163 metres (26,781 ft) the eight highest mountain in the world. To its west views can extend to the Dhaulagiri (8,167 m, 26,795 ft) and Annapurna (8,091 m, 26,545 ft), and to the east to the Lantang Himal (highest peak 7,234 m, 23,734 ft).
The Nepal earthquake of 25 April 2015 (11:56 Nepal Standard Time) had its epicentre in the town of Barpak in the Gorkha District, about 45 km (28 mi) away from Gorkha Bazaar, and 65 km (40 mi) east of Kathmandu. The villages in the Gorkha District were badly damaged by the earthquake, with huge loss of lives. Many aid organisations continue to be active in the region, with the rebuilding of facilities, livelihoods and communities taking many more years.
The village of Gorkha already had many newer buildings and as a result the earthquake damage was somewhat restricted. Damaged structures and buildings can still be spotted in the town, including at the Gorkha Durbar on the hill, where in 2016 still major conservation repairs and rebuilding works were ongoing.
In the more remote villages around Gorkha and in the wider District, the earthquake caused more destruction. Photographs of Barpak village before and after the earthquake went around the world, and showed how almost the whole village was levelled. In small villages near the town of Gorkha, such as in Nareswor village, the ruined structures can still be observed, with many collapsed and abandoned houses, and temporary shelters being erected.
One year after the earthquake, at the start of the monsoon rain season, the villagers were hard at work with the planting of the rice paddies. The preparation of the fields, and the planting of the rice, on the steep rice terraces here in the Himalayas, is very hard labour. After all the setbacks of the past year, it is inspiring to see the togetherness of these communities while planting the rice paddies and repairing the hydrology systems for these fields.
Life somehow has to go on. Generation after generation they have planted these fields. There is no alternative. The fresh green of the recently planted rice paddies is one of the most beautiful colours there is to me. It is a colour of rebirth, a colour of hope. The hope for a good produce. The hope for a better and easier year.
Nature has not been kind on these communities this past year. It felt like a lesson in gratitude to see the smiles on the faces of the people of the Gorkha District, as they were working from sunrise to sunset during this planting season. Was it the happiness in their hearts, the happiness to be able to live, to survive, to breath the air of this stupendesly beautiful environment?
Nature takes, and nature gives. In Gorkha it has been a year of extreme taking and giving.
Text and photography by Jan Haenraets
Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada