Had a great fall, and lived
As a rebuilt Dharara is set to be inaugurated by Prime Minister K P Oli on Saturday, Sanjib Shrestha’s eyes are fixed on another structure – the ruin of the original tower from which he was pulled out alive six years ago.
Shrestha looks out from a tea shop across the street and recounts the events that haunt him to this day. More than 70 people were killed when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake brought down the historic tower just before noon on 25 April 2015.
Originally from Ramechhap, Sanjib came to Kathmandu to work. The youngest of five children, he had been living in Basantapur with his brothers and sister-in-law. On 25 April, Sanjib completed his morning shift at a restaurant in Pulchok, where he worked as a waiter.
“We met up, but had not decided where to go, and as we passed Dharara, Ramila wanted to climb the tower because she had never been up there before,” he recalls.
They bought tickets and climbed the steep spiral stairs, and there were many people going up and down. On the balcony, it was so crowded that the two just held on to the railing, and took in the view of Kathmandu below them.
Suddenly, Sanjib felt as if the tower was swinging. He thought the height was making him dizzy. What happened next is hazy, he remembers a sensation of falling, and asking rescuers what had happened before losing consciousness.
When he came to, he was on the cement pavement outside Bir Hospital, surrounded by other wounded survivors. Blood from a cut on the forehead had mixed with the dust, and made him unable to open his eyes. Miraculously, he had survived a vertical 61m fall with just a broken hand, while many others did not make it.
It was late evening when he was taken to the National Trauma Centre with other wounded people. He had lost his phone, so could not call his relatives and friends. A Nepal Army soldier lent him his phone to call his brother.
Sanjib’s brothers did not know he had taken the day off from work, and when they came to the hospital they could not recognise him at first because of the dust and injuries.
Sanjib spent the next 15 days in hospital, and after being discharged went back home to Ramechhap where the family home was partially damaged and he slept out in the open with his parents because of the aftershocks.
His wounds got infected, and he had to return to hospital in Kathmandu. He found another job in a restaurant where he was working until the Covid-19 lockdown last year. He resumed working at the same restaurant after the lockdown.
“I still have nightmares sometimes, and I wake up in cold sweat,” says Sanjib, but he is overcoming his fear, and it does not bother him to walk up to the ruins and look at the spot from where he was rescued.
Workers in hard hats are preparing the site for the prime minister’s inauguration of the new tower, and some are taking selfies.
“I can’t tell if it is because the new structure is wider,” says Sanjib, looking up at the newly-built Dharara, “but it somehow looks smaller than the old one.”
Actually, the new concrete tower is broader than the old brick and mortar one that collapsed. Its balcony is bigger, and at 79m it is 18m taller.
Bhimsen Thapa built two minaret-style towers at the entrance to his palace in 1832. But both of them collapsed in the 1833 earthquake, and only one was rebuilt. That one had been restored after coming down again in the 1934 earthquake, only to collapse again in 2015.
Sanjib looks up at the new tower, and says, “I would like to climb it again when it is open to visitors. I will not be afraid.”
Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.