Thamel gets back to business


BACK ON TRACK: Hotel Budget collapsed on top of Ga Hiti in Thamel during the earthquake (below) killing at least 10 people. Today, the neighbourhood has been rebuilt through a community effort led by Zafar Hussain and Hari Bhakta Shrestha . NISCHAL PRADHAN

Hari Bhakta Shrestha was in his office at Hotel Budget in Thamel when the earthquake struck just before noon on that fateful Saturday three years ago.

As the shaking got worse, he ran out along with other residents and once outside, watched as his own hotel tilted and collapse into the historic Ga Hiti stone water spout. There was a shattering roar, and a cloud of dust rose up in the air.

Six guests from Sikkim were inside having breakfast in their rooms, and did not make it out. Several women waiting to collect water at the bottom of the sunken spout also perished.

Shrestha’s concentration then shifted from the rubble of the hotel to his family in Lazimpat. Fortunately they were all right.

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“It took a little time for people to understand what was happening, everyone was in shock,” Shrestha recalls. But three years later, he has rebuilt the renamed Hotel Ama’s Home at the exact spot where his old one used to be. The community has come together to restore the Ga Hiti neighborhood, and it is difficult to imagine today that Kathmandu’s tourist centre once suffered an earthquake.

“We cannot stop earthquakes, but we can protect ourselves from them by ensuring stronger construction for the next time,” says Shrestha, who says he did not want to sell his land and move out. His patience paid off, and business is back to normal as Thamel’s tourism revived.

After the earthquake, local politician Yogesh Bhattarai coordinated with the municipality and ward office to clear up the debris from the water spout, and lending a helping hand was the Ga Hiti Youth Club.

The Club’s Zafar Hussain said since many monuments like Dharara and the Darbar Squares were destroyed there was no point waiting for help from the government, so the community got together to restore their own neighbourhood which took six months.

“Waiting was pointless, and if we had waited, this place would never have been restored,” Hussain adds.

Called ‘Operation Every Day Every Week’ the rebuilding effort gathered momentum under Yogesh Bhattarai’s coordination. Excavators got to work to clear the rubble, volunteers helped lift out debris from Ga Hiti. Every day members of community would work together, and at the end of the week, volunteers would join in -- diplomats, politicians and people from other neighbourhoods.

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Finally, Kathmandu Metropolitan City took notice and formed a new reconstruction committee where the community put up 20% of the cost. With private donations, the hiti, road and broken water mains were all repaired long before similar reconstruction were completed in Kathmandu and elsewhere in the earthquake zones.

Shrestha gave the reconstruction of the neighbourhood more priority than rebuilding his own hotel.

We had no expectations of help from the government, and perhaps that is why it got finished so quickly,” he adds.

Today, Ga Hiti is once more a place for the community to get together to collect water, wash clothes and even bathe.

Hussain owns a jewellery shop in Thamel, and says Ga Hiti is now a model for how much can be achieved collectively: “Even the elders were looking up to the younger generation this time, it showed that a co-operative society can function well in times of crisis.”

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