Coronavirus Nepal Lockdown Month 2

After 50 days what is utterly extraordinary has come to seem normal, the unimaginable is commonplace

Patan Drbar Square. Photo: TEMPLE TIGER

The ancient brick walls of the Patan Darbar absorb the dull afternoon light like spilled claret. A black dog slinks behind a doorway and a woman in a pale sari gazes immobile from a high window, but otherwise the square is empty.

Temples are closed, worship is suspended, offerings banned, bells muted and lamps left unlit, monitored by the occasional passing police patrol  Two long wooden benches flank the magnificent nipple-studded gold doorway, usually packed with lounging locals and tired tourists soaking up the sun and watching the world go by.

But now the palace door is slammed tight shut, gleaming dully in the overcast afternoon, and the seats, polished by generations of grateful bottoms, are bare and bereft.

When the air is clean, Abhushan Gautam

Kathmandu turns into flower city, Manish Paudel

Across the silent Valley, streets deserted, shops shuttered, offices closed, hotels barred and government gates padlocked, the reclining Vishnu at Budhanilkantha lies abandoned and alone. His black stone limbs are strewn with dead flower petals and rotting leaves blown through the concrete fence. Barricaded behind chunky chains wrapped around his metal gates, the normally bustling temple precinct, never without worshippers, pilgrims and prayers, is still and lifeless.

A defiant smear of vermillion stains a tree near the entrance. Narayan’s celestial powers protect the Valley swamped by this unnatural quiet, and bolster the nation’s battle against the invisible coronavirus to be vanquished with a strategy of isolation, closures and lockdown, defeated by a drumbeat of hand washing, face masks and social distancing.

The silence of the airport departure terminal is all pervasive, the car park empty, the doors locked, and inside the dusty check-in desks and rows of untenanted immigration booths stand sentinel to former days. The rare evacuation flights and the occasional cargo plane brings the place alive with masked staff and gloved security personnel. An aircraft overhead causes us to stop and raise our eyes in witness to an unusual event. Every motor engine sounds unnaturally loud in the Valley hush with which we have become habituated.

After 50 days of Nepal lockdown, what is utterly extraordinary has come to seem normal, the unimaginable become commonplace. I wake at dawn thinking: ‘Is this for real?’. ‘Unprecedented’, ‘historic’, ‘incredible’ are all overused words, but how else to relate, to express, to process our current situation. We are becoming inured to scenes and situations throughout the world that a scant few weeks ago would have been unthinkable.

Aussies and Kiwis homeward bound from Nepal, Lisa Choegyal

Coronavirus shutdown gives Nepal's nature a respite, Mukesh Pokhrel

Thousands of aircraft are patiently parked along the periphery of unused runways as flights worldwide are grounded by the pandemic, machinery moth-balled and travellers confined to home. The vast skies above South Asia are devoid of air traffic, all borders sealed, domestic flights forbidden, and not even citizens permitted to return home. The airline industry is suffering its worst ever crisis, and when planes do take off on the other side of this disaster, aviation will never look the same again.

Global tourism is realising how its tentacles extend far beyond the obvious frontline of hospitality - airlines, transport, hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, tours and attractions - into less obvious areas of the arts, theatre, design, banking, education  conservation, and of course agriculture and food production.

Businesses that have taken a lifetime to build are crumbling day by day. Touts and beggars are jobless, working horses, donkeys, elephants and camels are having a holiday, wild nature is flourishing in the respite, but the roaming street dogs and stupa monkeys are hungry. The world is at a standstill, the suffering stark.

Back to the future of farming, Editorial

Nepal lockdown chance for self-sufficiency in veggies, Ramesh Kumar

Sporting events are cancelled, competition abandoned, arenas empty, stadiums forsaken, games aborted, scoreboards blank, ladders and league tables on hold. The massive preparations for race meets, world cups and Olympics evaporate in the face of the most destructive viral onslaught of our lifetimes.

Footballers have hung up their boots, racehorses remain in their stables, and the green lawns of Wimbledon see no tennis served with Pimms and strawberries. In bizarre efforts to keep audiences engaged, matches are played in vacant venues, and Formula One and sailing regattas have resorted to virtual events online. There is no fear of missing out, as the sporting world is on ‘pause’.

Desperate people queue around the block, snaking for hours through socially distanced circles, for free meals or access to food banks – and not just daily wage earners deprived of employment in emerging nations, but white-collar workers in the world’s major capitals of London, Paris and New York.

Public parks are enjoyed only by ducks on the ponds, solitary trees and insects in the flowers, blushing unseen in the deserted gardens. Jobs are being lost, companies collapsing, rents unpaid, loans and mortgages reneged.

In Nepal we are familiar with political shutdowns closing the roads and shuttering the shops, strikes that never lasted more than a day or two. The strict curfew that accompanied the king agreeing to lift the ban on political parties in April 1990 was only suffered for three days.

"Survive 2020, revive in 2021 and thrive in 2022", Alisha Sijapati

Feeding 1,000 a day in Kathmandu, Lisa Choegyal

We are exhorted to stay safe and shelter in place, as the walls close in and perimeters shrink, moulded by the relentless confines of our homes. Rooms contract and expand, depending on our state of mind and time of day. Vivid night dreams infiltrate beyond sleep to penetrate the waking hours. Is that a dent on the sofa cushion where I have been sitting glued to my laptop day after day, week after week?

Tenzin paces the driveway, wearing out his prayer beads, the tyres of his unused car softening on the flagstones. The cuckoos have arrived and the whistling thrush has nested. The roses have budded, bloomed and died, the extravagant white petals of the magnolia have exploded before wilting waxy brown, and the cherry tree has carpeted the ground with crimson blossom and is now clad in hopeful fresh green.

Within the relentless rhythm of the lockdown the formless days unfold, measured in perpetual birdsong and sheets of vitamin pills, all plans in suspension, all projects on hold. In theory, now is the chance to read, watch movies, wallow in Netflix, listen to music  sort photos, fix the house, and call friends but in reality I struggle with the focus and motivation to do any of it.

I have learned to value every cup of coffee, waste no food, and prize the fresh vegetables bought from the end of the lane. How sweet is that first mango of the season, and with what difficulties must it have travelled to arrive whole and perfect green and gold on our kitchen table.

None of us has seen anything on this scale before and emerging the other side of it will have its own unknown shocks and challenges. But when we do, and when we are asked in some future virus-free era: ‘What was it like during the time of Covid-19, the great pandemic of 2020?’, these are the moments and memories I do not want to forget.

Lisa Choegyal


  • Most read