We got off to an early start to visit the King’s Palace in Gorkha as the sun rose. A stiff walk up many steps later brought us to the top and to the palace, which has extensive damage. It is however in the process of being restored.
On the road once more to continue our drive to Barpak, much of which was well and truly off road through. Having dropped onto the valley floor and run along the river bank, we started to climb through tiny villages and around many hairpin bends.
Around 5 hours later we reached Barpak, a sprawling town and one of the largest in Nepal, which was almost completely destroyed by the first earthquake in April 2015. The epicentre site is just a few hundred metres away.
We discovered one large school here, being rebuilt by a Japanese relief fund, good to see. As we were walking through the town at the end of the school day and were surrounded by scores of happy children of all ages, who we filmed and photographed to their great curiosity.
So closely associated with the Gorkha army, this is a wealthy area, and has received much aid. However, the road has opened up only very recently, allowing easier access for supplies, trade and local traffic.
Rebuilding is steadily in progress in Barpak, despite around 90% of the working population being based overseas now, most involved in the building of new airports and hotels for UAE states, ironically.
At the very top of Barpak we stayed with a family whose house had been destroyed, along with 6 others on their short row. Our host’s father had died when their building collapse; 7 others also died on this road alone. A total of 70 people perished in Barpak.
Our host family have since built a new home with permanent homestay accommodation above, offering four comfortable bedrooms plus a central living area, which they run on a dinner, bed and breakfast business.
While there is good insulation for the area, it is still freezing this time of year. An outside toilet and gas warmed shower (a luxury), both benefit from electric lighting – still a rarity – although there continued load sharing means it goes off frequently and without warning.
Our visit to Barpak was awe-inspiring. The scenery is immense – vast hills in front with staggering snow-capped mountain ranges beyond. It looks so benign but the visual evidence in the immediate foreground tells a very different story.
Every building was destroyed and the huge amount of reconstruction is ongoing. Being a Gurung community, the stone walling style is used everywhere so new buildings appear strong. The use of steel bars and concrete pillars will also help stabilise structures should the ground shake again.
On a personal note, the journey to Barpak, as well as the town itself, has left the greatest impression on me so far. It was an expedition in itself to reach the town, travelling on a dirt track up soaring hillsides, with bottomless drops below and seemingly unstable hills above that looked like they could slide at the slightest disturbance.
We passed groups of locals either walking miles up and down to gather animal fodder or sitting on the banks chipping gravel by hand for the next phase of construction.
The sheer beauty of the surrounding juxtaposed with the very evident and catastrophic destruction of the earthquakes. The town itself was so unexpected, literally rebuilding itself around us as the survival of this community has been down to the locals’ own determination, having been cut off from aid for so long.
All the surrounding farm terraces were well tended, there was a very busy atmosphere in the streets, with many tiny shops open and tea houses plying for trade. Sarah says that smaller communities from the surrounding mountains will travel to Barpak perhaps once a year to stock up on supplies and trade their wares so its ability to regenerate has affected so many beyond the 6-7,000 residents of the 1470 permanent homes here.