Dubai — “We usually open at 7am but if you’re going trekking tomorrow, I’ll open at 6am so you can get a good breakfast in you before you head off,” Kathmandu bakery owner, Buddha Shrestha, tells me.
The Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal, before the earthquake.— KT photo by Kelly Clarke
The date is January 17, 2015, and my mind is made up. Nepal is spectacular — the people, the surroundings, the weather — and I’ve not even left the city yet.
I’m two days into a two-week trip around the home of Mount Everest when I first meet Shrestha.
Staying at a small hostel in a bustling narrow street in the Thamel area of Kathmandu, I come across his quaint little bakery while trying to catch a break from the cold evening air (it’s winter when I visit).
Nestled between hordes of colourful, old Newari style buildings, the warmth of the bakery offers the bit of heat I’ve been craving.
Greeted at the door by a smiling Shrestha, to say he makes me feel welcome is an understatement.
After a brief chat, I learn we have something in common. Though native Nepalese, Shrestha once called Dubai home and we begin naming some of our favourite spots.
He loves the old Creek in Bur Dubai and tells me he used to live in Satwa — which is where the inspiration for his newly-opened Kathmandu bakery came from, he says.
Far from just a bakery owner, Shrestha becomes my very own tour guide throughout the trip and points me in the direction of some of Kathmandu’s must see spots.
I first head towards Patan’s Durbar Square. It’s a maze-like old quarter filled with Hindu and Buddhist shrines. The centuries-old structures are just as impressive as Shrestha describes.
I watch in awe as local passersby make their offerings at the shrines, ringing bells and gracefully bowing before their god.
I see old vendors selling tea and watch local women fashion food bowls out of large green leaves (I’m told later they are used for eating rice).
What thrills me about travelling in Nepal is the incredible way it lets me see, touch and smell the history.
Locals are itching to tell me more about the years gone by — for a small price, of course — but their knowledge is quite literally, priceless.
But it’s this rich history which stands in ruins. On this day, April 28, 2015, the city remains a former shell of itself following Saturday’s catastrophic earthquake.
The Durbar Square shrines I once stood on top of are now reduced to rubble. The vendors I once watched at work are now unable to make their living selling tea and making rice bowls.
Instead, they’re desperately trying to clear the fallen debris from collapsed buildings while searching for the thousands still missing.
As the death toll crosses 3,000, I can’t help but wonder if Shrestha is safe.
I come across the business card he handed to me when we first met, but as I dial the number, an automated message comes on: “Sorry, the subscriber is not available at the moment”.
I follow up in hope with a text, and within a few hours he responds: “Hey Kelly. Thank you so much, I really appreciate your text. We survived and managed to escape from our house, but the house and bakery is very badly damaged. At the moment we are staying out on the road.”
A feeling of relief kicks in knowing he is alive but the realisation of his situation, and thousands around him, is saddening.
If there is one thing I can take away from my short time in Nepal, it’s the importance of keeping faith. So as the world comes together to help ease their suffering, please know we are thinking of you all.