It is always wonderful to be invited to visit an international school, but occasionally an invitation will be especially thrilling. This happened recently with my author visit to the British School Kathmandu.
Kathmandu had long been on my Bucket List, so I was deeply saddened to hear about the 2015 earthquake. Not only because of the lives lost and homes destroyed, but because so many treasured temples had collapsed like piles of cards.
So when I arrived in the city, with a few days free for sightseeing, the mighty Buddhist stupas and ancient Durbar squares of Kathmandu and Patan were top of my list. How were they looking now? Had they been rebuilt?
Yes and no. The immense Swayambhunath and Boudhanath stupas have both been rebuilt and are stunning. Patan Durbar Square is still glorious upon first sight. But it soon becomes apparent that there are gaps, like missing teeth in a smile, where the wooden pagoda-type temples no longer exist. There are piles of bricks. Empty bases and plinths that used to have buildings standing upon them. Many, many walls on the surviving temples are being propped up by firm supports.
But the magic is still there, and the stories are glorious. How the local people, even in the midst of personal tragedy, rolled up their sleeves and helped conserve the buildings, literally brick by brick, salvaging and storing intricately carved doorway lintels and decorated panels. Everywhere there are piles of stonework and mountains of fallen tiles, all neatly stacked and ready to be used again. But it will be many years before the restoration is complete, and some temples will stay lost forever.
What a wonderful city Kathmandu is… The British School is lovely too, with its rooftop staffroom and persimmon trees in the courtyard. I had a wonderfully warm welcome, and thoroughly enjoyed my week, working with every class in turn.
My visit clipped the end of the monsoon season, so the clouds were too low for me to see the Himalayas. But as I flew out, over a thick fleece of cloud, I noticed one that didn’t appear to be moving. Sure enough it was a peak, piercing the clouds like a sharp tooth, and as I watched, breathless with excitement, a whole string of them appeared, one by one. It was an exhilarating end to a fabulous trip. I hope I can return some day to see the restoration progress. And I fervently hope there will not be another earthquake to devastate this truly magical region.