India Insight

Quake-prone Kathmandu awaits the next big one

Walking through the maze of narrow, crowded lanes of Kathmandu’s old city is, at the best of times, a harrowing experience.

Motorcycles, rickshaws and cars squeeze their way through the tiny, winding streets lined with dilapidated medieval buildings, Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas.

Mangled lines of power cables dangle dangerously above as you dodge the cows that mingle with traders, shoppers and tourists in the densely packed, bustling streets.

With a history and culture dating back 2,000 years, the Nepalese capital – and the Kathmandu Valley where it is situated – ranks among the oldest human settlements in the central Himalayas.

But the region also ranks as one of the world’s hotspots for earthquakes.

Nepal’s lack of disaster preparedness, the decrepit buildings packed cheek by jowl along the tiny lanes and the large families who live in these homes make the prospect of a major earthquake a serious concern.

Amid chaos, Nepal’s king bows out gracefully

In the end, it was hard not to feel a little bit sorry for Nepal’s deposed King Gyanendra.

Reuters’ Simon Denyer (L) watches as Nepal’s deposed King Gyanendra (R) addresses the media at the Narayanhiti royal palace in Kathmandu June 11, 2008. Denyer is India bureau chief for Reuters, with responsibility also for Nepal and Bhutan.He had seemed an impossibly distant, arrogant figure in the past, but on Wednesday, addressing the press before leaving the palace, in his first and possibly final news conference, he kept his dignity and showed a previously unseen human side.

So it was a pity his swansong — and that of a once-cherished 239-year-old monarchy — was surrounded by chaos, with more than 200 journalists jostling for a view in the palace’s small main hall, constantly pushing and shoving each other.

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