Photos and Anecdotes of the Accidental Journalist 100 Days After The Nepal Earthquake


Let’s recap for a second. A massive M7.8 earthquake rocked Nepal on April 25, and although I didn’t feel the vibrations in New Delhi, I felt the intuitive clarity to drop everything and fly into Nepal the very next day. It’s been 100 days since the earthquake, and these are some short stories of my experience in Nepal. I’m really grateful to have been able to fly in right away, and looking back at the last three months, I’m really happy to know that I did everything I could. I wasn’t perfect (by a long shot), but I really look back at the last 100 days and know that I don’t have any regrets or “what ifs.” I did everything, went everywhere, talked to anyone that my mind could think up. It still seems unreal and crazy because I didn’t have a plan or any idea what I was going to do in Nepal. I somehow accidentally became a journalist. I’m more surprised than anyone else. Me? Journalist? Well, if the shoe fits…

P.S. Brace yourself for selfies. Do not scroll down if you don’t like selfies. Just don’t.

(ok, you have been warned about selfies… let’s get started)

  1. “I’m a journalist?” — 50 hours after earthquake on Monday, April 27. I somehow managed to talk myself past two Nepal Army officers who had cordoned off the Kathmandu Durbar Square. I couldn’t even rationalize it to myself whether I was doing the right thing, but I knew I had to see it. I just had to. This was historic. This was “the” earthquake that we’ve always feared in Nepal for our generation, and now that it had struck, I wanted to see it for myself. Not second hand. Not through the news. But me. One on one. I still had no idea what I was going to do to help, but I knew I had to see the problem first to figure out what was going on. So I did. The 2 key things I learned that day: 1) The vast majority of Kathmandu is unaffected by the earthquake. 2) There is no shortage of human capital (Army, Police, volunteers, locals, foreign teams) for search and rescue operations in Kathmandu.

2. I wanted to see damage (or lack thereof) in Kathmandu, and not just the “glamor shots” of collapsed 1200 year old temples. The best way to get to know a city is to walk around, so I set off from my house around 10am, and 5 hour later, I was tired and still had quite a ways to go to reach Swayambhunath (the monkey temple). With limited daylight left and a slight drizzle starting, I hitchhiked a ride from a passing motorcycle from Balaju to Swayambhu Temple. This was on Wednesday, April 29, 5 days after the earthquake. I don’t know if it would have been so easy to get a ride from someone on a “normal day”, but the post-earthquake Nepal brought out the best in everyone. (Side note: Yes, I had to talk my way through another Nepal Army barricade to get up to the temple. There was a LOT more damage to the Swayambhu complex than I had expected.)

3. Dharara Tower — When I was at the Swayambhunath Temple, I met Todd Pitman, AP’s Bangkok Bureau Chief. We got along really well, and decided to visit a few other heritage sites across Kathmandu that day. He’s from AP, so getting access to Dharara wasn’t an issue at all. It was surreal to be at Dharara, because when I was in Delhi, as soon as I saw a tweet that this tower had collapsed, I realized that I had to come back home to Nepal to “help”.

4. Bhaktapur is a 40 minute drive away from Kathmandu, and it was important to me to get out there as soon as possible because I love Bhaktapur, who doesn’t? I wrote a 2,500 word article on Bhaktapur on this blog, and it’s my most “recommended” story yet. This one set the bar very high for my articles. I’m not gonna lie, it was frustrating to not be able to write kick ass articles like this at will.

Photos: 1) There used to be a temple on top of those steps. My family and I have been visited it since I was a little kiddo. 2) I caught up with the Israel Army Search and Rescue squad in the narrow residential streets in Bhaktapur. The scale of devatation here was unimaginable. 3) Tent city in Bhaktapur. // If you want more details, take a look at my Bhaktapur story.

Bhaktapur — The Town That Everyone Loves.

5. Remember Todd Pitman, the AP reporter I met at Swayambhu a few days earlier? He asked me to be his translator on a day trip to Chautara in Sindupalchowk District. It was my first time out of Kathmandu since the earthquake. Looking back at it, this was a significant day in my journey as an accidental journalist because I learned a LOT from Todd. I watched him interview, take notes, ask questions, jot down quotes, and I asked him more than a handful of questions whenever I didn’t understand something. We had a successful day in Chautara and a couple villages along the way. But when we were driving back to Kathmandu… we narrowed missed this landslide by about 30 seconds. There was just one car between us and the landslide. The Dutch search and rescue team, along with the Nepal Army/Police cleared the way within 90 minutes.

6. Patan Durbar Square — Centuries old monuments turned to dust.

7. Hello JRM Foundation — I randomly met Dr. Fahim Rahim in Nagarkot, and that was the most significant day for me. I interviewed Dr. Rahim for an hour and I couldn’t believe what he was sharing with me. How does noone know about this yet? After the interview, I asked “Can I come along?” He said, “Yes!” Within an hour, we were at the helipad of Dhulikhel Hospital and I hopped onto the second helicopter trip with approximately 400 kgs of food supplies towards Sindupalchowk District. This was the beginning of my work with JRM… At this point I had faked being a journalist for almost 2 weeks, but on this day, it just got real.

8. I’m exhausted after a very long day, but oh so happy to see the Ospreys and chat with the Marines for a bit.

9. 7.3 magnitude aftershock struck Nepal on May 12 — You can read my full experience here, but in this photo, I’m standing outside the gate of our house to connect to the WiFi to get details of the earthquake, and send out messages on Whatsapp and Viber to friends/family with an update that we’re all good.

10. A couple days after the huge aftershock, we found out that a nearby apartment building has significant structural damage and everyone has moving out. So I walked in to see what it looked like. It was really bad. There was no electricity so I couldn’t get a good shot of the staircase, but most of the building was cracked up real good. I’m pretty sure they need to demolish this building. This wasn’t my smartest decision in Nepal to walk in here, but hey —

11. Embedded journalist with the Indian Air Force? What!?? After several weeks of failed attempts and quite a few phone calls, I managed to jump through the hoops and got the opportunity to fly with the Indian Air Force, or as I like to say, Desi Top Gun. I could share photos, but this video gives you a glimpse into my day! ;)

If you like this video below, and want to see some more, you may enjoy this video montage that Google Photos automatically created.

12. When I wasn’t flying around, visiting places, interviewing people, then this is how I spent most of my time in Nepal. The not-so-glamorous life of an accidental journalist.

13. Day 2 of the 5 day trip away from Kathmandu. Not a pretty picture when you wake up in a tent and walk a mile up the hill hoping that the local coffee shop leave their router on overnight, and I can catch some WiFi. The signal was really weak, and I could just read/send tweets, and I didn’t have any luck with Facebook or Google. An hour after this photo we set off on a long helicopter ride to Hill village, Waku-9 of Solukhumbu District.

14. Hello Hill village, Waku-9 in Solukhumbu District. This part of Nepal blew me away. I have never seen such majestic waterfalls — several of them falling from hundreds of feet in the air. The air was so crisp. (By the way, kids love the front-facing cameras on phones. They get excited to see themselves on the screen, and it makes for very cool photos.)

15. Oh, and you have to watch this video I recorded in this village. Two little boys stopped by and photobombed me. It was adorable. Watch!

16. Manekharka and Yangri villages in Sindupalchowk District. These places are really close to my heart, because we’ve been here several times since the earthquake. It’s so nice to see the kids again. They were

17. A sudden monsoon downpour stranded us at the Kathmandu airport for a couple hours. But we made the most of it, by taking shelter under the A330 Turkish Airlines plane that crashed in Nepal a couple months before the earthquake. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

18. I got pretty sick after we returned from the 5 days in Solukhumbu and Sindupalchowk District. I had to go to the Emergency Room due to severe’ish dehydration. They gave me a couple large bottles of fluids and some vitamins. That helped a lot, and I was feeling fine and dandy after a few days.

19. Nepal has been through some very challenging times over the past couple decades, and the earthquake was like a kick to someone who’s already down. Nepal is one of the least developed countries (LDC) in the world. There’s the developed world, the developing countries, and then there are 48 countries that are LDCs. But, there’s plenty of good as well. I think Nepal got off easy with this earthquake. The damage and losses could have been far worse. But, it’s still going to cost $6.8 billion to rebuild and move forward. Nepal is off to a good start of rebuilding, but history will tell us if Nepal nails the recovery. The people of Nepal are unanimously saying, #WeWillRiseAgain. It’s monsoon season right now, but after September, you should come visit Nepal. That’s the best thing you can do now to lift it up.

That’s it for photos. To wrap up, here’s the video that the government of Nepal created to give an overview of the impact of the Nepal earthquake to the international relief organizations and representatives of foreign countries at the International Donor’s conference.

If you enjoyed reading this, you should say hi and follow me on Twitter at @amrit_sharma.
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