In the worst of times, such as right now, even this sort of construction work is an unimaginable luxury; all hands, and all hours of the day, are consumed by pawing through rubble, hoping or fearing to find relatives and friends and neighbors, and also hoping to find scraps of food and clothing and blankets, anything that might help the survivors cling to life.
There's nowhere to look for the basics of survival except in the rubble. There was no surplus of anything in Nepal to begin with, and only a single sizable airport for bringing relief in from the outside world.
Before these men could climb up on the scaffolding to lay brick, the sacks of mortar had to be brought in on the backs of people or donkeys; the streets here in this UNESCO World Heritage city of Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu, were much too narrow for cars or trucks.
Now even the country's best roads are ruined, and travel through the narrow lanes and paths is generally impossible. Some villages that used to be a day's walk or more from the nearest highway have not been heard from since the quake.
Bhaktapur was once a great royal court city; grand palaces and temples survived there for more than a thousand years. They're not there any more.
Very soon, if you go to Nepal, to the village of Ghandruk, you may be able to arrange to stay in this new inn, the Hotel Magnificent. It was almost complete, as you can see, when we were there this past March.
I have not been inside the Magnificent, but I can tell you what it is like because all the trekking hotels in the Annapurna region of Nepal are very nearly identical.
The rooms are cubicles separated from one another by partitions of particle board, sometimes unpainted, sometimes covered by a single coat of paint that has been so watered down you can read the ISO number stamped on the particle board right through the color. The beds are thin mats laid on wooden shelves--magnificently comfortable after a day on the trail.
There is a single lightbulb in the ceiling, and no other electrical outlets. Western tourists, of course, have brought along various electronic thingamajigs that need to be charged, but there's no way to take care of that in the bedrooms (unless you have invested in a kind of adapter we heard about, which screws into a light socket so your precious whatever could recharge itself while dangling down from the ceiling, and while you sit in the dark waiting to put the lightbulb back in its socket . . . ). Sometimes the people running the hotel will let you charge your stuff in the dining room, for a fee.
Also in your room is a window with a magnificent view.
There is a bathroom with a kind of fixture that is basically a hole in the floor There may be a sink for washing your face, either in the hallway or outside in a courtyard. Out back somewhere may or may not be a shed with a cold water shower. The water tap in the shower is labeled "USELESS;" we eventually figured out that the label was actually a directive to "USE LESS."
There is a restaurant, usually outdoors on a deck. The food is heavy and filling. Nepalis never order anything on the menu; they eat lentils for every meal.
There is no heat in the rooms. This was not a problem, since the porters had brought along our bags containing fleeces and coats and hats and gloves.
Some of the dining rooms are heated by a bucket of coals placed underneath the table. Blankets are pinned around the sides of the table, hanging down to the floor to keep the heat in. Stick your feet under the blanket. Scrunch up that blanket so your knees also are in the warmth. Magnificent.
One restaurant had a big woodstove in the middle, surrounded by a wooden railing. Nepalis pulled up benches so they could sit leaning forward, arms resting on the railing, holding mugs of steaming tea. Westerners wearing heavy coats sat at dining tables far off in the cold reaches of the room, near the windows, drinking lukewarm tea and talking about the magnificent view.
The new Hotel Magnificent is many hours' walk uphill from the nearest road. All the bricks, all the particle board, the tin for the roof, the buckets of blue paint–everything had to be carried uphill–up thousands of rock steps–strapped onto the backs of donkeys or humans.
And they only charge $2 or $3 a night. Pretty magnificent.
Soccer is popular in Nepal, even if the fields are more dirt than grass, and this year the national team, known as the Ghorkalis, is on a roll. Last week, Nepal notched two victories, 2-0 and then 5-0, in 2014 World Cup qualifying matches against East Timor. The Ghorkalis have a new coach, Graham Roberts, an Englishman who played for Tottenham and Chelsea, mostly on defense, and won six caps for England.
Meanwhile, in league play, defending champions Nepal Police Club holds a comfortable lead in the Martyrs Memorial Red Bull Division A, though Yeti Air Himalayan Sherpas Club is not out of the running.
The field shown here is in the suburbs of Kathmandu, at the base of the hill topped by the Monkey Temple.
The valleys and lowermost hillsides of Nepal are subtropical; the crops grown there include tea and coffee and these banana trees. If a sturdy trekker were determined to leave the subtropics behind, he or she could walk straight uphill from here into patches of spring snow in a few hours, and into the glacial icefields of the high Himalaya in a few days.
Global warming is spreading up the mountainsides. Nepalis hope they have figured out a way to make money on climate change; the increasing heat in the air that has reduced productivity of tea plantations in India seems to have permitted tea cultivation higher than ever before on Nepalese hillsides. Not all the new plantings have thrived–the air is thinner in the high mountains, and the soil is rocky and poor. But fine tea is coming out of Nepal these days, from slopes about a mile higher than the bananas shown here.
In the long run, of course, tea won't save Nepal. As the glaciers shrivel in the high mountains and a scanty winter snowpack produces less and less spring runoff for the rivers of the subcontinent, people will have a hard time growing much of anything. Huge thirsty cities downstream are already beginning to compete for water with peasants struggling to irrigate the tiny terraces they have clawed into the mountainsides of Nepal.
Well. Maybe somebody will think of something.
One afternoon in Kathmandu, we saw the men and then the women and then the car, all dressed up with clearly some place special to go. A recent wedding we heard about had twelve hundred guests, but all we saw of this one was the procession on the street, complete with a marching band. The band looked and sounded just like a western marching band and is not pictured here.
Nepalis claim they have more official holidays than any other country on earth. They know how to party.