As the saying goes – better late than never – the reconstruction of private houses in Barpak is in full swing. The old world charm of the village may be gone, but safer houses have been rebuilt here.
By Kosmos Biswokarma in Barpak
Rajendra Gurung, 49, recalls that dreadful day when the massive earthquake hit central Nepal three years ago on April 25. Standing at Mandre, regarded as the center of the epicenter of the April 2015 earthquake in Barpak, Gurung shares his story. Mandre has a small settlement of around 60 houses just ahead of where Barpak begins to sprawl.
“I was working in the field when the whole hill began to shake. I had never experienced something like that before,” says Gurung. People couldn’t even stand on their feet, and neither could the cattle. While the latter began to fall, people got down to their knees with the support of their hands.
“I could see houses fall down, and cries of help from those who got trampled inside their houses,” he says. More than half of the houses were destroyed.
Rajendra was lucky to have survived the massive shake, along with his three sons and two daughters, but not everyone was so lucky. Seventy two people died in Barpak, now popularly known as the epicenter of the historic earthquake. Its earlier popularity as a tourist hub and residence of Gurkha soldiers has now been replaced by its Gorkha earthquake epicenter tag.
Rajendra was busy at his field, when hundreds of other Barpakis were thronging to the local school playground where a memorial service was being organized on April 25 to mark the third anniversary of the April 2015 earthquake.
Hundreds of Barpaki men and women, clad in dark green checkered shawls and traditional lungi, observed a minute’s silence in the name of the thousands of people killed in the earthquake that affected 32 districts.
The local host kicked off the program by saying that Barpakis have neither been able to forget the devastating earthquake nor do they want to remember the dreadful experience they went through.
Barpak in north Gorkha is known as the village of the Victoria Cross recipient Gaje Ghale. Situated on top of a high hill, at an altitude of 1,900 meters (6,200 feet), the traditional stone houses with slate roofs and stone-paved thoroughfares adorned this picturesque village before the earthquake. The visitors always appreciated the local culture and cleanliness.
But the earthquake completely devastated the village. Of more than 1,400 houses, very few withstood the massive movement under the earth on April 25. The majority of stone houses fell to the ground while the few houses made of reinforced concrete remained.
Three years on, the village known for its brave Gurkhas has begun to rise again. The rebuilding process has gained momentum. They did not even wait for the government grant to rebuild their homes. They were in a hurry to bring their loved ones under a safe roof.
Some people in Barpak and visitors feel that Barpak has lost its charm. Though there are few remnants of the erstwhile stone and slate-roofed houses, more and more people have resorted to building concrete structures.
“This has completely ruined the beauty of the village,” quips Phul Bahadur Ghale, who was born and brought up in Barpak. However, he now feels that the old stone structures were not strong enough to withstand the earthquake. “The slate roofs were too heavy and the layered stone walls with mud-mortar could not stand the pressure,” he said. “The villagers here are now focused on building either concrete houses with 9”X12” walls or brick walls with lightweight tin roofs.”
Ganesh Ghale of ward no. 7 of Suligadh Rural Municipality, sitting next to his shop at the center of Barpak, says that those who can afford are building RCC (reinforced cement concrete) houses and others are raising brick walls with tin roofs.
“You can now see who is rich and who is not,” shared Ganesh. “Before, everyone – rich and poor – used to own similar types of houses with stone walls and slate roofs. Everyone was the same.”
The villagers resorted to constructing brick houses, as it was difficult to avail traditional stones, according to Ganesh. “And, more than that, the labor cost to build brick houses was cheaper than the stone houses,” he said, adding, “And, stones are more expensive than the bricks.”
“There is no doubt that Barpak has lost its identity, but the people here were in a hurry to get in safe shelters,” he further shared.
Bhim Bahadur Ghale, sitting next to Ganesh, feels that the government response came late in Barpak and the villagers had no option than to resort to haphazard reconstruction.
As the saying goes – better late than never – the reconstruction of private houses in Barpak is finally in full swing. The old world charm of the village may be gone, but safer houses have been rebuilt in their place. More than 50 percent of the 1,400 houses have already been rebuilt, as per the data from June-end and hundreds of other houses are under construction.
According to Bed Acharya, the head of district coordination committee of the National Reconstruction Authority, the progress of reconstruction in Barpak is very satisfactory. “There are complaints of not receiving the government grant,” accepts Acharya. “But, we have sent out the engineers at the ward level to find out the problems and will continue to address them as and when they arise.”
Bishnu Bhatta, the chairperson of Suligadh Rural Municipality, agrees with Acharya. “The reconstruction has gained momentum after the people’s representatives took charge following the local elections,” he said. “As we have direct contact with the people, things have improved a lot.”
Lack of technical knowhow and unavailability of construction materials and construction workers have made the reconstruction here very costly, according to Bhatta. “There are hundreds of workers who have come here from other districts and they charge hefty amounts to reconstruct houses.”
There is a banking problem too. “We don’t have a bank in Barpak, people have to go to Gorkha bazaar,” he said. “It’s just too far for Barpakis to travel to Gorkha bazaar (which is 45 kilometers away).”
Bhatta also agrees that Barpak has lost its originality. But, he said that things change as time passes. “There was a distinct identity of this village before, but the same traditional stone houses with heavy slate roofs took many lives here,” he says. “Even the lifestyle has changed. Members of the traditional joint families living under the lamp before now have access to electricity and they need different rooms for family members.”
“And, the people here have realized that the traditional houses were not strong enough to withstand the earthquake,” he further said. “They need to build safer houses too.”
Though the traditional stone houses have now been resigned to history, Bhatta claims that the local government will take various measures to attract the tourists.
Its geographical location is still a major attraction for tourists, feels Bhatta. “Besides, we are planning to build a view tower, a museum to highlight various as - pects of the earthquake, a park in mem - ory of those deceased, construct monas - teries and a bus park.”
Minister for Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Barsha Man Pun, who was in Barpak to attend the memorial service on April 25, assured the locals that Bar - pak would become a school from where to learn safer rebuilding post-earthquake for the future generation.
“The devastation caused by the earth - quake is no doubt a very sad incident,” Minister Pun said, “But, it is important to learn from the disaster and rebuild to en - sure a safer future.” Saying that people in Barpak have once again proved that they can rise to the occasion, Pun praised the people here for keeping their hopes alive. He also requested local residents to focus on building a new Barpak to attract moretourists in the future.
Bir Bahadur Ghale, a local entrepre - neur who pioneered the local micro-hydro in Barpak, said that a lot needs to be done to ensure that Barpak remains one of the major tourist attractions in the country. “For this, the federal government, local governments and the local people need to work together,” he said.