I'm working on assignment in Nepal this week. After Saturday's earthquake, the destruction is visible at every turn. Buildings are reduced to piles of wood and rubble, people are devastated. The lucky ones are homeless. The unlucky ones did not survive.
The survivors want to share their story. In Bhaktapur, during a torrential downpour, I met Rajan. He and his family have been sleeping beneath a tarpaulin since Saturday. Their home is destroyed from the first floor up. What little remains is unsafe. They have no family who can accommodate them elsewhere. All are homeless.
Rajan's son, Rian, is 4 years old. His daughter, Rianna, is 8 months. As Rajan's wife fed their daughter, the rain began sweeping in through the open sides of their temporary home. As he spoke to me, Rajan shielded his face from his family. The telling of his situation to a stranger had brought him to tears. Both of us, truth be told.
Somehow, his wife managed to smile for a photo. I really don't know how. I can't say what's next for Rajan and his family.
When the rain finally stops, survivors search through the rubble. Many are leaving what's left of their precarious homes. I spoke with brothers Rajiv and Ujjwal as they took a break from loading an old truck with salvaged possessions. They have family in the countryside who can accommodate them. Most are not so fortunate.
On a nearby street another family were searching through the unlit interior of a house that looked likely to topple at any moment, throwing what they could find into the street below. Their waiting children gathered the possessions and stacked them into boxes.
Calculating the loss for a single family is hard enough. Multiply it by tens of thousands across the country and it becomes impossible to comprehend. This is not a wealthy country. Most people have very little and survive from day to day. When even that is taken away...
Many times today, people came up to me to point at nearby piles of rubble. "Two people died there". "One person died in that house". "Four of my neighbours died here".
It's not hard to appreciate that what they're really saying is "But I didn't die. I don't know why or how but I'm still here".
The absolute randomness of the damage is despairingly apparent and there's a palpable but silent acknowledgement that the survivors escaped by a twist of fate which spared them and cruelly took their friends. It could so easily have been different.
Outside her home, this woman pointed at the adjoining house and turned away. "My neighbour, she died".
Amidst the rubble there are poignant reminders of how swiftly lives were changed - and lost. Dinner plates with half-eaten meals of rice and vegetables...
In Patan, a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site where I have spent many happy afternoons, wandering through the alleyways, pausing for a cup of chai and a chat, waiting for the light to change, several of the impressive temples have been destroyed. It's a popular place for locals and tourists to hang out. There's a bench outside the museum where Nepali men sit in a row and gossip. They were not there today.
Soldiers and police have begun what appears to be the never-ending task of removing and sorting the rubble by hand. Local people of all ages are helping. Great pride is taken in the heritage that is so very accessible in Nepal and I was somewhat taken aback to hear the museum curator tell an Indian TV interviewer, "Come back in three years, we will rebuild it".
As the sun began to sink behind the clouds of dust, the slow, steady salvage operation continued.
If you would like to lend support to the aid efforts in Nepal, there are many agencies who are working on the ground. This is a list of just seven you might like to take a look at.
Nepal has always been a very welcoming place to me and, I know, to so many other people. It's not unusual to hear foreigners claim that "Nepal is like home from home". I feel something similar. Nepal provided my first real taste of what we now call "adventure travel". I remember staying in Kathmandu on my way to Tibet, many years ago. That experience ignited my passion for travel in a way that has never diminished. They say that you never really forget your first love. Nepal would be mine.
It is with great sadness that I find Kathmandu so broken. But I do not doubt that the Nepalese people will rebuild it. Those impressive mountains breed tough characters.
My confidence was reinforced as I left Bhaktapur this afternoon when a striking young girl in a baggy purple top, her hair slick and curly from the drizzling rain, stepped in front of me and gave the most graceful "Namaste" greeting.
It seemed to me, in my fanciful way, to be a gesture of resilience. I hope the future is kinder to her than the recent past has been.