(AA) – From an entrance to his station inside the Bhaktapur Durbar Square on Saturday morning, a Nepal Army soldier in green camouflage fatigues was keeping an eye on the temple where three teenage girls were chatting.
Then the earth moved and the girls escaped unhurt, leaving their bags behind. Within seconds, the soldier saw the 17th century Vatsala Durga temple, made of sandstone, collapse in front of him.
A large bronze bell facing the temple remains intact. So does the golden statue of Bhupatindra Malla, a 17th century king who ruled the medieval city, one of three ancient kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley.
As the soldier lamented the loss, he provided a list of other monuments demolished by Saturday’s devastating earthquake, including Fasi Deva temple and the Chardham temple.
Down the stone-paved square, intricate wooden carvings and bricks were scattered and unprotected from visitors, with the authorities responsible for their safeguard nowhere to be seen.
While the valley’s three iconic Durbar Squares – historic palacial plazas that remain from the historical Newari kingdom – have been damaged by the quake, the devastation in Bhaktapur seemed severest, having received little attention as Nepal’s ill-prepared government began search and rescue operations.
The efforts were also delayed due to narrow streets, preventing the rescuers from driving in machinery to unearth people both dead and alive.
Walking down a slippery path lined with rubble and debris from the disaster on the rain-soaked Tuesday afternoon, the scale of damage to the ancient city and its people became abundantly clear.
“We have lost our history; we have lost our heritage and our culture,” Ram Chandra Takachhe, a 53-year-old from the valley’s indigenous Newar community, told Anadolu Agency.
“The archeology department should have preserved the bricks and the wood carvings. But I haven’t seen any official from the department yet,” said Takachhe, 53, who works as a driver in an insurance company.
At the Durbar Square in Bhaktapur, visitors are treated with the view of architectural marvels: latticed windows and engraved columns; centuries-old monuments and impressive metal and stone artworks, which evoke its past glory.
Further down the narrow alley, mud and brick houses stand precariously close and on the verge of collapse.
For Ganga Shrestha, who has a mud and brick house in a neighborhood near the square, the proximity to the medieval charm came at a price.
Unlike her neighbors, who lost family members, she has to bear with a smaller loss: the top floor of her three-story mud-and-brick house has caved in.
On Saturday morning, the 34-year-old was with her husband serving him food at their car workshop a few kilometers down from her home when the disaster hit the city.
Her two sons aged 10 and 14 were at home, enjoying the weekend holiday.
Her friends warned not to drive after the quake, telling the couple that they might be hit by falling bricks, but she and her husband rushed home anyway, finding their sons safe, but the house badly damaged.
Since the earthquake, her family has been living inside a car, surviving on food provided by local charity groups.
“When I saw the damage [to my house], I almost fainted. I couldn’t stand on my own feet; I felt as if the ground was still shaking,” she said.
Her neighbors’ fate was worse.
Thirteen people were enjoying a feast nearby when the earthquake occurred. Ten of them escaped but three, including a father and son and a 55-year-old woman, were buried in the dilapidated building. Their bodies were retrieved on Monday.
Amid such tragedy, there was some good news.
On Monday afternoon, rescuers found a 16-year-old disabled girl alive, bringing cheer to her family who had been waiting with bated breath for over 50 hours.
“Her face was covered with dust, but she was still breathing. She was saved by a wooden plank which shielded her from the bricks,” Shiva Hari Ganesh, a local, told AA.
With their belongings still beneath the rubble, the locals fear looting.
“Robbers broke my brother’s cupboard yesterday and stole some valuables,” he said.
At Chyamasingh, a neighborhood with a school and a public health center, a large contingent of rescuers from Turkey, Poland and a dozen other countries, aided by Nepali soldiers, were digging through the rubble to save a woman trapped inside a building.
According to Rabindra Jyakhwo, a local volunteer, the 28-year-old woman had texted her family members, rekindling hope that she would be found alive.
“We hope that we can find her alive. But there are also four other people who are presumably dead. We need to recover their bodies so that their family members can cremate them,” Jyakhwo said.
On Tuesday afternoon, pre-monsoon rains forced the rescuers to halt their efforts for several hours.
Jyakhwo said the members of foreign rescue missions were well equipped with cameras, scanners and sensors.
“The rescuers from foreign countries as well as our soldiers are working hard. We talk to the family members in order to find the location of the person trapped inside,” he said.
“We also assist the army and police because they don’t know the area well,” he said.
Back in the ruins of the temples at the Durbar Square, the soldier was gone, replaced by his colleague.
The ancient Durbar, or palace, was also devoid of any government presence, with just the statue of bygone rulers staring at the baffled visitors.
But the young men and women from the local communities had stepped in to extend a helping hand.
A group of young women were clutching loudspeakers and placards to raise awareness about hygiene as tens of thousands of people camp outdoor and away from their homes, fearing another quake.
A few meters away, another group had placed a couple of inverters and multi-plugs on a table to help people charge their cell phones.
“We have set this up on our own. We are just volunteers. We don’t represent any organization,” a young man replied.