It is a cool summer night in Nepal—I’ve decided that cool summer nights are my favorite kind of nights—and I find myself sitting on the first level of an ancient temple, people watching. I think I probably overuse the term “find myself”. Sometimes I don’t just "find myself" at a concert or eating ice cream, I decided to go to a concert, I bought myself ice cream. But in this case, I was just walking to my homestay in Kathmandu when all of a sudden I was passing Patan Dunbar Square and my legs took a detour and pretty soon I was seated on the edge of one of the temples.
I stare up into the sky, hoping for a glimpse of some stars, but there are none to be seen. There is too much air and light pollution for me to see anything in the sky. Instead I watch LED children’s toys, the ones that only exist in public spaces like these, as they are slingshotted high into the air, and I track their graceful fall back down to earth. I can’t help laughing when a blue LED toy takes a wrong turn midair and ends up blinking on the roof of one of the ancient temples.
It is 8pm on a Tuesday and there are people everywhere. Some are tourists, clearly, but many are not. Men sell cotton candy and children run and duck in between legs chasing one another in a never ending game of tag. I am seated in the middle of an UNESCO World Heritage site, but this square is anything but dead.
This fact is pointed out to us several times throughout our stay in Nepal. Visit Petra, or the Acropolis, or the pyramids of Egypt—there are ancient ruins there. But those cities are dead. There aren’t people living there anymore. If something were to happen, some catastrophe or natural disaster that destroyed the ruins, that would be it. The artists and engineers and architects who built those societies didn’t leave anyone behind with the secrets to their trade.
Kathmandu is different. My homestay rises six stories into the air from the bedrock of the ancient city of Patan. So far Nepal is dust in my lungs, and brilliant orange flowers that grow like weeds, and milk tea every morning and afternoon, and little children playing over the stone of ancient temples. For the past several centuries, Kathmandu has faced a massive earthquake once every hundred years, just like clockwork. Temples have been destroyed, lives have been lost. Nepal has rebuilt.
“Talk about resilience,” our guide tells us as he gives us a tour of the neighborhood. “This place is made of resilience.“