When Britain’s Prince Harry visits Nepal this weekend, ordinary people hope his tour of earthquake-hit areas will draw attention to the country’s struggle to recover from last year’s disaster. Rebuilding is slow, and tens of thousands remain homeless.
“Hopefully when a big prince comes to these alleys and the world’s media will see how miserable our lives are, we will get some help,” said Ram Kaji, who was selling potatoes on the street near his damaged home in Patan, a historic district near the capital of Kathmandu.
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The 25 April 2015 quake killed nearly 9,000 people, destroyed about 1 million homes and damaged many old temples, palaces and other old structures in Patan and the capital.
During his five-day trip, the 31-year-old prince will also visit a camp for displaced survivors and stay with a family whose men served in the famed Gurkha regiments in the British army — units that Harry served with in Afghanistan.
“He has a huge amount of admiration for the resilience of the people of the country, particularly in response to the earthquakes last year,” Kensington Palace said in a statement.
Harry is the first British royal to visit the Himalayan country since the monarchy was abolished in 2008 following street protests. Since then, Nepal has turned into a republic, with a president chosen by a parliament. The prince will meet with President Bidhya Devi Bhandari.
Authorities, however, have been slow to push ahead with rebuilding efforts. A government reconstruction agency was finally appointed in December but has yet to provide promised aid money to displaced families and guidelines to build new houses and structures.
People who live around the shiny Golden Temple in Patan — which Queen Elizabeth visited about 30 years ago — hope Harry’s visit will generate greater awareness about rebuilding needs and bring in funds to repair damages to the many of historic structures.
The Buddhist shrine that dates back 1,400 years was mostly spared by the earthquake but the adjoining monastery, prayer house and assembly halls have been damaged. Only plastic sheets are keeping the rain off and the damaged areas are closed to the public due to the danger of collapse. Harry will also negotiate a narrow alley alongside brick and mud houses that are supported by wooden beams.
Puspa Raj Bajracharya, who is on the committee that takes care of the Golden Temple, said they have sent requests and proposals to the government, saying it was getting dangerous for the devotees who come to the temple, but have not received any response. Repairs are estimated to cost about 25 million rupees ($227,000), but so far only a fraction of that has been collected from private donors.
“His grandmother had visited the temple in the 1980s when she came to Nepal with her husband and now the young prince is coming,” Bajracharya said. “We hope when the prince comes to our temple we will get the attention of the world to come help us.”
Prince Harry will also travel to Bhaktapur, a historic town east of Kathmandu that suffered even more damage, and visit a nearby temporary camp for about 250 people made homeless by the disaster, a quarter of whom are children.
In Pokhara, a lakeside town that is a base for trekkers in central Nepal, Harry will meet several retired Gurkha soldiers and their families. The prince served with a Gurkha battalion during a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The Gurkhas have served in the British army for 200 years and have a reputation for being brave, tenacious fighters. Thousands of young Nepali men attempt to pass the grueling test to become a Gurkha, but only a few get through.
Harry will honor those killed in battle and spend a night with a local family.
For years, the Gurkhas fought for equal pay and pension to their British counterparts until a landmark 2008 court ruling that ended most discriminatory practices. Gurkha soldiers now receive equal salary and pension, and their families are allowed to settle in Britain. However, those who retired before 2008 still get roughly one-third of the pension.
The Gurkhas are proud of their heritage and identity, and Harry’s visit is a “big event for us Gurkhas,” said Krishna Kumar Ale, who served in the British army between 1969 and 1998 when he retired as a major. He recalled seeing the young Harry during a visit to a military exercise in Britain, and said Harry once had a Gurkha orderly.
“He is a good friend of the Gurkhas,” he said, “and has always been close with the Gurkhas.”