It happened within seconds. I was at the Swayambhunath complex in Kathmandu on Saturday morning, ready to click a photo when the ground beneath me started shaking. For the next 15 seconds, I saw chunks of the ancient religious structure crumble and fall around me. Brick-laid houses nearby, antique-selling shops, smaller temples, they all fell, as if to a tragic symphony.
I ran towards the exit, but a smaller temple collapsed right next to it, blocking the path completely. Turning around, I could see pilgrims and tourists, visibly shocked, running in all directions, looking for their loved ones. Many fell, others struggled to get back on their feet.
I didn’t know whether to run or hide. I realised that if I took shelter beneath a house, it would fall over me because so many of them were so old.
By now, a massive cloud of dust had risen, visibility was poor. People ran into each other, some jumped over the fallen to escape. I thought I was going to die. I frantically looked for a safe place, and just then a few bricks from a house nearby fell on my hand, knocking me down. I quickly got back to my feet, still hoping to find a way out.
I could hear loud cries and painful screams from all corners. Some people were stuck under the debris waiting to be rescued, the faces of those who had been pulled out were covered with blood, some had their legs broken.
I could also see that the elderly had huddled close together, clasping their hands tight, offering prayers.
I made my way to the periphery of the temple premises, on the cliff. The sight below was unbelievable: The entire valley below was covered in a blanket of dust.
On top, meanwhile, I could see several monks trying to salvage whatever they could from their shattered homes. I could also see police finally reaching the spot, around 20 minutes after the first quake. But as they rushed up, I could also see that they didn’t know where or how to begin.
Some people stood on top of the rubble and shouted for help. I could hear one of them — a fellow tourist — screaming that her mother was trapped under the rubble. I moved over to help pull her mother out. Her leg had been crushed, her head was bleeding, but she had survived.
I stepped back, realised this was the first time I’d ever saved a life. But then, I knew I was lucky to be alive too.