12/05/2015 4:17 AM IST | Updated 12/05/2016 10:42 AM IST

Dust To Dust: Bhaktapur After The Earthquake

The streets are of Bhaktapur lined with temples, houses made of bricks glued together with mud, and handicraftsmen selling gorgeous dragon masks, little temples made of wood, and other artefacts made of brass. But not today. Today was different.

Bhaktapur, a historic little town, is a short drive outside of Kathmandu. The name, Bhaktapur literally means a "place for worshippers".

Damaged temples at Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

On any given day, you'd find the streets bustling with worshippers, local residents, tourists and folks from Kathmandu getting out of town for a few hours.

The streets are of Bhaktapur lined with temples, houses made of bricks glued together with mud, and handicraftsmen selling gorgeous dragon masks, little temples made of wood, and other artefacts made of brass.

But not today. Today was different.

The streets were still crowded, but there was silence. People walked around the Bhaktapur courtyard with protective masks on, as they stared at the temples, tents with medical clinics, and the city skyline that once was so majestic.

Unlike other damaged UNESCO heritage sites like the Basantapur Durbar Square and the Patan Durbar Square, the main square in Bhaktapur is not cordoned off because this isn't just a tourist attraction. This is in the heart of a vibrant town, where local residents live and move about freely.

Rubble from Vatsala Temple.

In Bhaktapur, you're never more than a stone's throw away from a temple. But today, about half of them are no longer standing. Some are merely piles of rock. The ones that are still standing face a precarious future. Many have suffered tremendous damage. A couple of temples looked like they would topple if someone leaned against them.

But first, a bit of good news -- Nyatapola Temple, the main attraction at Bhaktapur, still stands head and shoulders above the rest, and looks undamaged (except for a broken wooden window on the topmost roof).

I wandered across Bhaktapur and climbed on top of the steps where a temple once stood. I stayed there for a couple minutes watching this town like never before. I have been here many times, but it felt like a whole new place.

View of the Bhaktapur skyline from a destroyed temple.

"Bhaktapur is in shambles," I mumbled. But unfortunately, I hadn't seen the worst of it yet.

I ventured deeper into the residential neighbourhoods. There were very few people in sight now. I stopped to take a photo of a door with a padlock on a brick wall. This street looked completely undamaged, except for the house at the end. I walked up to it and that intersection looked like a bomb had exploded there. The houses had been ripped apart and their guts were lying all over the street.

But I couldn't get any closer, as there was an active search and rescue operation underway. I stepped away and walked back up the same street. I took another photo of the door with the padlock, when I heard a voice.

"Why are you taking a photo of the door?" said Kedar Machamasi (32). "Follow me, I'll show you what you should be taking pictures of." I followed him into the tiny hallway of his house, along with a Ukrainian freelance photographer.

We were shocked at what we found inside. The house had essentially imploded. The roof had caved in, and the walls inside has collapsed. I could see inside every room in his house from here. It was bad. It was really bad. There is absolutely no way anyone can live in this house again, until it's demolished and rebuilt. But, the wall facing the street is still intact and is very deceiving. Fortunately, no one was injured in this house.

"We have been sleeping in tents with many others in the main camp site," Kedar told me. "We have food and water because the community cooks and eats together." I asked him whether he had received any help from the government so far, and he replied "not even a single bottle of water."

I stepped back out into the street, and two men there told me the same story about their homes. "It looks fine from outside, but it's gutted when you step inside," they said. "Khattam chaa," one of them exclaimed, which means "It's finished."

This view is deceiving. These houses have virtually imploded and are uninhabitable.

This wasn't just the story of this street. This was Bhaktapur's story. The vast majority of homes here need to be completely gutted and rebuilt. That's not going to be an easy task, given the narrow lanes here. The road to recovery is going to be a long and slow one.

I witnessed a lot of destruction and heartbreak today, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention this.

Bhaktapur is only a 20-minute drive outside of Kathmandu. Both Kathmandu and Bhaktapur have the necessary short-term aid they need. Please immediately redirect the majority of resources to the thousands of towns and villages across Nepal that haven't had any help yet. They're in desperate need.

The entire district of Sindupalchowk is hurting. There are several villages that have been totally flattened with fatalities up to 80%, according to ISAD, the UK-AID International Search and Rescue team. It is impractical to reach these remote villages with aid by foot or by road. The only option is delivering aid via helicopters.

This is a condensed version of a longer piece on Bhaktapur after the quake. Read the full story here.

If you're outside of Nepal and are wondering how you can help. Click here to find out exactly how.

All images have been provided by Amrit Sharma.

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