Dressed in his brother’s old British army fatigues, Mohan Ghale is rebuilding his mother’s home stone by stone, after returning to Barpak village, high in the Himalayas, which was demolished by April’s earthquake.
Ghale had been working as a plumber a full day’s journey away in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, but with his brother overseas and father away for work, it fell to him to remake the family home at the epicentre of the 7.8 magnitude quake that killed 8,633 people nationwide.
“I came back to rebuild and to help my mother. I had to,” said the 30-year old, who put off the promise of a job in Japan to return to the rubble of his childhood home.
Ghale is one of tens of thousands of his countrymen to have returned – including many of the more than 2.2 million Nepalis living abroad – to remote villages to help with reconstruction.
On the reopened dirt track that takes a tortuous 60-kilometre (37-mile) climb to Ghale’s home at 6,235-feet (1,900- metres), one village after another lies in ruins in the forested mountains. Here, in the sparsely settled Gorkha region, 440 people died in the country’s deadliest natural disaster.
Women are clearing debris to retrieve belongings, men are fixing makeshift iron roofs ahead of the monsoon rains, and the army is constructing a school in Barpak to replace the skeleton of a building remaining on the site of the old.
About half a million homes were destroyed in Nepal by the April 25 quake and a series of aftershocks. The government has estimated reconstruction costs of $7 billion, a third of the country’s GDP.
In the villages, the sheer number of absentees working in Kathmandu or overseas – remittances account for nearly 30 per cent of the economy – was keenly felt after the quake, in the struggle to rescue loved ones and begin rebuilding.
Nepal’s labour ministry does not know how many have returned to the country since the quake, but the numbers going abroad to work have fallen to a daily average of 950, down from 1,500 before the disaster.