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I grew up learning to name mountains that peak through the hills of

The Mountains Have Lived Longer

We often live in the oblivion of the our vulnerability against the force of nature and the Earth.

Dec 2, 2018

I grew up learning to name mountains that peak through the hills of the Kathmandu valley. From the terrace of my house, you can see Ganesh and Langtang ranging from the west to the east. On clear days, you can even see Mount Everest if you hike up one of the hills in the valley. These snow-capped ridges have always been there looking over us; they are our quiet observers, silently watching the city change its facade every few years as more people migrate to the capital and buildings and bridges rise to accommodate the newcomers. As everything in Kathmandu changes, the tall peaks in the distance remain constant.
Growing up, the existence of the mountains was so familiar to me that I was often surprised by people’s excitement when they saw mountains. It took a 7.8 Richter scale earthquake to help me realize two things: how fascinating the mountains really are, and how powerless we are in the face of natural disasters.
A few million years ago, the Indian landmass smashed into the Asian landmass and gradually began to push it upwards. This phenomenon gave birth to the Himalayas, which now stretch some 2,900 kilometers between India, Nepal, Pakistan and China. This massive formation consists of some of the tallest peaks in the world and they have continued to grow by a centimeter or so every year since their formation. The fact that we can wake up, look out the window and still witness the majestic results of a very specific moment in history is an incredible gift. But, like most familiar things, we tend to forget how these mountains came to exist and what their presence really means to us. Sometimes, being human means living with a romantic view of Mother Nature and a blissful ignorance of her detrimental powers.
Nepal is situated right above the fault line created on the Earth’s crust by the supermassive collision of two continents. This means that every 80 years or so, it experiences a catastrophic earthquake that also impacts northern India and the southern Tibetan plateau to some degree. In 2015, the tectonic plates beneath the Himalayas began to rumble once more. As the pent-up energy caused the crust between the two landmasses to slide against one another, a great quake came to surface in the Indian subcontinent around Nepal’s central region. It shook entire cities, towns, and villages all through the country for about 30 seconds. In this brief moment, Kathmandu shifted 9.8 feet to the south and Mount Everest shrank by an inch. There were avalanches in the Himalayas and flash floods all through northern Nepal.
It all happened at noon on a Saturday in April – a day and time when most people are lounging in the winter sun and eating oranges, or doing their mundane weekend chores. I was at home that day too, studying for my high school final exams that were only two weeks away. I distinctly remember a noise coming from deep below the earth’s surface and my study desk shaking violently; it sounded as if a gigantic bowling ball had been set free somewhere inside the Earth and it felt as though it was rolling around in circles with nowhere else to go.
When the rock formations underground suddenly break along a fault line, they release energyin the form of seismic waves. Body waves originate and travel upwards through the Earth’s mantle and crust, while surface waves only travel along the Earth’s topmost layer. On this sunny Saturday in April, Nepal experienced both. As I sat at my desk, eyes oscillating between the pages of my notes and mind wandering someplace else, I was brought back to reality by a sudden noise followed by a combination of vertical and circular motions.
I was forced to leave my little bubble of safety, where my work was considered more important than the natural world and the only thing that mattered was getting through the last weeks of high school. A million thoughts ran through my mind in those 30 seconds as my parents and I gathered in our living room; there was water leaking, windows creaking, the earth seemed to be shattering. Seeing my father, a man with clenched fists like a warrior, duck, cover and hold beneath the protection of a wooden table was heartbreaking in a way I still cannot put into words.
When the Great Earthquake of 2015 occurred, the tectonic plates were simply doing what they have done since the beginning of time, but somehow it still seemed unbelievable. I could not fathom the fact that something so terrible was happening in my home, during my lifetime. Growing up in a war-free region with little to no danger of death can lull us into a false sense of security. A natural disaster forces us to see the strongest people in our lives cower and panic; it provokes our animal instincts, and gives us adrenaline to do whatever it takes to survive. It can even push us to question our significance on this little orb floating in the middle of nowhere.
Growing up, I never knew how the mountains I saw every day came to be. I liked to learn their names, but never bothered to ask about their history. Today, every time I am reminded of my earthquake experience, I immediately think of the mountains too. It is strange to think that something as terrifying and violent as an earthquake resulted in the still-standing, beautiful Himalayas – but nature seems to compensate for its own destruction. There are rainbows after hurricanes, fertile lands after volcanic eruptions and mountains after earthquakes.
Our natural environment has forces that are much greater than us, but we tend to live oblivious to the fact that nature can erase the markings we have made on this planet in a matter of minutes. As humans, we are self-centrict; we tend to forget that we are just like any other animal species –– vulnerable and fleeting. Sometimes, it takes an earthquake to jolt things into perspective.
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