Prince Harry visits earthquake-hit area after welcome from five virgins


Prince Harry has seen for himself the earthquake damaged suffered by some of Kathmandu's world famous historic sites as he was welcomed to the city - by five virgins.

The prince was given a tour of Durbar Square in the heart of the Nepalese capital city's old town, and even tried his hand at wood carving restoration work.

But when he first arrived at the popular tourist attraction he was greeted by the group representing the Panchakanya - the five virgins of Hindu myth.

The group of five young women - a lucky number in Nepalese culture - with their status as virgins representing purity, greeted their special guest with gifts of flowers and placed a garland of marigolds around his neck.

Signs of the devastating earthquake which claimed almost 9,000 lives in Nepal last April could be seen across the site of ancient temples, courtyards and towers dating back centuries.

Props supported the walls of many of the intricately carved wooden and brick buildings while piles of neatly stacked bricks marked the spot where walls or other monuments had collapsed.

Harry accepted the women's gifts with a smile before heading off for a tour of the area designated a Unesco World Heritage site.

Alisha Awale, 18, one of the five women who welcomed the prince, said: ''I've seen him before on television, I was really excited about meeting him and was wondering what he would be like.

''We freaked out when he was in front of us but it was a really happy moment. We welcome him with open hearts to Nepal and hope he enjoys his visit.''

Harry is on a five-day trip to Nepal which he hopes will ''shine a light'' on the country as it rebuilds after the earthquake.

His tour of Durbar Square in Kathmandu's Patan district gave the prince the chance to see the restoration work already begun on the monuments and he even tried his hand at wood carving.

When he joined some craftsmen quietly fashioning pieces of wood he looked at their handiwork and said: ''I did carving at school years ago but nothing like this.''

Sitting on the floor with the men, Harry watched closely as he was shown what to do but joked about his lack of skill: ''I can't do it, not many people can. I am showing how hard it is to do this - wow.''

When someone told him how much at ease he appeared on the ground, he quipped: ''Ten years in the Army, you learn to sit anywhere.''

Harry was left in awe of the magnificent Hanuman Dhoka Palace complex, named in honour of the monkey god, Hanuman, with its impressive galleried courtyards, featuring beautiful carvings.

Much of the monument was built by King Pratap Malla in the 17th century but a 1934 earthquake which struck Nepal destroyed a large amount of the structure.

Harry's appearance caught the attention of local school girls who screamed his name and he waved back and smiled.

He stopped to speak to several groups of tourists, asking one family: 'Why Nepal, why have you come here? Well done, it's so, so important to encourage people to come back. Why wouldn't you come back here? It's beautiful."

Among those he spoke to was Ciaran Ciarans who was in the square with young members of his family.

Mr Ciarans, who is working for the Red Cross, said: "He's right, when I came out here in October there was hardly anyone here. They so badly need the tourists to come back."