Nepal has always inspired travellers and writers in search of adventure and spirituality.
But for the Nepalese, the country's recent history carries more pain than romanticism. Durga Devi Sharma would agree.
Her house is a shrine to the Hindu deities which she believes saved her life 10 years ago.
“Here are Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesh. There's also Vishnu. These are the sources of my power,” Durga explained. “I cannot stay alone without the pictures of the Gods. They are my friends, and my life. They have given me a second birth. I was a dead person. Whatever I have become today is thanks to the mercy of God.”
Durga devi Sharma has been a police officer in Katmandu for 18 years. For her, Pashupatinath temple is not just a religious site. It was the scene of a tragedy that changed her family's life, and her own, forever.
“He pointed his gun toward my chest like this. I had no weapon with me. I tried to keep the gun away with my hands, and I ducked, and used my feet. He took one step back, and he shot. But the shot went above me. Then they fired again. They hit my arm, and my chest. I stumbled a few paces and I fell down.”
It was in 2002, at the height of the civil war which pitted Maoist rebels of the People's Liberation army against the Royal army, between 1996 and 2006.
The conflict led to the abolition of the monarchy and the installation of a democratic republic.
On a routine patrol during the conflict, Durga and several other police officers, including her husband, were just one target among many attacks by insurgents on security forces.
Shot at close range in the arms and lungs, she spent several months in hospital, hovering between life and death.
She was able to go back to her job in the police force. Quitting was out of the question even though the shooting had left her unable to do everything the job sometimes requires.
“I feel positive things came out of it. I should have died, and I'm alive. I went back on duty, and I am working despite everything. I was able to come to the people, and give them my strength. That is something to be proud of.”
Her husband was not so lucky. He was also wounded in the insurgents' attack, and as a result he suffers from a more debilitating disability.
He had to retire and now lives with the couple's daughters in their village. Durga has been living alone in Kathmandu for the last three years to work. Apart from her husband's modest pension, she is now the breadwinner.
It is tough in a country where discrimination against women is commonplace, and a lot has yet to be done to ensure the country's full social and economic development.
“After the conflict, certain things should have been taken care of – like social reforms, and security. But it hasn't happened. Women, for instance, still feel very insecure,” Durga said.
Armed attacks, rapes, torture, and the killing of children and husbands — women paid dear in the war. The transition towards democracy still has not eased all of the tensions.
Many are waiting for the new authorities to recognise the violence inflicted on women, the losses they endured, and to put an end to discrimination affecting women in Nepal.
Durga remains optimistic. “The future of Nepal now lies in the hands of the people ruling it. If we have good leaders who understand the spirit and the hopes of the people, then we have a great future ahead.”
“Women have to carry a gun to change society as and when needed. I was not alone, there were many women fighting with us,” said Mina, a 26 year old veteran soldier of the People's Liberation Army in Nepal. “We could only change our lives, and change the country with weapons.”
At the age of 18, she joined the ranks of the Maoist rebels who launched an insurgency against the monarchy in 1996. Ten years of conflict cost some 16,000 lives, A democratic republic was established two years after a peace deal was signed.
Since then the opposing sides have been treading a difficult path to reconciliation.
Mina is one of the many women who fought in the war. She lives in the Shaktikhor camp about 100 kilometres west of the capital Kathmandu.
It is one of the areas where around 19,000 former rebels are waiting for rehabilitation. Mina lost her leg to a landmine while she was on a raid.
“Women suffered a lot,” she explained. “When men joined the Maoists, their wives in the villages would be harassed by the security forces. Many were raped. There were many attacks, and they were tortured. Their eyes were pulled out while they were alive, and sometimes the soldiers doused them in kerosene and burned them alive. Those things really happened. Women suffered a lot in Nepal.”
Mina says she fought to build a better future for women, and that their lot has improved considerably after the fighting.
Starting with her own. Despite her disability, and the loss of her first husband during the war, she feels she has only gained from her experience.
In the camp, she learned to read, and also met her second husband.“Things have changed a lot for women, and it definitely brought big changes for me, I have improved a lot. In my village, I was trapped inside four walls. All I did was cook. I knew nothing else. But now I have learned a lot. First, I could study here. I became very aware of politics. And I've learned to cut and stitch clothes. Most important for me, is I learned how to handle a weapon. And I learned how to make ammunition and explosives. That's great for me.”
Like many others, Mina is waiting for the implementation of the political process, aimed at rehabilitating former rebels, and integrating them into the Nepalese security service or regular army.
Time passes slowly in the camp. Apart from reading and some household chores, Mina earns a modest income from making and mending clothes. Despite her losses, she says it was all worthwhile.
“I have no regret because I was on a mission to change society. And women must be ready to lose something in order to gain something. We knew very well that we might lose a part of our body, or even our life. Looking back I'm glad I took part in that raid. You have to fight for your rights, you don't just get them on a plate. You have to seize them. So I don't have any regrets,” she said.