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Prince Harry in Nepal: 'Your country holds a special place'

Story highlights

  • Prince Harry visits damaged palaces, camp for quake homeless on first trip to Nepal
  • Harry will pay tribute to Gurkha soldiers, who have fought in British military for 200 years
  • The visit comes a month before first anniversary of devastating earthquake

(CNN)Prince Harry paid tribute to the resilience of the people of Nepal in recovering from last year's devastating earthquakes, before visiting destroyed cultural sites on his first visit to the Himalayan nation.

Speaking Saturday in the capital, Kathmandu, at a government reception to mark the start of his five-day visit, the prince told assembled dignitaries he had long wanted to visit the country.
    "I'm sure you hear this all the time, but your country holds a special place in the imagination for so many people," he said.
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    He noted his visit was occurring as Nepal was preparing to mark the first anniversary of the April 25 earthquake, which killed more than 8,000 people. An aftershock 17 days later killed more than 200 more.
    Harry said he planned to see how locals were recovering from the disaster.
    "I pay my respects to those who perished and hope to do what I can to shine a spotlight on the resilience of the Nepali people," he said.

    Damaged treasures

    On Sunday, the prince visited Patan Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring an ancient royal palace and temples that were badly damaged in the quake, to view ongoing efforts to restore one of Nepal's cultural treasures.
    Sitting alongside artisan carvers, he used traditional tools to attempt to restore carvings damaged in the disaster.
    He then visited a temporary camp sheltering about 250 people, a quarter of them children, made homeless by the quake, according to a statement from the royal family. He was given a tour of the site by a teenager who lives there.
    Earlier Sunday he met with Bidya Devi Bhandari, Nepal's first female president, at the Presidential Palace in Kathmandu.

    Personal tribute to Gurkhas

    Last year marked the bicentennial of the first recruitment of Nepalese soldiers known as Gurkhas, renowned for their fighting prowess and bravery, into the British armed forces. Gurkhas have served in every major conflict involving the British military for two centuries.
    Harry is scheduled to visit the home of the Brigade of Gurkhas to pay personal tribute to "the extraordinary bravery and commitment that Gurkhas have shown in the last 200 years," according to the statement.
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    The statement said the visit would be "a particularly important moment" for the prince, as he had "such a huge amount of respect for Gurkha soldiers," since he served with Gurkha troops in Afghanistan in 2008 and knew Gurkhas who had been injured fighting for Britain.
    Prince Harry's visit to the mountainous republic comes during the bicentennial year of formal bilateral relations between Britain and Nepal.
    In 1816, following two years of war between Nepal and the British East India Company, Nepal signed a treaty ceding about one-third of its territory.