Nepal | September 24, 2020

Post-earthquake reconstruction: Heritage of Bhaktapur to be recovered soon

Anita Shrestha
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“It is also equally important that the reconstruction of heritage should be durable and sustainable. The temples were constructed in traditional structure and the locals were well aware of the technique of construction. That’s why we preferred local people rathers than contractors.”

File – Reconstruction of a temple in progress in Bhaktapur Durbar Square, on Sunday, April 15, 2018. Photo: THT

Since the massive earthquake took the lives of nearly 9,000 people in April 2015, the country has been on a slow and gruelling route to recovery. The shattered cultural heritage, monuments, religious places are in the line to be reconstructed.

Vast amounts of international assistance have been received by Nepal for the heritage reconstruction, but the donors, government and local people were under stress since recovery could not speed up in the given time.

According to the Department of Archaeology (DoA), the massive earthquake completely damaged 133 monuments, partially collapsed 95 and partly damaged 513 monuments. Kathmandu valley, renowned as the city of temples, has lost 95 cultural heritage while 357 monuments are partially damaged.

However, Bhaktapur has been exemplary with its expeditious reconstruction where 116 cultural monuments were significantly damaged.

It will be worth the wait to finally see whether it could complete reconstruction of all its damaged monuments and sites on time in the future or not, but for now, more than 80 per cent of restoration and reconstruction has been completed, which is way above the mark of progress in other districts.

Bhaktapur shares a transparent success story with local residents, for whom, heritage is forefathers’ property and its preservation is their duty.

Keshav Tamakhu, President of Consumers’ Committee (CC) shared that preserving heritage, ancestral property is the responsibility of locals and the feeling of ownership of every monument helped speedy recovery.

Renovation of Nyatapola Temple (Five-storey Temple) set an example of working consumers committee at the local level. Bhaktapur Municipality which took initiative to reconstruct and renovate 104 monuments and temples was supported by locals.

The municipality had estimated Rs 3.5 million just for the renovation of Nyatapola.

The Consumers Committee sent notice to the local people seeking volunteers from among them. “Every day, more than 500 people came in contact to volunteer at the reconstruction site,” said Tamakhu.

“We collected Rs 1.5 million donations from people, nearly Rs 600,000 material worth support — which includes traditional bricks used to construct the roof of the temple (Jhingati, Gonga Aapa, Danchii Aapa) and most importantly labour support,” said Tamakhu adding, “We haven’t converted labour support in monitoring value but we saved a lot.”

It is not the only temple which received support from the public but other temples and monuments constructed under CC also got the same support.

According to Bhaktapur Municipality, reconstruction of Shankar Narayan Temple, Khauma gate (entry gate to Durbar Square), Shree Bikram Narayan, Harihar Narayan, Bhimsen Temple, Kedarnath Temple, Inacho Nasadhyo, Kwachhen Pati, Lakshami Narayan temples, Nyatapola, Bhairavnath Temple were completed while the reconstruction of Nitya Batsala temple is going on.

Meanwhile, Department of Archeology, Bhaktapur has completed reconstructing Badrinath Temple, Rameshwor Temple, Siddhi Laxmi, Tawa Satal, monument inside Bhaktapur Museum, Jetha Ganesh, Hanuman Ghat Satal (Madhav Narayan, Krishna Mandir and Satal where Pujari stays), conservation of Ram Mandir and its Satal, Satal of Nasmana, Anantalingeshwar, and Suryavinayak, conservation of Subarneswor temple. The reconstruction of Phasi Dega within Durbar Square and Changu Narayan is underway.

Bhaktapur Municipality has taken initiative to reconstruct most of the heritage on its own by forming a consumers’ committee in each ward where the heritage is located, meanwhile, the DOA, Bhaktapur — a government body — has been working with contractors.

Ram Govinda Shrestha, chief of Heritage section of Bhaktapur Municipality said that the motive of working through consumers’ committee is to get people involved in the reconstruction project, as well as to maintain transparency among them.

The motive of forming CC is to inform them about the heritage to be constructed.

“If locals want to forward their suggestions on anything regarding the heritage, they can. Sometimes advice of local people is helpful for the construction process,” Shrestha said.

Consumers knew the amount of budget allocated for the construction of heritage. “We have placed a hoarding board mentioning the allocated budget, picture of heritage earlier along with the history and details and who will construct it,” Shrestha said.

He further added that with the completion of heritage, the board has been removed. Those hoarding boards have been kept in the store of Municipality.

“It is also equally important that the reconstruction of heritage should be durable and sustainable. The temples were constructed in traditional structure and the locals were well aware of the technique of construction. That’s why we preferred local people rather than contractors,” he said.

Further, Shrestha said, “We cannot compromise on the heritage sites which are necessary to be protected for the future. We believe that local people will work far better than contractors and also save the budget.”

Also, the municipality has been constructing monuments with its budget which is generated through tourism. The municipality has been collecting Rs 1.7 to 2.5 million in revenue from tourism.

The DoA, Bhaktapur, however, has to wait for the budget allocation from the government. “We have to start reconstruction only after the government allocates a budget. Government seeks to tender and send contractors for the construction,” said Saraswati Singh, Chief of DoA Bhaktapur.

Singh said that DoA has been monitoring the work of contractors. “Recently, we stopped the construction of Phasi Dega temple as we doubt that the pillar of the temple is of low quality.”

Sanu Suwal, contractor of the temple said that the stone pillar broke while constructing and DoA took it to test in a lab.

Meanwhile, due to lockdown, reconstruction work has come to halt.

Government has already announced that the heritage reconstruction should be completed within fiscal year 2077/78. However, there is no sign of completion owing to several factors, including the pandemic.

“Government might extend the time as the reconstruction of heritage cannot be carried out in haste,” said Singh and doubted the remaining work may not be completed in time owing to the lack of construction materials, budgets, tender system, lack of human resource, blockade and lockdown.

Contractor Suwal shared that most of the labourers who were hired from the Tarai region have returned to their respective hometowns during the lockdown. “In the pandemic situation we cannot rush the operations though we want to compley it on time,” he said.

Sanu Suwal Construction Service Limited has constructed most of the monuments and temples including Phasi Dega, Museum, Satals of Hanuman Ghat and Ram Mandir, Jetha Ganesh and Changunarayan Temple.

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