Locals, authorities race to complete heritage renovation work before monsoon lashes down


Renovation of cultural heritage sites and monuments of the Valley that had been halted due to the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus, is gradually getting back on track with the onset of monsoons. The cultural heritage sites that were being reconstructed or renovated had been left as they were when the lockdown was first imposed on March 24. And fearing they might get damaged in the monsoon rains, locals have stepped up to resume and complete the work before the rains are here for real.

Work resumes

The local committees of Bhaktapur have started volunteering to resume the renovation works left midway to prevent the cultural heritage sites from being damaged.

One of such works in progress is the renovation of the Nyatapola Temple. According to Purna Gopal Rajchal, a member of Ward-5 of Bhaktapur Municipality, the renovation of the Nyatapola Temple stopped on March 24 with the announcement of the lockdown, while the renovation work restarted on April 18.

“We had already demolished the topmost roof of the Nyatapola before the lockdown to renovate it.

The work stopped with the lockdown.

But now realising that the pandemic won't end anytime soon, we have resumed the renovation work so as to protect the temple from the damages of the approaching monsoon rains,” he informed.

Sharing more about the dangers of rain, Prem Gopal Karmacharya, Chair of Ward-5 added, “If we stop the renovation work, the monsoon rains will pour inside the temple making it more difficult to renovate the insides the tall temple later.”

The roof of the first storey of the temple was damaged by the Gorkha Earthquake of April, 2015.

But the Ward chose to renovate the entire temple “as we can't keep on repairing it. So we started renovation of the entire temple”.

Along with this temple, the renovation of the Bhairabnath Temple and Til Mahadev Narayan, different paatis as well as stone taps and stone paving of the lanes of Bhaktapur City have resumed too.

Bhaktapur Municipality is leading the renovation, reconstruction and conservation of the properties. In the process, only a few local workers and volunteers have been allowed to work on the site amidst the lockdown.

With limited workforce, the Municipality has completed renovation of the Chyamasingha Gate and Lokeshwor Temple during the lockdown.

Fearing the approaching monsoon, the Laliptur Metropolitan City (LMC) too has resumed the halted renovation projects due to the lockdown.

Raju Maharjan, Spokesperson of LMC shared, “The monsoon comes with sewage problems and this affects heritage sites, too.”

To address the problem, they have decided to utilise all budget allocated for public projects including cultural heritage conservation despite lockdown, through local levels.

They have started working on sewage management in Ward-29 and a few other wards. They also plan to mobilise local labourers to renovate and reconstruct cultural heritage sites — this is their way of providing them job opportunity instead of offering other relief packages or other monetary support amidst the pandemic-induced lockdown, revealed Maharjan.

Similarly, as per Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s Spokesperson Ishwor Man Dangol, renovation of different heritage sites like Swoyambhu, Kasthamandap et cetera are underway despite the lockdown.

Public interest and challenges

The representatives of the local levels reveal they have been receiving full support from the locals to continue the renovation works despite the lockdown.

Karmacharya informed, “The renovation of the Nyatapola Temple is being done with a budget estimation of around Rs 6.5 million, and we are getting financial and labour support from local people as well as different local clubs, dafa, bhajan et cetera. Some people have come forward as volunteers, doing jobs like transporting of clay, bricks et cetera.”

Bhaktapur Municipality’s local committees are renovating the heritage sites and monuments on volunteer-basis rather than contract-basis.

One such volunteer is Shyam Sundar Matang, working at the renovation of the Lokeshwor Temple in Ward-2.

He revealed, “We (the locals) are volunteering for renovation work turn-wise and have not taken wages.

With this, we can utilise the free time of lockdown and at the same time we can preserve our locality.”

He said that they have been maintaining social distance, minimising crowd, using gloves, masks, sanitisers and other safety gear as provided by the Municipality while carrying out the work.

However, continuing with renovation of heritage sites is not as easy as it was before the lockdown.

Rajchal fears the lockdown will prevent them from completing the renovation of Nyatapola Temple as per their initial target — by the end of this fiscal year.

He said, “In the lockdown, we renovated three roofs of the Nyatapola. But repairing of two more has stopped due to unavailability of the required materials.”

He explained, “We are using imported material — tarseal — we will be laying traditional brick (Polan Apa) and clay over tarseal so as to avoid water leakage from the roof. But we do not have any more stock of tarseal now. We have ordered it from India, but it is still stuck at the Sunauli border.”

Due to the unavailability of all required raw materials on time, they have been doing other work like colouring bricks, cleaning, weeding, adding extra timber in supporting the ceiling of Nyatapola, as per Karmacharya.

Suresh Gwachha, a local mason, working at scaffolding and roofing of the Nyatapola faces challenges while commuting. “There are many security personnel on the roads due to the lockdown. Those who know us don’t stop us, but new security personnel often stop us and we need to make a lot of effort to convince them about the purpose of commuting.”

A version of this article appears in e-paper on June 9, 2020, of The Himalayan Time