TOPICS : Kathmandu: Back from the brink

A typical day is coming to an end at the Basantapur Durbar Square. Flower vendors are hunched over their Marigolds and Hibiscus around the premises of Kastamandap. The surrounding is clean — neat even. Not much to complain about the milieu save the din being generated by vehicles zigzagging through the narrow cobbled paths. Yes, there is no denying the fact that something is very different about the place even as compared to a couple of years ago.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) seems to concur. Noting Nepal’s commendable “efforts to protect the outstanding universal value of the site in the face of urban development”, the world body removed Kathmandu Valley from the List of World Heritage in Danger on Monday. Back in 2003, while including Kathmandu in the endangered list, UNESCO had expressed “grave concern that the traditional vernacular heritage of six of the seven Monument Zones had been partially or significantly lost since the time of inscription.”

“We are delighted. The collective effort of all stakeholders in the last five years has paid off,” said Rajesh Mathema, chief archaeologist at the Department of Archaeology. “A huge burden has been lifted off the chest of Nepalis. The onus was on us to preserve our ancient heritage after the induction of Kathmandu Valley in the list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.”

UNESCO, in placing the Valley in the much-vaunted list, had cited seven sites of Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the stupas of Syayambhu and Bauddha, plus the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan as monuments meriting a place alongside other world treasures. But rapid urbanisation around six of seven sites in the last decade had prompted UNESCO to demote the Valley to the endangered list. It had thereby cautioned Nepali authorities to take urgent steps to manage unregulated construction around the Sites.

So what has changed in the last five years that has made UNESCO reconsider its 2003 decision? “We were able to convince UNESCO officials through our new ‘Integrated Management Plan’ that appropriate steps were being taken to ensure that houses around the Heritage Sites met prescribed norms,” said Mathema. “Towards that end, it was important to convince the local people to carry out construction such that they blended with the surrounding monuments.”

Rohit Ranjitkar of the Kathmandu Valley Protection Trust (KVPT) agrees that whatever has been achieved is the result of a concerted and collective effort of all stakeholders. “The KVPT, for its part, helped keep intact the essence of old monuments by emphasising on old-style construction,” he said. Like KVPT, countless other NGOs, INGOs and government agencies deserve the credit for the latest turn of events. DoA’s Mathema believes there is no time to sit on our laurels though: “Nepal has regained her pride. But commitments have to be carried out so that she does not drop back into the endangered list.”