Published on 08 May 2015
NIRJANA SHARMA & RIWAJ RAI
But this is not the first time the historical sites have undergone such severe damage. The previously recorded earthquakes of 1834 and 1934 have been equally or even more devastating, say archaeologists.
“Those monuments were rebuilt in different eras, otherwise we would’ve never seen a sign of their presence,” says archaeologist Prakash Darnal. The structures stand only because they were rebuilt time and again.
The details of the destruction of the heritages as published in the Gorkhapatra on April 8 in 1934 regarding the January quake the same year shows that 420 temples, monasteries and structures of cultural importance collapsed in that earthquake.
Then a teenager, veteran culture expert and litterateur Satya Mohan Joshi remembers the major monuments rebuilt in two or three years whereas the intensive restoration work was done throughout the decade of the then Rana Prime Minister Juddha Shumser’s regime. Archaeologist Darnal says that the willpower of the ruler is also to be given credit for our heritages being alive till now.
“Juddha Shumser seems to have equally focused on rebuilding of big to the smallest structures,” he mentioned.
Changunarayan, Kasthamandap, Patan Durbar, Bhaktapur Durbar, Dharahara, Swayambhunath, Ghantaghar all were in the list. Those sites have been damaged this time as well. Only Ghantaghar has survived, thanks to an earlier maintenance.
The temple of Kantishwor Mahadev in Ason was constructed only as a single storey after the three-storey structure collapsed in that quake. Similar was the fate of the Tripureshwor-based Purneshwor Temple.
Today, the international community has been questioning whether or not Nepal can rebuild the collapsed monuments. “There’s no doubt that we’ll be able to rebuild,” says former Director General of the Department of Archaeology (DoA) Vishnu Raj Karki.
Archaeologists also react differently to the opinions of many people in Nepal and outside that Kathmandu is no more a cultural city after the devastation.The local youths of the heritages sites, who had frequent tussles with the government authorities over the implementation of vehicular ban at the conservation sites, now have bigger tasks ahead of them. They say they will do everything it takes to have the lost structures restored.
At Basantapur Durbar Square, one of seven UNESCO world heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, people ran for life when the quake first hit. But the sense of ownership among locals was so strong that they have now decided to conserve whatever is left.
“While running for life, you forgot about the monuments. But now that we’ve reorganized ourselves, we realize that our history is our only foundation,” says Uddhav Karmacharya, the head priest at Taleju Temple at Basantapur.
Another local, Rajan Maharjan, says that the vigilante groups of volunteers have recovered many of the idols and other items that were missing after the quake.
“Not only Nepalis but also some foreigners took advantage of the chaos after the destruction,” Maharjan said. Expressing the determination to rebuild, the locals want to pressurize the government to begin the process of reconstruction as soon as possible.
“We shall do it ourselves if the authorities are reluctant,” says youth activist Ganapati Lal Shrestha.
The locals’ call woke the authorities up at the historical site, otherwise most of the monuments would have gone missing, he adds.
In the Durbar Square areas of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, the locals played a constructive role in involving people in clearing the debris, says Shrestha. Those who come to pose for photographs and selfies are requested to help move the crafted pillars, woods and arrange the bricks. As a result, the Durbar square premises have become visibly clean and managed, even at this stage.
Despite connections being snapped, the Nepal Electricity Authority has set up temporary arrangements. “Now Basantapur has started glowing again,” said Shrestha.
Archaeologists appreciate the spirit of the locals, saying that they are to be given credits for the promptness of the authorities for beginning from wherever it is possible. For now, the authorities have started fixing supporting pillars of bamboo and wood at the fragile temples which haven’t collapsed but can fall down anytime.
When it comes to the estimation of the costs required for rebuilding the structures, it is too early to make such assessments.
The DoA has said that more than 90 percent of the five of the seven UNESCO world heritage sites of the Kathmandu Valley has seen severe damage. Among them, Changunarayan Temple needs the most immediate treatment or it can fall to ground at any moment.
As per the preliminary assessment report of the DoA, 283 historical monuments have been damaged in the earthquake. However, Surya Bhakta Sangachhe, heritage conservation expert and former director general of Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC), claims that nearly 400 monuments that include temples, viharas, stupas, idols and pati-pauwas have been damaged in the earthquake.
“The current report has missed the assessment of the Bhaktapur area. There alone, more than 115 monuments have sustained serious damages,” said Sangachhe.
According to Bhesh Narayan Dahal, Director General of DoA, teams of officials and experts were dispatched to make inventory of the damaged heritage sites right after the major tremor.
“The team responsible for inventory had left with the rescue teams. They took pictures of the damaged areas and came back with a bleak reality. Responsible authorities and officials at various heritage sites were alerted of the situation and told to monitor their sites with whatever help available,” said Dahal.
As per the preliminary survey, a budget of around Rs 2 billion can be a rough estimate for only renovating the damaged monuments. However, it is too early to estimate the costs required to rebuild the heritage sites. Here, the UNESCO is the key stakeholder and it has to participate both financially and technically to rebuild them soon.
The DoA, in coordination with SONA (Society of Nepalese Architects), has already mobilized more than 400 architects, both experts and voluntary students, in designing and sketching of the lost monuments.
“When we have so many talented architects and engineers here in Nepal, there’s no need to bring in experts from abroad. The reconstruction will be done by our hands because this is our pride and responsibility,” said Sanghachhe.
“We have young craftsmen who carry the legacy of their ancestors when it comes to rebuilding,” says archaeologist Darnal. The DoA has restored several monuments with their help in the past.
According to yet another expert, the young manpower can produce a complete replica just by observing the photos and thus they can be relied on.
“It’s time to hand the sites over to the next generation. Let’s think about making the structures resistant to larger-magnitude earthquakes, given the fact that this natural disaster is an inescapable part of Nepal,” says Darnal.
Girija Rasa writes-