The restoration of Patan
How can we possibly protect our monuments for generations?
-  19 Sep 2017 | nepaltraveller.com
KVPT is working relentlessly on the restoration of historical monuments but the challenges need more collaboration from the government and all stakeholders.
On April 25th, 2015, the ground shook exactly at 11:55 am and the buildings that were rooted to the ground shook along with it. In Patan, centuries-old temples and monuments crashed with a thunderous roar, leaving behind only clouds of dust in their wake instead of history, meaning and stories that could otherwise educate generations to come.
Immediately after that, questions hung in the air like a perpetual dark cloud; what would happen to these monuments and how will we ever restore them to their former glory? As I walked into the once inviting and mystical square of Patan, this question repeatedly struck my mind like a boomerang, over and over again.
But like a path in the wilderness, it eventually led me to Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT), the sole organisation in Nepal who would quickly move forward for the protection and restoration of these monuments while others were running for open ground, no matter how daunting and impossible it seemed right at the beginning. Without the question of funds, KVPT moved forward to collect precious crafts from the rubble, some centuries old.
However, the work done by them was only visible to the outsiders, two years after the earthquake. While people were questioning its restoration, KVPT was making the rounds of various government offices such as the Department of Archaeology, Social Welfare Council, and National Reconstruction Authority to seek confirmation in order to restore these monuments that were under their ownership. Government work in Nepal is known to be tedious and slow, and every one of us has experienced this one way or the other.
Immediately after this problem had subsided, the issue of authenticity arose like an uninvited guest in the middle of the night raising clamour and debate. Authenticity, when a normal person looks at a monument, is starkly different to the idea of authenticity held by an architect who means to make the centuries-old monument stand through storms and earthquakes, even though these end product might look the same to everyone.
This is the reason why the decision about the best procedure to reconstruct a monument takes so much time. People’s opinions differ greatly. Some would suggest using nuts and bolts while other may suggest using steel plates. It is a time-consuming job to satisfy every party from the architects involved to the tiniest faction within the local Guthi.
After more than two years work at temples like the 15th century, Char Narayan is finally in motion. But even in temples like the Krishna Mandir where the damage is not seen from the outside, the pain has been inflicted on its inner structure. The entire top floor of the temple is being replaced however this is a very tricky process.
Dr. Rohit Ranjitkar, program director of KVPT rightly says, “Rather than rebuilding, the work of old things is more complicated as there will be lots of replacement and things can fall and damage others.” The same case can be seen be in Krishna Mandir where currently one corner of its top floor is being repaired but the trick lies in simply waiting 3-4 weeks just for the mortar to set for these old monuments. They can only work in one corner of these temples in the course of a month.
While this may be the most reliable method in the eyes of experts, other people may have different ideas. In the case of Visvesvara which had moved six inches from its original position due to the earthquake, many people intervened to destroy and rebuild it. But the same conflict appeared here too if destroyed, its authenticity would be completely lost in the debris. They could use the old materials, but the building would be new and people would only focus on making it stronger while its old charm would be lost in this very process.
The problem with conservation; people do not have the same ideas regarding it. The work on Kastamandap has been halted for so long because of this very reason, especially as Kathmandu has over 80 stakeholders in its renovation and they are having a hard time coming to an agreement. But in the wise words of Dr. Ranjitkar, at the end of the day, the central point is that we are here to protect the monuments no matter how different our ideas are.
When it comes to financing the renovation, they are currently in a stable position with help from donors like the American Embassy, British Embassy, Nepal Investment Bank and the Heckel foundation of Germany, to name just a few. But despite that, there is no denying that with so many skilled craftsmen and workers working tirelessly on the most intricate parts that must be replaced or repaired it takes a huge amount.
It is a surprise that KVPT is doing it without any direct financial aid from the government. Especially at this point of renovation where full funding hasn’t been sorted out, they are optimistic that eventually, donors will come in with support seeing the work they have been tirelessly doing.
As an outsider, I could not help but wonder why the government had abstained so much from the renovation of monuments that are under their ownership and which yield US$10 per tourist who visits. Where does all the money from entry go? The law directly forbids the government from giving funds to non-profit organisations like KVPT. This is a big issue as the government has not done any direct work from its annual budget to restore these monuments.
Truth is many people depend on these very monuments which attract tourists. Moreover, after hundreds of years what will we leave for the next generation? History, meaning and identity that are embedded in these monuments must be restored as they are a window to look back at the struggles and dreams our forefathers dreamt.