| April 25, 2018

Rising from the rubbles: The three Durbar Squares of the Valley

This earthquake has not only resulted in loss of human lives but a loss of culture as well. Nepal had to witness its centuries- old heritages shatter in matter of seconds. Thus of late, the internationally recognized monuments have become a matter of great interest, especially with speculations of them being under the threat of thieves and smugglers. So we talk to the people who are shouldering the responsibility to take care of these fallen sacred sites, the three Durbar Squares in particular. The government has already assured the public that they are once again going to be resurrected to their original forms in the coming years. However, for that plan to be successful, these initial weeks are crucial. Priyanka Gurung checks up on the authorities concerned to know where they are on the restoration process.

Basantapur Durbar Square

Of the three palace squares, it is pretty evident that Basantapur has suffered the most damages. In fact, the effects of the destruction can be seen on the overworked and tired faces of the local residents. They were the first responders on the scene when the earthquake struck and after rescuing victims, they have diligently got on to retrieve the fallen statues and relics from the rubbles.
Rabindra Bahadur Shrestha claims they didn’t sleep for two straight days in their efforts to safeguard the heritage area. Later on, they were helped by the police and the army. Together with volunteers, the local residents collected every piece from the fallen monuments. Even then there are factors that ironically could lead to some difficulty while restoring the heritage sites, says Sarswati Singh, head of the archeology branch at Hanuman Dhoka.


“Unfortunately, in the chaos and grief, we couldn’t find a suitable time to hand out instructions on what pieces of the destroyed monuments might be useful and what won’t for the future restoration process. There were so many volunteers, and at the time of urgency, they found our interference very inconvenient,” explains Singh.
Till last week, all the collected materials were largely a jumble of goods that many weren’t sure would be useful. Further, since the Basantapur site had gone on to preserve everything from its old bricks to the carved woods and statues, there still was a lot of sorting out to be done. Though of late, we hear that the 150 or so statues that were rescued have been logged and safely stored away. Nevertheless, the process has just begun. The classification and identification of the recovered items is still left to be carried out.
In the initial confusion, there is also a chance of some less significant relics missing. Gyanendra Tamrakar, another local resident, recalls an instance where a small statue he and his team had recovered had gone missing the very next day. Thus, he agrees that the police and army securing the parameters of the square was very important indeed. Apparently, the locals are given access to the secured areas and they seem satisfied with the measures put in place to protect the heritage addresses.
However, since the scale of the destruction was so massive, Basantapur has more work to do than the other two durbar squares. Up to last week, they were still trying to retrieve some important pieces of the destroyed monuments. Despite their best efforts, they are lagging behind.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

The office of the Monument Conservation and Palace in Bhaktapur itself is just barely standing. Mangala Pradhan, the head of the branch, tells us that the ancient wooden building with elaborate carvings and rich history has been issued a yellow sticker, meaning she and her team will have to evacuate it very soon.

“We haven’t found for ourselves an alternative yet, so the staffs come in for important works and leave as soon as possible. It’s still very risky, though, and we have to hurry,” warns Pradhan.

It is just one of the effects of the earthquake that Pradhan and her team at Monument Conservation and Palace head office are trying to tackle. However, Pradhan candidly reveals that the recovery work was not as swift as she had hoped.

“Perhaps it was the fact that there were no causalities in the square or perhaps it was because people were trying to come to terms with their own massive personal losses, but in the first few days, the Durbar Square wasn’t a priority. I remember that  at Basantapur, they had already cleared the mess from Kasthamandap and we hadn’t even begun,” says Pradhan.

Despite the late start, though, Bhaktapur Square today has been sorted out. They began the recovery and cleaning processes on the 29th of April and such was the participation of the public, the army, police as well as the priests that they finished on the day itself. According to their logbook, there is a total of 137 pieces of statues, decorative stones, bells and other relics in store.

“We may not be able to restrict the square because it’s a dwelling area as well. However, the security has been exceptionally tight, thus I’m confident that nothing was stolen from the Square.”


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So at the moment, Pradhan is looking forward to submit their documents to the Department of Archeology. This will be used by the Department to have the budget allocated for reconstruction. It is said to be one of the preliminary steps.

“The goal is to revive the essence of Bhaktapur. Each monument, temple and palace needs to be rebuilt the same way it was before. This will require heavy investment, so some international investment would be helpful,” she added.

While focusing their energy on rescuing the destroyed monuments, the department, though, seems to have had little time to look after the ones that have survived. Mohan Krishna Shrestha, engineer at the head office, admits that the state of several standing temples as well as the museum is precarious, and strategies to save them are yet to be considered.

Patan Durbar Square

“Mere seconds after the ground shook, some of the temples immediately began crumbling right before my eyes. The entire square was enveloped in plumes of dust. We could barely see anything,” recounts Davendra Nath Tiwari, Executive Director of the Patan Museum Development Committee. Tiwari was in his office that Saturday, the 25th of April, so while examining the destruction on the day itself, he knew Patan had a long road to recovery ahead of itself.

He was not the only one to sense that. The locals were also hit by the realization. According to Ravi Darshandhari, the Secretary of the Mangal Tole Sudhar Sangh, they jumped into action right away.

“We retrieved the most valuable artifacts, like the gilded gold Yog Narendra column, the gajurs as well as the lion in front of Bhimsenthan on the same day of the earthquake itself. Similarly, within the first 2-3 hours, we had also restricted access to the main Durbar Square. We were very conscious about the security of the fallen monuments,” says Darshandhari.

Later, the police force as well as the army made their presence felt in the area and helped salvage the historic items. The operation began two days after the earthquake, and following six days of hard work, they have now been safely stored. Both Tiwari and Darshandhari vouch that despite concerns, none of the artifacts have been stolen from the Patan area.

Together with the representative of the Metropolitan office, the Department of Archeology and the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, they have been holding meetings to discuss the future plans. Their next step is said to involve classification and identification of the various statues and relics as well as preservation of the surviving temples.

Tiwari even showed us a proposal put forth by a team of Italian experts.

“The likes of Krishna Mandir are clearly shaken and vulnerable. One of our main priorities is to prevent further damages to these monuments. Recently, with the help of UNESCO, we reviewed a tactical plan proposed by some Italian engineers. They suggest that we screw in small metal plates to hold the buildings and stop the cracks from growing. It seems like a legit solution, so we’re actually about to have a meeting to discuss the plan,” says Tiwari.

Fortunately, with everybody’s cooperation, they were able to operate systematically from the first moments after the disasters.