For Nepal’s sake, don’t bulldoze the ruins. Rebuild these exquisite shrines

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For Nepal’s sake, don’t bulldoze the ruins. Rebuild these exquisite shrines
‘Durbar Square is ruined, the god Garud toppled from its pillar.’
© Manish Swarup

Two disasters hit Nepal at noon last Saturday. The first wiped out whole towns and villages, and has killed as many as 10,000 people. With the world’s help, that disaster can be and will be rectified. The other disaster was to one of the world’s most exquisite cultural survivals, the ancient settlements of the Kathmandu valley and their Hindu and Buddhist shrines. That disaster, labelled “irreversible” by some experts, cannot be ignored. It must be rectified and without argument.

Pictures from Nepal show temples, stupas, towers and squares collapsed or severely damaged. Protected for centuries by their isolation, they have suffered the one horror from which nothing could protect them: natural catastrophe. Irina Bokova, boss of the ever defeatist Unesco, with seven Nepalese sites on her books, says the damage is “extensive and irreversible”. The local historian Prushottam Lochan Shrestha agrees that “we have lost most of the world heritage monuments … they cannot be restored”.

Initial surveys show appalling losses. Kathmandu’s lofty Dharahara tower is gone, taking 180 tourists with it. Durbar Square is ruined, the god Garud toppled from its pillar. The ancient Swayambhunath Stupa outside the city stands, but in a wilderness of destruction. In Bhaktapur the delightful Vatsala Durga temple is a pile of rubble. Boudhanath Stupa, one of the largest in the Himalayas, is damaged. Lovely Patan’s temple complex looks wrecked.

These sites and their surrounding lanes and wooden houses were among Asia’s last remaining examples of what in Europe were medieval cities, rich in shrines, palaces, markets and colour. Their tight-knit urbanism recalled the intimacy of Tudor England. They were part and parcel of Nepal’s cultural identity. []