My thesis research focused on the ‘Rescue, Rehabilitation and Restoration of Nepalese Heritage in the aftermath of the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake’. With the funding provided by the UTSOA Travel Scholarship I got the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to Nepal, explore the heritage sites and be a part of the ongoing restoration work.
My travel also coincided with an unending ‘fuel crisis’ which was due to a border blockade imposed by India. I being ‘Indian’ would be travelling at a time when anti-India sentiments were at its peak.
Through the support of UTSOA faculty I was fortunate enough to have associated with the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (K.V.P.T.) under whom I could work for a duration of two weeks. The K.V.P.T. is located mainly on the Patan Durbar Square and most of their activities are focused on this Square.
My first task was to document the remains of the ‘Yoganarendra Column’ (built: c. 1701) which was reduced to half its sized after the earthquake. The interesting bit being that I would have to ‘hand draft’ all the drawings considering the electricity shortage due to the fuel crisis. I measured the parts that existed on site. Drew the proposed restoration drawings of the column.
The second week involved making drawings for the North Mani Mandap (built: c. 1700) in the Patan Square. The North Mani Mandap with its twin on its immediate south were ceremonial pavilions reduced to rubble after the earthquake. This task involved measuring the existing parts i.e. the plinth and the columns that had survived. Further, based on an archival photographs draw out by hand the elevation of the North Mani Mandap in incredible detail. Also at hand I had to supervise the ongoing work in the Durbar Square.
I was fortunate enough to travel to all the heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley. I explored the Kathmandu Durbar Square which was in a perilous condition. I managed to explore the Bhaktapur Durbar Square which had borne the brunt of the earthquake. However, the humanitarian crisis in Bhaktapur is clearly visible.
The people in Nepal seemed rather sceptical about all that had occurred in the country. According to a few, the identity of Nepal was obliterated. For me personally the destruction of these heritage structures is more of a positive than a negative. As an architect broken parts of a building reveal much more of a historic building’s construction techniques, than a completed standing structure. Further, this disaster had given jobs to local craftsmen and carpenters who would have otherwise been jobless. It is not a sceptical moment but a positive moment for the heritage of Nepal as the ‘intagible heritage’ of these craftsmen was kept alive. The phoenix has still not risen from the ashes, but its time has come.