A total of 10 historically significant places from Nepal are listed in the World Heritage Site including the Durbar Squares of Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, and Kathmandu. Their architectural beauty has been a medium of tourist attraction as well as brought global recognition to Nepal as a country of ancient architecture.
The earthquake of 2015 A.D. has brought new challenges to preserving the existing monuments of Nepal. Now there is plenty of reconstruction and restoration work piled up after the damages from the quake. In Patan alone, the restoration costs of temples are estimated at millions of dollars. However, the funding isn’t the only troubling factor for the restoration. Lack of skilled artisans is a major problem as well, which is why the restoration is taking so much time.
Working on such issues, Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, a non-governmental, non-profit organization has been renovating the prominent buildings around Patan durbar square. Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT), founded in 1991, remains the only international private non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding Nepal’s architectural heritage.
Actively involved in the renovation process, KVPT has already restored a record of 90 plus monuments in Kathmandu Valley. Using the right measures, mapping and allocating budgeting in different phases of reconstruction is very essential as KVPT director, Rohit Shakya told us in an interview with him. A restoration process comprises several aspects like funding, raw materials, engineers, skilled artisans, etc. The cost for restoration is a separate and one of the biggest challenges in itself as restoration costs a tremendous amount of money.
According to Rohit Shakya ,” There aren’t many skilled craftsmen for the rebuilding process nowadays. Nepal is rich in art and historical monuments has had plenty of people involved in work such as stone crafting, wood carvings and periodic maintenance of the heritages not so long ago. However, the lack of interest in craftsmanship and less recognition for their invaluable work has brought a major decline in the number of artisans nowadays.”
There are only a handful of skilled carvers from all around the valley currently working with KVPT, and most of them come from Bhaktapur, one of the oldest towns in the Kathmandu valley. Because very few people are currently interested in the artisan career, the generation who is now working on the rebuilding process might very well be the last generation to complete this work skillfully.
Despite these challenges, KVPT has restored around 50 monuments in and around Patan Durbar Square and more than 90 monuments throughout the valley. Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust has left no stone unturned in the process and those structures built by KVPT have proven to be stronger and more earthquake resistant.
The preservation of centuries-old architecture is very important for all. Although, with the changing world the understanding of the importance of culture and tradition also changes. As we have so well adapted to modern, reputable career choices, we also have sadly left behind a great responsibility towards our heritages unaddressed. Nowadays, people do not see their children as future artisans working on restoring an ancient temple. Mr. Rohit Ranjitkar explains, “The artisans and their skill is undeniably important but their work hasn’t been properly recognized and appreciated by the concerned authority. Their skills have made the restoration possible and without them, there will be no more heritage which we often feel proud of.”
Another reason why people don’t usually prefer restoration work is because it’s not a regular job, unlike modern construction. Even sculptors and artisans generally prefer consistently available compared to restoration projects which come by every now and then.
Rohit Shakya also commented, “ Maybe the government can open an institute where our existing, skilled artisans can teach other interested artists in this line of work. In that way, their livelihood along with their recognition can be more or less secured.
Nepal needs to create an effective learning environment to keep the skills of these artisans alive as these monuments like in Patan Durbar Square are architectural wonders which are centuries-old masterpieces and bring a lot of value to the country. The reason that we are still able to see our durbar squares alive today is that the precise knowledge of our artisans was passed down to them by their ancestors. And now it is up to the new generation to find a way to take responsibility and protect precious monuments in any way possible and welcome the next generations to get involved to do the same.