A group of elderlies are seen at a pati (public resting place) in Bhaktapur Municipality, in this recent picture.
BHAKTAPUR, June 10: Because of its rich culture, tradition, and heritage sites, Bhaktapur has remained as one of the most popular tourist destinations of the country for decades. The devastating earthquake of April 2015 and the aftershocks, however, took a severe toll on old settlements, temples and other heritage structures. Its residents remained in shock for a long time. Gradually when they started rising from the rubbles, it became apparent that they will have to rebuild many cultural and religiously important structures.
During the local level election held in 2017, conservation and restoration of the religious and cultural heritage sites were pitched as primary election agenda. This involved rebuilding dozens of temples and retrofitting many others. Pati (traditional public stations), which were in 100s in number across Bhaktapur needed either full or partial repair. Houses situated in narrow lanes and alleys had to be removed as they were posing a threat to commuters.
After being elected as the mayor of this city, Sunil Prajapati vowed to revive the thrill of Bhaktapur and make it even mesmerizing for its residents and the tourists. According to locals, the mayor’s performance has not let them down so far. What they expected in terms of conservation of the city and its development is being delivered pretty well, they say.
“It’s exemplary that our city is developing without losing its original aura. We are happy with the local government,” said Geeta Suwal, a local of Bhaktapur. “There are always rooms to improve, but it looks good to see that our temples are gradually coming back to life. There is progress in other areas as well,” she added.
Suwal’s house near Bhaktapur Durbar Square was also damaged during the earthquake. There were a few temples and Pati around it.
“I had thought that those temples and Patis would never come back to life. It would need a powerful and dedicated team to work for reviving them,” she said.
Bhaktapur Municipality proved her fears wrong. Four years down the line, Suwal’s locality has become beautiful and vibrant once again.
“Our temples and Patis have come back to life. This all feels good,” she smiled. Also, according to Sajan Suwal, her neighbor, the municipality is doing a great job. The way it is conserving Patis and temples and other things of cultural and religious importance is remarkable.
According to Mayor Prajapati, there are over 300 Patis in the city, and during this fiscal year, over 20 million has been spent to restore them. “This year, we worked on 34 Patis. Next year, more are in the line,” he said. “Similarly, we have worked massively on temples. A huge amount was allocated for temple renovation.”
A total of Rs 230 million was allocated by the municipality for the conservation of heritage sites. Half of this budget was allocated for restoring temples.
“We had categorized the temples on a priority basis. The most important and the most damaged ones were on the first list. They needed first attention,” Prajapati said. “There are still many temples to renovate, we were able to restore only 17 temples this year,” he reported.
The municipality has also focused on ponds, wells and stone spouts. Conservation of those has also left locals elated. According to Geeta, many ponds look a lot better then they were previously. “Ponds are clean and full of water. But some people make it dirty. Keeping them clean seems to be another task that the local government should focus on,” she said.
Mayor Prajapati meanwhile informed that the municipality worked on the restoration and conservation of six ponds, five wells, and five stone spouts. “There are many more we need to give attention to, and we will do that gradually according to our plan,” he said.
The municipality also renovated two Dhochhe houses (houses of the lords) as part of its restoration campaign. Several major entrance gates have also been renewed. Gateways to the main tourist spots like Khauma, and Chyamhasingh look attractive then they were before the earthquake, Geeta said.
According to Prajapati, 83 heritage sites were renovated or restored in the last one year. In the coming fiscal year, more 32 such heritages will be considered.
Biggest pie of the municipality’s budget has been allocated to such tasks, followed by education and health sector. According to Prajapati, it is crucial to invest in conserving cultural and traditional values and sites as they are the very basis of our life. “In addition to that, tourism is a big source of our revenue, and as such, it is our responsibility to invest in preserving our tourist attractions - cultural and religious heritage sites,” he noted.