Nepal's rich cultural heritage devastated by quake

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit on April 25 has left the Kathmandu Valley's three former royal squares in ruins.

Nepalese civilians and police clear rubble at the Narayan temple in Kathmandu on May 2, 2015. Menahem Kahana/AFP Photo
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Kathmandu // Sujan Shrestha says it breaks his heart to look at the piles of rubble that are all that remain of the ancient Nepalese temples where he has worshipped all his life.

The 28-year-old shopkeeper grew up in a house just off Patan Durbar Square, a spectacular World Heritage site in the quake-hit Kathmandu Valley packed with ornately carved Hindu temples, statues and a royal palace.

“We were always told that a big one was coming, but I never imagined that it would be this devastating,” Mr Shrestha said as he looked over the ruined square where he used to sell pashminas to tourists.

“I cannot believe that those temples collapsed, this place looks incomplete without them. It breaks my heart when I look around.”

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit on April 25 has devastated Nepal’s rich cultural heritage and left the Kathmandu Valley’s three former royal squares in ruins.

The squares, which date back centuries to when the valley was divided into three Hindu kingdoms, are at the heart of local life as well as being a huge draw to a country that relies heavily on tourism.

“The quake left an impact on 90 per cent of our heritage sites. It is difficult to value the loss,” said Bhesh Narayan Dahal, the director general of the Nepal’s department of archaeology.

“The very next day after the earthquake, a team was deployed to assess the damage and make an inventory of what was found.

“Our concern is to not let any antiquity or items of value to leave the site. Our teams are working to keep a record and collect details.”

Unesco, the UN’s culture agency, said the damage to the three squares in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur – all World Heritage sites – was “absolutely dramatic”.

“We are in contact with the government and pushing them very hard to protect these sites and not to increase this damage now,” said Christian Manhart, head of Unesco in Nepal.

In Patan Durbar Square on Friday, 500 Nepalese police officers and soldiers were combing through the rubble to try to salvage what they could for reconstruction.

“We worked all yesterday and have been working since early this morning ... This is our heritage, and we have to protect it,” said police deputy superintendent Prakash Sharma.

As soldiers stacked bricks from the huge piles of rubble, local people – many of them elderly men and women in traditional Nepalese costume – gathered behind a rope hastily erected to keep them off the usually bustling square.

To one side, people lined up with buckets to collect water from the ornate stone taps of a traditional Nepalese step well that appeared to have survived the devastation.

“We have survived a human war, but this is nature’s war on us,” said Mr Sharma, who indicated he was concerned about possible looting of priceless artefacts in the chaotic aftermath of a quake that killed thousands.

“We have stopped public access because not everyone has the right intention. We have cut off the area and been providing security to the ruins as much as possible.”

Mr Manhart said there were detailed drawings and architectural plans, meaning the monuments could be rebuilt, as many were following the last major quake to hit the valley in 1934.

He also said Unesco would work to make the monuments more resistant to quakes in the future.

“We will deploy all our resources to reconstruct the sites within five to seven years,” said Mr Dahal.

“This is our pride, our identity and we will work to rebuild it.”

* Agence France-Presse