The reconstruction of historic Balgopaleshwor Temple has resumed again, more than three years after it was damaged in the 2015 earthquake.
The restoration of the Rani Pokhari pond and the Balgopaleshwor Temple was among the top priorities of the government’s post-earthquake reconstruction work. President Bidya Devi Bhandari had formally inaugurated the restoration project on January 16, 2016, but the work never started in earnest.
The project has once again resumed after several false starts, this time under the supervision of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA).
Workers have begun the work from the bottom up by dismantling the temple’s foundation.
The NRA has commissioned CM Construction with the task of completing the project within 10 months.
Heritage conservationists, however, are concerned that rushing the restoration work could undermine the historical value of the 17th-century shrine.
They believe that great care and time should be taken while rebuilding the temple, situated in the middle of the Rani Pokhari pond—one of Kathmandu’s prominent landmarks.
“Even Rome was not built in a day. This shrine holds great value. The reconstruction authority should not say it will complete the whole task within ten months,” Alok Siddhi Tuladhar, heritage conservationist, told the Post.
Tuladhar was part of the group that had led the 2016 campaign against the decision of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City to use concrete pillars to reconstruct the quake-ravaged temple.
“It took a great struggle for heritage conservationists to convince the government into reconstructing this shrine in its original form.”
The rebuilding authority’s decision to complete the temple restoration job in 10 months has once again vexed Tuladhar and his cohort of heritage lovers.
“Instead of stipulating the deadline for project completion, the authority ought to be monitoring the works underway at Rani Pokhari,” Tuladhar said.
Earlier, the restoration of Balgopaleshwor Temple was under the supervision of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City. But the project was halted after public outrage and a letter of concern from the UNESCO over the use of modern construction materials.
In October 2016, the temple restoration job was handed over to the Department of Archeology. As the department could not make progress with the project, the task was again transferred in March this year to the NRA.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City had spent Rs 25 million for the Rani Pokhari restoration project with little to show for it, save the 10-foot tall concrete wall on the southeast end of the pond and the concrete pillars that were later demolished for failing to meet the heritage construction standards.
Ganapati Lal Shrestha, who has long been fighting for the conservation of heritage sites in Kathmandu Valley, said the reconstruction authority should not repeat the mistake made by the Kathmandu city office.
“Here is the temple that dates back to the Malla period. It is the heritage of this city. So it is the duty of all authorities concerned to restore it in its original form,” Shrestha told the Post.
The NRA is currently restoring the Rani Pokhari pond. For this, it has hired over five dozen artisans from Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. The reconstruction authority has also formed an oversight committee comprising of representatives from the Department of Archaeology, historians, locals and the local level officials from Ward No.1, 27 and 28 of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
No such committee has been formed to monitor the restoration work of Balgopaleshwor Temple, though.
“The temple’s significance weighs more heavily than that of the pond. The authorities concerned should be monitoring the temple reconstruction because the contractor’s main aim is to earn money than to ensure job quality,” Tuladhar said.
When the Post contacted NRA Chief Executive Officer Sushil Gyawali to inquire about the contractor’s apparent hasty job restoring the more than 300-year-old temple, he assured that there would be no compromise in quality of the work.
Experienced artisans are handling the job, and the project has been making decent progress so far, he claimed.
But when the Post visited the project site this week, the Rani Pokhari pond was filled with rainwater, and there were a few masons removing the concrete pillars constructed by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
Shiva Hari Sharma, chief of the Heritage Division of NRA said, the government has allocated Rs 130 million for the reconstruction of the Balgopaleshwor Temple and Rs 95 million for the Rani Pokhari pond restoration and beautification.
By Anup Ojha in The Kathmandu Post - August 31 2019