Half a century later, sketches and maps by European researchers are returned to Nepal

For decades, Franz Frei’s drawings used for adult literacy classes in Dolakha sat in his late mother’s attic in Switzerland. Now 43 years later, the former Swiss Development Cooperation employee has brought the drawings back to Nepal. 

As students, Ulrich Burtscher, Thomas Türtscher and Raimund Wulz made meticulous colour-coded architectural drawings of Ghyaru village in Manang, detailing their elevation, water supply, building use and shop density. After 30 years, the trio has returned to Nepal the sectional drawings of the slope and scale of the buildings and their relationships to each other, along with sketches and photographs. 


After decades of being scattered across Europe, such archival material that provide valuable insight into Nepal’s culture is being brought back by former researchers and students. This return of knowledge is an initiative of Niels Gutschow, an architectural historian and adviser at the Saraf Foundation, who himself worked at the Bhaktapur Development Project in the 1980s. 

It was Gutschow who convinced Frei to dust off the metal canister he had custom-made in Patan to carry his original drawings when he left Nepal in 1977. The zinc cylinder, which resembles a time capsule, is now in the Taragaon Museum with its decades-old baggage tag of Swissair and the drawings still intact. The canister is spot-lit at the centre of Frei’s exhibited works, surrounded by the artefacts it held in safekeeping for over 40 years.