Post-quake reconstruction of Kathmandu’s temples is mired in geopolitics
China, the United States and Japan are rebuilding sections of Kathmandu Palace Complex with some outsized signs proclaiming their assistance.
Today, the competition to rebuild the temples is ... between rival world powers. Visitors to the Kathmandu’s historic palace complex these days have to pass under an elaborate gate festooned with Chinese flags announcing the restoration of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace.
Further on, hanging from the scaffolding of the damaged Gaddi Baithak are outsized signs adorned with the American star spangled banner. At the entrance to the palace courtyard amidst structures propped up with timber beams, is a relatively smaller billboard with the Japanese flag detailing Japan’s assistance in restoration work.
The imposing Nautale Darbar which was built after the Shahs conquered Kathmandu in 1769 used to dominate the complex, and lost its top four floors in the earthquake. This nine-storey brick and timber structure and three other smaller towers surrounding Lohan Chowk, are being rebuilt by the Chinese government.
Beside its pompous welcome gate at the entrance to the palace complex, the Chinese have also put up exhibits explaining to the public details of its reconstruction work.
This has irked other countries which are also involved in restoration. Said one diplomatic source: “The gate and posters give the impression that China is rebuilding the whole palace. It is a bit in-your-face.”
Not to be outdone by the overt Chinese display of its generosity, the Americans have also covered both sides of their Gaddi Baithak restoration with huge banners. The European-style neoclassical building suffered heavy damage, and is being rebuilt with a $700,000 grant from the US Ambassador Fund for Cultural Preservation with the Miyamoto Disaster Relief Fund carrying out the restoration.
Japan is mainly restoring the Agam Chen and Hanuman Gate, and appears to be far behind the other two donors in taking credit for its restoration project. Heritage experts say Nepal has always rebuilt its monuments after earthquakes that have struck Kathmandu Valley every century or so. When it comes to donor offer of support, it seems modern Nepal just cannot say a polite ‘No, thank you we can do this ourselves’.
A larger worry is that after giving the permission for restoration, the Department of Archeology (DoA) has taken a back seat in ensuring that the projects comply with heritage reconstruction guidelines.