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Nepal earthquake 2015

Kathmandu believers restore quake-damaged Boudhanath stupa without government assistance

The quakes, which killed nearly 9,000 people, caused cracks in the stupa’s dome, tore some of the walls at their base, and damaged its gold-plated spire and crown

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 3:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 3:00am

With gold, cash and labour contributed by locals and Buddhist organisations, Kathmandu’s famed Boudhanath stupa has been fully restored, making it the first of the country’s more than 700 quake-damaged heritage structures to have been returned to its pre-quake glory.

Over 600 monks and nuns will perform purification prayers at the stupa from Friday to Sunday, after which Prime Minister Prachanda will formally open the Buddhist monument, the country’s largest stupa and a Unesco World Heritage site, to the public the following Tuesday.

The restoration cost us 230 million rupees, all of which came from locals, Buddhists residing in Nepal and abroad, and Buddhist organisations across the world
Sampurna Kumar Lama, Boudhanath Area Development Committee

“The restoration cost us 230 million rupees (US$2.1 million), all of which came from locals, Buddhists residing in Nepal and abroad, and Buddhist organisations across the world,” said Sampurna Kumar Lama, chairman of the Boudhanath Area Development Committee that spearheaded the effort.

Help came in the form of 3kg of gold, together with cash donations and free labour. All that the government needed to contribute was technical support.

“Boudhanath’s restoration has set an example that we would like to see emulated at other quake-damaged heritage sites,” said Bhesh Narayan Dahal, director general of the country’s Department of Archaeology.

The speed of the department’s own efforts to restore quake-hit monuments across the country is no match to what has been achieved in 18 months in Boudha, a dense Buddhist settlement in the northeastern outskirts of Kathmandu dotted with monasteries, prayer wheels, stores displaying elaborate Buddhist Thangka art and bustling with tourists.

Dahal said the tender process for rebuilding 61 of the country’s damaged heritage structures has been completed so far, but it is too early to say when they will be restored.

Believed to have been built in the fifth century by a king or a widow depending on which of the popular myths one believes, Boudhanath attracted over 280,000 tourists annually before the nation’s worst earthquakes in eight decades struck in April and May last year. After the quakes, the number of tourists fell to 102,000.

The quakes, which killed nearly 9,000 people, caused cracks in the stupa’s dome, tore some of the walls at their base, and damaged its gold-plated spire and crown.

Confident that help would come from many quarters, Lama’s committee was swift in seeking permission from the government to undertake restoration work, which started on May 24 last year.

“In our community, it is common for locals to contribute to the restoration of important cultural and religious heritage,” Lama said. “Therefore, we didn’t wait for government funds.”

It is common for locals to contribute to the restoration of important cultural and religious heritage ... we didn’t wait for government funds
Sampurna Kumar Lama

As contributions poured in from near and far, masons and carpenters were hired from Bhaktapur and goldsmiths from Lalitpur to restore the stupa. Up to 75 of them at a time were working on the project up until a few months ago.

“The restoration has been done under our monitoring. The restored structure adheres strictly to Unesco guidelines,” said Purna Bahadur Shrestha of the Department of Archaeology who monitored the restoration effort.

Traditional fired bricks, brick powder, lime, sal wood, gold and copper have been used generously to restore the stupa.

“It’s so great,” said Rosanne Van Polen, a 22-year-old tourist from the Netherlands who was admiring the stupa on Tuesday.

Seeing the stupa as it is now, she said she found it hard to believe that it was among the structures damaged by the quakes.

Tashi Doma, a 46-year-old resident of Mustang district, complained that locals in Swayambhu, home to the Swayambhunath stupa, another World Heritage site on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s list in Kathmandu, were not as enterprising as those in Boudha have proven to be.

“I come to Kathmandu several times a year to pray at Boudhanath and Swayambhunath. While here, I live with my relatives in Swayambhu. Boudhanath is beautiful now. I don’t understand why Swayambhunath hasn’t been restored,” she said.

The government says it could cost between 15 billion rupees to 20 billion rupees to restore all the lost or damaged monuments.