By ZOU SONG
By ZOU SONG
RESTORING the damaged Mahadev Temple at the Durbar Square in Kathmandu has become China’s first large-scale foreign aid project in cultural preservation in Nepal. This aid mission kicked off on August 2017 with tremendous technical and professional support from China, is estimated to finish within five years. By participating in preserving international cultural heritage China is projecting an image of a responsible and powerful country, and its effort has been applauded by local people.
Every Detail Counts
A small group of tourists, compared with two years ago, tiptoed their way across the Durbar Square, craning their necks to picture the then grandeur that had lasted for a millennium, but was destroyed within a few hours. The once densely situated palaces had been scaffolded and covered with construction nets.
The nine-story temple is one of the landmark tourist destinations of Nepal, proclaimed in 1979 by UNESCO as an important part of Kathmandu Valley Heritage. The temple not only has historical significance, but is also an important architectural feat in the country. In April 2015, it was seriously damaged and partially collapsed due to an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale. Statistics indicate that among 14 ancient structures at the Durbar Square that were wrecked to varied degrees, 12 are accredited UNESCO world heritage sites.
Devotees lining on Taleju Temple to pay respect to the temple goddess on the occasion of Navami, ninth day of Dashain Festival at Basantapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal on September 29, 2017.
The temple consists of four turrets and several annexed buildings. The top two stories of the temple have been shaken to ruins. Upon a closer look at the relics, the bricks and stones bear visible cracks and the remaining structure looks rackety and dilapidated, despite being bolstered up from the exterior.
Rescue work for the cultural relics started in early 2016, fearing that the upcoming rainy season might bring further damages. Yang Cheng, the on-site engineer from the Hebei Academy of Building Research, said, “We used drones, 3-D scanning, and on-site investigation for this demanding project to ensure that every detail was perfectly recovered.”
Engineers meticulously saved the surviving bricks and tiles from the earthquake to be used again in the restoration. Each piece was numbered, recorded, and studied in order to put them in place again. Engineers likened the recovery process to stacking Legos on a much more advanced level. The difference is that they cannot make one single mistake, and the missing tiles have to be made the exact same as the originals.
One of the fundamental rules of ancient building maintenance is sticking to its original flavor. However, this is easier said than done. As an expert on protecting cultural relics, invited by the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, Professor Lü Zhou of the National Heritage Center of Tsinghua University (THU-NHC) said, “The local religious practice has been deeply influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, and their religious architecture also shows its own regional distinctions.” Engineers may apply their experience in protecting and preserving Tibetan cultural heritage, but this alone would not be enough. Many local craftsmen have been recruited as members of the recovery project.
The Chinese Restoration Method
The temple is located at the center of the Kathmandu Valley Cultural Heritage site, which has now been turned into an “international arena” for restoring cultural heritage. Lü Zhou said that institutions from the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and India have participated in the country’s cultural heritage restoration work, with China opting for one of the most challenging tasks — recovering the nine-story temple.
According to Lü, the Chinese team has dedicated themselves to this demanding project to ensure quality, demonstrating China’s concepts, capability, technique, and the Chinese way of cultural heritage preservation.
Reconstruction is underway after the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April 2015.
Even though most temples at the Durbar Square are under maintenance, many local people continue to visit and worship. A local worker named Sonir told the reporter that the earthquake has not changed their lifestyle and he believes that with the aid from China their life will soon be brought back to the normal track.
“For Nepalese, a temple bears greater significance than a road or a bridge.” Lü believes that along with large-scale infrastructure projects, China should put more focus on more people-oriented gestures, like heritage preservation. The nine-story temple recovery task has been taken by the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, the first time they have worked overseas. Apart from ensuring quality reconstruction work, figuring out how to guarantee religious practice of the locals and maintain tourist activities have become new topics for Chinese academies of historic preservation to consider.
“The recovery project is not only an assistance project but a scientific study. Starting from the consensus between the two sides, to the systematic excavation and arrangement of the relics, this is a profound study for historical and religious study of South Asia and adjacent areas.”
Bijaya Kumar Gacchedar, Nepalese Minister of Federal Affairs and Local Development, confirmed that the recovery project is a testament to the expanding China-Nepal cooperation in multiple fields. “China lent us support in technology and expertise and we look forward to our cultural treasures showing their radiant glamour again.” He extended his gratitude for China’s selfless aid for Nepal. He mentioned the 2017 Nepal Tourism Year in China and believed that the recovery of their nine-story temple, an important measure to revitalize Nepalese tourism, would soon bring their tourist industry to the fast track.
ZOU SONG is People’s Daily Special Correspondent in Nepal.