How a family in Palungtar, Gorkha revived their ancestral home damaged by the 2015 earthquake and transformed it into a beautiful, resilient homestay with the help of retrofitting technology.
Like thousands of damaged houses in Gorkha, the 2015 earthquake did not spare the ancestral home of Balkrishna Neupane, a teacher by profession in Neupanekhola, Palungtar-4. The house, which was built in 1987, suffered moderate structural cracks on walls and damage to the roof.
After the earthquake, Neupane and his brothers were forced to move into a temporary shelter. But, due to their large extended family, they had difficulties adjusting to the limited space. The two and a half storey ancestral house which spread over 1600 sq. ft was spacious enough to accommodate the families of Balkrishna and his three brothers. After the aftershocks subsided, they decided to move back into their old house despite the structural vulnerabilities.
During the next few months, the family lived amidst constant fear of the house giving away. Hence, Neupane and his brothers immediately got their name enlisted for retrofitting.
Initially, they were doubtful about retrofitting the house as they had heard rumors from the neighbors about high costs and low quality involved with the new technology. They even mulled over rebuilding the entire house from scratch. But they realized that their 90-year-old mother was emotionally tied to the ancestral home and wanted to spend the rest of her life there with dignity. They eventually decided to respect her wishes and begin the process to retrofit the house.
Neupane and his brothers started looking for retrofitting options and different technologies being implemented by other wards. They found splint and bandage technology integrated with containment reinforcement, implemented by the Government of India supported Nepal Housing Reconstruction Project (NHRP), most suitable for their house, as they wanted to retain the traditional design and outer facade of dressed stones, with minimum intervention.
They approached the project and mutually agreed to move ahead with the strengthening process. The NHRP team provided design, estimates and conducted five-day on-site masons training on retrofitting while the rest of the expenses was borne by the owners. For over a month, the four Neupane brothers engaged actively with the NHRP team in the retrofitting process, from salvaging available materials to buying required construction materials, and helping with day-to-day supervision.
Finally, the house of Neupane brothers that was constructed 30 years ago was successfully retrofitted at a total cost of Rs. 400,000 (approx. 400 USD). The estimated cost of construction of similar size house using same construction materials at present would have been around Rs. 3,000,000 (approx. 3,000 USD).
Now, the Neupane brothers see more possibilities with their retrofitted house as they plan to convert it into a traditional, yet resilient, homestay for tourists who come to visit Liglig Kot, a historic site in Palungtar.
“We are now confident that our house is earthquake resilient, and our mother can live in it without any fear,” said Balkrishna Neupane. “We are planning to start organic farming on our land around the house and invite tourists for homestay in future so that they can live in a traditional atmosphere and enjoy authentic village food and lifestyle.”
“This shows how relevant retrofitting is to our local context,” said engineer Deepak Babu Kandel, Mayor of Paungtar Municipality. “People are beginning to understand that even old and traditional mud mortar houses can now be revived in a cost-effective manner using locally available raw materials.”
Kandel himself had retrofitted his house with technical support from the project. He added that there are many such old houses in Palungtar and beyond whose vulnerability could be reduced with retrofitting technology in the near future, thereby preserving the traditional characteristics that make rural houses in Nepal so unique.
From the United Nations Development Program, Nepal