The rebuilding of Ranipokhari – that collapsed during the earthquake of 2015 – has brought about a number of widespread disputes and controversies. And even though government offices that have been tasked with its reconstruction claim that they’ve been doing their best, even today – four years after its collapse – the reconstruction of the historical monument isn’t even halfway complete.
“The construction team is working to finish the rebuilding of Ranipokhari by Dashain-Tihar this year,” says Bishnu Bhattarai, undersecretary at Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) – the establishment that has been tasked with reconstructing Ranipokhari since January this year. But Rajuman Manandhar, the expert assigned by European Union to lead the reconstruction of Ranipokhari, mentions that because the rebuilding of Ranipokhari is an ambitious project, the process might not be complete by its deadline and that the NRA might have to extend the current deadline.
This isn’t the first time the reconstruction of Ranipokhari has faced problems. When Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) was initially tasked with its reconstructing, a concrete wall with a height of 10 feet that was constructed at the south-western boundary had to be taken down because locals and culture and heritage activists protested the use of modern resources used for the construction. The KMC had to halt the construction on December 2017 and eventually it tore down the wall on April 2018. After that, the tenure for the reconstruction of Ranipokhari wasn’t passed for a long time, according to Ishwarman Dangol, spokesperson at KMC. So, KMC indefinitely stalled the reconstruction and it only resumed after the NRA took over the task.
“A lot of Nepalis were also concerned about the architecture of Bal Gopaleshwar Temple – that is situated at the middle of the lake. People were divided on whether the temple should be built on Granthakut architecture or Gumba architecture,” says Bhesh Narayan Dahal who retired from his post as the Director General of the Department of Archaeology earlier this year.
He explains that Ranipokhari has been reconstructed three times already and two of those times, it was built in the Granthakut (also known as Shikhar) architecture. It’s also the original architecture of the monument built by King Pratap Malla in 1613. Ranipokhari had been reconstructed during Juddha Samsher’s era after its collapse during the 1877 (1934 BS) earthquake according to the Gumba architecture but that too collapsed during the 1933 (1990 BS) earthquake. The monument was rebuilt a third time (in Granthakut architecture) after that and that is the structure most of the living populace of Nepal remembers.
Personally, Dahal doesn’t have any issues with the structure being reconstructed in any architecture style. He states that he feels these kinds of stylistic changes have occurred throughout history and all of them have their own stories to tell. He also feels that even though these issues arise during reconstruction time and again, people usually accept the changes later on.
The reconstruction team is currently constructing the structure of Ranipokhari in Granthakut style. Manandhar mentions that black soil is being deposited for the base of Ranipokhari starting from its western side and states that the construction of Bal Gopaleshwar Temple will also start within the next few weeks. “We will change our approach and tactics regarding the construction in a few days because the way we’re going about right now is taking a lot of time,” he adds.
The manager of Mandala Book Point, Siddhartha Maharjan, says that he and his friends are curious about the approach the construction team will take to accumulate water at Ranipokhari. He claims that since collecting rainwater in a traditional way isn’t really plausible today, he feels a lot of research should go into finding the right way to fill up this manmade lake and keep its water fresh. Manandhar reveals that boring water will be used to fill the lake.
However, the time it’s taken for this reconstruction is worrisome for a lot of Kathmandu locals including Uma Gautam – priestess of the Sorha Hate Ganesh Temple located beside Ranipokhari, which was also established by King Pratap Malla around the same time as Ranipokhari. Gautam, who grew up in Kathmandu, claims that she has always viewed Ranipokhari as the heart of Kathmandu city and seeing it in ruins makes her feel like Kathmandu isn’t a thriving city right now.
“I miss its existence especially during Bhai tika in Tihar,” she reveals explaining that she had always been glad about how even people who didn’t have brothers and sisters or couldn’t meet their siblings during the festival could celebrate it at Ranipokhari and wishes the reconstruction gets completed without any further delay.
Jeewan Kaji Shakya, who runs the store Opto Lens in an alley opposite Ranipokhari, states that he too misses seeing Ranipokhari in its full glory and claims that as long as it gets reconstructed soon, he doesn’t mind on which style it’s rebuilt. “I think all the disputes and controversies surrounding Ranipokhari only resulted in the delay of its construction. As it was one of the most important attractions of Kathmandu – and Nepal in general – the city feels empty right now. Even the area (where Ranipokhari is situated) looks unsightly,” he says, adding that he thinks the concerned authorities should focus first on restoring the temple and then move onto accumulating water for the lake only after that’s finished. He further adds that that way there will at least be something to represent Ranipokhari while the lake is still being worked on.
Cultural Expert and former employee at the Department of Archaeology, Shyam Rajbanshi agrees with Shakya’s sentiments about the controversies (surrounding Ranipokhari) delaying the construction of the monument and feels that if the concerned authorities had only focused on rebuilding the monument in the same structure as the one that collapsed during the 2015 earthquake, the reconstruction of Ranipokhari would have already been finished by now.
He also voices his concerns on whether the reconstruction process will actually finish by 2020, which has been declared as ‘Visit Nepal’ year. “If the people involved in reconstruction work morally then the new monument will probably be ready within a year or so. They should also focus on getting all the intricate details of the structure correct so that Ranipokhari’s rich historical and cultural background is reflected in the new monument,” he concludes.
By Anweiti Upadhyay in Republica