Friday, August 11, 2000

Swoyambhu facelift not according to masterplan

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Aug 10 - It was once dreamt that the hill of Swoyambhunath with its stupa established over 1500 years ago would be restored to its full traditional glory by the year 2000. But the action taken so far in and around the monument site is far from the actual plan.

Unplanned and ugly constructions are taking place almost unabashed in contrast to the vision of the Swoyambhunath Conservation Masterplan (Swoyambhu 2000), recognised by the Ministry of Culture in 1989. The masterplan was prepared by Neils Gutschow and Gotz Hagmuller with Ramesh Jung Thapa and Saphalya Amatya.

The Swayambu, believed to be self-emerged and later developed into a proper stupa by King Vrishavadev in the 4th century AD, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) since 1979.

Under Secretary of Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Dr Saphalya Amatya, involved in designing the masterplan, regrets that it was not being followed. "Everybody knows the masterplan's guidelines are being ignored, it is pathetic," he says.

However, Department of Archaeology (DoA), the government authority responsible for implementing the masterplan has hardly done anything. Director General of DoA Riddi Pradhan is apathetic towards her responsibility. "We don't appreciate any construction done without DoA's approval," she said.

The masterplan suggests to restrict any new constructions, and ensures retaining of the traditional character of the hill. It accepts the existing traditional structures of Theravada and Lamaistic institutions but proposes strict control of any so-called Mane-Gumbas.

Despite the masterplan's proposal to demolish around two dozen ugly new buildings in and around the monument zone, none have been demolished. Instead, a number of new residential houses, Mane-gumbas are being constructed along with serious encroachment of public land.

Ironically, the huge concrete walls being constructed around Swoyambhu hill, which is being proclaimed as a new attraction, is completely against the spirit of the masterplan. The wall is conceptualized in the masterplan, but much traditional looking and modest. The case is similar for big Buddha statue being constructed on the western foot hill.

Bujung Gurung of Manang District Khangsar Society, supervising the construction of the Buddha statue refutes that such a work could be illegal.

On this, DoA Research Officer Bhim Nepal says DoA did not approve the statue. "We had approved the use of land only for a green park but not for big statue construction," he said.

Architect and Historian Sudarshan Raj Tiwari is also against the construction of such a huge wall. He laments that in recent days DoA has become timid in implementing proper norms.

On the other hand, the chairman of Federation of Swoyambhu Management and Conservation Ratna Bahadur Bajracharya claims that all the new construction are adding beauty to the shrine. He even accepts use of cement, which is prohibited by law, as timely requirement. "We cannot always follow the old masterplan. We need timely changes."

As the monument is a world heritage site, an office of UNESCO in Kathmandu supervises it, and reports to the World Heritage Centre, Paris. A Technical Mission of UNESCO formulated 55 recommendations in March 1998, which had stated that "the scale and style of new development within the monument zone will be strictly controlled in accordance with the existing by-laws in order to protect the setting of Swoyambhu hill."

Now, like any other six world cultural heritage sites of the country, Swoyambhu is under the threat of being delisted from the prestigious list. UNESCO officials say that a High Level Delegation is coming to Nepal in September to discuss with government officials about the conservation situation. The delegation is expected to play major role about the fate of seven cultural heritages of the Kathmandu valley.