Sunday, February 24, 2002

KVMP and the changing face of Kathmandu

Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Feb 23: While the river runs on and the world keeps turning, and the water flows and the sun is burning, and the mountain’s old while we still are learning.....’where kathmandu is’.

Chikanmugal and Ombahal area of Ward No. 23 of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, is probably the only area in the capital that has its population decreasing by the day since the last two years.

The remaining locals say many of the people have left the core area as the old style of architecture has become uncomfortable for them and there are little chances of enhancing economic activities and survival.

According to a recent study, only 68 percent of the old residents are hanging on in this area.

But this is not going to last for long. Officials of KMC are planning to improve the core area in 14 wards and a demonstration of the project will start very soon in Ward No.23, designed to show the locals that such an area, close to the UNESCO-declared heritage zone of Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, can also be a major centre of tourist attraction, and developed into a tourism-related commercial zone.

The area is full of Buddhist monastery courtyards, open space surrounded by artistic traditional houses, made during the Malla, Shah and Rana period. Some houses or monuments are found to be over 300 years old. In the core areas, traditional courtyards display a unique feature of medieval settlements that provide open space and sunlight for its residents and also keep the houses warm and cosy in winter.

National co-director of Kathmandu Valley Mapping Project (KVMP) Padma Sunder Joshi said that Yauta Baha, Ratnakar Baha, Ganthi Baha or Gancchen Nani and Punchhe Baha is being envisaged as the first phase of development in this area.

"We are going to develop the core city area of Ward No 23 as a pilot project that includes providing basic infrastructures like the paving of streets, water, drainage, and street lamps etc.We will also assist the people in developing tourism business in the area," he said.

This programme is being launched to conserve our unique cultural heritage, to maintain a clean living environment, to identify important buildings concerning heritage and to conserve, repair and restore the old heritage buildings and the surrounding demography of the area, according to Joshi.

KVMP intends to complete this project within six to eight months.

"Reviving the deserted core area is a challenge for us. Only the slogan of heritage conservation is not going to bring those locals back. We must help them to generate income. Perhaps, we can bring back the days of the famous Freak Street again," said Joshi.

Senior planner of KVMP Kishor Manandhar said that money would not be a problem for launching the project, but he did not mention the exact amount KVMP is investing in the area.

"Participation of the local people is vital in this project. We want involvement of the locals from the very beginning. We will collect financial contribution from the locals up to 30 percent. By doing this, we want the locals to feel their responsibility to preserve the area," he said.

A steering-committee has recently been set up with the mayor as chairman, ward chairman as vice-chairman, and representatives of the locals and KMC officials as the members.

Ward No. 23 chairman Pabitra Bajracharya said that selecting his ward for the pilot project was a very "fortunate" incident for him.

Sundar Shyam Mathema, a local committee member said that the project would change the face of the core city and the locals would surely participate in it.

"But, it should not collapse midway, as it happens with many of the high-funding projects," he warned.
[Kathmandu Sunday February 24, 2002 Falgun 12, 2058.]