Nepal’s constitution gives protection to heritage sites and artifacts that are over 100 years old. Most of the local also agree on the need for heritage conservation, but most people look to heritage conservation as a way to demonstrate the glorious past, and as a way to demonstrate that at some point in time Nepal did not qualify as a third world country, that it was rich in culture, technology and thinking. I probably started off along the same line, but I have significantly updated my view point on why heritage needs protection and conservation since I engaged in Kasthamandap reconstruction. I work as a board member of the working committee and lead the office management sub-committee.
First reason why we need to conserve heritage is to give us this element called “space” within the confines of which we exist – it forms one of the basis of the identity. I often ask my friends who have migrated outside Nepal, “How do you think your children will grow up, how will they think of themselves and their identity?” and the response I mostly get is – well they will grow up to be “British and Nepali” or “Nepali American” etc. Whether it is for the people who stay in Nepal or who migrate outside – physical infrastructures and traditions give the much needed dimension to that Nepali term in the hyphenated or non-hyphenated identities. Thus it is important to preserve these structures and intangible heritage for the future generation.
Second reason why structures like Kasthamandap needs to be studied, and conserved is for the social fabric and public space it provides. There are eight guthis associated with Kasthamandap, and before its collapse it provided the much needed public space for young and old people alike to hang out, have their “bhajans”, conduct their rites like “pancha-daan” or just to chill and make memories. It is important to understand, research, document and evaluate whether the ancient building methods or building materials can add to our modern knowledge, and share it with the whole world.
Finally, from economic stand point for Kathmandu, its heritage sites and cultural vibes are its comparative advantages to attract tourism. Yes, at the moment, each tourist who flies in has to fly in Kathmandu, but it is a constrained that will be eased up when the airports in other cities of Nepal are built must more suitable for adventure tourism. These structures will then be the only reason why people who directly fly in Pokhara will make a stop in Kathmandu.
I can’t deny the excitement of being part of rebuilding Kasthamandap – one of the national jewels. I will be doing my small role in making the history for the future generation. This isn’t an opportunity that comes every time, and I encourage everyone to volunteer, donate, educate others about Kasthamandap even if it just an hour.