Antique carved windows of ancient houses damaged in the earthquake are being restored by artisans and apprentices
Alok Siddhi Tuladhar
Two years after the earthquake, the first sight that one sees when entering Basantapur Darbar Square is the half destroyed Gaddi Darbar standing on its own debris. But the earthquake not only destroy the city’s manuments, it also damaged centuries-old residences in inner city Kathmandu.
Today, these alleys are covered in a fog of dust as damaged houses are being demolished to build new ones. Many have got tired of waiting for the Rs 300,000 government compensation, and at any rate that money would just about pay to build one room.
Since the earthquake mostly damaged brick and mortar buildings, the new buildings are mostly multi-storey ferrocement blocks. The danger is that the carved wooden windows, doorways and columns will be replaced.
But here in Itumbahal, a restoration workshop conducted by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) and Handicraft Association of Nepal is trying to preserve the ancient carved wooden windows. The 45-day pilot project allows 12 trainees to work with three master artisans and to learn the endangered craft.
Singh Raj Tuladhar, one of the trainer craftsmen conducting the workshop, is from Bungamati, an ancient town famous for its woodcarvers. With 35 years of experience in the field, Tuladhar felt the need to pass on and conserve the skills he had. Every morning, instead of opening his workshop at home, he makes his way to Kathmandu to train the young apprentices. Apart from teaching the novices the art of carving intricate designs on blocks of wood, Tuladhar makes sure they know the value of heritage and the need for its conservation.
The team will repair as many structures as possible, preserving the traditional woodcarving craft of Kathmandu along the way. The repaired window frames are then returned to their owners. However, a similar wooden carved window today would cost anywhere up to Rs 3 million. This is why Shriju Pradhan of Kathmandu Metropolitan City is concerned about its preservation.
“The government hasn’t provided much compensation for rebuilding, so house owners are tempted to sell antique windows to rebuild their homes although it is illegal to sell anything older than a hundred years,” says Pradhan.
The workshop costs Rs 1.5 million to pay for the trainer artisans and paraphernalia. All the carved wood components that come to the workshop are recorded in detail and archived for future reference. Some of the windows and wooden carvings were earmarked for restoration even before the earthquake, but at the time KMC could only manage to stop the demolition of old houses. Despite initial objection from the house owners, Pradhan was able to convince them to hand over the items for free repairs.
Some of the damaged and destroyed houses in Kathmandu were 300 years old. One of them is the house of Sadchitta Nanda Vaidya that had to be taken down because of serious damage. the government provides Rs 500,000 as compensation to rebuild heritage homes like Vaidya’s provided they adhere to the traditional design. But this money does not even cover the cost of a single window.
“I cannot afford to rebuild it in the original design. It is not just the windows but we also need dachi appa to complete the look,” says Vaidya.
While the KMC has prevented rebuilding the old houses unless they retain their traditional looks, locals are getting impatient. Pradhan is looking after the restoration efforts at KMC and says preserving the wooden components through the workshop is the least her Council can do for now.
The KMC had released a formal notice to hand over wooden windows for restoration soon after the earthquake. Says Pradhan: “This will at least create some awareness about preservation and hopefully generate funds.”
Footsteps of our past, Astha Joshi
Carving out a niche, Sonia Awale
Building back Bungamati, Astha Joshi