In 1970, when Crown Prince Birendra got married, as a wedding present the German government renovated the Pujari Math (pic, below) in Bhaktapur. One of the architects involved was Niels Gutschow (box).
Having visited Nepal for the first time in 1962, Niels knew what he was getting himself into. He had 100,000 Deutsche Marks for the project and spent six months restoring the 15th century monastery. The Bhaktapur Development Project (BDP) grew out of this initiative and set in motion a 17-year German involvement in restoring Bhaktapur to its former glory.
When the project began in 1974, it aimed to improve the living conditions of the people of Bhaktapur and restore the historic city. But although the infrastructure was being rebuilt and many historic temples renovated, the people weren't necessarily happy. In 1979, there was so much discontent that the project had to be halted.
Studies were conducted to find out what the community wanted, and the project goals adjusted accordingly by a Nepali manager. German 'experts' became German 'advisers' and the project took a new, more cooperative approach. A serious effort was made to communicate with local inhabitants, and get their support.
The result of these efforts is a functioning infrastructure which included a sewage system, private access to water for individual households and street upgrading.The model of using tourist entrance fees for the city's upkeep was also introduced. Investment was made in education, and in 2001 Bhaktapur opened its very own Khwopa College.
The BDP was the catalyst that got things going, but much of Bhaktapur's success in urban management is due to the efficiency of the Bhaktapur Municipality led by the Nepal Worker and Peasant Party (NWPP) which has allowed the city's cultural preservation and development to go hand in hand.
Krishna Pranjapati welcomes a visitor courteously at the gate and leads the way to his office next to Bhaktapur's Durbar Square where he has been working for the past two decades, the majority of the time dedicated to the conservation of Bhaktapur's architecture.
Having grown up here he has witnessed Bhaktapur's evolution from a quiet town into a bustling city and has seen the effects of the BDP and the long-term results. "The BDP was very good for Bhaktapur. If I had not been studying I would have liked to work for the BDP very much".
Asked what made Bhaktapur a success story, Pranjapati replies, "We used the money in the right places to solve problems in water supply irrigation, medicine, maintenance and conservation. The funds for all this come from the entrance fee and we use about half of it for conservation, the rest is spent on roads and infrastructure".
For Pranjapati, Bhaktapur is a work in progress. Last year he oversaw the renovation of 53 wells as the municipality tackled water shortage. Many of his peers have left, and gone abroad, but Pranjapati is happy to have stayed behind to help his hometown. He says: "I get a lot of satisfaction from serving Bhaktapur. My dream is for Bhaktapur to be seen in the eyes of visitors like Rome is seen today."
In 1970 Horst Matthäus was working for a German aid agency in Kathmandu and remembers driving past green fields to visit Bhaktapur. The city was in a state of complete neglect, he recalls, and had little to offer visitors other than the ruins of temples and monasteries. "Only hardcore tourists that were interested in architecture or history ventured to Bhaktapur because there were no toilets and no restaurants you could trust," Matthäus remembers.
In 1978, Matthäus who was now living in Germany, applied to work in the BDP. The experiences previously gained in Nepal, such as speaking the language and having been around Bhaktapur helped Matthäus make up his mind and so he found himself in the infrastructure department that same year. Later he worked as a team leader and stayed on until the project ended in 1986.
When asked what he thought to be the greatest achievement of the BDP Matthäus reflects, "There were a lot of challenges we faced and in the first phase we experimented a lot. To stop the project, take the lessons learned seriously and restructure the approach of the entire project are huge achievements." In hindsight Matthäus is genuinely proud of Bhaktapur and its people, and says with a smile: "When I'm in Bhaktapur I feel at home".
The Pujari Math helped Gutschow discover his deep interest in architectural conservation and urban planning, and he has researched and written extensively on this topic. Gutschow spends most of his time in Germany, but returns every year to spend a few months in a house he has restored at the edge of Bhaktapur where the attic is filled with books, pictures, drawings and scrolls, the documentation of his 25 years of involvement with the town. This quiet loft is also where Gutschow along with his assistant worked on his latest book, Architecture of the Newars: A History of Building Typologies and Details in Nepal, a three part documentation of Newari architecture. For Gutschow, Bhaktapur is something extraordinary. Its unique identity and culture have brought him back throughout the years. Asked about his most interesting experience living in Bhaktapur he asks "Have you seen the living Gods of Bhaktapur? They are masks which are 'born' in October and burnt in April or May. Whenever the locals wear them they are representing the Gods. This way the Gods are alive and not intangible. One does not have to believe in them because they are simply there".Correction: Horst Matthäus was misidentified in the photo that we published in an earlier version of this online article, as well as in our print version (#615). The person shown is not Horst Matthäus. We apologise for the mistake.
Return to glory
BHAKTAPUR, LUKAS GRIMM
Forty years later, Bhaktapur is a living example of the successful integration of heritage conservation with town development
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