8-14 January 2016 #790

Old is gold

Heritage hotels provide a way to preserve the past while generating a means to support the future
Someplace Else by Yu Wei Liew

For Mahendra Sakya, owner of the Heranya Hotel in Kathmandu, the earthquake that shook central Nepal in April last year presented a stroke of luck rather than a slump in business.

As the quake struck soon after the hotel opened in March, Sakya feared losing guests amidst the uncertainty. Instead, he found himself with a full house.

“It was luck,” he says, as the building was largely left undamaged. Once deemed safe, Heranya welcomed the flood of media personnel and relief workers into Kathmandu. “The earthquake provided the real boost I needed to get my business going.”

Built in 1936, the building was initially leased out as office space to international organisations like UNICEF, WHO, and the Peace Corps. In 1966, it was slated for demolition when Sakya’s father purchased it and converted it into the family home. Ten months ago, when Sakya renovated the building to open his hotel, he recognised its historical value and opted to retain its integrity instead of erecting a completely new building.

Derived from ‘hiranya’, Sakya named his hotel Heranya as a tribute to his heritage. Meaning ‘golden’ in Sanskrit, ‘hiranya’ holds special significance to Sakya, who spent a month serving as a custodian at the Hiranya Varna Mahabihar temple. His stint there, as well as years spent working abroad, helped deepen his sense of appreciation for his cultural roots.

Right down to the décor, the emphasis on preserving the past is apparent. With floors made of wood panels recycled from the old palace windows, and rafter beams made of planks taken from the original structure, the furnishings pay homage to the past. Sakya deliberately repurposed the old materials in order to retain the building’s character.

Keeping the inviting atmosphere alive today, Sakya and his family make the effort to personally greet guests and interact with them. His son, the famous cinema actor Karma Sakya, works as an all-around handyman and is an actor in the Theatre Village, a playhouse located within the same compound.

For hotel owners like Sakya, heritage hotels provide a way to preserve the past while generating a means to support the future. Commenting on both the economic and sentimental rationales for preserving buildings, Sakya surmised, “We have a rich 800-year history. It would be a waste to throw everything away in our rush towards modernity.”

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