Nepal is known for its rich heritage sites, many of which have even earned wide recognition as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Among other Nepali cities, the Kathmandu Valley is home to many such sites that speak the country’s pride.
But, it is really disappointing to know that many of these renowned sites in the Valley listed as endangered are facing ill-effects of air pollution, say conservationists and craftsmen.
“Post-earthquake, we’ve had an opportunity to inspect the ancient structures up close and the degradation is visible. Dust and smoke have deteriorated wooden structures and have blackened the exteriors,” says Rabindra Puri, a reputed conservationist known to have renovated many historic sites in Nepal.
Puri urged the Department of Archaeology to study the scenario and take necessary measures to increase the durability of such Nepali heritage sites.
He recommends application of indigenous methods to these structures that are known for their architectural value built on rich traditional methods of engineering and intricate ornamentation.
“There are thick layers of dust which prevent the structures from moisture management. One can literally scratch it off. The Department of Archaeology, which is equipped with a laboratory, should study the chemical effects of carbon on wood and should apply indigenous methods of weatherproofing and carry out routine maintenance to extend durability,” adds Rabindra Puri.
Heritage conservationists feel disappointed about the scenario as they boast of historical wooden structures, traditionally made of dhunsi or dhasi wood, that stood for centuries with extreme durability.
The deterioration of the wooden structures due to age, dust and smoke is more pitiable at the Bhandarkhal Garden and temple sites of the Patan Durbar Square, where a handful of workforce is working on restoration of sites hit by the 2015 earthquake.
Maintenance, A Serious Concern
Citing the ongoing maintenance activities, another Conservation Architect Bijay Basukala said, “They used paint on Changu Narayan Mandir and even on the Nyatapola on various occasions. It’s just careless. It prevents the wooden structure from breathing.”
“Irregular cleaning or lack thereof has resulted in heavy deposits of dust and moisture. It took us an entire day of painstaking cleaning for just this portion of the temple. Look at the blackened portions,” says Bijay Basukala.
Not just the world-famous heritage sites that drive global tourists, many other historic sites in the Valley are facing a similar situation.
“There is yet to be a study on how pollution affects these wooden structures, but its effects are inevitable. If designated institutions carry out routine structural maintenance as opposed to just cosmetic treatment or beautification, the damages could be minimised,” says Rohit K Rajkarnikar, country director at Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust.