Rani Pokhari blunderQueen’s pond lies in ruins as a picture of official incompetence
The Gorkha Earthquake of 2015 destroyed and damaged as many as 3,000 monuments of cultural and religious significance. More than three years have passed years since the disaster, and yet, many of the heritage structures are still in ruins or have been propped up to prevent them from collapsing. The iconic Rani Pokhari in the heart of Kathmandu is one of them. In 1670 CE, when Rani Pokhari was commissioned, it was one of the most ambitious projects of its time. Spread over 63 ropanis of land, the artificial pond represented the very zenith of Kathmandu’s resourceful and purposeful building traditions. Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), however, desecrated Rani Pokhari in the name of reconstruction.
The KMC wanted to ‘beautify and modernise’ the historic pond, complete with a son et lumière fountain, a park and coffee shop. But the plan quite did not strike a chord with locals and heritage conservationists. After KMC built a 10-feet high concrete retaining wall on the eastern side of the pond as part of its reconstruction, Rani Pokhari became mired in controversy. As the decision was roundly condemned by heritage activists and locals, KMC rolled back its decision. So far, Rs25 million has been spent on restoring Rani Pokhari, but no restoration work is evident. The queen’s pond is now in a shambles.
When heritage sites get destroyed, the damage is not just in material terms. Historical buildings and monuments reinforce a sense of identity. They inspire educational and historical researches too. Therefore, their reconstruction and renovation demands that their originality remain intact. Since it is a heritage site, there should be meddling of no kind in its reconstruction.
The episodes of Rani Pokhari’s reconstruction are endless. The cycle of resuming work and then discontinuing it has been going on ever since President Bidya Devi Bhandari laid the foundation stone in 2016. Such a sorry state over the years represents a classic failure of our local governance system—lofty promises and negligible delivery. The reconstruction fiasco is also symptomatic of a deeper problem of our system where usually important decisions are taken without much deliberation with stakeholders. Had KMC consulted with the Department of Archaeology before starting reconstruction, perhaps this delay and backlash could have been avoided. When leaders prefer listening to their coterie of friends and advisors instead of experts, not only do they fail as leaders, but the decisions taken on their behalf cause much suffering to the people they intend to serve besides draining the exchequer.
So far, Rani Pokhari has become an example of how not to initiate a reconstruction process. But all is not lost. KMC needs to learn from its past mistakes and show that it is aware of the immense historical, archaeological and cultural importance of the heritage sites that fall within its jurisdiction. It should expedite its reconstruction work keeping in mind the spirit of the historic monuments. As long as it is able to do so, its past blunders can be consigned to history.