Four years since the earthquake, Gorkha Durbar still in ruinsFour years later, the palace remains a ruin.The palace, built during the reign of King Ram Shah in the 1600s, was considered a masterpiece of Newar architecture and the symbolic heart of Gorkha district. Seven Shah kings ruled Gorkha from the palace before Prithvi Narayan was crowned the king. Gorkha Durbar was everything—a fort, a palace and a temple in its nearly 350-year history.
Four years ago, on April 25, when the magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the country, the district of Gorkha crumbled. As the epicentre of the earthquake, Gorkha was hit hardest and the historic Gorkha Durbar, where the empire of Prithvi Narayan Shah was born, was damaged beyond repair.
Four years later, the palace remains a ruin.
The palace, built during the reign of King Ram Shah in the 1600s, was considered a masterpiece of Newar architecture and the symbolic heart of Gorkha district. Seven Shah kings ruled Gorkha from the palace before Prithvi Narayan was crowned the king. Gorkha Durbar was everything—a fort, a palace and a temple in its nearly 350-year history.
After the earthquake, it took over two years for the reconstruction process to even begin. The Department of Archeology reached an agreement with the Pachali Siwa JV Construction to begin reconstruction only on November 15, 2017. But the entire structure of the remnants of the palace had to be flattened before rebuilding could start. The demolition began on December 17, 2017.
So far, only 25 percent of work on the palace’s reconstruction has been completed, according to officials at the Department of Archeology.
“We would have started construction of the structure had we not spent so much time in the micro-piling process,” said Manju Singh Bhandari, an officer at the department in Kathmandu, referring to the high strength, small diameter structures used to build the initial foundation. “We spent a significant amount of time ensuring that the foundation was built strong.”
But officials in charge of the Gorkha Durbar said that reconstruction work was also delayed because the contractor had failed to deploy enough labourers and that there had always been a shortage of raw materials since the beginning.
“Only 8 to 10 labourers are working at the site,” said Rameshwor Kattel, one of the officials in Gorkha. “Most of the work would have been completed had the construction company arranged for construction materials and manpower on the ground.”
Materials from the original structure, such as wooden planks, bricks, and window and door frames have been stored safely near the palace. Given its historic value, officials said they will be used in the construction of the new structure.
“The rebuilding will be done as per the original design of the palace,” said Kattel. Rebuilding the palace in its original form, preserving its design and aesthetics, is estimated to cost around Rs 43.7 million.
The four-storey durbar, perched atop a ridge, includes a vantage point with stunning views of Manaslu, Annapurna and Ganesh Himal. The palace complex also houses many smaller temples, including the Kalika temple and the mausoleum of Guru Gorakhnath, the spiritual saint of the Shah kings.
The palace, for decades, has been a hotspot for both domestic and international visitors and pilgrims, as tourists are a mainstay of the local economy. Although the official perception is that the number of visitors has decreased, data tells a different story—the number of people who come to the durbar after the earthquake has surprisingly gone up.
According to the Gorkha Museum, which is part of the palace complex, the number of visitors in the fiscal year 2015-2016 was 48,233. The following year, the palace received 72,648 visitors, and then it increased again to 77,753 last year. Visitors to the museum almost always take a tour of the palace, said Nawaraj Adhikari, chief of the Gorkha Museum.
But given the state of the durbar, most visitors leave dissatisfied.
“Gorkha is steeped in history,” said Kattel, the official at the durbar. “It is not just Nepalis who want to see what they were taught in school but also foreigners who are curious about the birthplace of the country as we know it today.”
Kattel said students who are brought here on an educational excursion ask about the birthplace of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, but with the palace in ruins, officials have a hard time painting a picture of the glory days.
Local residents say they are dissatisfied with the lackadaisical approach the Archeology Department has taken to the reconstruction of the durbar. They said the officials from the department visited the reconstruction site only a couple of times in the last 15 months.
“Construction materials are piled high on the roads, making commuting a hassle for locals and tourists alike,” said Deepak Yogi, a Gorkha resident who operates a hotel near the palace. “I’m afraid we’ll lose a large part of our heritage and history if we fail to rebuild the durbar on time.”
Bhandari, of the Archaeology Department, however, said they had been monitoring reconstruction work and visiting the reconstruction site at least three to four times a month. The palace is being rebuilt under the direct supervision of technicians from the department, she said.
“We have been regularly monitoring progress and urging the contractor to complete their work on time,” she said. The plan is to complete reconstruction by mid-November this year, according to Bhandari.
“We have to wait for around 20 days for the cement concrete to dry before we can resume work. Although we still don’t have enough wood for the entire structure, we will start construction with the old wood,” she said.
Other residents expressed concern at the swift demolition but slow reconstruction.
“The construction company demolished the palace quickly and easily but building it back hasn’t been as efficient,” said Hareram Aryal of Gairikuwa.
For Aryal, the Durbar has long been a place of worship and reverence. Ever since it collapsed, he has been waiting for the day when he can enter its premises without a sense of loss.
“I used to visit the temple to offer my prayers every Monday. But now I feel something amiss when I go to the temple,” said Aryal. “I don’t feel the same calm I used to.