Wor­ries as quake-hit Nepal reopens her­itage sites


Nepal re­opened its tem­ple-filled Dur­bar Squares to the public on Mon­day de­spite warn­ings over safety, seek­ing to woo back tourists af­ter a deadly earth­quake that left much of the coun­try’s cul­tural her­itage in ru­ins.

Tra­di­tional dancers and mu­si­cians per­formed at a cer­e­mony to mark the of­fi­cial re­open­ing of Dur­bar Square in the his­toric town of Bhak­ta­pur, one of three for­mer royal squares in the Kathmandu Val­ley that date back as far as the 12th cen­tury.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple gath­ered for the re­open­ing of the square, whose his­toric Hindu tem­ples, stat­ues and op­u­lent royal palaces drew tourists from around the world un­til the quake seven weeks ago.

All three for­mer royal squares re­opened on Mon­day but only Bhak­ta­pur staged a cer­e­mony.

The 7.8-mag­ni­tude earth­quake that hit on April 25 killed more than 8,700 peo­ple and lev­eled homes and mon­u­ments in the val­ley, home to the three for­mer king­doms of Patan, Kathmandu and Bhak­ta­pur.

Nepal re­lies heav­ily on tourism for in­come and the head of the Depart­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy Bhesh Narayan Da­hal urged for­eign vis­i­tors to re­turn to the Hi­malayan coun­try.

“Nepal is safe, don’t worry ... this is our clear mes­sage for to­day,” he told AFP in Bhak­ta­pur.

“It (re­open­ing) starts from to­day so the com­ing tourist sea­son — from Septem­ber to Novem­ber — will be the right time to come. If peo­ple feel Nepal is safe, then they will come,” he added.

But a warn­ing from the U.N.’s cul­tural agency that the quakedam­aged struc­tures could be un­sta­ble and pose a threat to vis­i­tors damp­ened the cel­e­bra­tory mood.

UNESCO warned last week that the squares were “still in a pre­car­i­ous state,” and ad­vised against re­open­ing.

“There is still a risk that build­ings might col­lapse,” said Chris­tian Man­hart, head of UNESCO in Nepal.

“In the Kathmandu Dur­bar Square an en­tire fa­cade is in dan­ger of fall­ing down, we can­not have peo­ple walk­ing un­der it.”

The squares, which date back to the pe­riod be­tween the 12th and 18th cen­turies when the val­ley was di­vided into three Hindu king­doms, are at the heart of lo­cal life as well as be­ing a ma­jor tourist draw.

The whole of the Kathmandu Val­ley is listed as a UNESCO World Her­itage site for seven sep­a­rate groups of mon­u­ments, in­clud­ing the three Dur­bar Squares, the Bud­dhist stu­pas of Swayambhu and Boud­dhanath and the Hindu tem­ples of Pashu­pati and Changu Narayan.

Nepal’s tourism in­dus­try has been dev­as­tated by the dis­as­ter, which struck at the height of the spring trekking sea­son.

The Nepal Eco­nomic Fo­rum, a Kathmandu-based think tank, says 80 per­cent of ho­tel reser­va­tions have been can­celed since the quake.

Simon Watkin­son, a Bri­tish travel agent in Nepal to help with re­lief ef­forts, said the re­open­ing of the her­itage sites would not bring back tourists.

“It does not change any­thing given that for­eign coun­tries have is­sued ad­vi­sories say­ing that Nepal is un­safe,” he said.


(Above) Nepalese con­struc­tion work­ers work on a col­lapsed build­ing near dam­aged Bas­an­ta­pur Dur­bar Square in Kathmandu Mon­day, June 15. (Right) Nepalese peo­ple sit on a bench in front of dam­aged build­ings at the Bas­an­ta­pur Dur­bar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal, Mon­day.

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