Post Earthquake: Rebuild Sankhu Respecting Its Historical Value   

                                                                                      Bishnu P Sharma Parajuli

The devastating earthquake with 7.9 magnitude of 25 April 2015 showed its brutal character by demolishing the old, historical, culturally rich town Sankhu. ‘Within 30 second all the houses were collapsed and 82 people had died. If the quake had occurred at mid-night, all the people of Sankhu would have been died. It was the goddess Bajrayogini who saved us’, Jagatram Shrestha, 72 from Sankhu said.

Stone statue and water spout in debris

Stone statue and water spout in debris

Sankhu, a Newar village rich in Newari culture is 17 km east from the capital cityKathmandu Sankhu. It is a small valley situated in the bottom of Manichud hill and Shali river. Sankhu also an important place of trade with Tibet in ancient times is still attractive in Newari culture and its way of farming.

It was the touristic center, where many tourists from all over the world used to visit the valley to see the live Newari culture and ritual, old style houses, beautiful courtyards, carved wooden big windows, several  pagoda and shikhara designed temples  and stone sculpture, carved stone water spout  in the old town.

Security personnel dismantling cracked house at Sankhu

Security personnel dismantling cracked house at Sankhu

After the quake, all the houses, temples, patis (small open hut built for the localtravellers to take rest) were destroyed. A local shopkeeper said, “99 percent houses of Sankhu are destroyed. Concrete buildings are also cracked.”

IMG_2901 Lord Vishnu in open ground

Stone Statue of Lord Vishnu looking Sankhu valley

Although near the capital city, modernity had not damaged the town until the devastating quake. The luring tall brick buildings with attractive carved windows, deep well used for drinking water, narrow streets, temples and stone images in each courtyard, small shops, hard working people were the live symbols of Sankhu.

I have visited Sankhu several times. It provided me with fresh air and satisfaction to my heart. The green farmland, old houses, stone statues, huge old carved wooden hanging windows, small and narrow lanes, small shops with local taste, deep green forest and Bajrayogini temple at hilltop always lured me.

The recent visit  that I had done few years ago with an American journalist Stephen Franklin and his wife and my French friend Claudine Rubin and her team had provided me a very fresh memory in my mind. I do not remember if Franklin had written about Sankhu but I have a fresh memory of his serious look over every part of inner-Sankhu.

IMG_2993 temporary house

Temporary shelter & field made ready for paddy plantation

Whatever I had seen around Sankhu along with my friends had come into my mind as I was turning the pages of a book. Therefore, I was shocked and trembled when I heard about the loss of the people and destruction of all the buildings.

I became able to visit Sankhu only after one month on 25 May after the first terrible quake that hit the nation at 11:56 am on 25 April and took the life of 8673. About half million houses were crumbled down to earth.

I parked my motorbike at the left side of the entrance of concrete gate and headed forward. To the right side of the road to Bajrayogini, I could see no single house standing in good position. Some were totally fallen down. Those, which were not crumbled down to the earth, were broken. Some houses were broken in front side and others were broken to back side.  Some were brutally cracked from bottom to top.

Bajrayogini temple above the old town

Bajrayogini temple above the old town

Standing near a Peepal tree to the right corner of the street from where I had entered with Franklin and Claudine’s group and had showed them inner Sankhu, tried to mark the beautiful big wooden carved window, that was not there any more. The house was fallen down to earth. Not only that-the narrow street that lead to the heart of the town was blocked with debris of the fallen houses. It was not cleared and cleaned up.

I could not stand up. My legs started trembling. I sweated and lost energy. So, I stepped back and  sat on a stone in safe side.

The pain, I felt there, was harder than the pain I had felt  looking my own four corner cracked house (It is not crumbled down but unsafe to stay) where I was born (Ranipani, Parbat west Nepal). I felt that Sankhu was not only my old town but it was also a home of my friend Franklin and Claudin and many more. So that it made me more panic-perhaps.

A monkey with baby in Manichude hill forest

A monkey with baby in Manichude hill forest

I took the street to Bajrayogini looking at the monster dance of the earthquake that had not left anything from its brutal claws. It looked so ghastly and horrible that I had even never heard in fearful folk story.

Nepali security personnel and local people had started to take out their belongings from broken houses. Some were collecting pieces of wood, some were separating bricks from the debris and some were breaking the remaining walls and others were carrying the dust in the open terrace.

There was a cloud of dust in the street. I saw only one of the streets of the inner town cleared across to another street on the day when I visited. All other small streets were still closed. Despite this, house owners had visited their houses and they were trying to take out their belongings uncaring the risk.

It is not only the old brick houses fallen in Sankhu, but new concrete houses were also badly broken or severely cracked.

Except two houses in Sankhu, all were broken in the earlier greater earthquake of 1934 that had also taken the life of more that 8000 people in all over Nepal. This time too, no one of the houses made of brick are saved, Jagatram who was sitting at the bottom of the hill under the shadow of the tree, said. He said his three storied house is also broken. It will take more two weeks to clean debris to reach to his house. Now, his family is staying under a tarpaulin. The total destruction in both earthquakes clearly suggests that there should be a geological taste before rebuilding the houses in Sankhu.

Local harvesting potatoes

Local harvesting potatoes

I toured the town. I tried to see the center of the city. But, it was in vain as it was blocked by the fallen houses. Many streets still need to be cleared.

I also did not see outside volunteers, tents and temporary hospitals as I had heard in the news. The one I saw a tent was of from the Red Cross.

Sankhu is not only famous in its culture, wood carving, stone inscriptions, beautiful courtyards, and water spouts, it is also very famous in rice, wheat and vegetable production. Some farmers were seen busy harvesting wheat and potatoes. And, some men and women were already in the rice field for paddy plantation.

Some young boys and girls were building temporary shed collecting old corrugated iron sheets and bamboos. The single tarpaulin distributed by the government and international organizations named Tent were already torn out. And, old couples were slowly separating the bricks and rotten pieces of wood from debris.

I climbed up to see the situation of the Bajrayogini temple, which is the pride of Sankhu. Lonely planet had also listed the temple in its travel guide book. The king, Pratap Malla had given a new look to the temple in 1655. It is a pagoda style temple with a three-tiered roof of sheet copper. There are two pagoda style temples in the main courtyard. One is the Vajrayogini Temple with a three-tired roof of sheet copper. Its main gold plated gate is decorated with the images of goddess and tantric symbols. Another temple is the Chaitya is said to be naturally made of and is worshiped as Ugra Tara. Wood carvings, carved stone water spouts, stone images and stone inscriptions are other properties of the courtyard.

The main temple is badly cracked to the left part of front and back side. And there are many cracks to the back part of the temple. One can clearly notice it has slightly tilted to the west side. When I reached there, the priest had just opened the main golden gate and I had the opportunity to see the main images of the goddess Vajrayogini. I prayed her to protect herself and the inhabitants of Sankhu and beyond.

Now, if we listen on radio, watch on TV programs and read in the newspapers and online, there are innumerable ideas and discussions coming up about rebuilding Nepal. The Nepalese experts are mixing their sounds with foreigners and are shouting about reconstruction and analyzing the destruction. I saw now in TV so many Nepali  geologists and engineers holding key post in government office, whom I never had noticed nor seen in TV programs or in radio or newspapers. What were they doing in the past? Where were they using their expertise? What were they doing when different companies or individuals were constructing high-rise building in earthquake prone zones?

I had never seen them. I had never read their articles about the seismic and geological situation of Nepal . Rather they were hesitant to give information. If some activities carried on disaster management awareness building were only by the USAID. Nepali media also failed to bring the disaster issue to the public. I myself also failed to bring the issue to the attention journalists.

Bhailal Deula inhabitant of Sankhu whose leg was fractured in the second quake of 12 May said, no one had given a concrete idea about the rebuilding of Sankhu. He said, “The inhabitants of Sankhu themselves should be cautious to protect the pride of Sankhu’. “I agreed with what he said.

I personally do not know if some representatives of Department of Archeology, Government of Nepal and UNESCO Kathmandu have reached to see the situation of the crumbled 3000 years old ancient town.

Locals at the center of the town

Locals at the center of the town

In my view, Sankhu is as important as other heritage sites such as Kathmandu Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Squar, Patan Durbar square, Changunarayan temple, Bouddhanath and Pashupatinath temple. In the past, the Government of Nepal ignored the value of Sankhu. That will be repeated again.

Therefore, the inhabitants of Sankhu themselves should think about their own history and culture that should be revived. I agree what Jagatram told me. He said, “I will only build a two-story house and use all my red brick and put on wooden windows from outside. It will be stronger from inside and the look will be traditional from outside.”

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