On a cold winter morning, some workers are applying plaster to a wall next to a lifeless Kamalpokhari while an excavator clears unwanted black clay. To the east, work is being done to construct a viewpoint. There is also a plan about building a badminton and basketball court.
While the locals of the area are chuffed with the idea that the pond, which had been left in ruins for years, is getting a much needed revamp, heritage activists say Kathmandu metropolitan city is repeating the same mistakes it did with Ranipokhari and trying to destroy the authenticity of the pond.
Heritage activist and documentary filmmaker Alok Siddhi Tuladhar says that the authorities are killing the pond.
“What they are doing is wrong. They are destroying a wetland and using concrete in a heritage site. Haven’t we learned anything from Ranipokhari,” questions Tuladhar.
Tuladhar says that the same company which had used concrete in Ranipokhari has been given the job to renovate the pond. He adds that KMC had not used the modality used to renovate Ranipokhari later.
“We are assessing what we can do legally,” he says. “We’ve recently filed a right-to-information application and asked for the master plan.”
However, the city government’s ward number 1 chairman Bharat Lal Shrestha says that the local government is trying to make the place which he says was like sewage better.
“I’ve lived in this area for the past 77 years since my birth. Ever since I’ve known, this place has stunk like sewage. There is no proof that this pond holds archaeological significance. Some people are just trying to exaggerate the issue,” says Shrestha.
Activists and historians also claim that the pond, over the past few decades, has been encroached in the name of development. According to historian Sudarshan Raj Tiwari, half the pond has already been occupied.
“They encroached on the pond to make roads, buildings, and a park. Now, they want to encroach on it more to add more structures around it. This is wrong,” he says.
The work to renovate the pond started in June 2019. The Rs 63.6-million contract to renovate the pond was given to Dhananjay-Kandel JV which is currently working on constructing a staircase in the pond.
While the locals of the area are excited that the pond is being renovated, activists like Tuladhar have asked the KMC not to continue the project as it does not meet heritage reconstruction standards. However, the work has not stopped.
Their main concern is the use of concrete. The KMC’s plan included the construction of a concrete lotus in the middle of the pond. The KMC believes that it will add to the beauty of the pond whereas heritage activists claim that it will kill the authenticity of the pond.
Tiwari says that while reconstructing the pond, one has to take in consideration traditional values and styles.
“It is necessary for the ecosystem that we restore the pond in the traditional way,” says Tiwari. “Yes, its archaeological significance is debatable, but its ecological significance is not. It is a water recharge station which needs to be saved.”