On World Water Day 2005, cultural expert Satya Mohan Joshi stood at the end of Nigu Pukhu (literally meaning ‘two ponds’) of Madhyapur Thimi-4 in Bhaktapur and said, “We failed in preservation and management of our traditional water resources; we all should direct our efforts towards it.”
Supporting Joshi, Nepal Bhasha ‘people’s poet’ Durga Lal Shrestha recited a poem about the importance of water.
Then, Nigu Pukhu had become a field. It was a pond only in its name, but it did not have water. It was one among the ponds with historical importance that had turned into fields due to lack of preservation efforts.
Nigu Pukhu has at least a 300-year-old history. It is believed to have been established by Queen Ganga of Madhyapur Thimi to give the locals a water resource. The water from the pond could be used if a fire broke out.
There was water in the pond until 1958. However, for King Mahendra’s visit to Bhaktapur, the pond was dried out stating the need for a bigger ground for his grand welcome.
Even after the programme, the concerned authorities never bothered to make the amends and reinstate the pond. And, such a feat was not possible alone with locals’ efforts either.
The municipality had started conservation efforts in 2008 by fencing the pond and pouring water into it. However, the pond did not collect as much water as intended.
After Joshi informed the locals about the importance of the pond, they formed a committee. But, they could neither get any budget support nor finalise a work plan. Hence, the identity of the pond was in jeopardy.
The story is different today, the pond is filled with water. Every morning and evening, people come there to spend their time whereas children swim in the pond instead of playing football.
The smaller pond between the two is completely restored whereas the bigger pond is under construction.
How did the pond return to its original state after 62 years?
Though its original name was Nigu Pukhu (in Newari), people had already been comfortable with its name as Dui Pokhari (in Nepali).
It was a pond, but the locals used it to dry their crops. Local children used to play and organise competitions there. After every monsoon, the ground would be a mini-grassland.
Until three years ago, when the local representatives were elected, Madhyapur Thimi had not expected that there would be any change in the fate of the pond. But, Mayor Madan Sundar Shrestha took initiatives for the restoration. Shrestha stated that he had the plan ready for pond’s reconstruction even before his election. After the election, he aimed to refill one of the two ponds with water by Biska Jatra in April 2018. The locals also helped the local government in it.
On the day of the Biska Jatra (April 10, 2018), the smaller pond was filled with water, which boosted the spirit of the locals. After that, they began to finish reconstruction and decoration of the pond as per the traditional guidelines.
They only recently finished its reconstruction, with brick walls constructed in a traditional style, with an expense of Rs 19 million as briefed by the consumer committee. Following experts’ opinion, they filled the pond with black soil up to six inches of depth at the bottom, then three inches of sandy soil, again six inches of black soil, before paving it with bricks and pouring water.
For the future, they plan to collect and process rainwater from the roof of the nearby Aadarsh Secondary School building to refill the pond.
For the bigger pond, a budget plan worth of Rs 13.5 million has been finalised. However, with the lockdown, the reconstruction has been obstructed. The municipality still aims to finish the construction by mid-April 2021.
After the complete restoration, preparations will be made for the pond’s regular conservation. The local community will be given its responsibility. Along with this, they plan to charge some minimal amount for the entry.
It has been estimated that the complete restoration will require a fund of Rs 150 million. With this budget, eight phalchas (traditional Newari common patios) and pathways around both the ponds. Mayor Shrestha shares he aims to make this area the hub of the municipality.
“We aim to revive all the encroached and forgotten traditional heritage sites, reconstruct them and hand them over to the new generation,” Shrestha says.
According to Shrestha, other two ponds, Madhyapur Thimi-based Bishnukunda and Bode-based Kumari Pond, have also been reinstated to their original condition with the locals’ support. Three other stone taps and 10 traditional patios have been reconstructed under the same initiative.