Kathmanduites were much excited about Ranipokhari being open to visitors for the Bhaitika festival earlier this week. It was happening after a gap of five years when authorities closed the historic pond and the Balgopaleshwar temple at its centre for reconstruction after the devastating earthquake in April 2015.
But, the day demanded even more attention towards the monument after a photo of people “boating” in the pond went viral on social media.
On Facebook and Twitter among other platforms, people were outraged about the new way local authorities have found to tarnish the heritage site, followed by pleas to keep the cultural and local heritage safe and intact, and a few others pointed fingers at Kathmandu Metropolitan City Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya.
Now, the authorities claim the boat was there to clean up the pond, but heritage conservationists and community leaders are not satisfied with the answer. Nonetheless, they assure any of such efforts will be made unsuccessful in the future.
Wrong means for right end?
After the National Reconstruction Authority handed over the heritage site to the Kathmandu metropolitan city following the inauguration by President Bidya Devi Bhandari last month, it is now under the local government’s jurisdiction. If one is starting any commercial activity there, the municipal authority should give permission.
Where Mayor Shakya was unavailable for comments, Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi says she was unaware of the incident at first. “I came to know about it from social media too. I am yet to know about it.”
Upon consistent inquiry, however, she informs that the local authority had in fact used the boat. But, she says, it was to clean the algae. “In my meeting with the mayor and other officials, I was informed that the boat was used to clean the algae formed in the pond. It was not used for any commercial purposes.”
But, local heritage activist Alok Siddhi Tuladhar is not convinced with the deputy mayor’s answer. “We could see that the boat was used for commercial or entertainment purposes. It almost seemed like the KMC was going on with its previously proposed plan to make the heritage site into a commercial park.”
Tuladhar adds, “Yes, it is possible, it could have been accidental and it was only used for cleaning purposes by the KMC, as claimed. If so, it was a big mistake for how people used it for fun.”
Question about future
Until the early 2000s, visitors could enjoy boating in the pond; it was operated in a commercial way, in the same manner, that people could climb the Dharahara.
So, the Bhaitika day incident has posed a question: will the boating ever resume in the heritage site?
Tuladhar thinks that should not happen again. “Previously, it was in effect when people were unaware of the importance of heritage conservation. When people were more inclined to copy the western way of development, thinking they were better than us. But, times have changed now.”
Any kind of commercial activity in any heritage site is unethical, illegal and unsocial and the sites are protected under the Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1956, the activist informs.
“On the other hand, now, people are more aware of the fact that heritage conservation is important. Because of social media and advancements in the freedom of speech, it will be a hard decision for the authorities to go on with any commercial plans in heritage sites,” Tuladhar adds.
Ranipokhari has been circled with several controversies over the years. Tuladhar adds, “In recent times, with Ranipokhari being at a centre of attention, it will be impossible for any kind of changes to go unnoticed. All kinds of spontaneous outrage from the public are likely. And if needed, public and the local heritage activists are ready to step up and against all the activities, and keep the heritages intact.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Khadgi also clarifies any kind of commercial activity in the Ranipokhari is uncalled for. She stresses that the city government does not have any plans to organise any kind of commercial activity in the area nor the office does have plans to open it for the public anytime soon.