The demolition of illegally built sites in the metropolis of Kathmandu conjures up new visuals these days. The Kathmandu Municipality, under the leadership of Mayor Balen Shah and Deputy Mayor Sunita Dangol, is producing images of illegally built structures being removed at various built sites in the city. Thanks to visual media that includes major news portals, such images have become commonplace these days. They create sensations and curiosities in the minds of people inside Nepal Mandala and outside in other cities and towns of Nepal. The municipality seems to have concluded that nothing less than the use of bulldozers will solve the problem of what is considered the metropolis’ chaotic architectural planning. Kathmandu is the main place. But this topic has caught people’s attention so much that it has become a reality in its own right. This means that the process of demolishing unwarranted constructions has taken on more meaning than we understand by seeing images on screen and visiting the actual sites.
This process of demolition is no longer metaphorical or something that has only visual importance; it has taken on a metonymical meaning now. This means that the demolition process has started to create a kind of new and alternative meaning here. It has become a subject of debate touching on issues that are linked to global changes in society, particularly politics. People who have something to say about the slow process of change in the overall development of the country seem to see positive changes.
It can be said that the current developments in the Kathmandu metropolis and the policies of the mayor regarding the removal of illegally built structures do not seem to have a direct link with the political discussions. Politically, the current mode of Nepalese history has opened up debates over the constitution and the loktantrik system. The main debates have now been moved to matters relating to amendments to the constitution, which is a natural and regular process which should be taken up by the next legislature. But the arguments that were launched on this year’s Constitution Day 2022 surprisingly brought to the fore issues such as the tendency to violate the spirit of the Constitution by individuals placed in responsible constitutional positions. But the subject of my discussions in this short article is related to the question of a deeper concern related to the architectural and intangible heritage of the metropolis of Kathmandu. I want to address some sources of anxiety in this discussion.
History of Nepal Mandala
The history of Nepal Mandala and its metropolis has a history of architectural achievements and the gradual erosion of these under various pressures over time. History shows that the history of great buildings seems to be out of step with reality over a history that spans more than a century. The reason why this happened is clear. The metropolis of Kathmandu, or the other metropolises in the valley for that matter, did not seem to work with a sense of planning and management. That is to say that the actors of the architecturally rich and balanced city as evidenced by the major sites that bear witness to it do not seem to make the development an integral part of the continuity with the evolution of the requirements of the time. which included the physical management of the metropolis. The role of the state has become another important factor. History shows how the state or successive governments that made the metropolis of Kathmandu their seat of power ignored this balance. Serious studies have been made in this area. So chaos was a natural process. A culture of non-care has gradually developed. Complacency rather than any active planning has become the order of the day. This shows a profound contradiction between the architecturally planned urban culture and the daily life of the metropolis.
A breakdown of the alliance forged by the architecturally rich intangible cultural heritage has occurred over time. And the result was the inconsistent situation. Efforts seem to have been made by people to restore this balance. Studies are available. To name a few, I have followed the efforts of centenarian Satya Mohan Joshi through calls of some historical and cultural significance for the correction of the path. Architect Sudarshan Raj Tiwari has written important books on the significance of the architectural achievements of Handigaon farmers. The title Handigaon’s birthday tackles this story of breaking a deal. In his other works, notably the old Kathmandu Valley Settlements (2011), Tiwari has written on the subject of the relationship between architectural forms and land management. He has written about space and city life from Antiquity to the present day. In this regard, he raised the issues of preservation of ancient cities like Devpattan, Handigaon and others. This also raises a question about the use of vernacular architecture.
Architecture is a flexible and adaptable practice; it is also a concept. Likewise, the river being the very important element and the shaper of the Kathmandu valley, scholars have emphasized their importance. I will cite the example of the work of Ajay Dixit and his concern about the rupture of the alliance between the river and human activities in Nepal Mandala. A debate is underway on the free course of the river and architectural interventions. The preservation of the health of an ancient river known as Tukucha in common parlance has become a hot topic of debate now. The decision of the municipality to demolish the structures built on this river or kola sparked discussion. I have read the debate about whether it is right to remove all obstacles and let the river Ichchhumati alias Tukucha flows in its natural course or to preserve the dams and covered canals built a century ago by declaring them as works of archaeological importance.
Satya Mohan Joshi said the river should be able to flow in its natural course. All obstacles must be removed. I support Joshi’s point of view on this subject because, as stated above in this article, the relationship between architectural sites and the natural state of rivers and land is a subject of great importance. The relationship should be based on a balanced perception. I do not have space here to discuss how the intangible cultural heritage and the growth of the metropolitan area have become out of phase in this culturally, artistically and aesthetically rich valley. But another important idiom should also be building or rebuilding. Demolition should be part of this culture. I think of the state of Tri-Chandra College, to take an example from a more recent historical era. A careful and creative spirit must guide the metropolitan spirit of construction.