Rise of the Artisans

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--By Anil Chitrakar

Estimates indicate that over 700 monuments fell during the massive earthquake in April. These monuments were not only places of worship, but also tourism products for domestic and global visitors. Many temples are so popular that there is a whole economy that has come up around them. Also, the fact that some of them are inscribed in the World Heritage List helps market them across the world.

With the search and rescue process now behind us, the focus has to be on recovery and rebuilding. These monuments have land trusts to care for them that need to be reinstated. Tourists also pay a good sum to see them: rituals and annual festivals being added attractions.  There are restaurants and hotels near them. There are people who make and sell handicrafts all around them. Then there are money changers, taxi drivers, fruit and vegetable vendors, florists, priests, policemen, and bureaucrats, who all have a job and steady income because we have, or rather had these monuments.

Let Me Through 
In the Nepali oral tradition there is a story of a long line of people waiting outside a store. There is a person at the back trying to push his way to the front, but fails every time because everyone in front pushes him to the back of the line. Finally, he shouts out that no one will get anything till the shop is opened and he has the key to the shop. If we are to recover the globally unique heritage of Nepal, the artists of the valley need to be pushed to the front. They have the knowledge and skills to recover and rebuild our unique heritages. Not the people who are all in line to take up lucrative positions in the rebuilding process.

The reality is that when heritage falls, the artist rises, they rose in 1934 and after each earthquake before that. They have risen again, but they need to be pushed or rather pulled to the front. It is an opportunity for a section of Nepali society to do well for themselves, while contributing to Nepal’s economy, its proud history, heritage and society. 

Twenty  Billion Economy
The initial estimate for the recovery of Nepal’s globally unique heritage has been put at about twenty billion rupees. The archeology department says that Kasthamandap alone will cost 200 million rupees to rebuild. If done well, the recovery of Kasthamandap will be a livelihood project for hundreds of traditional artists in Bungamati, Tokha, Kirtipur and other places. The process can involve our engineering and architecture students, giving them the necessary skills and “expertise” to work globally for UNESCO and other related agencies some day.

If the bricks and tiles and timber can be sourced properly, many Nepali youth entrepreneurs and businesses could flourish. This would indeed become a twenty billion rupee economy. Knowing that, in the long run, tourist fees, local taxes and other revenue will help pay for our heritage, we should have no problem making the investment. The point is that if we get the process correct, the rebuilding work itself can be an economy. Some countries did it by building highways, some with Olympic facilities, and others by railway systems.

Smokeless and Much More
Innovation and adoption of state-of-the-art technology could make the earthquake a real opportunity to make new bricks and tiles for the monuments more environment and society friendly than ever before. We need to establish smoke free brick kilns, not use fertile top soil and ensure that there is zero tolerance for child labour and other social ills. What a great opportunity to tackle age old problems that have not been solved. Simply going back to the Nepal before the earthquake is not good enough. We can and will do better.

Many years from now, as these monuments get dismantled for repair and maintenance or are being rebuilt after another future earthquake people need to gasp and say, “Look at how wise our parents and grandparents were in 2015. Look at all the innovations that helped make society better while building these beautiful monuments.” The point is only a good education can help us see the bigger picture and help us take full advantage of the destructive earthquake.

Anil Chitrakar is the President of Siddharthinc, a consulting firm dedicated to unlocking markets and can be reached at anil.chitrakar@siddharthinc.com

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