The map of Nepal was redrawn in April last year, when the country was rocked by the biggest earthquake to hit the Himalaya in generations. Across the Kathmandu Valley, historic temples and homes were reduced to piles of broken bricks and splintered timbers. Even some of Nepal’s most famous sights were shaken to their foundations.
In the case of the historic stupa at Bodhnath, the damage was initially hidden from view. It was only when surveyors inspected the ancient steeple atop Nepal’s largest stupa that they discovered structural cracks running deep into the superstructure. Their solution was radical: the upper levels of the tower were painstakingly dismantled and removed while the dome of the stupa was stabilised and made safe.
Temporarily, Nepal lost one of its national icons – the gilded spire of Bodhnath, with its painted Buddha eyes looking out in each of the cardinal directions. Now, 18 months on from the disaster, reconstruction work is almost complete. The gilded spire and crowning gold umbrella have been flawlessly reinstated, with more than 30 kilos of gold used to replace damaged components.
Under the supervision of the Department of Archaeology, every step of the restoration has employed traditional construction techniques to ensure that the new parts of the stupa are indistinguishable from the old. Even the mortar holding the bricks together has been prepared in the traditional way, by burning old bricks and grinding them into a powder.
The total cost of the reconstruction looks set to exceed 230 million rupees (US$2 million), with most of the funds raised by local Buddhists and private donors from around Nepal and overseas, rather than funding from the Nepali government. Both locals and visitors are now eagerly awaiting the official unveiling of the restored stupa on 22 November, when Bodhnath will return to its day-to-day role as the spiritual hub of the Tibetan Buddhist community in Kathmandu.