Despite new tools and automation, Nepal’s artisans have gone back to traditional methods to rebuild monuments destroyed and damaged in the 2015 earthquake.
In the Chwechhen neighbourhood of Patan, detailed carvings adorn almost every piece of architecture. A crumbling old temple in the square has now been lovingly and painstakingly restored to its former glory, using old techniques, raw materials and tools.
Dharma Dutta Bajracharya (pictured, above) is one of the woodcarvers, and has been chiselling figures of deities into wood since he started as an apprentice to learn the craft from his father at age 13.
Woodcarvers like Bajracharya lost much of their business when the earthquake and Indian Blockade reduced tourist traffic to a trickle. Luckily, the disaster turned out to be boost because of the demand for reconstruction using traditional techniques that generations of woodcarvers have passed down to the present day.
The eldest of four brothers in his family, 43-year-old Bajracharya’s upbringing was tough. “Money was tight so you either learnt the trade or you went to school, not both,” he recalls. He was the only brother interested in woodcarving, but he now fears that these skills will end with his generation because his son is not interested in carving.
Bajracharya says these are skills that you cannot just be trained for, they need to be learned from a very young age. It is not just the skill and craft, he adds, but a whole culture of devotion that imbues a piece of wood with divine attributes.
Younger children in the neighbourhood now wear smart uniforms and go off to school every morning. Few have time to learn the old crafts, and it is not taught in school. Bajracharya admits he wants his son to be happy, and perhaps it is just as well he does not get encumbered with a dying profession.
But despite the difficulties, Bajracharya still takes great pride in his profession and it shows in his craftsmanship. “I’ve done this for 30 years, and the carvings on the reconstructed monuments will be passed down for the next generation to enjoy.”
With all the rebuilding around the corner, and Visit Nepal Year 2020 reviving hopes of tourism, Bajracharya has reason to be hopeful.