Minister Sharma notified in a speech on 29 June that a Mountaineering Research Centre and a museum reflecting the adventurous identity of Sherpas will be established in the Everest region, and the Himalayan Monastery Conservation Program will be implemented for the protection of Himalayan monasteries older than 500 years.
In addition, a Newa Museum will be established with Kathmandu Metropolitan City, and assistance will be provided for the implementation of the Master Plan for Indigenous Gurung Culture Preservation in Pokhara.
However, ministers in the past have repeatedly failed to set aside budgets for training and recruitment for heritage preservation and culture. Along with agriculture and tourism, culture should also receive government subsidies and assistance. But, tourism and civil aviation always end up taking a larger chunk, leaving the scraps for culture.
If Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has the budget to promote Janakpur’s tourism, it might as well provide more resources to the promotion of the city’s culture and heritage. In addition to the Janaki Temple and being the birthplace of Sita, Janakpur also houses a vibrant Mithila culture, art and cuisine. Tourists are drawn to culture, not the other way around. Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture are all intertwined, but without culture, there is no tourism. Without tourism, what happens to civil aviation?
We live in a country where the youth is deprived of Nepal’s history. For instance, there is no knowledge of the original copies of the Sugauli Treaty. Who is accountable for its loss? What is the state of the country’s archives? Instead of spending money on the disastrous Yetis of Visit Nepal 2020, give resources and budget to passionate lone archivists like Santosh Khaderi, who works day-in and night in Qatar searching for Nepal’s history online through newspaper clippings and museum archives abroad.
The state of our national and state museums is not much better, and the DoA with limited resources and employees is expected to manage such large institutions. The chief of the National Museum Jayaram Shrestha remarks that he has tried his best to make the Museum relevant to the nation, but, given the limited budget, their hands are tied as they are not autonomous like the Patan and Narayanhiti museums and have to seek permission from the DoA for every single detail.
Speaking of Narayanhiti, there is not a piece of land untouched by controversy and the cronies of the country.
Only during the 2015 earthquake did culture and heritage generate a stir. Now, almost eight years later, we’re back to square one. The National Library of Nepal, Kaiser Mahal, Singha Durbar, Sanskrit University, and many other projects remain unfinished. The disasters of Kamal Pokhari, Rani Pokhari and Tri-Chandra College are clear examples of how the metropolitan city offices, Department of Archaeology, and Ministry of Culture have failed to respect culture.
Aside from simply rebuilding or adding wooden bars to support the walls, the government has consistently failed to preserve heritage, which includes the history, the artefacts, wall details, arts, statues, books, relics, furniture, pictures, and the legacy of the place, all on top of its structure.
Moreover, the public wants to know what books, what paintings, what artefacts remain within Singha Durbar and Kaiser Mahal. But there is scant record keeping for the future generation to get a glimpse of what Nepal once looked like.
Read Also: Restoring a piece of Nepal’s history, Sahina Shrestha
Interestingly, Nepal Tourism Board website also boasts of various intangible heritage of our country, but when one browses through UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage of Nepal, the list is empty. If Nepal is to promote intangible heritage as a mode of tourism, it must also take a step back and preserve it from a cultural standpoint.
It is true that often it rests on the community’s shoulders to keep their practices, rituals and heritage from going extinct, but without support and incentive from the government, without the necessary research, the meaning behind the rich dances, jatra may soon be lost to time.
There is also a National Language Commission, and many of Nepal’s languages are on the verge of extinction. But what is truly missing? Budget and human resources.
In 2021, there was fake news that the Nepal government did not have the budget to repatriate a stolen Laxmi-Narayan figure from the US. The government panicked because it had never dealt with repatriation with so much media interest before.
Currently, the DoA is nearly exhausted due to the rapid homecoming of stolen devi-devta, many of which are in transit, as the Chhauni Museum prepares to return them to their communities. Despite this, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Tourism and Culture and the rest of the government continue to only demonstrate “a keen positive interest”, as shopping malls, swimming pools and apartment buildings continue to rise on public space, towering over the red roofs and golden spires of our heritage.
Citizens and communities can take ownership, but if the elected candidates do not represent us or assist us in preserving these heritages, there will no longer be the temples or the palaces that have been the emblem of our cultural and historical legacy for centuries. Even Mt Everest is now listed as ‘endangered heritage’ by UNESCO, owing to the climate crises and garbage buildup. Everyone requires resources to keep up with the expanding economy, but if Nepal does not act now, we will have nothing left to teach the next generation.
It is past time to detach Culture from Tourism and Civil Aviation. Culture and Heritage, when combined, can provide a platform for opportunities that have previously been unexplored. The sector that has borne most of the brunt of development and urbanisation has been culture. It is time to move beyond words and into deeds.