To Restore Its Shattered Treasures, Nepal Has A Secret Weapon Many of Nepal's historic treasures crumbled in last week's earthquake. But generations of wood and stone carvers have spawned a tradition that could help return monuments to their former glory.
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To Restore Its Shattered Treasures, Nepal Has A Secret Weapon

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To Restore Its Shattered Treasures, Nepal Has A Secret Weapon

To Restore Its Shattered Treasures, Nepal Has A Secret Weapon

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to focus now on the cultural devastation caused by that recent earthquake in Nepal. The quake destroyed one of the world's largest collections of cultural heritage sites, turning some centuries-old monuments into piles of bricks. Preservationists say Nepal just doesn't have the money to repair the damage. But what the country does have is a unique tradition stretching back generations that can help restore its architectural treasures. From the Kathmandu Valley, NPR's Julie McCarthy has the story.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Blue-uniformed police do the heavy lifting in Dabar Square in the city of Patan, one of Nepal's oldest. Moving wooden beams and stacking broken bricks, they sift through ruined monuments, some of which date back to the 1600s. A considerable chunk of Nepal's cultural heritage crumpled under the intensity of the seismic energy released by the quake nine days ago. This square houses a dizzying array of pagodas, steep-stepped Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines. Two stone-carved elephants look forlorn standing buried in the dusty debris of the monuments they once guarded. Across from them sits the damaged royal palace of the Malla kings, credited with founding this square. Rohit Ranjitkar is the country director for the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust. The trust has saved over 50 historic buildings, including the courtyard that is a central attraction in this square. Ranjitkar says this former royal complex is today the gathering place where people come to worship, contemplate and socialize.

ROHIT RANJITKAR: It's not like a Roman Forum. If you go to Roman Forum, you see mostly tourists. Here, you see mostly local people. This is our identity, our pride, so we have to repair it. We have to bring back the square in the same condition.

MCCARTHY: Any restoration would be a huge recycling project. As Ranjitkar says, the preference is to use the old rather than new materials.

RANJITKAR: You can easily break the new bricks, but these bricks are still hard to break.

MCCARTHY: How old were those bricks?

RANJITKAR: These are the same period as the temple, 1563. And you can still see there are lots of damage, but still, the brick's quality is not worn down, you know. So this is the quality, what they produced at that time.

MCCARTHY: Standing amid the rubble, it's hard to imagine this place restored. But meet Ratna Muni Brahmacharya.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)

MCCARTHY: He sits cross-legged in his workshop that is infused with a subtle scent of camphor, a rare wood he's using to carve a Buddha. Nepali carvers, Brahmacharya says, have passed their skills down through the ages. He's traced his lineage back 2,400 years. That's the time historians say Buddha would've been born in what is now modern-day Nepal. We are Buddhists, says Brahmacharya. But art, he says, is his religion. The master carver is a member of Nepal's indigenous community or Newar, the carving class even today.

RATNA MUNI BRAHMACHARYA: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: He says his forefathers were involved in building the palaces and monasteries of Patan with its square now in ruins. Nepali architecture beguiles with its intricate carvings. Gods, dragons, snakes and suns feature on the doors and roof tops of Nepal's royal and religious buildings. The distinctive wood-latticed window was thought to keep out those who meant harm. Today, 50 to 60 members of Brahmacharya's family are in the trade, carving wood, stone, bone and metal. The 42-year-old craftsman, schooled by his uncles, says he has trained some 500 young carvers.

BRAHMACHARYA: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "I'm now successful sending my products around the world," he says. "The important thing to do now is impart my knowledge to young people so that they join this profession and preserve our ancestors' legacy." Brahmacharya says Nepal must reinforce its vulnerable monuments.

BRAHMACHARYA: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "We have lost part of our heritage, but our culture is still intact," Brahmacharya says. "We have the knowledge and the expertise. We can revive our heritage." Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Patan, Nepal.

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