Photographs of the holy Bagmati River from 50 years ago show a clean, clear river flowing across a sandy flood plain. Today, that is a distant memory.
Today at Teku where the Bagmati meets the Bishnumati one is greeted by the apocalyptic sight of embankments of garbage, squatter settlements, vultures and kites circling overhead and the overpowering stench of sewage and rotten refuse.
The once holy ghats are no longer on the banks of the river, which is now flowing a thick black paste along a canyon-like channel. The temples and guest houses are crumbling. The two-km stretch of the Bagmati from Teku to Thapathali is now a symbol of fetid urban decay.
But all this is about to change come June. In an effort to revive the largely forgotten cultural heritage along this stretch of the river, the government has started construction of a heritage walkway and Hutram Baidhya Memorial Environmental Park to commemorate the late scientist and conservationist who spent a lifetime trying to save the Bagmati Civilisation.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) and Department of Archaeology have already started cleaning up a 1km stretch from Teku. Says Shriju Pradhan of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department of the KMC: “The plan is to preserve the cultural heritage on the way and create an environmentally friendly area. After the work is complete, this place can be the meeting point for both Kathmandu and Lalitpur.”
The restoration work will be part of the concept of a Bagmati Park being built by the Ministry of Urban Development. Once the construction of the 2km wide promenade is complete people can walk, cycle, rest, play football and exercise in the area. The walkway will also be accessible for the physically disabled with wheelchairs.
The buildings in the area date back to the Malla period, including the Laxmeswor, Purneswor and Tripureswor temples. They were all damaged during the 1934 earthquake and were restored. Suresh Shrestha, chief of Department of Archaeology, admits the lack of research regarding the structures in the area but adds that the department plans to collaborate with the KMC and Guthi Sansthan for their preservation.
The Jang Hiranya Hem temple made by Jang Bahadur Rana in 1857 is an exquisite example of Mugal architecture from the Rana period, which the strongman dedicated to his two wives: Hem and Hiranya. The temple is believed to have been his repentance for the Kot Coup in which Jang Bahadur seized power, and it is thought the weapons used in the massacre are buried under the temple. Three ashrams constructed by Jang Bahadur, including the Pachali Bhairav and Shiva temples also lie between Teku and Thapathali.
KMC has allocated a budget of Rs 20 million for the project this year, up five fold from last year. Youth groups have been actively promoting the heritage walkway via social media. With money and motivation, there is no reason why the banks of the Bagmati cannot bring back some of its tarnished glory.
An unholy holy river, Pranaya SJB Rana
Clear flows the Bagmati
Down and dirty, Shradha Basnyat