“Sight for sore eyes in Kathmandu”

Many people do not know where Maitighar intersection got its name: there used to be the office of the Nepali movie माइतीघर in the 1960s with a sign board there. In 2002, Mayor Keshav Sthapit had the Mandala built for the SAARC Summit, and the area automatically got the name माइतीघर मण्डल. This later became the preferred site for civic protests.

In this week’s episode of Saglo Samaj, Kanak Mani Dixit speaks to Renchin Yonjan who oversaw the construction of the Mandala, the only artistic open space built in Kathmandu in the past four decades.

Kanak Mani Dixit: How did the idea of constructing this Mandala come about?

Renchin Yonjan: Originally, it was called ‘Garden of Hope’ to give Kathmandu residents a small oasis of beauty at a time when its heritage was disappearing. The mandala was added later. It was meant to be a symbol of impermanence and that if we do not protect it aesthetic beauty can be ephemeral.

And for the past 20 years, Kathmandu’s commuters have passed this site every day and experience that moment of peace. How does that make you feel?

There is a sense of satisfaction, but also dissatisfaction. The upkeep is not as we had intended. There was supposed to be water here, the stone spouts are dry, the grass is supposed to be green. Still, I am glad that there is this sight for sore eyes amidst Kathmandu’s chaos and urbanisation.

Originally, we had planned to plant only white flowers here to spread the message of peace. Now they have planted flowers in all colours. But the saddest thing are the addition of these garish coloured rope lights.

I do not like them at all. When I pass the Mandala at night, it looks like a red light district in Thailand. We could have lights that imitate oil lamps to give it that devotional look. But look at these ugly lights, snaking around in blue, red, yellow.

Can what you did with the Mandala be an example for other neighbourhoods in Kathmandu to revive open spaces?

Definitely. And it is not even that expensive to carry out. Just needs imagination. The Municipality is now maintaining this space, but the idea should not be to make money out of it, but to think how it can provide contentment and peace to this city’s residents. I used to think of all those commuters in crowed buses on hot days, and how people may get a tinge of pleasure as they pass the garden and flowers so that when they reach their office or home they will feel less stressed and happy.

Yes, let us hope the Mandala can inspire other neighbourhoods to also do the same.

Yes, and my request would be that whoever uses these open space they keep it clean. There are discarded plastic water bottle and trash here. It would be best if everything treated this space as their own.

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