Centre for learning and understanding the history of Nepal and Asia
Nepal is located in the middle of Asia and Hanumandhoka Durbar (Palace) is located at the centre of Nepal. What a great location to teach and learn about the history of Nepal and Asia. Einstein was fond of saying that “imagination is more important than knowledge”. Let us imagine the true potential of Hanumandhoka and why it is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. Which student or researchers of history of Asia would not like to attend the University of Hanumandhoka? We know that little has been studied and taught about this part of the world.
The timing is good and Nepal needs new ideas to wake up society and government about the true potential of what Nepal has for its future prosperity. The use of this great asset only as a tourist destination is of very low value and benefits only a few. The main palace and the surrounding city is at present an open museum. In the last 2000 years or more, many events took place at this site from the visit of Chinese scholars to invasions from Bengal. Imagine how many students of Buddhism would have rested here before going to Tibet to become great masters. Imagine all the traders who moved up and down the Himalayan valleys making a profit for themselves and for Nepal. Imagine all the political decisions made in these courtyards that have shaped the current modern state of Nepal.
Every staircase, window or courtyard has a story waiting to be told, written about and spread across Nepal and globally. The sounds of Hanumandhoka, the many festivals that take place here need to be better understood. Their origins still evade us and we are, at best, re-telling fables that sound believable. We need to get to the root of these for the future generation and we owe it to them.
Managed as a centre of excellence
The word ‘university’ may dampen the enthusiasm of many when they compare what we have in mind with the state of existing learning institutions. The one we have in mind is a centre of excellence and should be able to compete with the best around the whole world. Nepalis should not undermine what we are capable of doing. If we can excel around the globe, we can do it here at home. The fact that the old palace and the nearby monuments, historical spaces, and shrines will take care of half of what we need, we will need a great curriculum, a world class faculty, physical and modern learning and teaching spaces, housing, canteens and connectivity. All this really means is that we shall realize the true value of Hanumandhoka. Imagine attending a lecture at the Gaddhi Baithak.
Dedicated to those who forget the past
As we move forward, as a country and as a region, there are many things one can learn from our past. There is a really good reason why and how the great Hanumandhoka palace was built, why it went into decline and why it is empty at night. There is a popular belief that history does not repeat itself, but people who forget history keep repeating the same mistakes. The wars around the world, the political decisions we make, the rise and fall of businesses and failed states could be avoided if we were willing to learn and help chart societies into the desired future state. Hanumandhoka can be the place where we do this for our part of the world. Few places still exist in such good state and the recovery work done after the 2015 earthquake will help.
The events that took place in Hanumandhoka are linked to events that happened in Gorkha, Nuwakot, Kerung and Kuti. Some happened at nearby sites like Rana Mukteshwor and Bhim Mukteshwor. Others are linked to the famous temple of Tripureshwor and Kalmochan Ghat. All these historical sites must become an integral part of being able to tell the history of Nepal with Hanumandhoka as the centre. Many of these sites have become squatter settlements, parking spaces and are in a dilapidated state. Imagine their value as places of learning and research for the future generation. The statue of Tripurasundari must be waiting to be noticed and her story told to everyone. Let us not allow them to decay and disappear.
Wanted: teachers, researchers and students with imagination
This idea will take off when enough people know the true value of the World Heritage asset and join in and start a larger public debate. We have many teachers, researchers and students among us who are often frustrated because they do not have a real challenge at hand. This project can motivate many people and also give us a good reason to come together. This could be the project that unifies us and gives the needed sense of purpose. Imagine what the city government makes by parking two wheelers and what we can make by establishing and managing a world learning centre at Hanumandhoka. We can even start by running a few classes for history and art /craft and then keep expanding as we learn more and have access to more resources. We need to start somewhere. We cannot wait till all the pieces are in place.
Police station into world class living spaces
Today when heads of state or governments and dignitaries visit Nepal, they have no option but to stay at a commercial hotel/property. Why can we not convert the police station to the west side of Hanumandhoka palace into a world class living space for our state guests. It will generate the needed resources for our university instead of paying a commercial hotel. All the state dinners and receptions can be held at the beautiful and historical courtyards in and around Hanumandhoka. The Gaddhi Baithak could be renewed as a place for Nepal to receive credentials from diplomats. The festivals at Nasal Chowk would continue as they have done for centuries and the world would know more about Nepal through the media that come with the dignitaries.
Tourists and foreign students welcome
The current arrangement of Hanumandhoka as a tourist destination need not change. They can pay a fee and get a guided tour by guides, students and faculty and can even attend some of the lectures and guest lectures that may be taking place on particular days. The festivals and the chariot pulling will continue as they have for centuries. The only difference is that the new status as a university will create and add real value to everything that happens here. These tours may actually help enrol more students and faculty each year. This will be like no place in the world. The gift shop could be upgraded with books and hooded jackets, the “Sounds of Hanumandhoka” sound track, posters, T-shirts, and miniatures of all things at Hanumandhoka.
The Hanumandhoka museum has launched the Heritage e-passport as a creative learning tool for visitors and students. Soon there will be a “hard copy” version that can be stamped and taken as a souvenir. This passport has the basic information and a map of what you can do, see and have a bit of information on each location. This needs to be expanded into 3-D modelling and prepare detailed publications on each of the amazing assets that are housed at Hanumandhoka. The museum development committee has done a good job of placing many items on display with captions; but much more can be done. We need artists and craftsmen and women to carry out repair, make replicas and miniatures for sale at the gift shop.
Benefitting the whole community
There is a real challenge to mobilize the needed resources to manage such a great World Heritage site like Hanumandhoka. The local people are tired of always being told what they cannot do and benefit little from being close to these monument zones. The idea of a university means the economy in and around are going to get the much needed boost that they deserve. The local people can supply the needed goods and services and prosper with Hanumandhoka. There will be jobs created and a vibrant economy around food, housing, IT services, transport, clothes, stationary, and art and craft. The whole area will become an economic hub that will generate resources rather than be a liability for Nepal.
The backward and forward economic linkages of the University of Hanumandhoka will reach far and near. The nearby places will be able to supply much of what is needed to consume here. Coffee and tea will come from as far away as Ilam and Syanja. Everyone talks of promoting Nepali goods and services. We need to create these centres of consumption. We can promote sustainable life styles and consumption in these areas and serve as a model for the whole world. The river front properties at the Bishnumati will be prime property for rental to students and faculty. The river will become clean as a result of the value created. This could become a win win for everyone including our desire to protect and conserve our globally unique heritage.