KATHMANDU, June 3: The old, rundown monument in one of the alleys just a stone’s throw away from the Dharahara tower in downtown Kathmandu neither attracts visitors nor impresses the locals.
A majestic palace adorned with a golden dome and breathtaking gardens believed to have built by legendary prime minister Bhimsen Thapa at Lagan in the 18th century, is now a dilapidated structure with broken windows and cracked walls, in the middle of a garden overgrown with weeds.
The palace, better known as Shil Khana, which used to be the center of attraction of the Lagan, has now been reduced to an ugly, deserted spot, complain the locals as the Department of Archeology, (DoA) has not shown any interest to conserve or renovate the palace.
“Tourist would visit this area in order to catch a glimpse of the grand monument. Though, they were not allowed to enter, they took photograph of the palace from outside,” recalls Sugandha Ratna Shakya, 62, a local of Lagan.
Although, the 200-year old palace is not open for public, locals are sometimes allowed to pluck flowers and grass. The Nepal Army has been deployed to guard the place and trespassing is strictly prohibited – except for droves of monkeys who seem to rule the place spread over a sprawling land of four ropanis and three annas.
“I first entered the palace when I was just 12 years old. As the gardener of the palace was one of our relatives, I got a rare chance to enter it,” adds Shakya.
According to the locals, the upper part of the palace was damaged in the great earthquake of 1993. Then the DoA reconstructed the damaged part, but it was not restored to its original grandeur.
The palace lost much of its height, and the golden dome was replaced by dull-looking corrugated steel roofing.
“As the place is also infested with monkeys, they have been wreaking havoc with the palace,” says Amrit Manandhar, another local of Lagan. “These beasts are partially responsible for destroying the dome.”
“The army has been guarding the palace, but it continues to run down. This does not add up at all. I think the palace needs renovation more than anything else,” adds he. “It can be developed as a museum since it epitomizes an important era of Nepal’s history.”
But historians are dividend when it comes to the origin of the structure. Some say the palace was built by Ranbir Singh Thapa, one of Bhimsen Thapa’s brothers, while other insist that it was built by the legendary leader himself.
Legend has it that following the death of Bhimsen Thapa in 1837, his brother Ranbir Singh Thapa, who had been living with him, also abandoned the palace.
Then the army took over the place and started to store arms and munitions, including those dating back to historical era. That’s how the place got it name Shil Khana or an arsenal.
Some time back the place had grabbed national headlines with allegation that the government had sold all the guns stored in the place to Britain-something which has been vehemently refuted by the state.
But the locals are not convinced.
“Four to five trucks entered the palace and left with loads of guns,” says Shakya. “But nobody can say for sure who those folk were and where were the guns taken to.”
He adds that when he had got a rare opportunity to sneak into the palace many years ago, he had spotted many revolvers and guns of different kinds besides other weapons. All of them were gathering dust even back in those days,” he adds.
“Then I got the second chance to enter the palace around two years back. But even today things kept inside the palace remains a mystery to common people like us,” he goes on.
Bhisen Thapa’s own descendants, too, are not aware of things about the palace.
“Though I do not anyone’s permission enter the palace, I don’t want to go there to be a mute spectator to its pathetic condition,” says one of the direct descendant of Bhimsen Thapa, who does not want to reveal her identity. “I also don’t have the exact idea of things kept inside the palace, though there are a lot of things belonging to our ancestors over there.”
“Today the government is the sole authority to maintain the place, but it has utterly failed to do so,” adds the member from the seventh generation of the legendary leader. “It is quite disconcerting that a state can be so apathetic to the palace that carries great historical archeological value.”
Many of the locals, especially the elderly also feel sad that the palace remains neglected by the authorities ever since they could call the place.
“They do not have any plan for this historic place,” says Shakya. “May be we are also partially responsible for the sorry state of the place for we (the locals) have also not taken any initiative to exert pressure on the government in this regard.
He informs that a group of locals had once lobbied with the government to pull down the boundary wall of the palace to extend the road in this one of the busiest business districts in the capital.
“But the officials turned down the request, saying they cannot distort anything of such a historic palace,” he adds. “They neither have any plan to restore the palace nor do they allow people to expand the road. This is crazy.”
Bhimsen Thapa’s descendent, too, agrees with him.
“If the government does not have any plan to maintain the place, they should allow the locals to expand the road by pulling down parts of the boundary wall,” she says.
But the authorities concerned continue to turn deaf ears.
Bhesh Narayan Dahal, director general at DoA, says that though they cannot afford to let go of even an inch of the archeological spot, they also do not have enough budgets for its renovation.
As DoA spokesperson Ram Bahadur Kunwar adds that there are a lots of palace and monuments which need renovation and not just this palace.
“This place does not even fall in our priority. We need much bigger budget if we are to take any initiation for its preservation at this point,” Kunwar says bluntly.