Quake-hit Nepal reopens heritage sites

epa04789094 Nepalese pedestrians walk in front of Kumari Palace, or living goddess, which is seen supported with wooden poles, at Hanumandhoka Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal, 08 June 2015.  Kathmandu Durbar Square is a UNESCO world heritage site which was hit following earthquake on 20 April 2015. Tourist are prohibited to visit Hanumandhoka Durbar Square.  EPA/NARENDRA SHRESTHA

Nepal has reopened its temple-filled Durbar Square to the public despite warnings over safety, seeking to woo back tourists after a deadly earthquake that left much of the country’s cultural heritage in ruins.

Traditional dancers and musicians performed at a ceremony to mark the official reopening in the historic town of Bhaktapur, one of three former royal squares in the Kathmandu Valley that date back to the 12th century.

Hundreds of people gathered for the reopening where the historic Hindu temples, statues and opulent royal palaces drew tourists from around the world until the quake seven weeks ago.

All three former royal squares reopened on Monday, but only Bhaktapur staged a ceremony.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit on April 25 killed more than 8,700 people and levelled homes and monuments in the valley, home to the three former kingdoms of Patan, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur.

Nepal’s economy relies heavily on tourism and the head of the Department of Archaeology Bhesh Narayan Dahal urged foreign visitors to return to the Himalayan country.

“Nepal is safe, don’t worry … this is our clear message for today,” he said in Bhaktapur.

“It (reopening) starts from today so the coming tourist season – from September to November – will be the right time to come. If people feel Nepal is safe, then they will come.”

But a warning from the UN’s cultural agency that the quake-damaged structures could be unstable and pose a threat to visitors dampened the celebratory mood.

UNESCO warned last week that the squares were “still in a precarious state”, and advised against reopening.

“There is still a risk that buildings might collapse,” said Christian Manhart, head of UNESCO in Nepal.

“In the Kathmandu Durbar Square an entire facade is in danger of falling down, we cannot have people walking under it.”

The squares, which date back to the period between the 12th and 18th centuries when the valley was divided into three Hindu kingdoms, are at the heart of local life as well as being a major tourist draw.

The whole of the Kathmandu Valley is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for seven separate groups of monuments.

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