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Tudikhel for All

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tbculture 09 May 2022

Kathmandu is not complete without its Tundikhel. Tundikhel matters to all, and its status concerns everyone in Nepal and specifically to Kathmandu Valley denizens and its guest population. When the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) flashed its final Master Plan of Tundikhel in social media during the Coronavirus pandemic, raising concerns was natural. Tundikhel, in its quite long history, has never been out of the news, and this time, it is so even during the Coronavirus lockdown period.

Tundikhel, with all probability may be as old as the city itself whose heritage is closely linked with its indigenous traditions, festivals, legends, myths, and superstition. Therefore, reference to the legacy of Tundikhel is indispensable while trying to rejuvenate this space of Kathmandu Urban structure. NRA, an institution formed for ‘reconstruction works of the structures damaged by the devastating earthquake of 25 April and May 12, 2015’ was brave to venture this type of project. So, it is necessary to understand, if NRA’s “Greater Tundikhel Dream Project” has responded to the Tundikhel’s legacy and grievances on its (mis)use?

This land was spared from being used for intense agriculture purposes because of its elevation at par with the city and so, wild reeds may have covered some parts of it. As Kathmandu’s business prospered, this land is said to be used by merchants for storage and camping. Other visitors also used this land for camping as no other places for rest were available in those days. But it underwent continuous changes in form and function along with Kathmandu’s history. The basic changes happened after the Malla dynasty in Kathmandu Valley came to an end. Apart from its multipurpose uses, Tundikhel became the econ of Power. “Power” is one of the primary elements for sustainability of urban settlements. This open space represented the power (Instrument of dominance- Urmi Sengupta) and its ownership was claimed by the new “power”. In fact, strengthening claim on such space is fortifying its historical influence on the city and beyond.

Even before 1671 when Rnipokhari was built, Tundikhel is believed to have stretched from today’s Narayanhiti Museum to Tripureshwar. Six hectares of its land was used in 1748 for the construction of Bag Durbar (from Jamal to Narayanhiti Museum). The remaining single stretch from Ranipokhari to Dasarath Stadium is now fragmented in four parts and some of them are not easily accessible to the common people. Accessible sections were used for uncontrolled, unpredictable uses like the Hong Kong market (now relocated), bus parking and even dumping sites. This stripped Tundikhel of its high-quality open space with a commanding and pleasing panoramic view. Tundikhel is the NATURE at the doorstep of the city, which is now being destroyed day by day.

Tundikhel is the jewel of Kathmandu urbanscape. This green space is not a park like New York’s Central Park, neither like the National Mall of Washington DC nor like the Central Vista of New Delhi. This open plain is neutral in character, evolving naturally and establishing itself as the center of the city. Historically, cities in the valley expanded radiating from Durbar squares. Today, Tundikhel has established itself as the focal point of modern Kathmandu around which the city is developing. This mosaic is not expected to change even in the distant future, if it is not destroyed by fragmentation and concentration of illogical physical development inside its land.

Tundikhel was not only divided into many parts, but physical construction like Martyrs’ Memorial Arch, Ratna Park, Army Pavilion, and various army buildings appeared one at a time in this open land without any planning. The intrusions into this green space robbed its grandeur and beauty. In fact, Tundikhel needs protection and conservation and not development. With such a long history of association with the “power”, the people, their culture and having a unique sense of place within a heritage town, The Department of Archeology has not declared it a National Protected Heritage site. This is one of the saddest parts of the Nepali Urban Heritage story. After all, this Tundikhel contributed a word to Nepli vocabulary. ‘Tundikhel’ is a terminology used for open green plain ground in Nepali and connotes, among others, an exotic space for public use. One of its best examples outside the valley is the Tundikhel in the hilly town of Tansen.

Tundikhel cannot be expanded but the valley’s population, infrastructures and other development will continuously grow and change with time. The tendency of adding structures and other paraphernalia by every “power” is a warning sign of a harmful mutation. This ‘Dream Project’ is like a monologue understating the interrelation between Tundikhel and the people, concentrating more on beautifying each of the divided parts. But Tundikhel in sum is greater and precious than these broken parts. This project tends to continue the process of consolidation of space claiming, by defining it unitarily for the needs of the power. It took centuries for the evolution of Tundikhel. It has withstood with the people of Nepal in times of happiness (festivals), sorrow (earthquake), political upheavals and other occasions. For the Valley’s population it is a poignant feeling to discover a ‘Dream Project’ without their knowledge, participation, and consultation. “The ongoing process has the power to erase the history and legacy of the space from the public memory such that the public space is not recognizable any more’’ (Urmi Sengupta).

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