Quake-hit temple too shaky to live in

Quake-hit temple too shaky to live in
Ms Pasang Dolma, 70, at the entrance of her damaged living quarters. A caretaker of a temple shrine, she has been living in the monastery for 30 years.

ON A patchwork of mattresses, blankets and rugs, a group of monks from the Thukje Choeling Monastery sit reading and chatting. Some distance away, a solitary nun sits with her head bowed in solitude, chanting a sutra.

Life at Swayambhunath, the 1,500-year-old hilltop temple complex where the monastery is located, is struggling to regain a semblance of normalcy two weeks after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that brought widespread destruction across Nepal.

The ancient seat of Buddhism, comprising temples, shrines and an iconic gilded stupa overlooking Kathmandu Valley, is one of 10 Unesco World Heritage sites in Nepal. But it was badly damaged in the quake, which left long cracks in the monastery's ceilings and walls.

Afraid the buildings will collapse, the 50 monks, nuns and helpers who live at Thukje Choeling have been camping in the monastery's quadrangle for the past fortnight.

"We have been sleeping outside since the earthquake happened because the buildings are very badly damaged," Mr Ngawang Tharchin, the monastery's 34-year-old secretary, told The Straits Times when it visited on Tuesday.

The tremors caused a partial collapse of the monastery's 70-year-old prayer hall, forcing the monks to evacuate precious statues, vases and books to a safer room, he said.

Monastery administrator Jampa Tsering, 52, said that repairs alone will not suffice for the long term, but the monastery does not have the money to rebuild from scratch.

Red tape - which has hampered the delivery of relief supplies to quake victims over the past two weeks - is also holding up government approval for any construction works, said Venerable Tsering. For now, the monastery is looking to buy a prefabricated house as the rainy season is a month away.

"The most important thing right now is housing: a place where the rains cannot come in," said Ms Andrea Abinanti, 62, founder of a local organisation to restore the monastery.

"Once people have a place, they can get settled... as more permanent housing is being built, they can go back to work, gather funds and start thinking about the future."



This article was first published on May 9, 2015.
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