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Inspired by Nepalese, UK architect rebuilds ancient temple

Agencies | Updated: 2017-02-06 07:37

Inspired by Nepalese, UK architect rebuilds ancient temple

A Nepalese policeman rests in front of Changu Narayan, a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, in Changu village, 20 kilometers east of Kathmandu, Nepal. [Photo/Agencies]

When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal last year, villagers in Changu Narayan ran up the steep rocky path that cuts through their town to their renowned temple. Seeing the piles of rubble, they figured their lives were over.

Less than two years later, the community is cleaning up their World Heritage Site themselves, and one of the world's leading architects has taken on the recovery as his pet project.

"I see now our world coming back alive," says Gyan Bahadur Bhadal, 61, one of many villagers who share responsibility for the temple's upkeep.

In a country where locals say there are more gods than people and more temples than houses, Changu Narayan still manages to stand out among the ancient holy places. It's believed to be the oldest Hindu place of worship in the country, its wooden walls intricately carved with hundreds of deities, perched atop a steep hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley.

The fifth-century temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who locals say appeared there once. His image, in about a dozen incarnations, is carved into struts that hold up the roof. Stone lions with eagle heads guard the doors. Inside has long been a mystery: Only priests enter the two-tiered pagoda, and they don't explore.

An April 2015 temblor that killed 9,000 people in Nepal also damaged details in Changu Narayan's wood, stone and metal. A sharp aftershock one day later twisted the entire structure, knocking piles of bricks out of the walls, filling the courtyard.

Anish Bhatta's family has been living and leading worship at the temple for 10 generations-some 325 years. After the earthquake, Anish did the unthinkable: He went all the way inside.

"We saw things we never imagined," he says. "Statues as big as me, swords, so many sculptures, gold-plated with big gems."

Today the temple is guarded by military police and propped up with questionable temporary beams.

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