Interview: Shankar Nath Rimal

Shankar Nath Rimal, Retired Engineer who was involved in the initial design of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan

How did you get involved in Lumbini and with the Kenzo Tange Master Plan?

After approval of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan, it was divided into seven components and seven Nepali Engineering and Architectural firms were invited to prepare detailed design and drawings. There was not much to do on the Sacred Garden. One of the seven components were the monumental buildings that included eight buildings, central canal, bridges over the canal and symbolic pavilions, which I designed according to Kenzo Tange’s concept under a contract from UNDP. Kenzo Tange asked me to make minor changes in the design four to five times in order to perfect the final design. 

Later, I was also appointed to be the coordinator of the design committee of the new Maya Devi Temple in 1998, but I resigned because I did not agree with the concept of construction of the structure inside the Sacred Garden.

What would have happened to Lumbini if the Kenzo Tange Master Plan was not formulated?

I first went to Lumbini in 1958 after a Buddhist conference in Lumbini (the Fourth Assembly of World Fellowship of Buddhists in 1956) was held. It was a huge event that triggered interest in Lumbini, and tourism in the area increased after that.  

If the Master Plan was not prepared, we would have seen unplanned developments all over in Lumbini.  Development activities began after the Master Plan was formulated. At the very least, the Sacred Garden was protected and archaeologically important sites were preserved as a result of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan. However, there had been some structures that were constructed without fully respecting the Master Plan, which clearly violated the original principles of the plan.  But, most of the violations are outside the 1x3 mile Lumbini Project Area.  The Master Plan can certainly be reviewed, but since some of the developments have not been in full accordance to the original plan, it can create a lot of problems in the future. 

Overall, are you happy with how Lumbini has developed so far?

No one can be unhappy with most of the developments that have taken place so far. But, I see that there are elements that have even violated aspects of the Sacred Garden where Kenzo Tange wanted zero intervention. Even in the agricultural zone, there are hotels and industries that have surfaced which are not supposed to be there.  The authorities in Nepal have failed to keep many activities that are not in sync with the principles of the Master Plan in check. 

How important was UN agencies’ involvement in Lumbini?

If UN was not involved, some of the main elements that have been implemented and protected in accordance to the Kenzo Tange Master Plan would not have happened. 

What role should UN agencies take on for the development of Lumbini?

I have seen that UN’s role is often shaped according to the government’s will. I believe that the UN should be vocal and raise concerns if certain principles are violated jeopardizing the sacred status of Lumbini. UN should facilitate the implementation of the remaining components of the Master Plan and strongly object if any area of the Master Plan comes under threat.  UN should strongly reiterate its stance of sticking to the principles of the original Master Plan when advising the government because Lumbini is a World Heritage Site after all.

Interviewed on 29 September 2012 at his residence in Naxal

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