The Hemis Gumpa, a 17th Century monastery in J&K’s Ladakh region, is on the verge of collapse.
Two floors and two walls of the monastery — listed as a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) — have been demolished to prevent the structure from caving in.
The ASI says it isn’t responsible, and that this is the doing of workers hired by the lamas (monks) themselves. It told the parliamentary standing committee, which reported the monastery’s condition to Parliament in August, that it wasn’t allowed to take up conservation work by the lamas.
The lamas, for their part, say they engaged their own workers only after they failed to get any response from the ASI to their repeated requests. They also said they had second thoughts after the ASI’s last repair job on the monastery roof some years ago. “Soon after, the roof started leaking rainwater. The seepage resulted in damage to the walls and foundation as well. The ASI had carried out the faulty repair work,” Sangis Tsering at the monastery told HT.
“The Hemis Gumpa managing committee started the restoration work on its own to prevent the structure from collapsing. ASI officials haven’t visited for the past three years. We asked for donations and took money from the committee funds for the repair work,” Tsering said.
Officials at ASI — which had sent a proposal to include the Hemis Gumpa as a World Heritage Site in the late 1990s — were not available for comment. When contacted, this reporter was passed on from the office of the ASI director general in Delhi to the joint director general, then to a director (conservation) and finally to the conservation in-charge at the Jammu office. A person who picked the phone at the Jammu office said the superintending archaeologist was out of station for a week.
The committee has recommended that the ASI coordinate with local representatives to convince the lamas to allow them to take up work to save the glory of the ancient Buddhist structure.
Recently, a team of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), J&K chapter, visited the monastery and found the workers engaged by the monks demolishing the first floor of the monastery. “We were shocked to see 30 labourers demolishing the top floor. No structural analysis or basic examination had been carried out before the demolition,” wrote M. Saleem Beg, the teamleader, in his complaint to the ASI director general. Beg had visited the monastery on the request of the J&K tourism department to suggest measures for its restoration.
Ladakh Development Authority chief executive officer S. Marup confirmed two floors and two walls were demolished. “Some wall paintings had also been damaged,” Marup added.
“The ASI needs to wake up and save one of the most treasured pieces of the country’s cultural heritage. The neglect of this monument has resulted in collateral damage. It is sad that while the conservation plan for Hemis Gumpa was prepared by archaeologists like Romi Khosla, Anuradha Chaturvedi, Amita Beg and others with funding from the Japan Foundation, nobody has given any serious thought to it so far,” said Beg.