Stonemason at work in Bhaktapur

Stonemason in Bhaktapur Nepal
Stonemason at work in Bhaktapur, Nepal
A stonemason chisels at a solid stone block atop the ruins of the Vatsala Durga Temple in Bhaktapur

A photograph of a stonemason symbolizes …

You may recognize the above photograph from my article on reconstructing the Vatsala Durga temple. It was about being the first independently funded temple to be rebuilt. The donor list is virtual empty … and that’s okay.

There’s much more going on with this photograph

Nepal is looked at by most as a “tourism destination” rather than a country of great works of art. To me it’s both and a little more.


Bhaktapur Durbar Square in 2018
This is what Bhaktapur Durbar Square looks like in 2018 … it’s a little different from what most guidebooks or tourist sights will show you … which is a shame because even without the iconic temple at the end it’s still pretty great. This is why it’s imperative to photograph like this … to show people what it once looked like. When the temple is rebuilt it will look different again. Already in the far left of the photography you can see one small Narayan shrine rebuilt … it’s the same design, but the bricks are bright and new. This is great, rebuilding. But, it’s important to take that photo even if you think it’s nothing important because you’ll be making a record for the history books. In 1912 Bhaktapur Durbar Square looked very different …. in 2112 maybe somebody will see this photo and marvel at how it’s all been rebuilt again!

If you read the above article or have been reading on this website for a few years you might also know that it was here in 2014 that I wondered:

“What if there’s an earthquake? Will these unique buildings survive.”

Vatsala Durga temple as it used to be ...
Vatsala Durga temple as it used to be …

One year later and we know what happened. Moreover, aside from the earthquake we learned Nepal had never properly documented its temples properly.

Stonemason working beside King Pratap Malla column in Bhaktapur
The statue beside the stonemason is  King Bhupatendra Malla who envisioned most of Kathmandu’s iconic landscape today … he invited people to paint and document it … very little remains of this documentation today

Photographs can be more than just photographs

This photograph to me is more than just a man at work. It is a missing temple. A note in time. A nation rebuilding. A lesson for future generations.

It’s one of the reasons I spend so much time documenting Nepal.

It was the start of the Digital Archeology Foundation among other things.

Stonemason chiseling in Bhaktapur
I don’t know the stonemasons name. He’s one of many working on the temple. Donors names will be preserved … I hope the stonemasons names are kept too

Photographs not only capture our memories but also the physical existence of a place at certain time and point in history.

My point? Well, take it from someone who’s been there. Take lots of photographs on a nice camera where ever you are. One day what you photographed may not be there any more. Or, it might become damaged and never be the same again.

Places like this do exist in the world today. Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Pottery Square, Taumadhi Square and Dattareya Square are unique in the world. They are symbols of living heritage. Not just homes to the gods of Nepal but the people too.

Vatsala Durga Temple in Bhaktapur being rebuilt today
The Vatsala Durga Temple in Bhaktapur from years ago vs the one being rebuilt today

You never know, your photograph may be the one that helps bring history back. Just something to think about the next time you go somewhere.

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10 Replies to “Stonemason at work in Bhaktapur”

  1. Lovely photos. It’s good to see this happening. I understand the issues!

    1. I’m not even going to hazard a guess. There’s been a lot of conjecture about how much skilled workers “should” be paid vs what they “were” being paid before the earthquake.

  2. “The statue beside the stonemason is a King Pratap Malla” which is not True. It is the King Bhupatendra Malla.

  3. Is everything done by hand? I noticed the hand chisel.

  4. Wow, how long will it take to rebuild the whole building?

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