The joint World Heritage Centre-ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission, carried out in November 2005, at the request of the World Heritage Committee, assessed the state of conservation of the World Heritage property, focussing on the issues related to the recent construction of the Maya Devi Temple and the elaboration of a management plan. These two issues had raised the concern of the Committee, which considered the negative impact of the new temple as an indicator of inappropriate management of the site.
The mission determined that the root of most problems is the lack of a conservation policy, based on a full assessment of the heritage values of the property. The Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage site of Lumbini is related to two fundamental aspects, reflected in the two criteria under which the Committee decided to inscribe this property on the List, i.e. criteria (iii) and (vi). As the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, the sacred area of Lumbini is one of the holiest places of one of the world’s great religions, and its archaeological remains contain important evidence about the nature of Buddhist pilgrimage centres from a very early period.
To maintain the World Heritage value of Lumbini, it is necessary to protect the tangible and intangible attributes that represent and embody the two above-mentioned aspects. However, these features and attributes are yet to be elaborated or articulated as stated in the Operational Guidelines with a view to safeguarding the outstanding universal value of the site. This is illustrated through the inappropriate perimeter of the core area of the property, which cuts through important archaeological structures; the inadequate landscaping; the inappropriate uses taking place within the setting of the Maya Devi Temple, currently resembling more a public leisure park (with parking space, cafes, shops, etc.) than a place inspired by a sense of sacredness, spirituality and communion with nature.
Despite the commitment of the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) to the implementation of the Kenzo Tange Master Plan for the development and enhancement of the birthplace of Buddha, the lack of a clear conservation policy can potentially result in inappropriate decisions. At the time of the visit by the mission, the LDT was apparently planning the erection of several meditation shelters around the Maya Devi Temple. Moreover, landscaping and infrastructure works such as the digging of trenches (with loss of archaeological layers) and the completion of the water levee foreseen within the Master Plan had been carried out or were being planned. The issue of the Maya Devi Temple, which in itself had previously been overestimated by previous reports in terms of impact over the overall significance of the property, is a clear symptom of this problem. While the World Heritage property of Lumbini does not seem to be threatened by a serious and specific danger, the weakness of its overall conservation framework requires urgent action.
As requested by the Committee, the mission made a number of specific and time-bound recommendations. These include as a priority the elaboration of a management plan, of which a definition and scope of work were clarified for the benefit of the Nepalese authorities. LDT was requested to formalise the decision to develop a management plan and set up a dedicated Task Force within February 2006, and to possibly complete the management plan by end 2007. The mission, moreover, recommended halting any new development within the core and buffer zones at the World Heritage site, until completion of the management plan.
Pending completion of the management plan, the mission also recommended a series of actions, divided into “essential” (within six months) and “desirable” (within two years) actions. These concern specific measures on the Maya Devi Temple to avoid damage to the archaeological structures, to enhance the appreciation of the heritage values of the site, and other general suggestions to strengthen the overall conservation of the property.
The “essential” recommendations included:
a) Execute small openings in the outer wall below gallery level to improve ventilation at Maya Devi Temple in a phased manner;
b) Establishment of a monitoring system and conservation protocol within the Temple, to record the changes in the parameters affecting the development of biological attack and salt efflorescence on the structures, including the identification of appropriate benchmarks to orient conservation actions;
c) Ensure waterproofing of the Maya Devi Temple to avoid leakages and establish maintenance protocol;
d) Stop all new constructions, including shelters or gazeboes, in both core and buffer zones; core and buffer zones should be declared no-construction areas; prayer and meditation space should be provided under existing trees by means of removable timber platforms or mats;
e) Do not plant any trees and do not carry out landscaping works or other activities to implement the Kenzo Tange Master Plan, such as the completion of the water levee or the 80x80 grid, within core and buffer zones until a clear vision has been established, through the management plan. Subject all future infrastructure works (e.g. trenches for drainage, cabling and pipes, roads, etc.) to archaeological impact assessment and ensure continuous presence of an archaeologist during execution of works; all findings during works should be documented according to appropriate archaeological standards.
The “desirable” recommendations consisted of actions including replacement of the plastic false ceiling inside the temple structure, redesign of temple staircases and ramp, removal of temple roof railings, reutilisation of the old decorative copper ceiling above the Maya Devi image, possible replacement of some sections of the outer wall of the Maya Devi Temple with more sympathetic natural materials, preparation of non-destructive surveys of archaeological potential on core and buffer zones, and improvements to existing documentation systems used by the LDT.
Considering the need for more specific expertise on heritage conservation and management within the LDT, the mission also recommended that the State Party request assistance through the World Heritage Fund or another source of funding to provide its staff with the necessary resources to include training opportunities for the preparation of the management plan.
The World Heritage Centre received on 30 January 2006 a progress report from the State Party. This report contained information on the progress achieved in the implementation of the recommendations included in the report of the mission undertaken in November 2005, as well as on other activities that took place in 2005. A workshop was held in November 2005 to consult all parties concerned on the issues to be addressed and possible measures for the development of the site. The LDT installed a new security system within the Maya Devi Temple and has commenced studies to identify the original botanic environment of the site at the time of Buddha. The State Party also explained that shops located at the entrance of the World Heritage property shall be removed within 2006.
With respect to the recommendations of the November 2005 World Heritage Centre-ICOMOS mission, the State Party has set up an inter-sectoral Task Force in December 2005 for the implementation of “essential actions”to reverse the negative impact on the Maya Devi Temple. As of mid-April 2006, the removal of the staircase and roof railings, as well of the heavy ceiling in the interior was foreseen. It was also decided to execute openings of three full sized windows on the eastern and western walls of the temple, in order to improve ventilation and reduce humidity. The colour of the outside wall has been revised (from white to earthen) to mitigate its visual impact on the archaeological remains. All new constructions on site have been halted, as well as all landscaping interventions. The establishment of a monitoring system and conservation protocol within the temple will be finalised in the medium-term, within the establishment and implementation of an integrated management system. The State Party also indicated the planning actions now underway to respond to the “desirable” actions described in the mission report.
Concerning the development of a management plan, the World Heritage Centre, in co-operation with the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu and with funding from Italy, has made available the services of a consultant for a period of three months to work together with LDT and other concerned national authorities in order to prepare a project proposal to be presented to potential donors.
ICOMOS felt considerable confidence in the commitment of the LDT and the responsible authorities at national level to move incrementally and carefully to a new comprehensive management regime for the property, from the detailed and thorough analysis in the State Party’s progress report. ICOMOS however draws the attention of the Committee to the following additional points, raised in the World Heritage Centre-ICOMOS mission report, but not directly addressed in the report’s recommendations:
a) The fragility of the so-called “Marker Stone”, maintained in situ under the new temples in ground water conditions which keep it constantly wet ;
b) The need to survey and monitor ground water levels and movements under and adjacent to the temple, which affect the long term health of the very significant archaeological resources on the property ;
c) The need to improve rainwater disposal from the temple roof and structure and to divert such flows away from the archaeological material ;
d) The need to develop both a policy and a strategy to deal with the vast excavated and unexcavated areas of archaeological worth on the property, whose long term survival is at present often undocumented, not monitored and as a consequence seriously threatened. The mission recommended that archaeological surveys should take non-destructive approaches. The State Party appeared to suggest it would have difficulty implementing this recommendation given the costs of excavation, while ICOMOS suggests the importance of inexpensive surface survey to indicate likely areas of archaeological potential.
On item (d) above, ICCROM is of the view that both unexcavated and excavated areas should be addressed within the framework of the management plan, through conservation and research strategies, and that the Geophysical Survey undertaken in 2001 by the Bradford University, which was more than a surface study, could be used as important reference. In general, ICCROM agrees with the findings of the 2005 World Heritage Centre-ICOMOS mission and endorses the proposals contained in this document.
ICOMOS and ICCROM recommend to the Committee, when requesting preparation of management plans by States Parties, to consider the need to ensure adequate time for this work, if the management plan is to have broad support with realistic possibility of full and effective implementation.
ICOMOS and ICCROM do not believe that the property should be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It is further noted that while the State Party’s responses to the many recommendations of the 2005 mission are very positive, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies should co-operate closely in order to monitor the State Party’s progress in implementing the mission recommendations.