PAST PROJECTS  |  2011

Kagan

Chorten

Wanla

Conservation and Revival of a gateway Chorten in the heritage complex of Wanla. The Project was supported by the German Embassy in India.

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Introduction

Close to the Avalokiteshvara temple in Wanla is also the site where on the same ridge on which the temple sits, are remains of an ancient fortress, and below the ridge is the oldest part of Wanla, called Somal. In former times, the only access to the fortified settlement on the mountain ridge was a footpath through Somal, lined with chortens and mani walls. Today most visitors come from the other side, using the newly built road accessible by car. However, the older access path is the traditional and more historic one. Achi Association India revived the footpath in 2011 and since the Kagan Chorten was located on the path, it was also conserved.

Conservation

For a number of years, the path had been used less and less, partially because portions of it were buried under a landslide caused by the construction of a new road and secondly because an increasing number of people from the village used the path on the other side of the ridge instead, and visitors generally accessed the temple on the top of the ridge by the new motorable road. The path that passes through the chorten also suffered problems of irrigation water flowing through it. During the conservation campaign, the path was cleared and paved in the traditional Ladakhi way using local mud and river sand. Now the villagers use this path through the chorten to get to the main monastery.

The religious function of the gateway chorten, called Kagan Chorten, is to be walked through before the temple is accessed. It is thus a key structure of the Heritage Path and its wall paintings make it also an art historic treasure. The revival of the path found unconditional support by the local people, as they came forward to help the Achi Association India’s team in carrying out works in conservation. The aim of the conservation project was to preserve the building and its wall paintings in its authentic design by careful intervention.

The condition of the building and the paintings was dilapidated. Repair of the structure, conservation of the plaster and paintings was required to stabilize the building and its decorative elements. These activities were undertaken in collaboration with people from Wanla and trainees from the Achi Association´s Youth Training Programme (conducted with support from the J Paul Getty Trust, USA), involving local and foreign professionals. The structure was stabilized by conservation of the timber elements and exchange of rotten timber elements from the ceiling of the chorten. Conservation of the walls, roof and plastering, using the same traditional materials like clay, stone and wood, replacing flagstones and plaster at the roof, closing cracks with stones and mortar, application of new protective renderings in places where it was lost was undertaken. Conservation and integration of the wall paintings inside the chorten were also carried out. Flaking paint-layers were consolidated, cracks and lacunae filled followed by gentle cleaning of the paintings.

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Kagan Chorten seen from the Wanla Gompa during the conservation.

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Repair of the plaster which was heavily deteriorated.

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Understanding the layers of the Chorten roof.

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Repair of the Chorten roof and relaying of molten plaster.

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Discussion by Lead conservation architect Hilde Vets on the shape of the Chorten.

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Repair of plaster using clay from local area.

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Restoring the Yamangs in each layer of the roof in the Chorten.

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The Chorten after complete conservation and consecration.

Outcome

The collaboration with the local people of Wanla in this project was of vital importance and created awareness of activities that could either harm or support the structure. This conservation project has been sustainable in various ways. The project was able to preserve the material heritage not only as a historical, artistic and spiritual sphere, but also as a source of pride, helping to renew the sense of cultural self-esteem. This is of particular importance, even necessity, for the younger generations. Globalisation and tourism have both disrupted the continuation of cultural life as it had been lived for ages. Transmission of technical know-how to local craftsmen and trainees, promoted the use of traditional building materials like clay. Modern materials like cement, totally inappropriate for the site and climate were discouraged and trainees were taught about its ill effects in the region. Three of the students were monks of the Drikung order and formed an important link between the project and the owner of the Kagan Chorten. They were passionate to learn to preserve the order's built-heritage and could form a seminal nucleus for the future.

The project was supported through the Cultural Preservation Grant of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in India.