UN awards for Ladakh complex, Mumbai varsity

by Chitrangada Choudhury, Hindustan Times, Aug 23, 2007

Ladakh, India -- Things have come full circle for the 15th century Maitreya Temple in Ladakh. In 2002, the temple complex earned the dubious distinction of making it to a global list of endangered monuments. And now, the monument has won the Award of Excellence at the 2007 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage awards, beating 25 other entries from the region.

The Buddhist temple complex wasn’t India’s only winner at the awards announced on Wednesday in Bangkok. Mumbai University’s 132-year-old grand Cowasjee Jehangir Convocation Hall has been conferred an Award of Distinction. In 2001, the varsity’s Rajabai Clock Tower restoration effort headed by conservator Vikas Dilawari had received an Honorable Mention

The awards, now in their 8th year, testify to the growing and largely non-official-driven, conservation movement in India. Till date, out of a total of 97 heritage awards won by India, 18 have gone to Indian conservation projects.

“Indian winners have demonstrated technical mastery, political acumen, and the ability to develop highly successful partnerships among local communities, government units and conservation professionals,” said Montira Unakul of UNESCO.

Jigmed Namgyal (41), the 37th descendant of the Namgyal dynasty that built the Maitreya temples, told HT: “I feel really proud that the entire conservation was led by talented Indian conservators who used the skills of local craftsmen. No help was taken from the West...”

City-based conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah led the team that gave a new lease of life to both sites. She said: “The two sites are architecturally so diverse...they kept me on my toes for three years."