Book Chapter

Reconstructing Memory and Desire in Bhaktapur, Nepal



Arora V (2022) Reconstructing Memory and Desire in Bhaktapur, Nepal. In: "Invisible Cities" and the Urban Imagination. Literary Urban Studies. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, pp. 209-224.

A visitor to the city of Bhaktapur in Nepal will be greeted at one of its several entry points with a small blue sign welcoming them to a “heritage city,” a “traditional city,” and a “cultural capital,” phrases that are echoed on entry tickets, guide maps, brochures, and signage. A mere 13 kilometers from Kathmandu, the capital, Bhaktapur is often described as a different universe, ancient and unchanging, resisting the march of modernity and globalization. However, the visitor will notice immediately that the city is a mass of contradictions. In the years that followed the devastating 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, much of Bhaktapur has been reconstructed. The city skyline changes every month, as old temples, palaces, and rest houses which had collapsed are built again and the decaying remains of old homes are replaced. Reconstruction effectively reshapes, and is in turn shaped by, the city’s collective memory and desire. This chapter examines memory and desire in Bhaktapur, two fundamental themes in Invisible Cities. I explore the many hidden cities of Bhaktapur as relayed to me by its residents over seven months of fieldwork. Their stories, which are a mix of memory and desire, fact and fiction, are each unique representations that are partly shaped by religion, caste, gender, and ethnicity. A dalit woman who works as a butcher describes Bhaktapur as clean, if a bit unwelcoming, while a Hindu male priest is confounded by how much the city has changed and lost in his lifetime. In retelling their stories, I examine the ways in which Invisible Cities can be used to inform ethnography and how cities in Asia can be seen through the thematic lenses used by Calvino.

memory; desire; reconstruction; Bhaktapur; heritage

FundersAustralian Research Council
Title of seriesLiterary Urban Studies
Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online09/11/2022
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Place of publicationCham, Switzerland
ISSN of series2523-7888

People (1)


Dr Vanicka Arora

Dr Vanicka Arora

Lecturer in Heritage, History