The story of Stone Buildings
Durbar Marg, Kathmandu
Stone has been used as a building material for thousands of years. It has long been recognized as a material of great durability and superior artistic quality, the foremost choice for buildings associated with status, power, and religion. The pyramids in Giza, burial chambers in the UK and temples in Malta were all built from stone over 4000 years ago and are still standing. The use of stone in construction has declined over the last hundred years, but it remains an aristocrat of building materials.
At Sagarmatha Next, we are using the stones as a primary construction material, from substructure (foundation) to superstructure (walls). Sustainability being the underlying motivation the buildings are designed so that 80% of the construction is possible just by using the locally available materials. And the stone is one of them. Although stones are available locally, but to mine them and carry them to the site is a different challenge. In the next section of the report, we are going to explore the site condition and people who are involved in the stone carrying and Stone mining.
Sagarmatha Next site is situated at an elevation of 3800 meters next to the Syangboche airstrip. The project consists of four buildings each with its own unique function, Interpretation Center, Workshop, Café Gallery and House and the primary building material for all the four building is Stones, and because stones are the primary building material its regular availability on site is the basic necessity. There are stone carrying porters which make sure that stones are available on site in sufficient amount during the construction process. In below image, we can see the heap of stones accumulated next to the site.
The Stone quarry is situated about 669 m as shown in the above image, but when we add up hills and down hills in the path, the distance increases to 1000 m. The stone labours work in teams, two to three members of the teamwork in the quarry to break the stone and the rest carry the broken stone to the site. Some stone carrying porters also uses the uphill junction as pit stops where they store the stones halfway from the quarry and then carry the stones from there to the final destination at the site.
The following image is of the pit stop which is being used by the porters as the midway destination as one stone can weigh around 20-30 kg, and it takes a porter some were around 45 to 50 minutes to carry stones directly from quarry to site, so the pitstop is used as a resting point by porters.
Stone quarry is situated near the path leading to the Kumjung Village and unlike many other quarries, this stone quarry is in the midst of the green vegetation with many big rocks covered in green moss. Although there is no danger of wild animals, during the rainy season it’s really hard to work with the big rocks because of the slippery conditions. And it takes a long time to break a huge rock, so the team working in the quarry have all their arrangement with food and glucose and most of the time the labours works 10-12 hours straight between 5 AM to evening 5 PM
In this photo there are two stone breakers, Ramesh on the left is 25-year-old and Bhim on the right is 19-year-old both belong to Swatang district of Nepal, they come here to work as stone breakers, both have the capacity to break 2 to 3 cubic meters of rock per day. Both work 10-12 hours daily in the stone quarry. Their equipment consists of a 7.5 kg sledgehammer, small pegs to make a hole in the rock and a shovel to clear the mud around the stones.
The stone breaking process starts with the pegging of the stones, where a small peg is embedded in the stones with the heavy blow of the 7.5 kg sledgehammer. Once three to four pegs are amended, cross blows are provided with the sledgehammer and surface of the rock is opened due to so many fracture points on the surface of the rock. Once the surface of the rock is open, it is considerably easier to break the inside of the rock.
Stone porters do the tedious job of carrying the heavy stone from the stone quarry to the Sagarmatha Next site. Raw stones vary in weight between 20 kg to 30kg each. And they have to carry this weight for 45 minutes on uphill and downhill slopes of the track, so they use a wood carrier to carry this stones on their back. They have a thick roll of foam on the back of the carrier, to distribute load properly on the back so that it does n’t give any discomfort during the walk. As seen in the image the carrier is made out of wood, with a headband, so that head can be used to distribute weight, thick roll of foam in blue colour to manage discomfort during the walk.
Siddhiraj is 33 years old, he takes great pleasure in doing this job as he is able to feed his family out of this money, he also belongs to Katang-jilla, he can carry a maximum of 80 kgs on his back. He can not make a direct trip from the quarry to the site but unlike the others, there is always a smile on his face while carrying the heavy raw stones
Amar is only 20 years old and attracted to this job because of the money involved. He belongs to Kotang-jilla, and can carry a maximum of 70 kgs on his back, he likes to take a break at the pit stop as he can not make the direct trip from the quarry to site.
Subash a 22-year-old guy work as a stone porter, he belongs to Katag-jilla and can carry 120 – 140 kgs of raw stones on his back, unlike all other stone porters he make a direct trip from quarry to site, and it takes him 50 minutes, Subash makes around 1200 to 1300 Rupees at the end of the day.
Carrying the heavy load on the back is only one part of the story, severe cold rain, wind and uphill and downhills adds to the difficulty to carry raw stones from quarry to site, and in order to get paid at the end of the day the stone porters need to deliver at least 1 Cum of stones on site every day which requires a minimum of 10 to 12 trips from quarry to site.
“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence”. – Martin Luther King Jr.