Kathmandu (AFP) - Nepal's newly restored Boudhanath stupa reopened to the public Tuesday after it was damaged in the deadly 2015 earthquake that left much of the country's cultural heritage in ruins.
The white-domed golden stupa -- the country's largest and one of the holiest sites of pilgrimage in Tibetan Buddhism -- was left with deep cracks after the powerful 7.8-magnitude quake hit in April last year, devastating the Himalayan nation and killing nearly 9,000 people.
Restoration work began in May 2015 and cost $2.1 million -- including over 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of gold -- according to the Boudhanath Area Development Committee.
To mark the opening, which took place after a three-day purification ritual, colourful prayer flags and flowers covered the stupa and monks chanted prayers.
"This is a proud moment for us.... The successful reconstruction of Boudhanath is an inspiration for what we have to achieve in quake affected areas," Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said after walking up the freshly painted stupa steps.
The UNESCO world heritage site, believed to have been built in the fifth century, was restored with donations from devotees and from Buddhist organisations around the world.
"I am here almost everyday and was heartbroken to see it damaged after the quake. But it is now open to us, I am very happy to see it standing tall," said 66-year-old Dawa Lama who had come to the stupa to offer prayers.
The towering domed structure used to draw over 300,000 visitors globally, but tourists dropped to less than half after the quake.
Thangka artist Hom Bahadur Tamang, who has sold his Buddhist paintings in the stupa grounds for 21 years, said business had been slow.
"The reconstruction of the stupa has given us new hopes that we will rise again," Tamang said.
While work has begun to repair quake-damaged temples and monuments, only a handful have been completed, with experts saying it will be years before Nepal's architectural heritage is fully restored.
Many of the millions left homeless by the quake are facing a second winter without proper shelter because they have still not received the compensation money they need to start rebuilding their homes.