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AN ENGLISHMAN AT THE COURT OF NEPAL

The old Englishman was very fond of Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana. He reminisced about how the brash youngster attached to the retinue of Crown Prince Surendra had performed impossible feats the feckless prince commanded of him. He had heard that Jung jumped from the Trishuli bridge on a horse into the raging river below. At another time the prince had demanded that Jung jump into a deep well. The most fabled feat was the daredevil jump from the Dharahara tower built by Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa to commemorate Nepal's Pyrrhic victory over East India Company a decade earlier. Jung performed his jump harnessed to two huge umbrellas. Jung had escaped unscathed. Hodgson pondered whether these stories were factually true.

Unfortunately he, Hodgson, had played a hand in the downfall of Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa and the eclipse of his family including his grand-nephew Jung Bahadur, now Nepal's strongman. Politics was dirty. Since the opening of the residency in 1816 A.D. a y…
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WHEN THE EAST MET THE WEST

Rudyard Kipling famously opined that "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet". He was obviously referring to the post-renaissance materialistic philosophy that started to take hold in the west while the spirituality of much of the east had not changed with time. He would have experienced it first-hand having been born and raised in India and then having spent his adulthood in Britain. What is surprising is that socio-politically though the west was as backward perhaps as many parts of the east through much of the nineteenth century. Criticism of the ways of the Rana rulers of Nepal and similar family oligarchies of the east, especially coming from erudite western commentators, sounds quite hollow when similar absolute monarchies and dictators were ruling the roost in their own backyard. "Empire" was evil in its own nefarious way, let us not forget it. Not to sound like an apologist for the excesses of the Rana period, I would like to submit he…

UNEARTHING THE ARTIST BEHIND THE PERSONA

In my European travels I marvel at famous works of art and praise the genius of portrait artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt or Velasquez without a thought given to their subjects. Obviously these artists were commissioned by the aristocracy and nobility of their days to sculpt a bust or to paint a portrait of their benefactors. As time went by these artists, many after their death, started getting recognition and their works of art started fetching unbelievable sums for auction houses. The rich would buy a Velasquez without a thought for who the forgotten likeness in canvas actually is and proudly decorate his living room with it.

Will such an eventuality come about in our local context? Will we see our often forgotten artists command a decent price for their works? We see olden statues of kings and prime ministers but we do not know who the artists actually are. Many artists behind the portraits of famous historical personalities ma…

SPOILING FOR A FIGHT, THE INTERREGNUM BETWEEN THE FALL OF BHIMSEN THAPA AND RISE OF JUNG BAHADUR

One cannot help but wonder what would have happened if the Punjab, Avadh and other princely Indian states had formed an alliance with Nepal during the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16 A.D. Subsequently what would have happened had Jung Bahadur Rana not sided with the British but aided the mutinous Indian states in 1857 A.D.? South Asian history might have been different. 

Not since the war with Tibet and subsequent Chinese reprisal during the time of Regent Bahadur Shah did Nepal see such a reversal of fortune culminating in the Treaty of Sugauli. Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa was compelled to sign the treaty with the British East India Company following the 1814-16 war. It was a colossal loss of face and fortune for the Gorkha kingdom since the conquest of Kathmandu Valley and the subsequent unification of Nepal. Almost one third of the country from the River Sutlej to River Mahakali in the west and from River Teesta to River Mechi in the east was now forfeited to the Company. A lesser pe…

TRACING THE GENESIS OF NEPALESE TEA INDUSTRY

"Tea is better than wine for it leadeth not to intoxication, neither does it cause a man to say foolish things and repent thereof in his sober moments. It is better than water for it does not carry disease; neither does it act like poison as water does when it contains foul and rotten matter."


Like the ancient Chinese adage succinctly attested to its merit, tea was recognized for its health benefits and served in all aristocratic homes in England by the time Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana visited London in 1850 A.D. It was already the beverage of choice for welcoming guests. American clipper ships had started to bring Chinese tea to London by then. Although still a very expensive commodity the British aristocracy and nobility along with their Dutch peers had already started enjoying the 'cuppa', aromatic green and black tea from China. It would be a matter of time before the whole population would be able to afford the joy of tea drinking and steer clear of addicti…

A ROMAN HOLIDAY

"All roads lead to Rome" goes an olden proverb as testimony to the reach of the Roman Empire that saw tributes flowing in from all parts of the known world then. Our own road to Rome was a short flight from Warsaw on Alitalia without frontier checks, a blessing of the Schengen visa agreement. The latest count has got 26 European Union nations that fall under this regime making travel inside Europe relatively hassle free. My wife and I decided to visit Rome and Tuscany for our summer vacation.

A Roman Holiday evokes an aura of romance against the backdrop of haute couture and historical ruins. Gucci and Garibaldi jostle for prominence cheek by jowl in the crowded streets milling with a multitude of insatiable tourists. The spirits of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn commingle with that of Romeo and Juliet. We spy Laila and Majnu holding hands. Hordes of Yuris and Laras descend upon Rome today irrespective of the west applying sanctions on Putin's resurgent Russia. After a…

THE MAHARAJAH'S LAST REPOSE

The maharajah was having a nightmare. He often did since he left the hurly burly of Nepalese politics for a life of a raj-rishi with determination to devote the remaining few years of his life to spiritual pursuit. He dreamed of a calamity striking Nepal and taking him in its wake. Although not residing in Kathmandu any longer, he was still close enough to feel the ripples of a revolution should it come sooner or later, but come it would. The maharajah woke up sweating. He asked his attendant to light up his hookah. This would make him calm again.

Ridi is a very holy place in Nepal. Located at the confluence of the small Ridi stream and the larger Kali Gandaki River in Gulmi district, the site is acclaimed far and wide as a pilgrimage site as holy as Benaras. Throughout the ages pilgrims not able to reach faraway Benaras flocked to Ridi for salvation. The famous temple of Rishikesh founded by King Mukunda Sen graces the site. Nearby, only 5 km away on the spur of a hill overlooking th…

THE GLORIOUS UNCROWNING

The 104 years of Rana Regime of Nepal reviled today as a monolithic juggernaut from without was anything but when viewed closely from within. The struggle for power within the family was as acute as those among the Roman emperors or Mughal rulers. Out of the nine Rana prime ministers only four died while in office, one was assassinated, two were prematurely ousted from office, the last one had to step down to give way to proto-democracy. Only one among the nine actually resigned voluntarily while in office. This is his story.

So why did Maharajah Juddha Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana resign bucking the trend? Was it because he was afraid that he would be ousted like one of his predecessor Maharajah Dev Shumsher? Was he afraid that there was some nefarious plot to assassinate him like his uncle Maharajah Ranauddip Singh? When one makes a decision of such magnitude, there must have been multiple factors influencing him to come to such a decision. Had he not resigned Maharajah Juddha Shumshe…