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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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DEATH OF A MONARCH

Nepalese of my generation associate the end of the 104 years old Rana oligarchy with a garlanded king in Nepalese mayelposh suruwal dress waving his right hand to acknowledge the multitude that thronged the Kathmandu airport to see him arrive from India after a short exile. He was a powerless, dethroned king returning now as a sovereign Head of State. For most of us the iconic imagery heralded the advent of a new open democratic Nepal and the king - Tribhuvan - instantly became the Shah king most revered and recognizable after the founder of the dynasty and his ancestor King Prithivi Narayan Shah. That day has been marked in the Nepalese calendar and imprinted in our consciousness as Democracy Day, the 7th day of the Nepalese month of Falgun, 2007 B.S. Although I was born 4 years later, I cannot yet erase the memory from my mind.

A king at 5 Tribhuvan led a sequestered life in the Royal Palace of Narayanhiti in Kathmandu amidst the trappings of Hindu God-king monarchy far removed from…

THE GOLDEN WIDOW

"Lhasa ma soon chha, kaan mero buch-chai", teased Putali Maharani whenever she had the chance. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana had come out victorious against the Tibetans and abrogated the unfair Treaty of Betrawati signed under duress by the Nepalese under Regent Bahadur Shah as the Chinese army had come to aid the Tibetans and pushed the Gorkhalis all the way from Kerung down along the Trishuli River to Nuwakot. Now Nepal could pursue trade with the Tibetans unhindered and the Chinese monopoly on the lucrative gold trade was broken. Putali Maharani wanted a piece of action of the gold and silver trade for her own clan and was frequently goading her husband to send her sisters to Lhasa on a trade mission to establish a company. She was referring to an old adage made famous in Nepal that women folks often chimed with petulant discontent, "There is gold in Lhasa but my ears are unadorned".

Putali was one of Jung's favorite wives and Jung owed a lot to her. As…

RANA COURT PHOTOGRAPHERS

It is but ironical that it has now become fashionable for many Nepalese households and public places such as restaurants and bars to display photographs of the Rana rulers of Nepal and their families, the men with their military decorations covering their broad chests, with plumed crowns on their heads and women bedecked in beautiful diamond and emerald encrusted tiaras and other pieces of sparkling jewelry set on valuable metal. Ask the owners and many would not recognize who those Rana figures are; it is merely the proximity to power, fame and now what is considered to be a fascinating period of history that people vicariously yearn for. A mere couple of decades back the Rana rulers were reviled as autocrats but in the intervening years people have come to realize that whosoever comes to power in Nepal aspires to be a Rana anyway!

Scrutinizing carefully the portraits and pictures of old Nepal one can sometimes discern the faint names of the photographers or photographic studio these…

THE DELHI DURBARS AND THE RANA REGIME

Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana was thrilled to get the confirmation of his long sought-after ambition: to host a British Royal in Nepal. Following his visit to England in 1850 A.D. at the invitation of the British government as an ambassador of the King of Nepal, he wanted very much to repay the gracious hospitality of the British Royal family he had enjoyed. Now the news came to Kathmandu with a kharita from Lord Robert Lytton, Viceroy of India, that the Prince of Wales had accepted the invitation to visit Nepal Terai for a shikar, a big game hunt, during his visit to India 1875-76. During the prince's sojourn in Calcutta Jung had sent an embassy headed by his second in command Ranauddip Singh to invite the prince. The British had planned the hunting expedition to Nepal from the west crossing the Mahakali River to what is now Suklaphanta Reserve.

Jung Bahadur was a man of action; he hastened to make the preparation for the royal visit. Leaving his affinity to the jungle and fondness…

RANI MAHAL, THE STORY OF ITS MAKER

PROLOGUE
The first time I ever saw this historical edifice thirty five years ago, she was in ruins and looked like an old hag during the winter of her life, simply waiting for her eventual demise. I was then on my way further west on a week-long trek from Tansen to Tamghas in Gulmi District.
Thirty five years later, I found myself at the same spot once again, this time out there on purpose. I had seen pictures of the building with a coat of new paint before and I wanted to see how much change had been made by the Nepal Government’s Department of Archeology. Yes, the outer fa├žade still looked brand new with fresh paints, which to me personally was a bit too gaudy. But when I walked through the inside of the building and saw nothing but empty rooms without even a single piece of furniture, my enthusiasm took a nose dive.

And when I entered one room where there was a fireplace with the floor in front of the hearth still looking as black as charcoal, I assumed that, over the years before ren…

LOOKING BACK AT A BETRAYAL MOST FOUL

Maharani Haripriya Devi was now a refugee in Benaras. She looked back in anger at what had transpired in Nepal. She trembled with fear and paled at the memory even now when she remembered that terrible event! Yes, she had delved in politics while she was the titled maharani to Maharajah Ranoddip Singh, the prime minister and de facto ruler of Nepal. But wasn't it warranted? Her husband was a kind-hearted man but weak. He could never be as commanding and forceful as his elder brother Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana. He was constantly being over-shadowed by his younger brother Commander-in-Chief General Dhir Shumsher as her husband was content in having his brother rule but in name. She could not tolerate this affront for ever. Could she? But she had failed, she began to tear up....


Haripriya was the second wife of Ranoddip Singh, the 5th brother of Maharajah Jung Bahadur. By his good fortune he had inherited the mantle of Maharajah and post of prime minister after his eldest brother Ju…

ON DIVINE REVELATIONS

When the founder of modern Nepal King Prithivi Narayan Shah likened his new Nepali state to the "yam between two boulders" he was referring to the fragile state of his new kingdom lodged perilously between Mughal India and Qing China. Whether those were his actual words or words put later in his mouth by patriotic followers is really irrelevant. The sentiment is clear. During 104 years of the Rana regime such divine revelations from King Prithivi's descendants were firmly muted. The royal revelations started to come thick and fast during the Panchayat Era. The leading newspapers headlined daily Shree Panch ko Mahaan Bani (His Majesty the King's Words of Wisdom) and Radio Nepal did not start its newscast before reading one. King Mahendra was a poet so he probably did not have much difficulty formulating these revelations during his regime. The clarion call to Nepali nationhood "ma mare pani mero desh banchi rahos" struck a chord among many. During King Biren…