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EMBASSY ROW

Santa Claus came to Lazimpat once every year when we had winter vacation from school. I used to wonder what Christmas was like at school, especially for our Jesuit fathers; somehow I missed it as we always had winter holidays when Santa hit town. But it was the Snow View Hotel in Lazimpat, an establishment even older than the reputable Hotel Royal of Boris fame, where we kids used to visit to celebrate Christmas. My father was the founding president of the Rotary Club of Kathmandu which heralded the Rotary movement into Nepal. In those days I did not understand the significance of the Rotary International started by Paul Harris in Illinois in 1905 and its messianic ways; it was simply that my father had important meetings to attend. The meetings were always held in the Snow View Hotel possibly due to lack of other suitable places in the insular world of Kathmandu of the early sixties thus ironically contravening the "rotary" or shifting nature of the meeting venues first propounded by the founder. The owner of the hotel Mr. Tom Mendies was one of the few founding Rotarians in Nepal.



General Kiran (left) and Tom Mendies (right) with visiting Rotarians
Christmas was fun: bright fairy lights and white cotton wool on trees, Santa suddenly appearing ghost-like and frightening us kids and then placating us with gifts, Christmas Carols floating in the cool night air and the buffet table groaning under loads of mouth-watering cakes and puddings. There were a few childhood friends from school who attended. Nicholas Lissanevitch was there, son of Boris of Royal Hotel fame. And so was Deep Lamichane, son of another Rotarian, always there. I remember that it was actually Deep who thrust a prized Bubble Gum into my startled mouth for the very first time lest it be wrested from him by bigger bullies. Chewing gum was a relatively new mark of come-uppance then and I had joined the club!

The hotel was famous but the garage opposite it was even more famous, that was the garage of the Nakarmis where in a given time half the stable of vintage cars owned by affluent Nepalis used to be parked for permanent maintenance. I remember the Ford and the Buick from my father's forties collection lying rotting there because of lack of spare parts and even sparer enterprise until the garage devoured those cars one final time like some steel chomping virus in a sci-fi movie. Lazimpat also was famous as the location of the British Embassy and after 1954 the Embassy compound was halved to give the new Indian Republic its fair share of representation. We heard many stories of the political casualties of various historical periods seeking refuge there. Sons of Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana took refuge after cousin Bir Shumsher mounted his successful coup d’etat of 1885 A.D. They were given safe passage to India. In 1950 King Tribhuvan’s feigned hunting trip took him to the Indian Embassy located then at Shittal Niwas the present presidential palace as a precursor to the end of the Rana regime.

Why write about Lazimpat you might wonder, a name derived from the "Lodging Part" of the British where their Residency was located. I am sitting in a café called Vaude, something Germanic I think as sportswear bearing the same brand name is also on sale here. I am sipping Illy Cappuccino. The café is located right in front of the once private road leading to the British Embassy. The road now boasts the Radisson Hotel and a locally hewn Shangri-La Hotel. The French Embassy and the Israeli Embassy are just up the road. You can almost eat in any language in this main street. Recently there was an assassination of a media Moghul right in front of the French Embassy in this mean street. Ghosts of political refugees intermingle with Santa Claus in his many avatar in this historic section of Kathmandu.


Comments

  1. So can we assume that Christmas was celebrated publicly in Nepal for the first time at the Snow View Hotel, courtesy of the Mendies family?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes indeed Mr. Tom Mendies and his wife Elizabeth Mendies introduced Christmas to Nepal in the early 50's.

      Delete
  2. Beautiful nostalgic recollections. Our very own Dil Krishna's humble Ringmo restaurant in Lazimphat became a watering hole for many of us who knew nothing about good old Rotary!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love the picture of Mr. Tom Mendies. Great picture.

    ReplyDelete

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