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UNDER THE SHADY FICUS TREE

The 'Khariko Bot' Ficus Tree kept watch over a large swathe of meadow land adjacent to the Kathmandu city from times immemorial. It carried on its lonesome presence in the center of this grazing land called Tundikhel, the play ground of the demon called Tundi as legend has us believe. Sometimes sheets of rain lashed against its strong boughs, at other times the blazing summer sun almost melted its will to live. Winter frost froze circulation in its innards when temperature dipped to minus. It dared lightning to strike it but providence spared it this trauma. The Ficus Tree survived the ravages of time in its bid to witness the next big story in the history of Nepal. Because the tree had seen it all!

Tundikhel and the Ficus Tree

Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa amassed an army to fight the British in faraway lands the Gurkhas had conquered. He reviewed those troops at Tundikhel from under the canopy of the Ficus Tree. Along the western side of the grounds were long rows of his barracks, close to his new residence Bagh Durbar, the 'Garden Palace'. After the Kot Massacre Jung Bahadur Rana took the pledge from the army with the blessing of Queen Rajya Luxmi Devi from under the canopy of the same tree in 1846 A.D. He reviewed his armies there before setting off to Lucknow to help the British quell the Indian Mutiny in 1857 A.D.

Sometime thereafter the tree played center stage as rings of masonry tiled by marble were added around its enormous trunk to make it a proper grandstand for military and civilian reviews. After the bloody coup de'tat ousting prime minister Maharajah Ranoddip Singh in 1885 A.D., Bir Shumsher the new maharajah took his oath of office from under the canopy of the Ficus Tree in the presence of the child king Prithivi Bir Bikram Shah. The annual 'pajani' or civilian and military appointments were announced by successive Rana prime ministers protected by the boughs of the Ficus Tree. Ancient festivals such as Ghode Jatra, the festival of horses, witnessed masses of the population jostling for a better position to glimpse the horses and riders perform extraordinary equine stunts while the rulers had unimpeded views from the Ficus Tree. The fieu de joi volleys during the occasion of Maha Shivratri were fired from Tundikhel which reverberated across the valley and scattered birds in flight helter skelter from the branches of the Ficus Tree.


Then the great earthquake struck the valley in 1934 A.D. The homeless were given shelter in the open spaces of Tundikhel as a tent city went up to accommodate tens of thousands. Maharajah Juddha Shumsher the prime minister inspected it all from the grandstand at the Ficus Tree. The rumblings of the coming war in faraway Europe was felt by the Ficus Tree as Nepal prepared an army to send to distant lands to assist the Allied forces. The Victory Parade after World War II was also witnessed by the denizens and Maharajah Juddha gave his victory speech from under the canopy of the Ficus Tree.

Sons of Maharajah Juddha under the Ficus Tree: from left Min, Surendra, Nir, Kiran, Shanta and Rabi

After 1951 A.D. and the ouster of the Rana regime both civilian and military ceremonies were performed at Tundikhel. I remember going there from school several times to smartly march past the grandstand from where the King of Nepal gazed upon his future panchas. One of those times was the last for me to see the grand old ficus tree. Someone decided to chop it down and build the present Army Pavilion in its stead. My father General Kiran Shumsher had already retired from the army as Commander-in-Chief when he would come back from a function at Tundikhel and would ruefully remark that he missed the Khariko Bot. Somehow for him the parades were no longer the same in the absence of the watchful ficus tree.


Comments

  1. Subobodh, I too remember this magnificent khari ko bot and how we used to march past it when we came from Godavari school during Ghode Jatra or some such festival. I agree the ficus tree had seen it all. Great nostalgic piece with pics. Thanks a lot.

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