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THE QUAINT AND THE CURIOUS PRACTICES OF YORE

Just over two decades back if you happened to be in the center of Kathmandu city around mid-day you would likely get a near heart-attack when suddenly a loud cannon fire deafened and rocked you. It was liberal minded Maharajah Dev Shumsher reminding the denizens that the morning had given way to afternoon. It was harmless as the cannons fired empty shells, only later during the Peoples' War did we associate loud bangs with evil intention and twisted metal. It is hard to establish the exact reason why such a quaint custom was instituted by the administration of Maharajah Dev in 1901 A.D. but giving the population a perspective on time might be the reason: a reminder that the notorious "Nepali Time" was not good enough for the dawning of the modern era. The practice was discontinued only in 1989 A.D.

"Gauchar" airport got its name because it was a gigantic pastureland for cattle. Farmers from far and wide brought their cattle for grazing there and the grazing continued even after the pastureland became an air-strip with the opening up of Nepal. The civil aviation authority employed professional herders to clear the field for aircrafts to land and take-off. Loud siren blared to announce an incoming aircraft and the herders quickly cleared the field of cattle. The siren still rings in my ears as often times, in the sixties, I would be accompanying my father on the golf course at the Royal Nepal Golf Club nearby. It is quite a far cry from the radar fitted and tarmacked Tribhuvan International Airport but even today, once in a while, the airport security can be seen giving chase to an intruding pie dog that finds itself stranded in the middle of the runway!

An Indian Airline DC3 on the Gauchar pastureland
Recently Bull Fighting got a good coverage in the local press as the age old tradition of pitting one raging bull against another in Nuwakot came into limelight. This tradition is said to be at least 200 years old. There are no matadors like in Spain goring the bulls to a sanguinary death. When one bull tires and loses the contest is stopped. During my childhood I remember this tradition was carried on in Kathmandu itself in Sano Tundikhel or the small Tundikhel that has since morphed into the National Stadium. The Shah kings must have brought this tradition into the valley from their perch in Gorkha and Nuwakot and remained here through much of our history. I don't know when exactly but I think it was in the early sixties that these bull flights were discontinued.


Cars arrived in Kathmandu Valley up the mountain passes from Bhimphedi on the back of porters. There was no motorable road into the valley and inside it there were just a few kilometers of road wide enough for driving up and down Kathmandu and Patan. The Rana rulers of Nepal started importing vehicles for their own use and for the use of the King. The first cars were imported during the time of Maharajah Chandra Shumsher at the turn of the last century. The Mercedes Benz gifted by Adolf Hitler to Maharajah Juddha Shumsher in 1939 A.D., part of a diplomatic overture to influence Nepal to stay out of WWII, was also carried in this manner to Kathmandu. It was probably carried out of the valley by porters when Juddha retired and left for Dehradun, India via Argheli.

Iconic picture of a forties Austin car being carried into the Kathmandu Valley on back of porters


   

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  1. Another walk down memory lane. I remember well the noon boom of the canon and people glancing at their watches to synchronize them with 'the thunder bursting in air'. Also remember the bulls; it used to be called bhakku lai rango dine', slaughtering of the bulls in a closed arena by the bhakkus - quite a bloody affair.

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  2. I remember our Afumua chanting "NARAYANA" everytime the cannon fired at noon near our house in Thapathali.

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