Tale of Two Royalties

January 7, 2014 , by Subodh Rana, Leave your thoughts
Tale of Two Royalties » My Dreams Mag
2015 marks 200 years of Nepal-Britain ties. To mark the upcoming anniversary next year, DREAMS brings you reminisces from someone who has special ties with Britain. Subodh Rana, son of a former Nepali ambassador to Britain. He brings together for DREAMS memories of his days at 12 A Kensington Gardens, the history of the embassy building itself, and intimate accounts of Rana family’s ties with the British Royal Family.


I remember my years at 12A Kensington Palace Gardens when my father General Kiran Shumsher J. B. Rana was the ambassador to Great Britain from 1973 to 1977. My first thoughts as I arrived at the dimly lit and cavernous building, in the cold and dark winter night of 1974 from Liverpool Street Station, was that I would meet Count Vlad and there would be bats flying about the balustrade. Fortunately, Min Bahadur, one of my father’s help, opened the door with a grin and a greeting. The building needed a major facelift and refurbishment. It was as if time had somehow stood still after 1951 A.D. in protest at the democratic dispensation in Nepal. 12A still yearned for the free-spending Ranas as floors creaked with old age, lifts were too rusty to ascend, and curtains and carpets were much the worse for wear. 12A by then was not just the residence of the ambassador, but also housed the chancery, the consular section, a royal suite, all the diplomats and embassy staff, their families and dependents. 12A was Nepal in microcosm.

The first ambassador and plenipotentiary representing the King of Nepal in Britain was, in fact, Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana in 1850 A.D. He was the first among the titled Maharajahs and Nawabs of the Indian subcontinent to be invited to Queen Victoria’s court, a tacit admission by imperial Britain that Nepal was an independent country, not a part of its Indian dominion. He had made his way to Calcutta on 15th January 1850 A.D. with a large party, and sailed on the steamer P&O (Peninsular & Oriental) Haddington chartered at the cost of 5,000 Pounds. The route was Madras, Ceylon, Aden and finally Cairo. They crossed the desert by a caravan of camels as the Suez Canal did not exist then. From Cairo he had taken another steamer to Alexandria, then on to Malta. He finally landed in Southampton on 25th May after having sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar. The journey had lasted nearly 4 months. He faced considerable discomforts, but indeed, the ambassador was an extraordinary person. How a tiny island called Britain ruled the seven seas, how its industry and science had brought about epochal changes in the lives of its denizens, and how they promulgated the rule of law, were some of the questions Jung Bahadur needed first-hand answers to.

The paddle steamer Ripon chartered from P&O Steam Navigation Company at Alexandria carrying Jung Bahadur and his entourage docked at the port of Southampton on 25th of May 1850. News had already spread of the cholera epidemic that had rocked the city, killing 240 people the previous year. Jung had warned his Nepalese contingent to be very careful of what they ate and drank. He was safe in the thought that for himself he had brought with him huge barrels of Ganga Jal, holy water from the Ganges, for drinking and ablutions. For upper class Hindus, taking water from overseas was anathema. The port was a transit point only as the railway that had come to Southampton just two decades earlier was going to take them to London, their final destination.

Arriving in London, Jung was met at Victoria Terminus. He rode in a carriage to Richmond Terrace, his abode during his sojourn. The mansion was befitting a royal guest with a beautiful garden overlooking the River Thames. Maharajah Jung was duly impressed by the imposing buildings central London already boasted of in 1850: Buckingham Palace, Nelson’s Column, Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. It reminded him of his earlier visit to Calcutta, the city British rule had slowly transformed from Mughal heritage to a mirror image of the British capital. However he was appalled to see the grime and filth in the byways and alleyways, and the desperation of beggars and urchins in abundance. 

Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana was the toast of London. A prince from the Orient captured the popular imagination of Victorian England. A newspaper account of the period describes him as athletic, dark and handsome; bedecked in fine pearls and sparkling jewels like most Oriental despots. Jung had good reasons to be no less: he had taken state power in Nepal during the Kot Massacre of 1846, survived the Bhandarkhal plot aimed at destroying him a year later, and was, in 1850, the first prince from the South Asian Sub-continent to be invited at the court of Queen Victoria.

Both aristocracy and nobility vied with one another to give him the most opulent reception possible. On a particular mid-June evening when London warms up to a fleeting summer solstice, Jung was preparing himself for yet another party. At Richmond Terrace, just a stone’s throw away from Buckingham Palace, Jung had easy access to the drawing rooms of the rich and famous. He was already getting bored by the attention lavished on him. He was a man of action and his one goal was still unrealized, which made him restless: his eagerly awaited audience with Queen Victoria who was resting after giving birth to a son, Arthur William Patrick. He would later become the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.

Buckingham Palace had just been completed, and Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live there. Jung was discomfited by the news that the queen had just delivered a son and she was going to spend a few more weeks resting before giving an audience to the Nepalese Prime Minister. Jung was impatient to meet the famous monarch who reigned over half the world.



Queen Victoria and Prince Arthur in a painting. Source: Wikipedia.org

 Queen Victoria finally gave her first audience to Jung Bahadur Rana on the 19th of June at St. James’ Palace at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Jung Bahadur’s joy knew no bounds as he was heralded into the parlour along with his two brothers Jagat Shumsher and Dhir Shumsher, where the queen and the Prince Consort were waiting. Jung bowed and presented the credentials from the King of Nepal to the queen.

Let us now come back to 12A. When General Bahadur Shumsher J. B. Rana selected the building for the Nepalese embassy in 1934 A.D., he was representing the King of Nepal as its first resident ambassador and plenipotentiary. His father Maharajah Juddha was the Prime Minister of Nepal then. His choice of the embassy building did justice to the long association of Nepal with imperial Britain. It is located in a prestigious part of London nicknamed “Billionaires Row”, near Kensington Palace, abode of British royalty. The palace is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

The building itself was later added as an extension to 12, Kensington Palace Gardens in the years 1863-65 A.D. The wife of the owner Sir Samuel Morton Peto wanted a larger place for family and guests. Eventually it made its way to the Crown Estate, the body that administers it today. In the neighbourhood are many ambassadorial residences including the Russian at 13, Finnish at 14, French at 11, Saudi at 24, the list is long. The super-rich have started to live there too, Leonard Blavatnik the Russian born business oligarch at 15A and 15B, steel magnate Laxmi Mittal at 18-19, and the Sultan of Brunei at 20.

General Krishna Shumsher J. B. Rana followed Bahadur as Nepal’s ambassador during the Rana period. He can be best remembered as the former owner of Shital Niwas, now the residence of the President of Nepal. Then General Singha Shumsher followed. His brother General Kaiser Shumsher went as ambassador after Singha, the first to be concurrently appointed in 1948 to Washington D.C. The last Rana period ambassador was General Shanker Shumsher J. B. Rana. One can almost visualize 12A as a resplendent mansion with freshly burnished metal works, sparkling chandeliers, polished wood works and soft thick carpets. Of course, during the Rana period this building shone bright as an embodiment of Nepal’s relationship with imperial Britain. The Rana ambassadors could afford to upkeep 12A from their own substantial resources.



Richmond Terrace circa 1850 A.D.

Now let us look at who among the British royalty visited Nepal after the epochal trip Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana made to England. In February 1876 A.D. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, (later King Edward VII), son of Queen Victoria, came to hunt in Banbassa in west Nepal. He was hosted by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana and bagged 23 tigers in a two-week shooting spree. He had presided over the Delhi Durbar in celebration of the proclamation of his mother Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1876 A.D. It is written that he was so bored with the formalities of state that coming to shoot in the Terai was the highlight of his Indian sojourn. Jung Bahadur considered himself fortunate to be able to return the regal hospitality showered on him by the British royal family 25 years earlier.



Prince of Wales, later King Edward the VII, beating the jungles
with Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana in Nepal Terai, 1876. Source: historylessonsnepal.blogspot

Subsequently there were many members of the British royal family who hunted tigers in Nepal. The eldest son of the afore-mentioned Prince of Wales, Prince Albert Victor—Duke of Clarence and Avondale and second person in line to the British throne after his father—came to shoot tigers here during the winter of 1889-90 A.D. hosted by Prime Minister Bir Shumsher J. B. Rana. Public furore over Jack the Ripper’s serial murders in London had created many suspects including this particular prince, although the mystery was never solved. He died early as a crown prince, and his younger brother ascended the throne as King George V.

Prince Albert with Maharajah Bir Shumsher in Hunting Camp

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (grandson of Queen Victoria)
in a hunting camp in Nepal with Maharajah Bir Shumsher. Source: historylessonsnepal.blogspot

After the second Delhi Durbar of 1911 A.D. King George V came to shoot tigers in Sukhibar and Kasra jungles of Nepal Terai at the invitation of Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher J. B. Rana.  During a period of 10 days from 18 to 28 December he bagged 21 tigers, 8 rhinos and a bear. Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, also came to shoot here in 1921 A.D. during Chandra Shumsher’s rule. He was fated to abdicate the throne of England for Mrs. Wallis Simpson, for the ‘woman I love’! A big hunting camp was prepared for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as regal entertainment by King Mahendra during her state visit to Nepal in 1961 A.D. Although neither of them actually shot a tiger, there were others in the royal retinue who did. There is this story circulating on how Prince Philip diplomatically bandaged his trigger finger on the morning of the shoot! Times had changed. The Ranas were no longer in power in Nepal.

Text by: Subodh Rana.

Rana is a long-time veteran of the tourism industry in Nepal, currently holding the position of CEO at Malla Travel an international joint venture company. His years of professional and societal engagement with the people and land of his birth, as well as his unique and historical perspective as member of the Rana family, a dynasty that ruled Nepal from 1846 to 1951, has endowed Rana with a love for storytelling. Having grown up listening to the experiences of his father, once Commander-in-Chief of the then Royal Nepal Army and tales of his ancestors including his grandfather, the seventh Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, Rana indeed possesses a treasure trove of historical anecdotes and accounts. Through his various published writings and blog, Rana endeavours to bestow these gifts to future generations.

Image Source: historylessonsnepal.blogspot

  • Prince Albert with Maharajah Bir Shumsher in Hunting Camp
  • Queen_Victoria_with_Prince_Arthur
  • Richmond-Terrace-London
  • The-Prince-Of-Wales-With-Sir-Jung-Bahadur-Beating-The-Jungle-In-The-Terai,-Nepal,-1876
  • junge
  • Jangbhadur1

Tags: , , , , ,

Categorised in: Features

Leave a Reply

Connect with:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Related Articles