Kantipath: Down memory lane

Kathmandu

I have seen Kantipath change over the past decades. I grew up here. We lived in what used to be the Club House of Bahadur Bhawan, a petite neo-classical building surrounded with a pond. At the time it was called the Red Bungalow. When we moved out it was renovated to become a restaurant, first the Fuji and then 1905. The building was already threatened before the earthquake, but with the massive trend of demolition, it stood no chance against new commercial development.

For many years my playground was the large field in front of Bahadur Bhawan. That was when the grand palace was empty and we presumed it to be haunted. We used to creeping through the broken windows into the hallways of what was once Royal Hotel, the first tourist hotel which was run by Russian ballet dancer and tourism entrepreneur Boris Lissanovitch. The Yeti Bar was at the end of the northern wing where bygone celebrities sipped their dill-vodkas. A name that comes to mind is Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly to space. There were also the Hollywood stars such as Marlon Brando who shot a movie in Nepal and I believe I remember a signed photo of Gregory Peck. This was however all before my times. All I remember was from creeping around the empty rooms, pans and dishes left in the darkened kitchen and receipt pads where the reception used to be. It now houses the Election Commission. The building still stands but the palace has received some temple style roofs, probably to make it more Nepali.

Another wonderful Neo-classical building was the British Council just across the road. This was where I saw my first movies such as Jungle Book, Mary Poppins and later the more action packed Aces High. When studying in British Primary School, we used to regularly visit the library. When British Council moved out, the building was taken over by Mega Bank, but it now seems to be empty. It really would be a pity if this landmark would also be lost.

Kantipath, named after King Tribhuvan’s senior wife Queen Kanti has always been a prominent thoroughfare. It was designed as the major north-south link road along the eastern edge of the historic Kathmandu city. The section between Rani Pokhari and Keshar Mahal housed some prominent addresses. The US Embassy used to be in a building right on the street. This building which was later the Tushita Rest House has also recently been demolished. Just across the road was the Embassy of West Germany, now the Surya Tobacco Office.

Nearby was Hotel Yellow Pagoda, originally designed by Ar Robert Weise. The Hotel shut down many years ago and the building was used by Nabil Bank. Recently a new hotel with the same name has emerged with some major changes to the aesthetics of the building. Just across the road was the Air India office, also designed by Ar Robert Weise. It now houses the Dudh Sagar Sweets and Snacks, but the original decorative cement lion pillars are still there.

Growing up on Kantipath, one of the most important places was a shop located just south of Hotel Yellow Pagoda. It was a window in a wall where we used to buy the colourful fish-sweets for two paisa and we used to get the home made sodas in bottles that were sealed off with a marble. Though hardly an important

architectural edifice, the loss of this shop was deeply saddening.

What is left of Kantipath today is a wide road which regularly floods on one end and is jammed on the other by the traffic accumulating at the Keshar Mahal crossing. The grandeur has moved elsewhere.

The author is an architect and can be reached at kai.weise@yahoo.com