The Rana era has been vilified as a feudal period in Nepal's history and one of its legacies has been the palaces the Sri Teens left behind.
While palaces like Singha Darbar, Harihar Bhawan and Sri Mahal were converted into government offices others were demolished by Rana offspring. But there are quite a few Rana outhouses and residences of minor Ranas that stand to this day and many are now being restored as their owners find value in their architectural heritage.
If this trend catches on, crumbling old Victorian style Rana architecture may get a new lease on life. One such property is Kiran Bhawan in Sanepa which has been converted into a heritage hotel.
"This is a heritage property, you can't just destroy what has been there for nearly a century," says Mohindra Singh Judge, whose father bought the palace from Kiran SJB Rana, son of Juddha Shamshere.
While Judge's entire family relocated to Bangalore, he chose to stay back and preserve Kiran Bhawan which was literally falling apart. With an investment of nearly Rs 6 million, Judge put his full energy into meticulously renovating every square inch of the mansion: lovingly restoring every door handle, fixtures, window latches just like in the original..
Building on a wealth of hotel marketing experience gained in Australia, Judge developed the idea of transforming the family house into short-stay apartments for guests. Now known as Kiran Bhawan Boutique Apartments, the project has already generated a buzz, especially in Kathmandu's expat circle and international consultants based here.
The building still functions like a hotel, offering room service, a restaurant and a bar but what makes it different is that each apartment feels more like a home, with a private kitchen, living room and a large bathroom including a huge tub.
The apartments opened in December and Judge hopes that his project will inspire more owners of former palaces to preserve their buildings. But maintaining a property that occupies two hectares and includes two 1,000-sq-ft ballrooms and banquet halls whose ceilings are decorated with 100-year-old paintings does not come cheap.
And while the market for such apartments is growing, owners of the former palaces don't find it easy getting loans from bank who tell them resotration is not a viable business proposition. However, others say the results are worth the investment. "Kiran Bhawan is really an inspiring example of preserving centuries-old buildings," says cultural heritage promoter Anil Chitrakar.
Turning Kathmandu's mansions into apartments is not a new idea: after all Nepal's first western style hotel, the Royal Hotel run by legendary Russian Boris Lissanevitch, was itself a converted palace. The popular Bhojan Griha restaurant, which restored half of a totally ruined former palace into a fully functioning restaurant a decade ago, is now adding apartments on the other side. Babar Mahal Revisited is a prime example of Rana era splendour recreated.
The International Club in Sanepa also banked on this idea and it is now known as Good Neighbours International Recreation Centre. The old palace building is now a 10-apartment complex with a sports centre, gym and health club.
"Many expatriates who come to Nepal briefly prefer apartments to hotels, which is why the idea is becoming popular," says the Centre's Pema Sherpa. Some of them stay for as long as a year, he adds.
Expat guests at the Kiran Bhawan can rent for $ 1,000 a month or $ 50 a day and Judge doesn't want to go into a price war being confident that his guests will recognise good value when they see it. He tells bargain-hunters to check into a nearby hotel instead.
"The fact is, we are also very selective about our renters," says Judge, adding that most of his guests want peace and quiet and he often screens and interviews tenants before accepting them. Some are predicting that as demand for such temporary accommodation grows, owners like Judge will have the upper hand in renting to a segment of the market increasingly looking for ambience and history along with a place to get a good night's rest.
PICS: KIRAN PANDAY