The accompanying photographs are testimony to how rapidly a place can change in a short span of only four decades. An asphalt highway and concrete buildings have replaced the rural dirt road and the tin roofs of yore. Only the small tin-roofed house seen in the right corner of the new picture remains unchanged.
Dharan, a city in east Nepal, is celebrating its 100th year of establishment this year. It saw its first residents around 1894. They were settlers who lived in clusters of small huts near the forests and made a living by felling trees from what used to be thick forests of the Char Koshe Jhadi. In fact the city got its name from the Nepali word for a platform on which wood is sawed, because these first settlers used the platforms to work the trees they chopped in the forest. Rana ruler Chandra Shumshere, who announced the formal settlement of Chandra Nagar (now called Purano Bazaar) in 1901, is credited for the beginning of planned human settlement in Dharan.
It took another 37 years for the neighboring township to emerge, which is part of present- day Dharan. In 1938, another Rana ruler Juddha Shumshere established Juddha Nagar (now called Naya Bazaar) and established the Juddha Nagar Aspatal (the now-closed Dharan Hospital) to encourage people from the eastern hills to migrate and settle there. After the hospital came Dharan's first primary school, which was set up in a local teashop. By the early 1940s, Dharan had developed into a main gateway for people migrating from the eastern hills to the fertile tarai plains. Economic and commercial activities intensified, accompanied by a rapid increase in population. And by 1944, with two weekly markets on Fridays and Saturdays, the city had grown into a centre of commerce for the entire eastern tarai.
During the 1950 revolution, Dharan was a hotbed of rising political consciousness. Around the same time, the city began to grow into a center for art, literature and education. The city has come a long way since, especially in the field of education. It now has 20 secondary schools, 70 lower-secondary schools and 60 public and private primary schools, in addition to seven colleges and one medical college.
The British set up a Gurkha recruitment camp in Dharan in the early Fifties, after which it grew into a hub for the entire Eastern Development Region. Today, the BP Koirala Institute for Health Sciences, one of the leading teaching hospitals in all of South Asia, uses the infrastructure left behind by the British when the camp moved out of Dharan about a decade ago. When Nepal was divided into 14 administrative zones and 75 districts in 1965, Dharan was designated the zonal headquarter of Koshi zone.
Bijayapur, the capital of Kirati kings on a hillock east of the city, was a planned settlement long before Dharan was established. Likewise, the Bhatabhunge Rajako Darbar, and the Buda Subba, Dantakali and Pindeshwori temples all have histories dating back hundreds of years. The ancient city of Bijayapur, Ghopa Camp (British Camp) and the Bajagara village development committee in the south, all come under Dharan's municipal boundaries. Even after the devastating earthquake about a decade ago Dharan remains a beautiful and vibrant city.
Dharan is about 350 meters above sea level. The city, which spreads across 1,223-hectares, is home to 125,000 people. Dharan, where the flat plains start merging into the hills, has a moderate climate with temperatures ranging between 31 degrees Celsius during the summers and 14 degrees in winter.
Dharan is already a leader in different arenas of development and planners now want it to also become a center for tourism, and excellence in health and education in the next two decades.
(Adapted from Himal Khabarpatrika)