Finally the Gurkha Memorial Museum has visitors. It used to be hidden away in a dusty corner of Lainchaur, and hardly anyone knew of its existence. But when it moved to Pokhara last September, tickets began selling even before the museum was officially opened. As the Gurkha Memorial Trust, which runs the museum, had hoped, passing tourists and Nepalis saw the signboard and walked right in.
The four-year-old museum has suffered from a chronic lack of funds and inadequate space to showcase the entire collection of memorabilia that the trust has gathered together. Captain Yeknarain Gurung, chairman and curator of the museum told us last March that "as this is a national asset, the government helped set up the museum by providing Rs 1 million." Donations followed from the Indian Embassy, the Royal Nepal Army, the British Gurkhas Nepal, Grindlays Bank and Lt Col John Cross. These donations and the yearly government grants, ranging from Rs 100,000-Rs 400,000, barely covered the overheads and it didn't help that barely anyone visited.
Major Yambahadur Gurung says the trust realised that if this were ever to work, the museum had to move where land-preferably government-donated-was easy to find and tourists were aplenty. Pokhara was the obvious choice, and in August 2001, the entire collection was moved to Pokhara. The museum occupies an old Nepali house in the compound of Hotel Nature Land. It's a separate building from the actual hotel and stands nearest to the main road, within a minute's walk from the heart of Fewa Lake. Hotel owner WO2 Dilbahadur Gauchan offered the house to the Gurkha Memorial Trust free for the first year, when he heard they were looking for a place to start up until they were allocated a permanent location for the museum. "It was an old tattered building that I used to store things in, but I just couldn't find a reason for pulling it down. It paid off in the long run I guess," he laughs. "We are asking for government land in Pokhara so a permanent museum can be built. But these matters take time," explains Vice Chairman, Major Judbahadur Gurung.
In the meantime, things are moving ahead and with support from the 2nd Gurkha Rifles Association, the house was refurbished last summer, and the displays were set up. There are three galleries downstairs, devoted to medals, infantry regiments that were disbanded in 1994 to form the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force, and corps regiments such as engineers, transport and signals. Yet another gallery upstairs has a small collection from the Indian Army and Royal Nepalese Army, but is mainly dedicated to Victoria Cross winners. There are also some new items on display, such as Cross belts, old photographs, badges of rank from the Singapore Police, flags from different regiments, and old radios used for communications between camps from the Queens Gurkha Signals.
The museum is complete, and managed by Lalbahadur Lama, but is a little short-staffed. "Visitors have been walking through themselves. Of course later we hope to provide a guide explaining about each item on show", says Major Yambahadur Gurung. Tickets are Rs 50 for tourists and Rs 10 for Nepalis with discounts for school children. The museum runs every day but Monday, from 10AM-5PM, and visitors can browse through the museum library and use the hotel's facilities. There is even a souvenir shop that sells khukuris, bangles cuff-links, tie-pins and brooches. With donations from individuals and institutions, the museum now has a computer and printer, and has even printed a brochure.
Close to 300 people have already visited the museum, and there are bound to be a lot more in the peak tourist season. Finally, it appears as if Nepal's justly famous Gurkhas are in the repertoire of institutional history for good.