Nepali Times
An Oriental potentate in Louis Napoleon’s cou

Girija Prasad Koirala may yet become the second Nepali prime minister to visit France. The first was none other than Jang Bahadur Rana, who made a 40-day stopover on his way back from his 1849-50 England trip. The Nepali strongman had been a big hit with London society. Besides exploits like paying one of the highest sums ever to a prostitute, the 32-year-old Jang Bahadur was also able to impress the English in numerous ways. Not least by his exoticism, since he was, after all, the first ruler from the East to go to England. It was a similar curiosity that greeted Jang Bahadur when he landed on French soil on 14 August 1850.

Jang Bahadur's Europe tour has been described in Jang Bahadurko Belait-Yatra written by someone in his retinue (its authorship has not been proved). British scholar John Whelpton has translated the text and published it with his own commentary as Jang Bahadur in Europe (Sahayogi, 1983). What follows is an excerpt dealing with Jang Bahadur's sojourn in France, and the box is an amusing incident as reported in a French newspaper.

our hundred miles from London is Paris, the French sovereign's capital. The journey involves a sea-crossing of eighty miles. The Prime Minister set out by rail from Belait [England] three hours before nightfall and reached the coast by evening. During the crossing by steamer everyone was giddy and sick. A gale had arisen and the waves it produced rocked the ship. Nine hours after nightfall the Prime Minister reached the coast and got some sleep in a hotel. In the morning he boarded a train and reached Paris three hours after dawn. At the news that the Gorkha Prime Minister General Jang Bahadur Kunwar Ranaji was arriving a crowd of one hundred and twenty-five thousand had gathered, including people of all classes. The government had arranged for his stay in a famous house in the lovely city of Paris. A great amount of food and other necessities awaited him there. The French Prime Minister escorted him to the house. He was treated with great consideration and attention.
The day after, the French Prime Minister came to take him for a drive in a carriage and showed him all the sights: the interior and exterior of the palace, storehouses, parks, gardens, canals, tanks and cisterns, paintings, dance-shows in various places, fortifications, the city centre, elephants and horses, strange animals and birds from different countries, and churches. The local merchants and craftsmen came bringing wonderful things. The Prime Minister bought between a hundred and a hundred and fifty thousand rupees worth of items.

At this time the French sovereign [the president, Louis Napoleon] was in the west of the country. After about a week he returned to Paris and the following day sent an invitation for the Nepalese Prime Minister to come to the palace. The sovereign, who was seated in the drawing-room, got up and came to the door to receive him. He took him by the hand and greeted him. He asked him about his journey and the Prime Minister gave him a full account. Speaking in complimentary terms the sovereign told him that he had heard how in Hindustan the Gorkha and British territories bordered one another and that it was by divine providence that they were actually meeting. Then he said that if there was anything he needed or if he wished to see dancing, fortifications, the army, the lawbook, arsenals, or anything else the country had to offer, then he should mention it to his cousin, the Prime Minister. At this point the sovereign called his own Prime Minister into his presence. The interview was a very courteous one.

France has an army of six hundred thousand. The former sovereign's army and the common people staged a revolt, established a republic, drove out the sovereign and made Bonaparte President. As President he has kept the people and the army happy with his policies. There is dancing and entertainment in various places. Immensely wealthy merchants live in Paris and the city's inhabitants are very rich. The city is full of splendid mansions with glass windows, glass roofs and various kinds of pictures. Chandeliers provide the illumination. Gold and silver are used for making pots and pans or for gilding them, and for pictures in the houses. They also make gold and silver thread used for embroidering hems and for tassles.

These are the only uses for gold and silver. No one wears these metals as jewellery. They wear precious stones if they can afford them, otherwise no ornaments at all. The women, whatever their class, all wear a dress of satin, a woollen shawl, stockings; and gloves, a white hat and shoes. The men are all dressed on the one pattern: a hat of black woollen cloth, a shirt, trousers, gloves, socks and a scarf. The main streets are one hundred and fifty feet broad, the other streets seventy-five. Throughout the city squares, large open spaces and streets are paved with stone. On the roadsides shade is provided by large trees. Thousands of coaches move along the roads. There is no sewage, rubbish, mud or dirt visible in the streets. No one is to be seen in the city wearing dirty, poor quality or torn clothes.

In the midst of the town are huge parks in which flowers of many different colours make a beautiful display. Parks are full of birds from different countries, deer, varieties of bear, monkeys, zebras, rhinos, buffaloes, sheep, goats and other kinds of animals, flowers and trees. The streets are built as if in a picture. There are shops selling things to eat-bread, meat and wine. The gas-lights in parks, the city centre, squares and large open spaces, in the streets and in the windows are as bright as moonlight. Always and everywhere lights shine through the night as if it were Diwali. When night falls the young people of the city, both men and women, come to the parks, dance and buy and eat bread, meat and wine.

Laughing and joking, they enjoy themselves greatly. Some learn to ride horses, others fire rifles at targets. Thus people enjoy themselves greatly, night and day. The army is stationed on all sides of the city at a distance of ten or twelve miles in the forts and barracks. Seeing this city of Paris is like being on Mount Kailas, and indeed, one finds oneself suspecting it might really be Kailas. In the middle of the city there is a tower built from cannon-balls brought back by Bonaparte after his conquest of nine realms. By ascending the tower one gets a wonderful view of the heaven-like city. The Prime Minister was taken to a number of palaces built for pleasure and relaxation. In the drawing-rooms of the richly decorated palaces carpets, tables and couches are placed at intervals, and there are chandeliers, mirrors, pictures, bowls of gold and silver, and different kinds of vases, all making a splendid display. From the windows on one side can be seen huge ponds, with delightful fountains sending water up to a height of a hundred and fifty feet. On another side are huge gardens. The spreading branches of the groves provide deep shade.

The nobles are all energetically engaged in their own work. No one quarrels with anyone else. The chief nobles are ten or twelve ministers, all with equal powers. If one of them does wrong, the other ten ministers all judge his case.

Fifty-four miles from the French city is a large forest, called Fatanbulu [Fontainebleu], in the midst of which a town has been built. Two regiments of foot guards and one of cavalry are stationed there. There is a palace which cost seventy million rupees to build, is five storeys high and has hanging in it pictures of sovereigns of the last three hundred years. There are pictures showing the royal army fighting in different places, with nymphs watching from flying chariots. The chandeliers are past counting. Chairs, couches and thrones, all kept clean, are positioned at intervals. In the worship-room a glittering collection of chalices, ornaments, costumes and rugs are placed as offerings to a god who looks as if he is about to speak. These objects, which defy description, have been left undisturbed for the last three years. In the reception room are various articles made of gold: pictures, chandeliers and the surrounds of glass windows. Rubies, emeralds, diamonds, pearls and coral are set in the sovereign's table. Opening the windows on all sides of the drawing-room, one sees to the south large ponds covering an area two miles in circumference, surrounded by stone steps and containing very clear, cold water with fish and swans. To the east are large gardens full of different kinds of flowers in bloom. At the time of the Prime Minister's visit several varieties of fruit were ready to pick: pomegranates, grapes, pears, apples and many others. Fountains water the trees along picturesque paths. To the north is a fine clean city with a large market. To the west, a large open space where at the time a thousand cavalry were drilling. Citizens had come in large numbers to watch the delightful sight. The local people are very pleasant and, as it is neither too hot nor too cold, it is a very comfortable place.

Fatanbulu has a connection with Bonaparte who gathered an army of 500,000, defeated the peoples of seven realms and then went into Russia. The Russian sovereign lost confidence and evacuating his own army and people from his capital, set it on fire. It started to snow and Bonaparte's army was unable to find shelter and was exposed to the winter weather, as a result of which only three hundred thousand out of the army of five million survived. The forces of the sovereigns of nine realms took this opportunity to come after him; now that Bonaparte was in trouble and retreating they were in pursuit. As Bonaparte neared his own city of Paris, all the ordinary citizens appealed to him. "The five gods have turned against you," they said, "your soldiers have been killed, in Russia and now the sovereigns of the nine realms are pursuing you. So you must go to the town of Fatanbulu in the forest, where there is a fine palace for you to stay in." They said they would help him in other ways, and Bonaparte, accepting that the people had spoken correctly, went to the town in the forest called Fatanbulu and stayed there. At this point the sovereigns of the nine realms consulted together. They concluded they would never conquer the country. Its people were too strong, and, besides, God had already punished them enough. One sovereign had been defeated by nine and it was not right that the country should be taken over by any one of them alone. Besides the people would not accept such an arrangement. Therefore they ought to put on the throne the former French sovereign who had been deposed by Bonaparte and who was now living in London. Napoleon would be sent to the island of Yalavu [Elba], and given an allowance of one hundred thousand rupees a month, equivalent to one million two hundred thousand a year, while the old French sovereign would be restored and they themselves would in future remain in their own countries. The agreement also provided that if any of the sovereigns committed any offence the other eight would combine to defeat him. The former French sovereign was enthroned, while Bonaparte, after signing a statement that he had abdicated willingly, went to Yalavu.

The President asked the Nepalese Prime Minister whether he would like to visit Fatanbulu as it was where the nine sovereigns had concluded their agreement. Accompanied by the President's cousin, the Minister, the Prime Minister travelled by rail to the town of Fatanbulu. He was told about the forest town's palace, the ponds, the barracks, the gardens, the fortifications, the cavalry's training, and about Bonaparte's exploits. The Prime Minister was then taken in a carriage to see the whole of the forest. He was shown the work that each previous sovereign had done and was treated with great consideration. Then he made the return journey of 54 miles to Paris. The round trip of 108 miles was completed in just under three hours- their speed was faster than the wind.

The whole country is full of gardens and the people grow a lot of fruit. Rice is not cultivated but wheat, oats and cotton are. It is forbidden to slaughter any livestock within the city of Paris. They do the slaughtering outside and bring the meat into the city. They abide by regulations that govern food, agriculture, commerce and military service. The common people, army, nobles and sovereign are all governed by the Parament [Parliament] assembly and both people and army are very content. The city of Paris is continually expanding. The French create standards for everything and work very skilfully. In skilfulness they are the teachers of the whole world. There are palaces built on ten or twelve sites and contingents of the army are stationed at intervals everywhere.

Fourteen miles from the city of Paris is a place called Versel. For the last fifteen hundred years French sovereigns have been building a palace there and construction is still going on. The palace covers an area two miles in circumference, and is surrounded by huge gardens and ponds. There is a maintained forest all around it and in the middle of a clearing is a small city, the size of Patan in Nepal. Roads lead away from it on all sides. The place is full of flower gardens and fruit trees and seems just like heaven. There are barracks and forts and two thousand troops are stationed there under the command of a colonel. The sovereign gave instructions for the Nepalese Prime Minister to be shown this place and sent his cousin to accompany him. They completed the journey of fourteen miles by rail in twenty-five minutes, and local senior officials gave them a courteous welcome. They took the keys of the palace and showed them the reception and other rooms, balconies, terraces, ball-room, treasury, store rooms, in fact the entire palace. Great travellers and learned men have written that no other palace anywhere in the world is as beautiful. Every room, whatever its size, is full of gilded paintings. The pictures and chandeliers are beyond counting. In the whole palace there are 250 reception and other rooms. In every room there are huge paintings of battles fought by previous sovereigns. Bonaparte is shown making his brothers sovereigns after defeating the sovereigns of seven nations, performing mighty deeds himself on the battlefield, installing himself as sovereign, marrying a sovereign's daughter and winning great victories after invading different countries with an army of five million. All the paintings show armies, chieftains, fortifications, and maps of different countries and the panorama defies description.

Show of arms
One day the sovereign of Paris asked the Gorkha Prime Minister if he had any special request. When he replied that he would like to see a parade of nine hundred thousand troops, the French sovereign said he would show him such a parade at the barracks called Barsya. However, all the nobles now appealed to the sovereign. "This place," they said, "is called repaplin [republic]. If a hundred thousand troops are brought together the army could do whatever it liked." So the Prime Minister, the Commander-in-Chief and the nobles of the Parament council asked the sovereign that hundreds of thousands of troops should not be brought together and he agreed. He ordered that a parade of fifty thousand be held instead, and so cavalry and infantry were drawn from nearby barracks and a parade of that size held. Salutes were given and guns fired in salute. The entire army saluted the Prime Minister and he was shown its drill. In order to see this parade senior officials and lady sahibs of the city of Paris had driven out in thousands of carriages. Everyone paid his respects to the Nepalese Prime Minister as a very distinguished man. The French nobles, councillors and older people remarked to one another that the Nepalese Prime Minister was a man of great distinction; he was handsome in appearance, wealthy, talented and courageous and there was alertness in his way of walking, sitting and talking. They said he was an intelligent man who wanted to see, hear and find out everything for himself, that he did not consider it a burden to spend his money when it was right to do so, that it was a point of pride with him to give to everyone and take from no one. It was said in the assembly that in the nature of his actions, in the appropriateness of his speech, in the way he looked at things, spoke, walked, laughed and sat he resembled their own former sovereign and would surely prove to be a great man.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)