Yesterday evening, 31st March, the RAS hosted the launch of Thomas Bell’s book, “Kathmandu”. In a packed lecture room, David Gellner, Professor of Social Anthropology at Oxford University, introduced this evening. Kathmandu is a city much loved and known by Professor Gellner but he gave praise for the way in which Bell has portrayed the city within this new publication.

Professor Gellner introduces "Kathmandu"
Professor Gellner introduces “Kathmandu”

Thomas Bell gave a short introduction about the book and then proceeded to take questions from the many interested people within the audience. He has a long history with Nepal having first moved there to cover the civil war for the Daily Telegraph and “Kathmandu” follows the author’s story through a decade in the city and seeks to unravel something of the city’s history, cultural practices and reinventions of itself. Bell currently lives in Kathmandu with his family. His publishers, Haus Publishing Ltd, were present at the event to sell copies of his books and kindly donated a copy to the RAS Library.

Thomas Bell answering questions from the audience
Thomas Bell answering questions from the audience

The RAS also has a long history with Kathmandu, particularly through the Brian Houghton Hodgson Collections. Hodgson was mentioned in the last blog post concerning his correspondence from Jang Bahadar, the Nepalese Prince. Our collections, however, contain more than letters. Hodgson wanted to record the area in which he was living, both when in Nepal and later when living in Darjeeling. He was sent to Nepal first as Assistant Resident, and later as Postmaster being subsequently promoted to Acting Resident. Hodgson was a polymath interested particularly in zoology, in architecture and in Buddhism. One of the ways in which Hodgson acquired his record was to commission paintings and drawings of the local architecture. In particular he commissioned Raj Man Singh in 1844 and the Society holds 50 drawings of Nepalese architecture dating from that time along with more that 20 other pictures of architecture and culture.

Thomas Bell’s Kathmandu dips into history but mainly focuses on the present city, illuminating a place that has through history been closed to the western world.. Hodgson was one of the first westerners to explore the area. Here are some pictures revealing the Kathmandu of Hodgson’s time.

British Ambassador's House, in the Gothis style (Head Cat.022.058)
British Ambassador’s House, in the Gothic style (Head Cat.022.058)


The Kasthamandapa. Built in the reign of Lakshmi Sinh (Head Cat.022.049)
The Kasthamandapa built in the reign of Lakshmi Nar Sinh (Head Cat.022.049)


Bhim Sen's country house at Gokarna, near Kathmandu (Head Cat.022.040)
Bhim Sen’s country house at Gokarna, near Kathmandu (Head Cat.022.040)


The Dhansa Temple (Head Cat.022.030)
The Dhansa Temple (Head Cat.022.030)


The Durbar (Head Cat.022.055)
The Durbar (Head Cat.022.055)


The next event at the RAS in the Britain-Nepal Commemoration Series will be on Tuesday April 12th when Isabella Tree will launch her book, “The Living Goddess”.This book explores the myth, religion, history behind the Living Goddess tradition in Kathmandu. Tree has interviewed priests, caretakers and former Living Goddesses to create a portrait of this practice, seen as the embodiment of Dewi for the Nepali people, to create a moving and compelling book.  The launch will begin at 6.30pm and is open to all.

Before that event, on Wednesday 6th April, Florence D’Souza will launch her book, “Knowledge, mediation and empire” in which she explores James Tod’s journeys among the Rajput. Tod was an active member of the RAS, and like Hodgson, we have a significant amount of material donated by him. Again the event begins at 6.30pm and we welcome you to join us on this occasion.