KATHMANDU: It is said the Limbu King Bijay Narayan Raya Ing founded Bijaypur (the ‘city of triumph’) in 1584 and established it as the capital of Morang. It was soon conquered by the Sen Rulers of Makwanpur, who ruled the kingdom of Morang from 1608 till 1769. The political situation along the Himalayas was however drastically changing, as the last Sen King was assassinated and the newly crowned King Buddhikarna Raya Khebang sat on his throne in Bijaypur Palace. The Gorkha armies under King Prithvi Narayan Shah moved east and crossed the Arun River as early as 1771. It was however only in 1774, after several years of battles and intrigues, that a treaty was signed in Bijaypur between the Gorkhas and all but two Limbu Kingdoms. The remaining two kingdoms were integrated in 1776 after further battles — battles that pitched Limbus supporting Sikkim against Limbus supporting the Gorkhas. The integration of the Limbu kingdoms took place through a treaty which ensured them the right of self determination and the right to kipat land (communal land holdings). These rights were largely removed, notably during the period of Rana rule.
Bijaypur, the ‘city of triumph’ moves on to being called Dharan. Dharan is in fact a setup where large logs are sawed by a pair of workers using long saw blades, with one of them standing in a deep pit. To profit from the timbre trade with the British who were constructing extensive railway tracks, Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana founded Chandranagar in 1902. This is the old Dharan bazaar, at the foot of Bijaypur hillock. The city continued to grow with Juddha Nagar, named after another Rana prime minister, and today is known as the New Bazaar. It is interesting to note that though most of the Tarai has been denuded of its forests; there is still to the south of Dharan the Charkoshe Jhadi (the eight mile wilderness) where seasonally wild elephants roam.
In 1953, the British Gurkha Recruitment Centre was established in Dharan. Several hundred Gurkhas were enlisted every year and sent to Hong Kong. The well planned 452 acre Ghopa camp was constructed with a standard of quality and services probably not found anywhere else in the country. The layout on a slightly sloping ground ensured good drainage. Beautiful trees defined the ambience of the camp. There was a golf course and earlier even an airstrip. The camp was closed down and handed over to the government of Nepal in 1989 and became part of the B P Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS). The entire camp was to be converted phase-wise into the residential area for the hospital newly built by the Indian government. It was sometime in 1994 when Architect G B Shrestha in Biratnagar asked me to visit the Ghopa camp, which ensued to become a campaign to save the beautiful camp. Three trainees who had come from Germany were made to survey the entire camp and identify every single tree that would need to be preserved. The master plan proposed a layout for all the hospital requirements with least disruption to the character of the place. Even the golf course was to be kept.
I have not been to Dharan for over a decade. I still have to smile when I think back and remember how exasperated the contractor was when trying to demolish the supposedly obsolete temporary concrete structures of the British. This raised questions on the comparative quality and stability of the newly constructed buildings. When I sometimes check on Google Earth, I am relieved to see that the Ghopa camp seems to have retained its original integrity.
(The author is an architect and can be
contacted at email@example.com)