FIRST IMAGES FROM SHANGRI-LA

Colonel George Ramsay faced a dilemma. He had been reminded a second time by Calcutta that the Viceroy Lord Canning had instructed a compilation of photographs of native peoples and distinctive landscapes and monuments to be documented across the vast Indian empire for his private collection. He wanted them from Nepal too. Photography was a new medium and it had not come to Nepal yet. Colonel Ramsay could not commission local artists to work with this new medium as there were none. Another restriction he faced was that even if a professional photographer was to come from India, he would not be allowed to visit outside Kathmandu Valley. As the British Resident in Kathmandu, Colonel Ramsay himself could not visit outside as per the restraining terms of the Treaty of Sugauly.

He decided to write to Calcutta certain to face the ire of the government for not succeeding to fulfill as trivial a wish of Lord and Lady Canning as having photographs from Nepal for their collection. What kind of resident was he whiling his time away in splendid isolation as he had very little to perform there; Nepal was not a colony? Uncomfortable questions would be asked. Another impediment was that the prime minister of Nepal had consolidated power and he was the de facto ruler and Ramsay did not know how Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana would react to his request of granting permission to photograph his peoples and places.

Help came to him soon enough in the shape of the replacement of his Assistant Captain Hills who had recently resigned. The new assistant was a man who had learnt the new art of photography and had some experience already photographing Udaipur in distant Rajputana. Captain Clarence Comyn Taylor arrived in Kathmandu on 19 March, 1863 A.D. with photographic equipment and a growing passion for photography. Maharajah Jung Bahadur was an iconoclast of his times, he had crossed the black waters and ventured to Britain and France. He had formulated his Muluki Ain, the new law of the land, and he would fight to ban the twin evil practice of Sati and slavery. He embraced progress. Jung surprised Ramsay by taking the project of Lord Canning to heart and giving his full cooperation for Taylor to photograph Nepal. The Resident was happy and now he had to find a budget to commission Taylor. He would write to Calcutta again.

Captain Taylor was an accidental photographer. He had never  trained to be one. Son of General Sir Henry George Andrew Taylor of the Madras Army, he had been commissioned to serve in the Bengal Army. During the Indian Mutiny he was at the siege of Lucknow and he had seen active duty and had been severely wounded. Unable to continue with military service he had joined the Political Service and was subsequently posted in Udaipur. He took up photography as a hobby there. Now he was in exotic Nepal and he was as excited as a child to begin his new tour of duty. The photographs that he took during his years in Nepal from 1863 to 1865 were the first photos to come out of Nepal. He took photographs of ethnic groups such as the Magars and Gurungs, Sunuwars, Newars, Tibetans. He took landscape pictures of the royal cities of Kathmandu Valley, temple scape of Pashupatinath, Swoyambhunath, Taleju and innumerable other monuments. All these pictures would one day be published in London as part of a tome entitled, “The People of India: The Races and Tribes of Hindustan”.

Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana seems to have been caught up in the new art of photography. Taylor took pictures of King Surendra Bikram Shah, most likely the first time ever the king was photographed. Jung Bahadur might have been photographed in Europe during his visit but we do not have any that we can see today. We have got only portrait paintings and engravings from his visit. He allowed himself and his family to be photographed with alacrity by Taylor and these were to be the first photos taken in Nepal of the royal court. The world outside saw Nepal for the very first time; it was largely thanks to Viceroy Lord Canning’s wish to take home images of India as memorabilia for retirement and Maharajah Jung Bahadur Rana’s acquiescence. Colonel Ramsay had earned his stripes as an able Resident.

Photographs taken by Clarence Comyn Taylor

King Surendra Bikram Shah with palace officials

King Surendra Bikram Shah with Colonel George Ramsay, the British Resident, Raj Guru (Royal Preceptor), General Jagat Shumsher, brother of Jung Bahadur, and other high ranking officials
Maharajah Jung Bahadur with Jagat Jung and Jeet Jung his sons
Maharajah Jung Bahadur with his two daughters married to Crown Prince Trailokya
Jung Bahadur with Maharani Hiranya Garva Kumari

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