The Soviets had a penchant for declaring their cities “Hero Cities” in tribute to their resilience in the face of the mighty German Wehrmacht bearing down on them with all its might. Stalingrad, Leningrad and Kiev come to mind as cities that determined not to surrender. If there is one “Hero City” in Nepal, then it must be the legendary town of Kirtipur.

The town has been famous in Nepalese history as the citadel that fought the invading Gorkha army of King Prithivi Narayan Shah bravely – three heroic times. Kirtipur surrendered only after exacting a heavy price on the forces of the king, including the death of his favorite general Kalu Pandey in the first assault. In the second assault the king’s brother Surpratap was struck by an arrow in his eyes thus blinding him. It was only at the third attempt did the king conquer Kirtipur in 1767 A.D. opening up the route into the valley. Some historical accounts including the accounts of the Italian Capuchin priests proselytizing in the Kathmandu valley since 1714 A.D. under the tutelage of the ruling Malla kings say that the furious king ordered the mutilation of lips and noses of all adult male inhabitants in demonic revenge. As the Capuchins were packed off to India under suspicion of their collaboration with the British Raj to help the Malla kingdoms counter the Gorkhali invasion, these accounts need to be further scrutinized by historians as not just fabrication of the Christian order to paint the Gorkhalis as barbarians.

Spot where General Kalu Pandey fell

Located on the way to the famous temple of Dakshinkali in the southern corner of Kathmandu Valley, Kirtipur is perched on a hill strategically overlooking Kathmandu and Patan. The town has not been getting the recognition as a major tourist site it firmly deserves. During my recent visit to Kirtipur I was looking for a modest German bakery started by a Non-governmental Organization called Nepalhilfe (Nepal Relief) to teach the locals a new trade. Kirtipur Bakery has now grown to become an ambitious bakery-cum-cafe in another more strategic location. The “Heritage Walk” started by the local community is enchanting as it traverses through the ancient town along cobbled streets lined by quaint old houses built in Newari style a century ago. The temple dedicated to Bhairab, the avatar Lord Shiva manifests to annihilate evil, is another big attraction. Known as Bagh Bhairab, or Tiger Bhairab to further enchance his ferocity, the deity must have intermingled with the local population to battle the Gorkhalis. The temple was consecrated by Jagatpal Barma in B.S. 1572 (1516 A.D.). Another interesting temple is the Uma-Maheshwor Temple. Local lore has it that until very recently coinciding with the end of monarchy in Nepal, the priests were always baffled by the fact that someone had beaten them in offering milk to the stone statue no matter how early they opened the door for their morning prayers.

I was especially enamoured by the local school known as Kirtipur Middle School. My family’s association with the school dates back to 1952 A.D. when my father became the patron and the school was inaugurated as the Kiran Madhyamik Vidyalaya. Its earlier location was right behind the Bagh Bahirab Temple where a converted shed (sattal in Nepali), built by Kathmandu’s traders by the name of Munshi for religious ceremonies, stood. Says Tikaraj Maharjan, the school’s first head master now retired,”I took over the school in 1961 A.D. when it needed serious renovation and invited General Kiran to help him with the task as the school was named after him.” Help came in the shape of a personal donation of Rs. 400.00 from my father and soon after a huge contribution of Rs. 22,000.00 from the Indian Ambassador. The school was rebuilt and its name was changed to Kirtipur Madhyamik Vidhyalaya in 2025 B.S. (1969 A.D.). The school remained in its original location behind the temple until 2047 B.S. (1991 A.D.) when the locals decided that it impeded the views of the valley and so it was moved to its present location.

Earlier location of school
School at its present location

I found another connection with my family there. After the great earthquake of 1934 A.D. Maharajah Juddha Shumsher had imported fire engines and installed them in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Three large iron faucets located in Kirtipur acted both as taps and as hire hydrants to supply water to the fire engines in case of fire. He named them after his mother Juhar Kumari, the name in brass plates is still extant on the faucets after all these many years. I look at the Hero City with a different pair of eyes now.

Iron faucet with name of Maharajah Juddha’s mother Juhar Kumari Devi

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