The Ranas, a caste of political dictators, ruled Nepal outright or behind the scenes for 104 years from 1846 until 1951. They treated Nepal like it was their huge estate and largely kept the royal family virtual prisoners. According to “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook: “After 1800, the heirs of Prithvi Narayan Shah proved unable to maintain firm political control over Nepal. A period of internal turmoil followed, heightened by Nepal's defeat by the British in a war from 1814 to 1816. Stability was restored after 1846 when the Rana family gained power, entrenched itself through hereditary prime ministers, and reduced the monarch to a figurehead. The Rana regime, a highly centralized autocracy, pursued a policy of isolating Nepal from external influences. This policy helped Nepal maintain its national independence during the colonial era, but also impeded the country's economic development.” [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders” Yearbook, Gale, 2009]

The Ranas came to power in the 1846 Kot Massacre when the nearly the entire noble class was wiped and the Shahs were left as puppet kings while the Ranas pulled the strings behind the scenes. The massacre occurred after the fighting broke out at the palace after the murder of the queen’s love. Jang Bahadur Rana, the central figure of the incident, restored order with his private army and seized power with his brothers. He declared himself prime minister and decreed that the office of the prime minister could only be held by members of the Rana family, establishing a line of hereditary prime ministers, who controlled the government until 1950 while Shah dynasty kings were mere figureheads. The prime ministership became a hereditary office in his Rana family, not unlike the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan.

The Rana were aristocratic, feudal leaders and have been referred to as a family, a clan and caste. They were Chhetri but not Thakuris and have been called a Nepalese version of the Marie-Antoinette French royalty, opposed to all change and filing the royal court with intrigue, primarily in the form of brothers and cousin plotting among themselves and trying to seize power.

The Ranas did almost nothing to develop Nepal. They and the royal family propped up each other. They were the only people allowed to get an education. Money was spent on marble floors and chandeliers imported from Europe for their European-style palaces rather than on roads and schools. The countryside remained mired in feudalism. No middle class was allowed to develop. Anything that even hinted of opposition was repressed. Their primary contact with the outside world was supplying Gurkha soldiers to the British, who helped prop up the Ranas. Members of the Rana clan continue to hold positions of power within the government. They and the royal family intermarried. Their palaces have been turned into hotels and government offices.

Rana Rule

Under the Ranas, Nepal was purposely isolated from foreign influences. This policy helped it to maintain independence during the colonial period when Britain dominated India but also prevented economic and social modernization. Relations with Britain were amicable. A 1923 British-Nepalese treaty affirmed Nepal's full sovereignty. [Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., The Columbia University Press]

The Rana dynasty essentially became a parallel monarchy in which the preeminent authority was the prime minister, a hereditary position with unclear rules of succession. The de jure monarchy was reduced to a ceremonial position that legitimized Rana rule with occasional decrees of support, and monarchs were either exiled or kept under house arrest. Rampant nepotism and inefficient administration handicapped political development, and rural development suffered from the delegation of authority to local kings and landlords who acted as autonomous dictators. The Ranas provided some positive development, such as eliminating slavery, establishing schools and factories, and consolidating independence through pragmatic foreign relations, particularly with China and Britain. Yet, Nepal also had archaic health, transportation, and economic infrastructures and rampant poverty. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]

Although most Nepalis had little reason to support Rana rule, the dynasty’s end was largely precipitated by developments outside the country. Since the 1920s, Nepalis in India had published newspapers, formed political parties, and engaged in other activities challenging Rana rule. In the late 1940s, the British began their withdrawal from India and reduced their suppression of Nepali political groups, which took advantage of this opportunity to increase the scope and intensity of their activities, as well as their level of organization, particularly when the Nepali Congress party was formed in January 1947. The end of British rule in India in 1947 and the communist revolution in China in 1949 ended crucial foreign support for the Ranas, and India’s new government wanted democratic government in Nepal. By November 1950, Nepalese rebels operating from India engaged Rana troops in the Terai Region, and such activities were often supported by protests in Nepal. These mounting challenges eventually rendered the maintenance of power overly costly for the Ranas. On January 8, 1951, the last Rana oligarch, Mohan Shamsher, agreed to restore the king to power and hold elections. In February 1951, King Tribhuvan (r. 1911–55) returned to power.

Shah Kings

The King of Nepal — who ruled until 2008 — was a member of the Shah caste, or family, which descended from Gorkha (Gurkha) warriors and could trace its ancestry back to the mid-1770s and had been in and out of power since then, The King of Nepal was permitted only to marry other Shahs or members of the Rana caste. Only males could claim the throne. Any member of the royal family who married a foreigner lost his claim on the throne.

The Shah dynasty had a history of palace intrigues. The king was always regarded as upstanding and beyond reproach but some members of his court and family were regarded as scoundrels. One of the most infamous Nepalese was Prince Jung Badahur, a wealthy prime minister to the maharajah of Nepal, who reportedly paid 250,000 pounds in 1850 to have sex with a Laura Bell, a former Belfast shop assistant who became London's leading prostitute. It was not unusual for queens to have secret lovers. The king often ruled ambiguously, purposely not naming an heir, to prevent palace coups

The Shah kings were based in and exerted most of his power in the Kathmandu Valley. The rest of the country was on its own and was comprised communities and petty kingdoms that paid tribute to the king. Under royal rule, the king could amend the constitution at will. Political enemies were imprisoned for up to 14 years for "offenses that will remain unknown to you."

The monarchy has traditionally been supported by wealthy citizens but was not necessarily respected by Nepal’s rural people. The Nepalese king has traditionally not enjoyed the same kind of support from ordinary citizens as, say, the Thai king.

The Shah kings became rich from trade that passed through the Kathmandu Valley and made a policy of keeping outsiders out. Few outsiders were let in. At its height the Shah kingdom stretched from Kashmir to Sikkim and embraced parts of Tibet and northern India. Things began going bad them when they provoked a war with Tibet.

Nepali Feudalism

Until a few decades Nepal was a feudal Hindu kingdom similar to the mini-states ruled by maharajahs in India. Through most of its history the kingdom consisted of impoverished subjects ruled by an absolute monarchy.

Under Nepalese feudalism, a small number of landlords held most of the agricultural land. The state extended its control over the land by the administrative device of making land grants and assignments and raising revenues. Most of the landlords who were granted state lands were not directly involved in farming but contracted with tenant farmers on a customary, and hereditary, basis. The basic purpose of land reform was to protect the tenant farmers, take away excess holdings from landlords, and distribute property to farmers with small landholdings (holding one to three hectares) and landless agrarian households. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991]

Nepalese feudalism existed under the rules raikur land tenure: , “a system of landlordism under which the rights of an individual to utilize and transfer land are recognized by the state as long as taxes are paid.” Under this system upper caste Brahmans seized land from other groups that was not actually lived on or cultivated because there was little documentation of who owned what. Soldiers were often given land instead of paid. This created conflicts between the Kathmandu-based Nepalis and other groups. [Source: John T. Hitchcock, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]

Feudalism endured in Nepal until the 1950s. Feudal rulers used their power to secure labor and grain. Most of the population has traditionally been poor, malnourished and prone to diseases like tuberculosis. Peasant who tried to learn to read and write risked being imprisoned or even killed. Some migrated into India to escape the demands of the feudal lords.

Kot Massacre

The death of Mathbar Singh set the stage for one of the crucial sequences of events in modern Nepalese history — the destruction of the old aristocracy and the establishment of a dictatorship of the prime minister. These events provided the long period of stability the country needed but at the cost of political and economic development. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

After three months of squabbling, a coalition ministry was formed in September 1845, again headed by Fateh Jang Chautaria. The real power behind the throne was the favorite of Queen Lakshmidevi, Gagan Singh, who controlled seven regiments in the army compared to the three under the prime minister. Abhiman Singh and Jang Bahadur also served as commanders, each with three regiments. Plots and counterplots continued until Gagan Singh was found murdered during the night of September 14, 1846. The queen was beside herself at the death of her favorite, whom she had hoped to use to elevate her own son to the monarchy. She commanded Abhiman Singh to assemble the entire military and administrative establishment of Kathmandu immediately at the courtyard of the palace armory (kot). *

Emotions ran high among the assembled bands of notables and their followers, who listened to the queen give an emotional harangue blaming the Pandes and demanding that the prime minister execute the Pande leader whom she suspected of the murder. While Abhiman Singh hesitated, fighting broke out in the crowd, and he was wounded. During the free-for-all that followed, swords and knives were used on all sides to dispatch opponents. Through some scheme that has never been explained adequately, the only leader with organized bodies of troops in the kot area was Jang Bahadur, whose troops suppressed the fighting, killing many of his opponents in the process. When the struggle subsided, the courtyard was strewn with the bodies of dozens of leading nobles and an unknown number of their followers — the cream of the Nepalese aristocracy. The Pande and Thapa families in particular were devastated during this slaughter. *

Why the Kot Massacre took place has never been established, although the queen herself was obviously at fault for calling the assembly and whipping it into a frenzy. It has always seemed suspicious that the king was notably absent when the fighting began and that Jang Bahadur was the only leader who was ready for trouble. The extent of the carnage was apparently unexpected. Jang Bahadur was the only true beneficiary of the massacre and became the only military leader in a position of strength in the capital. The next day, he became prime minister and immediately launched a purge that killed many of his aristocratic competitors and drove 6,000 people into exile in India. *

Jang Bahadur

History has not been kind to Jang Bahadur during the twentieth century. He was blamed for setting up a dictatorship that repressed the entire nation for more than 100 years and left it in a primitive economic condition. From the standpoint of the nineteenth century during which he lived, however, he was a pillar of strength who eliminated the useless factional fighting at court, introduced innovations into the bureaucracy and the judiciary, and made efforts to "modernize" Nepal. In this sense, he remains one of the most important figures in Nepalese history. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Jang Bahadur Kunwar's early career paralleled that of many members of the lower aristocracy in Nepal, despite the Kunwar family's claims of descent from Indian princes. Jang Bahadur's great-grandfather was an important military leader under Prithvi Narayan Shah in the eighteenth century, and during the war with China (1791-92) his grandfather was also a military leader, who became one of the four chief administrators (kaji) of the Gorkha-Nepalese state. His father, Bala Narasimha Kunwar, was in court the day Rana Bahadur Shah was murdered and killed the murderer on the spot. For this action, he was rewarded with the position of kaji, which was made hereditary in his family. Jang Bahadur joined the military service in 1832-33 at the age of sixteen. As maternal grandson of Bhimsen Thapa, he lost his job and his property when the latter fell. After wandering in north India for several years, he returned to Nepal as a captain in the artillery in 1840. In November 1841, he was asked by the king to join his bodyguard, and in January 1842 he began work as kaji in the palace. When Mathbar Singh returned to power, Jang Bahadur rose with him but Mathbar Singh disliked his ambition and had him removed to a lesser position on the staff of the heir apparent. When Fateh Jang Chautaria came to power, Jang Bahadur became fourth in the hierarchy of the coalition government and took pains to flatter the queen while showing no signs of ambition to Gagan Singh. A career opportunist, he was ready and waiting when the time came to act at the Kot Massacre. *

Queen Rajendralakshmi was not pleased by the new prime minister. She conspired to eliminate Jang Bahadur and elevate her son to the throne. The Basnyat Conspiracy, so called because many of its participants belonged to one of the last leading noble families, the Basnyats, was betrayed, and its ringleaders were rounded up and executed in 1846. A meeting of leading notables packed with Rana supporters found the queen guilty of complicity in the plot, stripped her of her powers, and sent her into exile in Banaras along with King Rajendra. The king still had illusions of grandeur and began plotting his return from India. In 1847 Jang Bahadur informed the troops of the exiled king's treasonous activities, announced his dethronement, and elevated Rajendra's son to the throne as Surendra Bikram Shah (1847-81). Rajendra was captured later that year in the Terai and brought back as a prisoner to Bhadgaon, where he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. *

Jang Bahadur Rule

By 1850 Jang Bahadur had eliminated or overawed all of his major rivals, installed his own candidate on the throne, appointed his brothers and cronies to all the important posts, and ensured that major administrative decisions were made by himself as prime minister. At this point, he took the unprecedented step of traveling to Britain, leaving from Calcutta in April 1850 and returning to Kathmandu in February 1851. Although he unsuccessfully tried to deal directly with the British government while he was there, the main result of the tour was a great increase in goodwill between the British and Nepal. Recognizing the extent of the world and the power of industrialized Europe, he became convinced that close cooperation with the British was the best way to guarantee Nepal's independence. From then on, European architecture, fashion, and furnishings became more prevalent in Kathmandu and among the Nepalese aristocracy in general. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

As part of his modernization plans, Jang Bahadur commissioned leading administrators and interpreters of texts on dharma to revise and codify the legal system of the nation into a single body of laws, a process that had not been carried out since the seventeenth century under Ram Shah of Gorkha. The result was the 1,400-page Muluki Ain of 1854, a collection of administrative procedures and legal frameworks for interpreting civil and criminal matters, revenue collection, landlord and peasant relations, intercaste disputes, and marriage and family law. In contrast to the older system, which had allowed execution or bodily mutilation for a wide range of offenses, the Muluki Ain severely limited — without abolishing — corporal punishment. For example, the old system gave wide scope for blood vengeance by aggrieved parties, such as cuckolded husbands, but the Muluki Ain restricted such opportunities. Substitutions included confiscation of property or prison terms. Torture to obtain confessions was abolished. Strict penalties were set down for the abusers of judicial positions and also for persons maliciously accusing judges of corruption. There were statutes of limitations for judicial actions. Caste-based differences in the degree of punishments remained throughout, with higher castes (for example, Brahmans) exempt from the corporal punishments and heavy fines that lower-caste members incurred for the same crimes. This distinction was in keeping with the traditional approach of the dharma shastras, or ancient legal treatises. *

After his return from Europe, Jang Bahadur took steps to increase his hold over the country. He reduced the king to a prisoner in his own palace, surrounded by agents of the prime minister and restricted and supervised at all times. No one outside the king's immediate family could see the king without permission from the prime minister. All communications in the name of the king were censored, and he was allowed to read only approved literature. In 1856 the king issued a royal decree (sanad) that formalized the dominance of the Kunwar family. There were three main provisions in this crucial document. First, the prime minister had complete authority over all internal administration, including civil, military, and judicial affairs, and all foreign relations, including the powers to make war and peace. Second, Jang Bahadur was made great king (maharajah) of Kaski and Lamjung districts, in effect serving as their independent ruler. The Shah king retained the title of maharajadhiraja (supreme king) and the right to use the honorific term shri five times with his name. The prime minister could use shri three times with his name. In this way, Jang Bahadur stopped short of taking the throne outright but elevated his family to a level second only to the royal house, which remained as a symbol of the nation. Finally, provisions were established for hereditary succession to the post of prime minister. Brothers and then sons would inherit the position in order of seniority. These provisions meant that the dictatorship of the Kunwar family, a virtual monarchy within the monarchy, would be passed down in the family for generations, with no legal mechanism for changing the government. Later, Jang Bahadur established official Rolls of Succession that ranked all his descendants in relation to their hereditary rights to the office of prime minister. *

Jang Bahadur sealed the arrangement with the Shah Dynasty by arranging marriages between his heirs and the royal house. In 1854 his eldest son, Jagat Jang (aged eight), married the eldest daughter (aged six) of Surendra Bikram Shah. In 1855 his second son married the second daughter of the king. The ultimate test was passed in 1857, when heir apparent Trilokya Bir Bikram married two daughters of Jang Bahadur. A son of this union ascended to the throne in 1881. *

Relations with Tibet, China, Britain and India Jang Bahadur Rule

In 1854, Nepal again invaded Tibet, which was forced to pay tribute from then until 1953. Nepal began to experience some successes in international affairs during the tenure of Jang Bahadur. To the north, relations with Tibet had been mediated through China since Nepal's defeat in 1792, and during the early nineteenth century embassies had to make the arduous journey to Beijing every five years with local products as tribute to the Qing emperor. By 1854, however, China was in decline and had fallen into a protracted period of disturbances, including the Taiping Rebellion (1851-64), revolts by Muslim ethnic groups north of Tibet, and war with European powers. The Nepalese mission to Beijing in 1852, just after the death of the sixth Panchen Lama, was allegedly mistreated in Tibet. Because of this slight, the Nepalese government sent a protest letter to Beijing and Lhasa outlining several grievances, including excessive customs duties on Nepalese trade. In 1855 Nepalese troops overran the Kuti and Kairang areas. Hostilities lasted for about a year, with successes and failures on both sides, until a treaty negotiated by the Chinese resident and ratified in March 1856 gave Nepalese merchants duty-free trade privileges, forced Tibet to pay an annual tribute of 10,000 rupees to Nepal, and allowed a Nepalese resident in Lhasa. In return, Nepal gave up territorial gains and agreed that it, as well as Tibet, would remain a tributary state subject to China. As the Qing Empire disintegrated later in the century, this tributary status was allowed to lapse, and even Tibet began to shake off its subordination. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The outbreak of disorder to the south also allowed the Nepalese army to take a more active role in international affairs. Beginning in May 1857, a series of related uprisings throughout north India — known as the Sepoy Rebellion — threatened to topple the power of the British East India Company. The uprisings began with widespread mutinies in the company's army and spread to include peasant revolts and alliances of the old Mughal aristocracy against the foreigner. Most of the major cities west of Bengal fell into rebel hands, and the aged Mughal emperor was proclaimed the leader of a national revolution. Initially there was some fear in British circles that Nepal would side with the rebels and turn the tide irrevocably against the British East India Company, but Jang Bahadur proved to be a loyal and reliable ally. At that point, immediately following hostilities in Tibet, the army of Nepal had grown to around 25,000 troops. Jang Bahadur sent several columns ahead and then marched with 9,000 troops into northern India in December 1857. Heading an army of 15,000 troops, he fought several hard battles and aided the British in their campaigns around Gorakhpur and Lucknow. The prime minister returned to Nepal triumphantly in March 1858 and continued to aid the British in rooting out "rebels" who had been dislocated during the chaos and sought refuge in the Terai. *

After the Sepoy Rebellion had been crushed and Britain had abolished the British East India Company and taken direct control of India in 1858, Nepal received a reward for its loyalty. Western sections of the Terai that had been ceded through the Treaty of Sagauli in 1816 were returned. Henceforth, the British were firm supporters of Jang Bahadur's government, and Nepal later became an important source of military recruits for the British army. *

In 1858 King Surendra bestowed upon Jang Bahadur Kunwar the honorific title of Rana, an old title denoting martial glory used by Rajput princes in northern India. He then became Jang Bahadur Rana, and the later prime ministers descended from his family added his name to their own in honor of his accomplishments. Thus they all became "Jang Bahadur Ranas," and their line became known as the house of the Ranas. Jang Bahadur remained prime minister until 1877, suppressing conspiracies and local revolts and enjoying the fruits of his early successes. He exercised almost unlimited power over internal affairs, taking for his own use whatever funds were available in the treasury. He lived in the high style of an Anglicized native prince in the British Raj, although unlike the Indian princes he was the ruler of a truly independent nation, an ally rather than a subordinate of the British. He died as he had lived, a man of action, during a hunting expedition in the Terai. *

The Ranas

After the death of Jang Bahadur, his eldest surviving brother, Ranoddip Singh, became prime minister (1877-85). Because he was childless, his term in office was full of plots by Jang Bahadur's sons and nephews over succession. These plots were complicated by the death of King Surendra Bikram Shah in 1881 and the royal accession of Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah (reigned 1881-1911) at the age of six. Finally, the doddering Ranoddip Singh was assassinated, and Bir Shamsher, son of Jang Bahadur's youngest and closest brother, became prime minister (1885-1901). Bir Shamsher immediately launched a purge of his opponents. While in power, he brought piped water to the Kathmandu Valley, built a suspension bridge at Kulekhani, and set up a palace school where English was taught. His successor for three months was the progressive Dev Shamsher, who emancipated all female slaves, established a network of Nepalilanguage schools called Bhasa Pathsalas, and started the first Nepali-language newspaper, Gorkhapatra (Gorkha Newsletter). A coalition of his brothers, upset with his radical tendencies, forced Dev Shamsher's resignation and retirement to India. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Chandra Shamsher took over (1901-29) and attempted to resolve the unending family feuds over succession rights by amending the Rolls of Succession that had originally been set up by Jang Bahadur. The modified Rolls of Succession contained three schedules: "A" class Ranas were the direct, legitimate offspring of Ranas, who could dine with any high-caste Chhetri family; "B" class Ranas usually were born of second wives and could take part in all forms of social interaction with high-caste Chhetris except the sharing of boiled rice; and "C" class Ranas were the offspring of wives and concubines of lower status with whom interdining was forbidden. The "A" class Ranas could fill the highest positions in the army or civil administration, but "B" or "C" class Ranas at that time could only reach the level of colonels in the army and could never become prime ministers. At the time, this plan seemed adequate for finalizing everyone's position in the state and stopping conspiracy. In the long run, however, the rigid Rolls of Succession alienated large numbers of aristocrats who saw little room for advancement in the Rana system, lost interest in preserving it, and even began opposing it. The alienation increased when Juddha Shamsher (in power 1932-45) removed all "C" class Ranas, including some of his own sons, from the swollen Rolls of Succession and appointed many of them to administrative positions in districts far from the capital. In this way, the Rana dictatorship slowly created opposition within its own ranks. *

Prithvi Narayan Shah and his successors had used the older administrative systems of Gorkha and the kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley to run the central government of a united Nepal that was in theory accountable to the king. Jang Bahadur had inherited control over these systems and proceeded to undercut their power by packing them with his own officials or by establishing parallel offices that duplicated functions and, in effect, took over the work of older offices. There had always been an Assembly of Lords filled by leading aristocrats, military leaders, administrators, or head priests. In the past, this assembly had met periodically to advise the king and make important decisions. Under Jang Bahadur and his successors, it was full of Ranas and their henchmen. Aside from the codification of the Muluki Ain, the assembly functioned as a rubber stamp for Rana decisions. Accounting procedures and records had been kept by an Office of Accounts, a State Treasury, and a Land Revenue Office. Under Jang Bahadur, separate offices staffed by his appointees kept records of military grants, religious endowments, land revenue, treasury correspondence, and military correspondence — in other words, the most important components of the older royal administration. Special offices for the investigation of corruption and for police matters (staffed by army personnel) formed the core of a police state. There were few avenues open for government personnel to work outside of a network dominated by Rana interests; those who did could be detected and were either punished or coopted into the Rana system. The government of late nineteenth-century Nepal thus stripped the monarchy of any real power and maintained a late medieval administrative framework. *

Limited Modernization Under the Ranas

Because their power was ultimately illegitimate, resting on the abdication of responsibilities by the king and his virtual incarceration, the Ranas became expert at preventing any kind of challenge. In the process, they succeeded in isolating Nepal from many of the changes happening throughout the world and even in nearby India. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The Ranas were not totally inactive during the period of dictatorship, however. On the legal front, suttee, or the suicide of a wife by throwing herself onto her husband's funeral pyre, was abolished in 1920, and slavery was abolished in 1929. Tri-Chandra College was established in 1918, and by the 1940s there were several high schools in the country and two Nepali literary magazines. The Ranas also attended to economic development by founding the Pharping Hydroelectric Company in 1911 and establishing the Nepal Industrial Board, a jute mill, a match factory, two cotton mills, the Nepal Plywood and Bobbin Company, and several rice mills during the 1930s. As for public health, the first tuberculosis clinic was set up in 1934. In view of the population of approximately 6 million in the 1930s, these accomplishments seem pitiful. Almost all Nepalese remained illiterate and uninformed about any part of the world outside their villages or, at best, their valleys. Public health and economic infrastructure had not advanced past medieval levels in most areas, and doing anything about it was proving impossible. Under Bhim Shamsher (reigned 1929-32), fifty people were arrested and fined for setting up a public library. *

Because the Ranas relied on the goodwill of the army and the British government to support their dictatorship, the army served as a legitimate — and perhaps the most viable — means for Nepalese citizens to achieve upward mobility or to see the world. During World War I (1914-18), the government of Nepal loaned more than 16,000 troops to the British, and 26,000 Nepalese citizens who were part of British Indian regiments fought in France and the Middle East. In gratitude the British government in 1919 bestowed on Nepal an annual payment of 1 million Indian rupees (US$476,000) in perpetuity and in 1920 transformed the British resident in Kathmandu into an envoy. A Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship signed in 1923 confirmed the independence of Nepal and its special relationship with British India. As long as British rule remained stable in India and the army offered a safety valve to release social pressures in Nepal, the Ranas were able to use their total control over internal affairs to isolate their country, a situation that could not long endure. *

Britain in Nepal

The 1814-16 - Anglo-Nepalese War culminated in treaty which establishes Nepal's current boundaries. During the war the Gurkha armies of the Shah dynasty were defeated the British who were expanding northward. in India. The British were impressed with the Gurkhas fighting skills and began recruiting them and organized them into one of Britain’s ethnic regiments. The Nepalis were forced to relinquish territory they had captured in India and Tibet and the current borders of Nepal took shape.

In the British era, Nepal was a kind of buffers ate between he British Raj and China that was in the British sphere of influence. It was more of satellite to a colony than a colony in its own right. By some assessments Nepal suffered from all the negative elements of colonialism (disruption of culture and military subservience) without gaining any of the positive aspects of (schools, roads and hospitals).

The British never had much of a presence in Nepal because the landscape was so rugged, there weren't many resources worth plundering, and the Nepalis were not welcoming to outsiders. The primary activity of the British in Nepal seem to be surveying. Britain was able to get control over much of the Himalayan region with the help of Nain Singh, a Bhutanese who often traveled in disguise, who provided British mapmakers with important data.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: “Nepal came in contact with the influence of larger powers outside South Asia in the late 18th century as a consequence of the British East India Company's conquest of India to its south and a trade dispute with Tibet that led to a Nepalese confrontation with China. Peace was imposed by China in 1792, after Chinese forces had invaded, then withdrawn from Nepal. In the same year, a commercial treaty was ratified between Britain and Nepal. Relations with the British in India remained peaceful until 1814 when a border dispute led to inconclusive hostilities between Nepal and the British East India Company. When the fighting ended two years later, Nepal's independence was preserved in an agreement in which Nepal yielded a large piece of territory to the Company on its southern border and agreed to the establishment of a permanent British resident at Kathmandu. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

“The 1816 agreement (reaffirmed by a formal treaty of friendship between Nepal and Great Britain in 1923) also laid the groundwork for more than a century and a half of amicable relations between Britain and Nepal. Included under the agreement was Nepalese approval for British recruitment of Nepalese Gurkha mercenaries for the British-officered Indian army. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Nepal's Rana prime minister sent some 12,000 additional Nepalese troops in support of British garrisons; he also offered troops to US president Abraham Lincoln in 1866 during the US Civil War. Over the years, the Gurkha regiments serving in the British Indian army (and after 1947 under both Indian and British flags) won renown for their bravery, skill, and endurance — in Afghanistan in 1879 and Tibet in 1904, in Europe, Asian, and Africa in the 20th century's two world wars, in the UN action in the Belgian Congo in the 1960s, in India's conflicts with China and Pakistan, and in 1982, in Britain's conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (, Nepal Government National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.