Fragmentation of TundikhelNowhere is the rapid and unwarranted diminishing of open spaces in the Kathmandu Valley more visible than in the fragmentation of Tundikhel, by far the biggest public playground and open space in the Capital.
Nowhere is the rapid and unwarranted diminishing of open spaces in the Kathmandu Valley more visible than in the fragmentation of Tundikhel, by far the biggest public playground and open space in the Capital. It stretched 1,400 metres from Tripureshwor in the south to Rani Pokhari in the north. The field was about 150 to 200 metres broad. Before the first fragmentation of the public open space in 1956, there was a slope on the southern side where bamboo plants grew and children slid down the slope sitting tightly on a bamboo strip. But there was always a lurking fear that as one slid down the slope, one might fall into the nearby pond that existed then. The pond was said to be deep and full of lotus plants. This was in the southernmost part of Tundikhel. We used to call this part ‘Sano’ (small) Tundikhel, where there used to be many football matches.
However, in 1956, this southern part of the larger Tundikhel was fragmented. And this came in the form of a stadium. The stadium was constructed for sporting events to be organised for the coronation of the late king Mahendra. Initially called National Stadium, it later became known as Dasrath Stadium. Such a sports arena was needed then, even though it meant the beginning of the fragmentation of Tundikhel. But times have changed, and those who occupy the seats of power must seriously consider the need for another such stadium on the city’s outskirts, as the traffic problem is heightened whenever major tournaments are held at Dasrath Stadium. In addition, there is hardly enough parking space in the 60-year-old stadium, particularly during big sporting events.
The Tundikhel we knew then had no fences, and it stretched from Rani Pokhari to the Top Ghar (Cannon House). There was no Shahid Gate then. During the Ghode Jatra festival, horse and bicycle races used to take place from the southern to the northern end of Tundikhel. And in the field, the young and the old alike used to make proper use of the open space for playing, strolling, brisk walking, jogging or simply sitting on the green grass and relaxing. It was here that we, for the first time in the early 1950s, saw a few young school going girls indulging in such beneficial activities like skipping rope.
In the part of Tundikhel in front of the Army headquarters, top level football matches were played, and many of us young boys used to watch these matches sitting on the steps of the Jagannath Temple whenever there was rain. (The Jagannath Temple has been effectively blocked to ordinary people by the Central Jail and Nepal Telecom, yet authorities do nothing about it as if rules and laws do not apply to government entities.) In all, Tundikhel then provided a healthy outlet for children, youths and the old alike, but this was soon to end. For one reason or another, the fragmentation of what was once described as the largest parade ground in Asia had to take place.
At the start of the 1960s, Queen Elizabeth paid a state visit to this country. And it was just before this event that the then government with sense or lack of sense decided to surround Tundikhel with a fence. Tundikhel that provided ready shelter to thousands and thousands of Kathmandu residents during the 1934 earthquake was effectively fenced off to the common people with no alternatives. But even during the Panchayat days, it must be admitted that the Tundikhel doors were open to the public for play and recreation during mornings and evenings. It needs no expert to point out the benefits that people derive from spending time in the open, more so if they indulge in some form of physical exercise. Many local football teams used to use the field to practise and play friendly matches.
Then came Ratna Park at the northern end and further partition of Tundikhel took place in the form of the Open Air Theatre meant for mass meetings and similar functions. That was during the Panchayat days. In the present ‘democratic’ days, the authorities, whether bureaucrats or political leaders, fully realising the needs of the select few, divided the Open Air Theatre into two, one for a bus depot and the other for a car park. The change from the Old Bus Park to the one in Tundikhel has resulted in traffic problems, that too just in front of Bir Hospital.
Comparison with Nepal
The old bus park, for some unknown reason, has been leased out by Kathmandu Metropolitan City to a construction firm to erect what can only be described as a potential towering inferno. One can only hope that the newly elected local representatives will squash the previous allegedly remotely controlled decision. The craze for construction is not merely limited to municipal authorities. The southern part of Tundikhel in front of the Army headquarters has now been fully taken over by the Army, and the area now is full of new constructions including a playing field with pavilions (which I personally like). In addition, the field has been used as a dumping site for the debris that accumulated with the tragic fall of Dharahara in the April 2015 earthquake.
The point to be made is that open spaces and playgrounds are among the irreplaceable needs of large cities like Kathmandu. Those in power need to take long-term considerations into account before dividing and eliminating open spaces and playing fields. Fragmentation of Tundikhel should be a lesson for our leaders to have a better vision for the future of the country as well as that of the people. So little is now left of Tundikhel that stretched from Tripureshwor to Rani Pokhari. The open space was rectangular and stretched from north to south much as Nepal is rectangular in shape some 900km long and 130 to 200km broad. One can only hope that our leaders get the point.