Bentleys in Basantapur

How vintage cars arrived at Kathmandu’s ancient Darbar Square for a unique photo-op
Michael Kobold
October 9, 2018

In 2008, I returned to Kathmandu with an overwhelming desire to drive a car, but not just any car: a Porsche. Serendipity this week turned this dream into reality.

In the parking lot of the Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu there suddenly appeared 30 vintage cars worth $10million in spectacular condition, including two 1925 Bentley competition cars, a 1955 Chevrolet, a half dozen Datsun 240Zs, a 1959 Mercedes 220S. And three Porsche 911s.

They had slipped in unannounced. The Nepal Tourism Board had no idea, neither did any of the newspapers in town. Not even the country’s pre-eminent motor enthusiast magazine had heard of the Endurance Rally Association’s Himalayan Adventure.

Bentley rally cars in Kathmandu Darbar Square. Photos: MICHAEL KOBOLD

This was a golden opportunity to promote Nepal as a destination for high-end adventure tourism. If a group of millionaire adventurers can drive overland to Kathmandu, we can attract more of their creed to this beautiful country. To my surprise, none of the drivers had ever heard of Kathmandu’s Darbar Square, or those in Patan or Bhaktapur. So, we hijacked the rally in the name of Nepal tourism promotion.

There were two hurdles: pre-holiday traffic, which would mean at least a 1-hour drive each way, as well as the fact that Hanuman Dhoka is pedestrianised. But beautiful cars parked in front of ancient temples would send a strong signal to motoring enthusiasts all over the world that Nepal is, indeed, the land time forgot.

The Nepal tourism authorities, preoccupied with forthcoming holidays, told us not to waste our time and it would take a month to get permission. We had less than four hours. Nepal Police pistons heads were much more excited. “Thirty vintage cars in Kathmandu? Really? We’re on our way.” 

Before long, a police escort guided the vintage vehicles through gridlocked Kathmandu traffic, radioing ahead to clear intersections. We made it to Darbar Square in under 15 minutes. There, a friendly official recognised the historic importance of the two Bentleys and granted us free passage. Near New Road, Nepal’s oldest retired fire trucks dating back to 1923 and 1919 suddenly had good company.“This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my long career as a rallye driver,” said Bill Cleyndert of Norfolk in England.

“It is something you only see in movies. It’s like we’re filming Mad Max Revisited Kathmandu or The Nepalese Job,” added a visibly excited Daniel Spadini, a Swiss watch manufacturer and proud owner of a blue Citroen DS20.

Christof Ley of Frankfurt said later he would love to join the fire truck expedition. Next morning, as the Endurance Rally proceeded on to Chitwan, social media was ablaze with hundreds of posts from participants and spectators.

“Nepal is the land time forgot,” an official from Nepal Airlines once told me. “Things here happen at their own pace. They just have a way of working out.” I have discovered this is sage wisdom while waiting for what has become known as the fire truck expedition to get adventurers driving fire engines through Nepal.

This project has been languishing, waiting for a suitable sponsor to pay the shipping costs. My team and I had been waiting, hoping that one of the countless gods would eventually send us a sign.

One of those signs was the Endurance Rally in Darbar Square. This week the world came to know once more that in Nepal, things have a way of working out.

Read also:

Who needs fire trucks?, Dinkar Nepal