That morning, 24 November 1985, the advance guard had been sent ahead to prepare lunch in the needle-carpeted grounds of the ambassador’s historic home, nestled amidst the pines high on a ridge north of Kathmandu with an expansive view across waves of hills to the white peaks. Jim had insisted on overseeing the guest list, and the rented bus was loaded up with family, friends, and my Tiger Tops and Mountain Travel colleagues.
It was my task to bring Jim in his red range rover, an early extravagance and one of the first models off the Solihull assembly line, muttering and grumbling all the way up the tortuous switchbacks. By Balaju, past the reclining Vishnu in his water garden, and traversing beneath the trees of Nagarjun’s royal forest, Jim had already guessed our destination. The narrow road climbed past heaps of huge radish (mula) for which the land was renowned, today superseded by strawberries and trout. Turning right before the main road drops away to the Trisuli, we reached the Tamang village of Kakani at a refreshing altitude of 6,660 feet (2,030m), and entered the hallowed ground and clipped lawn of the British bungalow. With cheering guests waiting to surprise him, it took all Jim’s self-control to revert to his normal affability.
The lunch conspiracy could not have been concocted without the collusion of the ambassador, Anthony Hurrell. Kakani was gifted to the British envoy in the nineteenth century as a country retreat by the reclusive and xenophobic ruling Ranas. In the exclusive purview of successive ambassadors, its use and worth over the years has waxed and waned at their personal whim.