He spent idyllic days playing tag with princes and princesses in the house where he was born; until it was taken away from him. Binayak Shah reveals untold stories about the hallowed ground where Hotel Annapurna now stands. When you talk about the old hotels in Nepal, one name springs to mind: Hotel Annapurna in Durbar Marg. It was one of the first star hotels ever built in Nepal, but underneath the glitz and glamor, it hides a painful secret.
Binayak Shah, acclaimed hotelier with a chain of hotels under his belt, recounts what it was like watching his house being torn down to build a hotel in its place and seeing Durbar Marg spring up from nowhere.
Q: What was it like in the beginning?
B: There was nothing at all. I was born in 1953 and it was a pretty interesting place as it was near the palace where the kings and queens of yesteryears lived. My house was located in a place so remote that we had to buy household essentials in bulk: a month’s worth of dal, bhat, masu (lentils, rice and meat). There wasn’t much in the form of transportation at that time in Kathmandu, so porters had to carry all the food from Ason all the way to my house.
Q: What was it like growing up?
B: It was mostly lazy afternoons, playing football in a field near my house. From time to time, young princes and princesses would come over and we would play together. There was a stream where we raised fish and it was wide enough to do a little bit of boating. The stream is long gone.
Q: How did it feel like losing your childhood home?
B: I was just a bean sprout at that time when the King decreed that the land was to be set aside for a hotel. The land of course, was my father’s private property. We were offered a paltry sum for the amount of land we lost but we couldn’t possibly protest as it was the King’s request. I still have the letter that requested my father to sell the land where Hotel Annapurna would eventually be built.
Q: Why was Hotel Annapurna built?
B: The marriage of one of the princesses was coming up and they wanted to build a hotel to cater to the foreign guests who would be attending the wedding. Before that, there wasn’t even basic infrastructure like roads where Durbar Marg is today. Because the plan to build a hotel was put into motion, the stretch of road that is also known as King’s Way was built overnight. It was a rushed project and building the road at that time meant owners of private land in the area had to yield to the wishes of royalty, and got no compensation when the road was built over their private properties.
Q: Little known facts about Durbar Marg?
B: If you stand in front of Hotel Annapurna’s main gate, you will see a palm tree. I still remember that tree as it was there when I was born and will continue standing there when I’m long gone. There’s another tree that has grown huge in the parking lot of the hotel and a small shrine of the Goddess Kumari is protected by it. I remember playing among the trees in my childhood and it’s amazing that they are still there.