Both Great Britain and Nepal are ancient civilisations and they have enjoyed a cordial relationship for 200 years. For a long time it was an elitist relationship limited to high level visits and diplomatic contacts. It was only as late as 30 years ago when the present author set his foot on the British soil for the first time that the relationship between the two countries was dominated largely by activities at diplomatic level and limited around the Nepalese Embassy. However, in recent years that relationship has become multifaceted and has come to embrace meaningful interaction between the peoples of both countries. There are now many Nepalese and British organisations that play a vital role in promoting Nepal-Britain relations.
Although Britain had treated Nepal as an independent sovereign state since the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816, it was through the 1923 Treaty of Peace and Friendship that Britain formally recognized the sovereignty and independence of Nepal. Thanks partly to that recognition Nepal’s independence was preserved when South Asia was carved up into different entities in the run-up to the British withdrawal from South Asia, at a time when many small kingdoms and principalities were made part of these new entities.
The traditional relationship between these two countries has now become multifaceted for the following four main reasons: First, it is Mount Everest and other Nepal Himalaya mountains. Since the British are adventurers and explorers in nature Nepal has been one of the top destinations for them to visit for pleasure, trekking and mountain climbing. Second, it is the Gurkhas. They are held in high respect for their bravery and loyalty in Britain and have become household names. The retired Gurkhas can be found these days providing security in many important places in London and other major cities in the UK.
Third, it is the Nepalese cuisine. There is a growing number of Nepalese restaurants serving good food in more or less all major parts of the UK. Associating themselves with the identity of Mount Everest, the Gurkhas and traditional typical Nepali taste, these restaurants have established a distinct identity in the culinary sector. When the present author was asked to draft the first constitution of the newly established organisation of Nepalese caterers some 20 years ago the number of Nepalese restaurants was relatively small. But this sector has witnessed a welcome phenomenal growth over the past 20 years. Fourth, it is multiculturalism. Great Britain has become a truly multicultural country where there is a greater recognition of the contribution to different aspects of British life made by the people of all cultures and backgrounds.
The relationship between these two countries goes even deeper. For instance, there is a sizeable community of British academics interested in different facets of Nepal, including culture, languages, health, and mountaineering and there is a growing number of British academics of Nepali origin teaching at various British universities. The contribution made by the British academic community has been an important one in the development of Nepal. There has been in existence since May 2000 an association – the Britain-Nepal Academic Council – established to promote Nepal in Britain and Britain in Nepal. The present author had the honour of serving for ten years as Founder-Chairman of this Council.
Perhaps the oldest British charity working in Nepal is the Britain-Nepal Medical Trust which was established in 1967 and will be celebrating its Golden Jubilee shortly. Concentrating initially in the eastern districts of Nepal, it expanded its services and at one point time was providing health service in 46 districts across the country. The present author has had the privilege of serving this charity since 2007 successively as a Trustee, Deputy Chair and since 2012 as Co-chair. Organisations like these sprang into action when Nepal was struck by a massive earthquake in April 2015 and were able to send immediate relief supplies and post-traumatic medical assistance in the aftermath of the earthquake. These are just few examples of ever expanding multifaceted relations between the people of Great Britain and Nepal.
Great Britain has become a more inclusive and progressive society over the years and people of all background have made their own contribution to build a cohesive and prosperous society. There is a growing recognition of the contribution made by the people of all backgrounds and in almost all aspects of British life. It is becoming a rainbow nation. The present author was pleasantly surprised when he was made an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2004 for services to international law and to Britain-Nepal relations by becoming the first person of Nepali origin in modern times to be awarded a State honour of this level.
It was only in 1986 when the present author came to the UK for the first time that finding a Nepalese restaurant in the UK was a challenge and enjoying Nepalese food in London was a rare occasion. These days one can find Nepalese restaurants in virtually all major cities and towns in Great Britain which are making a contribution to British way of life and British economy as well as to strengthening and cementing the historical relations between Great Britain and Nepal.
Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds, Dr Subedi, is also Chairman of the Global Policy Forum for Nepal