Cousins Prachanda, Prakash, and Pradip Manandhar (from left to right) ride their bicycles to the outskirts of the city. The Manandhar family’s bicycle shop is Kathmandu’s first. (Photo: Sumitra Manandhar Gurung Collection/Nepal Picture Library, circa mid-70s)
In the year 1910 AD, after the bicycle approached the centenary of its invention, the British government in India made a significant import of 35,000 bicycles from Britain. These two-wheeled marvels were intended for various purposes, and it is believed that some of these bicycles found their way into Nepal as well. They were brought in for the sons and grandsons of Sri Teen Maharaja, adding an air of aristocracy to their presence. Gehendra Shumsher, the esteemed scientist and son of Shree Teen Bir Shumsher for whom the cycle was brought to Nepal passed away, leaving a void in the realm of bicycle innovation within Nepal.
Rana Sri Teen Maharaja Introduced Bicycles to Nepal
However, his son Sur Shumsher is often regarded as the first person to ride a bicycle in this Himalayan country.
Tirthanarayan Manandhar, in his book Kathmandu: Then and Now, speculates that Sur Shumsher introduced the bicycle in Nepal as early as 1903 AD. Yet, considering the arrival of the first consignment of 35,000 bicycles Sur Shumsher, the pioneer of bicycles in Nepal, belonged to an affluent aristocratic Rana family.
Following the untimely passing of father Gehendra, Sur inherited the Seto Darbar (White Palace), a splendid and well-equipped Palace in Kathmandu, built by Sri Teen Bir Shumsher. Within the walls of the White Palace, Sur Shumsher curated an extensive collection of silent movies and indulged in his love for perfumes. His fragrance collection boasted a wide array of scents, including those brought back by his grandfather Dhir Shumsher from the Nawab’s Palace in Lucknow.
Tragically, in the year 1990 B.S. (1934 AD), a devastating fire engulfed the Seto Durbar, destroying several precious items from Sur’s collection including perfumes. Legend has it that the scent of the burning perfumes permeated the city of Kathmandu, an aromatic farewell to an era.
During this time, bicycles remained exclusive to Sur Shumsher’s circle of Rana elites, limiting their presence among the flappers and aristocrats.
World War 1 Gurkha Soldiers Brought Bicycles with Them
While the world’s major nations were gripped by the turmoil of World War I, Nepal could not remain untouched. Maharaja Shri Teen Chandra Shumsher of Nepal compelled Nepali youth to serve as Gorkhali soldiers, supporting the British war effort. He also dispatched the Nepalese army, led by his son Babar Shumsher, to participate in World War I.
Approximately 200,000 Nepalese were sent to the war, and sadly, 20,000 lost their lives, and around the same number returned home bearing the physical scars of amputations. The returning Lahure, Nepali Gorkhali soldiers brought back Indian goods worth around 150 million rupees, including soap, cigarettes, lighters, blades, knives, shoes, socks, and notably, the bicycles they had utilized in the war.
The First World War witnessed the emergence of specialized army bicycles, allowing soldiers to carry firearms in queues, ready for swift deployment and prepared for attacks. Bicycle units gained increasing importance during the war, enabling soldiers to cover distances of 50 to 100 miles per day on their trusty wheels. Following the conclusion of the war, it is believed that some Gorkhali soldiers returned to Nepal around 1975 B.S.
Manandhars Established First Bicycle Shop in Kathmandu
In 1981 B.S. (1924 AD), Ashtanarayan, a ration merchant, established a cycle shop named Panchnarayan Ashtanarayan in his residence located in Asan Kamalakshi. He honored his father by adding the name Panchnarayan to the shop’s title. It is believed that Ashtanarayan got the idea to start a bicycle business in Nepal when he saw bicycles in the market during a visit to Calcutta (now Kolkatta) in India for work.
He purchased six British Hercules cycles from Calcutta and transported them by train from Calcutta to Raxaul, and then to Amlekhganj. From Amlekhganj, the cycles were transported by lorry to Bhimfedi, and porters carried them on their backs to Kathmandu. After considering all the incurred costs, each bicycle cost him 100 rupees. At that time, the salary of a senior officer was barely 100 rupees per month, so buying a bicycle was a luxury few could afford.
Selling those six bicycles took Ashtanarayan an entire year, after which he returned to Calcutta to bring more bicycles. This time, he didn’t need to hire porters as a ropeway had been constructed from Bhimphedi. His shop now offered popular brands like Philips, Rayleigh, and Hercules.
Initially, Ashtanarayan faced criticism from his family, who were involved in the food business, for entering the bicycle industry. However, as a second-generation business owner, Tirthanarayan continued his father’s bicycle legacy. After Tirthanarayan, his son Triratna Manandhar took over the business. During Triratna’s tenure, bicycles became a necessity for the people of Kathmandu. The shop’s name was eventually shortened to Pancha Ashtanarayan Cycle Shop, reflecting the changing times.
Triratna, who had ambitious dreams for the bicycle business, went to Poland to study mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, his untimely death in a motorcycle accident in 2040 B.S. (1983 AD) dealt a significant blow to the business. As Triratna’s sons were too young to manage the business, the extended joint family took charge. However, the business reached a point where closure seemed inevitable. It was then that Tirek, Triratna’s youngest son, stepped in and expanded the business under the name PANC Cycle, embracing the preferences of the younger generation.
Today, Tirek, the grandson of Tirthanarayan, continues the family’s bicycle business. The long name, Panchnarayan Ashtanarayan Cycle Shop, has been shortened to PANC Bike, incorporating the initial letters from the English words. With a fresh perspective and considering the preferences of the new generation, Tirek now offers both ready-made and custom-made bicycles.
Adapted from Sunil Ulak’s story, Story of “A Cycling in Nepal” on the occasion of World Bicycle Day