2nd December 2016
Once again, it is a real pleasure to welcome you all to the AGM – our 56th.
My first duty and very great pleasure is to welcome formally on your behalf Nepal’s new ambassador to the UK His Excellency Dr Durga Bahadur Subedi. Dr Subedi arrived in London a few weeks ago and since then has had a very busy schedule culminating yesterday in the magnificent occasion of the presentation of his letters of Credence to The Queen at Buckingham Palace followed by a splendid celebration here at the Embassy. It is a great honour for us to welcome His Excellency to our meeting today – his first official event as Ambassador. We are also most grateful to Dr Subedi for his generosity in allowing us to meet in such impressive surroundings.
Dr Subedi comes to London with a glittering cv. Prior to his appointment to London he has held a number of senior positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu. He has also had diplomatic appointments in Bahrain, Japan, the United Nations and Myanmar. He has participated in numerous official visits and international conferences notably in the USA, Europe and India.
He is also a distinguished academic and poet with numerous publications and awards to his name. Amongst other things he has published collections of essays and verse and has edited both The Journal of Nepalese Art, Culture and Literature and the International Journal of Nepalese Literature. I know that he is planning to add to this impressive list of publications during his time in London.
Dr Subedi has won a wide variety of literary wards and prizes most recently the Bhanunbakta Literary Award.
It will be evident from all this that His Excellency is a man of very considerable distinction and we are lucky to have him in London for the next few years. It is of course some time since we said farewell to Dr Subedi’s predecessor Dr Chalise and we have eagerly awaited news of his successor. I would suggest that it has been well worth the wait.
I have already had the opportunity to meet with his Excellency on a number of occasions and I know that he will be most enthusiastic about and supportive of the activities of the Britain-Nepal Society. I very much look forward to working closely with him.
Before asking Dr Subedi to say a few words I would like to present him on your behalf with the Society’s tie and to wish him and his wife a very happy and rewarding stay in London.
Quite apart from Dr Subedi’s appointment it has been very much all change at the Embassy during the year. Other new arrivals include Mr Sharad Raj Aran as Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr Bhupendra Prasad Ghimire, Third Secretary and Mr Tejendra Regmi, Attaché not to mention new Secretary Urmila. To all of them a very sincere welcome and we hope that they too will all have a very happy and productive stay in London. Others of course have gone in the opposite direction. We were sorry to say good-bye to Charge d’Affaires Mr Tej Bahadur Chhetri, who did so much to support us during the interregnum , and to Mr Babukaji Dongol, Third Secretary.
I very much hope that over the coming months you will all endeavour to meet the Embassy team, who will, I know, greatly appreciate your support.
In my last two reports I had cause to refer to tragic events in Nepal – mountaineering disasters on Everest and the Thorung La in 2014 and the dreadful earthquakes in 2015. Thankfully this year there have been no disasters on this scale. The work of restoration has gone on in Nepal though inevitably it has tended to slip from the public gaze. It is really important that we continue to keep the suffering of the people of Nepal at the forefront of our minds and to help in whatever ways we can. In this context it was inspiring to hear from Professor Robin Coningham of his work with UNESCO’s restoration programme in Kathmandu at a recent evening lecture.
Last year also saw the adoption of the new constitution and it is our fervent wish that progress will continue to be made towards an ever more settled polity. We are privileged, once again, to have with us tonight the Ambassador’s namesake Professor Surya Subedi, who will talk to us at the end of official business about political and constitutional developments in Nepal. No doubt he will steer us through the challenges still facing the politicians and report on some of their successes thus far.
It is customary at this stage of the meeting to reflect for a moment on the lives of those members of the Society whose deaths have been reported during the year. We think of Lord Chorley , a former Treasurer of the Society, Alan Durston, also a former Treasurer, Dick Jenkins, Lt-Colonel John Roberts, a former Vice-Chairman, Brigadier Tony Taggart, a former Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Treasurer, and Colonel Terence White. May I ask you to stand for a moment’s silence?
On a more cheerful note, our programme of events during the year followed its usual pattern with some interesting additions. A very well attended Annual Supper was once again held at St Columba’s Church Hall Pont Street with recent UK ambassador to Nepal Andy Sparkes giving a most entertaining and informative speech.
In addition to those talks already mentioned we were given a fascinating virtual tour from Ladakh to Bhutan by Zara Fleming a widely travelled expert in Buddhism. Both this lecture and that of Robin Coningham were attended by larger numbers of members than we have had for some time. Long may this development continue. Sadly, a talk by Maggie Burgess on the work of Leprosy Promise, a medical charity working in particular but not exclusively with leprosy in Nepal had to be postponed for family reasons. We hope to get it back into the calendar as soon as possible.
Exciting firsts (or firsts for some time) included a showing of Mahout, a film describing Tim Edwards’s relocation of four elephants from Chitwan to Badhia. In July a small group of members went to Lords for the first ever Nepal-UK test match won by the visitors to the delight of the estimated 5000 strong Nepal supporters. I doubt whether MCC members in the Long Room had witnessed the like of it before. The weather was glorious, the atmosphere cheerfully noisy, a great time was had by all and there was a lavish party in the Long Room in the evening. The match was to a large extent the brainchild of Society member Prashant Kunwar. Then in October, courtesy of Mahanta Shrestha, some 15 members and guests attended a thoroughly enjoyable jazz and curry evening at Monty’s restaurant in Fulham.
As you will gather we are doing what we can to extend the scope of our activities in order to attract an ever-widening range of participants. Any suggestions or wishes that you may have will be most gratefully received.
Looking ahead, the Annual Supper will take place as usual at St Columba’s on Thursday 16th February. The Guest of Honour and principal speaker is Lisa Choegyal whom many of you will know as an iconic figure in Kathmandu. I have no doubt that her reflections on 40 years of living in Nepal will be fascinating and entertaining. Do come if you can and bring lots of guests.
Next year’s lecture programme focuses on mountains and mountaineering. In May we will hear from Nick Kershaw on the work of Impact Marathon in Nepal. Nick pioneered the concept using marathon running in amazing mountain locations around the world to raise money for local charities. The Nepal Marathon took place last week. In October Everest summiteer Geoffrey Stanford will reflect on Lessons from Everest. Finally, in November Doc McKerr will tell us about The Great Himalayan Trail a 1200 mile continuous Himalayan Traverse which Doc has helped to develop. He has also recently been making films in Nepal with the aim of encouraging the growth of tourism to Nepal. As mentioned earlier, numbers for the talks have been growing recently so please help us to maintain and increase this trend. Guests are always most welcome.
Inevitably perhaps we have not achieved this year all we set out to accomplish. It was very disappointing to have to abandon plans for a Society visit to Nepal last Spring and there was insufficient appetite for a postponement to this Autumn. Another time perhaps.
As yet we have not capitalised on Ashley Adams’ outstanding schools initiative of last year. However, there are the stirrings of a scheme to form a loose consortium of organisations and individuals with an interest in education in Nepal. The idea would be to share best practice, act as a discreet pressure group where and when appropriate, and endeavour to ensure that schemes do not merely replicate each other.
In common with many similar societies and organisations, we have continued to find it difficult to reach and recruit younger members. The formal arrangement of a Young Members Committee has not produced the results that we wanted so we will be discussing new ways of reaching that particular audience. I hasten to add that none of this is to gainsay the energetic and imaginative work of Alison Marston, the inaugural chairman of the younger members committee, who has in numerous ways made a fantastic personal contribution to the quality of the Society. I have challenged members of the Committee (including myself) to recruit two new members each by our next Committee meeting in January. May I extend the challenge to yourselves, inviting each of you to endeavour to identify at least one new member by the time of the Annual Supper in February?
Other initiatives with which we would like to get underway in the future include considering the possibility of some additional lunch time lectures, re-structuring the shape of the annual calendar, and organising regional events where there is a cluster of members. Do please let a member of the committee know if you have any ideas for making the Society more interesting, more appealing and even more fun.
Alongside these things, a huge amount of work has gone on to improve communications with our members. In particular the new website is a vast improvement on its predecessor enabling us to keep members who use the internet up to date with our very latest news and announcements. I do hope that you will visit it as often as possible and draw it to the attention of others. The website along with our increasing use of e-mail communications definitely gives the Society a much more up to date feel. Many thanks are due to MJ Streather, our Secretary and Webmistress, and to In Motion Design our web designer for these achievements.
It may sometimes seem as if the customary vote of thanks given on these occasions to the committee and other helpers is vain repetition. Nothing could be further from the truth. This year’s committee meetings have been exceptionally well-attended and the Society could not exist without the ideas and support of all involved. They also make a huge contribution ‘on the day’ to the smooth running of our various events. To them all and with a special nod to Vice-Chairman John Swanston, Treasurer Rupert Litherland and Secretary MJ Streather many, many thanks.
And as always I would like to thank Mahanta Shrestha and Prashant Kunwar for their most generous and much-appreciated supply of Khukuri beer for all our events.
Before moving on to the election of the Officers and Committee Members I would like to give a huge vote of thanks to John Swanston who is stepping down as Vice-Chairman after six years. He will also be leaving the Committee and we will miss his wise and unobtrusive advice. I have no doubt that we will endeavour to lure him back in the future.
Our grateful thanks also go to Willie Bicket whose term on the Committee comes to an end this year. Willie has been most supportive and has been a regular attender of our meetings and events ensuring that things behind the bar flow smoothly and, if I may say so, copiously.
Thank you John; thank you Willie
As you will see there is one vacancy on the Committee. If you would like to join the Committee or know anyone who might do please let me know.