January 14, 2015
“The state of Nepal is a strange and usually little known country”, declared the Archduke of Austria-Este Franz Ferdinand in a diary entry from 8 March, 1893. This strangeness, of course, was due largely to the fact that the Nepal leg of his world tour was restricted to the far western Tarai (crossing the Mahakali River by elephant); the prince’s interest in Nepal lay chiefly in slaughtering its wildlife. For this purpose the Prime Minister Bir Shumsher made available 1223 men and 415 animals, including 203 elephants, and by his own detailed account, Ferdinand made full use of these resources. He and his entourage, including the British Resident, shot almost anything that moved (including 18 tigers), and a typical entry reads thus:
At this moment I see a second tiger emerge from a tunnel of reeds, shouted “rok” and fired. To my joy, this tiger lay dying in front of me too.
Royal pursuits both bloody and refined were documented by amateur and professional photographers as Ferdinand inched across the globe. His time in Nepal and India, the focus of last Sunday’s photo.circle showcase, was presented by German art historian Regina Höfer. While the material on Nepal (limited to a few hunting shots) probably disappointed the audience, Höfer did make some interesting observations regarding the nature of photography, then and now. The Archduke’s touring party engaged local studios and photographers as it travelled. Telegrams from the time, carefully preserved, indicate that payment for services rendered was not always prompt. Things have not changed very much a century on!
These services were crucial to representing the prince as a valorous hunter. Thus a picture of the Archduke standing over a dead tiger in Rajasthan is photomontaged (or “photoshopped” in modern parlance) to remove all trace of his (very numerous) native assistants. Ferdinand was however keen to credit the native shikaris of Nepal, whose skill he praises at every juncture. He also makes the following judgment:
The Nepalese distinguished themselves very positively from their Indian brethren for whom indecisiveness and noise seem to be indispensable ingredients of every hunt.
Make of this what you will with regards to our constitutional mess, but one might at least hope the following retains some truth:
The elevated rank of the minster in Nepal is said to be a dangerous and mostly short one as ministers die a violent death after they have been in office for some time. There are numerous small parties in Nepal and if the minister of one party has been inconvenient or his influence has become too strong according to some at the court, he is simply killed.
The Archduke Franz Ferdinand himself never got to properly “remember in old age what I cherished as a young man”, as he puts it in the preface to the published volumes of his diary. Some might even suggest he got his just desserts for living by the gun, as it were – his diaries recount an estimated 300,000 game kills. The piles of dead animals the prince so proudly posed in front of were eventually to be mirrored in the millions of lives lost to the Great War: on June 28, 1914, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip stepped up in front of the Archduke and shot him in the neck.