Tri-Chandra's run down state is a microcosm of Nepal

The country's oldest college is falling apart, an apt symbol of neglect and apathy

Come May, Kathmandu’s streets will be abloom in jacaranda and bougainvillea. The street below Ghantaghar clocktower will turn purple and pink and the iconic images will make it to everyone’s feed.

But few passersby will stop to look at the crumbling Rana-era building behind the trees that was once the country’s pioneering institution for higher studies.

Since the 2015 earthquake,  Tri-Chandra Multiple Campus (‘TC’) has silently awaited restoration, even as schools around the country were rebuilt. Six years after the disaster, the century-old buildings are crumbling, with trees growing out of the walls.


Students of the Geology Department attend classes inside these dilapidated structures — ironically studying about Himalayan seismology. There are 150 students crammed inside this dark room that has a capacity for only 60.

“Looking around the condition of this building and our classroom, I often think of an earthquake and casualties if the next big one happens to be on a school day,” says geology student Sanam Oli.

The students have aptly named their building ‘bhoot bangla’, a haunted house. Between classes, the corridors are eerily empty, with missing bricks on the side, crevices on ceilings and walls, and the plaster peeling off the roof.

“It resembles a building, but it is falling apart,” says Saurabh Koirala, a fourth-year student at TC. “When it rains in the monsoon, we get wet at our desks with water dripping from the ceiling.”

Inside the classroom in the south wing of the building that is accessible through a dark corridor, past a dusty room resembling a storehouse more than the geology museum it is meant to be, the high ceilings have cracks, and the walls are mouldy.

The neo-classical Rana era building currently houses eight departments including Geology, Psychology, Statistics, English, and Nepali. Anywhere between 2,000-4,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend classes here in different shifts throughout the day.

While the north block of the building is still functioning despite the crumbling walls, the southern side adjoining the Jame Masjid has been completely abandoned.

The plaster has fallen off the façade, and there are deep fissures on the wall, a tree grows out of the bare exposed bricks of the second story. In the corner of the ground floor, bricks dating back over a hundred years and inscribed with ’श्री ३’ lie in a pile. Weeds, dust, rubble, and clutter cover what used to be a centre of learning.

“In all my four years here, I haven’t prepared a single thin section of rock, mineral, soil used for analysis,” says student Ashwin Duwadi. “For a geologist, it is important we learn how to make one, but I think I will graduate without having seen a thin section machine.”

Tri-Chandra does have a thin section lab, but it is on the ground floor on the back of the damaged wing along with the two other practical labs. “But that section can collapse any time. There is no way to have classes there,” says Duwadi.

Inside the lab, as elsewhere in the building, there is structural damage — tables, chairs, and other equipment are strewn around and pigeons roost on the rafters. The staff has not been able to take the equipment out because it is too dangerous, and even if they could, they say there is nowhere to put the machinery. Buying new ones is out of the question due to the high cost.

“The government and donors fund other educational institutions, but not Tri-Chandra,” says Campus Chief Sunil Adhikary, looking out of his office window at Darbar High School across Rani Pokhari that was recently rebuilt with Rs850 million Chinese aid.

The two institutions, the oldest school in Nepal and the oldest college, are separated by Rani Pokhari, which has also been restored to its former glory after the earthquake.

Adhikary himself is a former student of TC, having graduated in science from here. He then left for Japan to obtain his master’s and PhD, and returned to Nepal and rejoined Tri-Chandra as a lecturer.

“I have taught in the same classes where I once sat as a student,” he says pensively. “But things have changed since those days, it is sad to see it in this state.”

The college offers a wide variety of subjects, and students from across the country have enrolled here because it is much less expensive than private colleges. A master’s student only pays Rs7,000 a year, about a quarter of which goes to Tribhuvan University (TU). While this is an advantage for students, the college itself does not have enough money for its upkeep.

Even as the number of students and programs have grown, the physical infrastructure has remained largely the same for a century. In fact, like in many other public institutions housed in Rana-era buildings, things turned for the worse after the earthquake.

“Tri-Chandra has the potential to become a respected institution of higher learning again, but we need the support and resources,” says Adhikary.

To be sure, on 25 April, when newly-reconstructed Dharara was inaugurated on the sixth anniversary of the earthquake, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) unveiled the Greater Tundikhel Master Plan. The Finance Minister’s budget has allocated money for this ambitious revival of Kathmandu’s city centre.

Under this project, various sections from Narayanhiti Palace to Dasrath Stadium will be turned into open spaces, and within it the Tri-Chandra campus will also be fully restored.

Except for Saraswati Sadan that currently functions as the administrative block, all other structures on the Rani Pokhari side will be demolished.  A four-storied structure complete with an underground parking area will come up behind the neo-classical building, which will be retrofitted and restored.

But the plan is not without roadblocks. The NRA had consulted Tribhuvan University and Tri-Chandra college while designing the master plan and the three had come to an understanding to also use the land in Jamal formerly used by TU Examination Controller’s Office, to construct a building for Tri Chandra. The renovation and construction was to be financed with an Rs2 billion loan from India’s Exim Bank.

However, in 2018 the government had decided to shift the National Library, severely damaged during the earthquake, from Harihar Bhawan to Jamal. The decision was later put on hold after the NRA proposed the Greater Tundikhel plan. But in October this year, the Cabinet again decided to resume the construction of the library in the same space, leaving Tri-Chandra hanging.

“There was some confusion, but things were getting back on track when the government changed. Then everything stalled,” says Sushil Gyewali, CEO of NRA.

With the term for NRA officially coming to an end this month, it has handed over the Tri-Chandra reconstruction project to the Ministry of Education. “We have laid the foundation for the project. Now it is up to them to complete it,” he adds.

To run at optimum capacity, Tri-Chandra needs 20 additional classrooms, seven labs, two halls for the library, two research labs and a seminar hall, according to campus chief Adhikary. “Presently, we do not have enough space to conduct classes and practicals for the 12,000 students who are currently enrolled here,” he says.

Established in 1918 by Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Rana during the reign of King Tribhuvan, it was initially called Tribhuvan-Chandra College. In 1924 it was renamed to Tri-Chandra College and classes for bachelors started the same year. The college was originally affiliated to the University of Calcutta, then to Patna University before finally being coming under Tribhuvan University in 1959.

Classes took place in Majlis Ghar next to Darbar High School with eight students enrolled in the first cohort while a new building for the institution was at works near the Ghantaghar and Bir Library. The building with its Rana-Victorian style was completed within 14 months in 1919 at the cost of Rs70,000.

“What set this building apart from the other neoclassical buildings of the time is that unlike the private residences of the Ranas, which were hidden behind tall walls, Tri-Chandra was very much an urban building,” says architect and educator Biresh Shah. “It was built for a specific educational purpose complete with classrooms and a theatre. Architecturally, it was very modern for its time.”

Tri-Chandra is also significant because it is one of the last remaining public buildings of the period. Janasewa Hall in New Road is long gone, the Charkhal Adda in Dilli Bazar is in ruins, and likely beyond repair while Darbar High School across the royal pond has been rebuilt from the ground up after the earthquake by China Aid.

After the 2015 disaster, many of the buildings from the Rana-era that were reconstructed lost their originality. In their stead are now structures with no specific character. But activists, students and educators say that Kathmandu should do everything in its power to hold onto Tri-Chandra.

“TC is an important part of Kathmandu, it holds the memories of the city, it bears witness to the way it has evolved. If we do not save it, a part of our heritage and history will be lost,” says Shah. “Tri-Chandra should be restored, and it should be done while the technique and skills required are still around. If we repair it now, it will have a long life.”

In its heyday, Tri-Chandra was once one of the most sought-after educational institutions in Nepal.

‘It wasn’t only me who thought Tri-Chandra to be the pinnacle of higher education, my contemporaries and those before me also agreed. From an early age Tri-Chandra for me was the top destination for higher studies,’ writes author Abhi Subedi, in Ghantagharmuniko Samaya, a chapter in the souvenir book Tri-Chandra Saya Barsha, published in 2018 to celebrate the college’s centennial.

In page after page of the commemorative volume, former students, and teachers (many of whom were former students themselves) sing glorious praises of Tri-Chandra College. But they also lament its current condition. ‘Sadly, Tri-Chandra could not maintain its standard and develop into a model institution,’ writes Subedi.

In its over 100-years of existence, Tri-Chandra has hosted thousands of students who have gone on to bear important positions and offices, including the current Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba. But none of them have looked back to help the institution that contributed to their standing.

Inside a dark derelict classroom, student Saurabh Koirala voices his frustration: “Many students who once studied here run the country today. They pass by us daily on the road outside, but they don’t see us. Maybe they need to lower their tinted glasses and take a good hard look at the condition Tri-Chandra is in today due to their indifference.”

So why do the alumni not look back at the college? The former VC of Tribhuvan University Kedar Bhakta Mathema who himself studied and taught at TC, says it is a problem of lack of ownership.

“Tri-Chandra belongs to no one, no one thinks it belongs to them anymore,” Mathema says. “No one wants to take that responsibility, they just want to reap the benefits.” adds Mathema. “Maybe the reason is the politicisation of the educational sector. Political appointees run universities and student unions don’t work for the students. Things will not get better as long as this remains the case.”

When the campus was first set up, it was independent, and staff and students alike felt they belonged. When the new education system plan was introduced during the Panchayat, the government took over schools and colleges, and that sense of ownership was lost.

When Tri-Chandra started, the curriculum was adapted from the Indian universities it was affiliated to. The students memorised Sanskrit texts and learned the principles, culture, history prescribed in the Indian curriculum. They did not learn about Nepal and did not develop a sense of autonomy.

Even today, students from all over Nepal study the same curriculum irrespective of their backgrounds or the needs of their community. Mathema suggests developing Tri-Chandra as an independent institution to restore a sense of pride, and help in its revival.

He says: “When a college is independent, it is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance. When it runs out of money, it will need to find ways to cover the differences. When the quality of education suffers, it will be forced to reform and improve.”

Sahina Shrestha


Sahina Shrestha is a journalist interested in digital storytelling, product management, and audience development and engagement. She covers culture, heritage, and social justice. She has a Masters in Journalism from New York University.