Nepal’s last car porter dies


Hira Bahadur Ghalan, the last surviving porter who helped carry 25 vehicles into Kathmandu up and down mountain trails in the 1950s, has died in his home in Chitlang at the age of 89.

In those days, stripped down automobile chassis used to be physically carried by up to nearly 100 porters each from Bhimphedi to Thankot, because there was no motorable road to Kathmandu.

The journey took the porters more than a week as they manoeuvered the load across steep and narrow mountain trails. After they reached Kathmandu, the cars were re-assembled and driven around the Valley’s few thoroughfares by Nepal’s Rana rulers. 


Ghalan’s father used to be a car porter too, and he followed his footsteps in 1949. In the next decade till the Tribhuvan Highway was built, Ghalan had carried 25 vehicles. The bigger cars used to be stripped off their tyres and other movable parts, which were carried separately. Even the petrol needed as a fuel for the cars used to be hauled up to Kathmandu  by porters.

There were 48 people from Thaha rural municipality who worked as  porters, and Ghalan was the last surviving one. Another porter, Jukta Bahadur Waiba, died two years ago.

The first car to be driven in Nepal was in 1922, when Britain's King Edward VIII (then crown prince) rode one on a hunting trip in the Tarai. After the Ranas saw that, they also wanted cars, but since there were no roads to Kathmandu, the vehicles had to be physically transported on porter back to the Valley. 

Hira Bahadur Ghalan

The porters had to cross two high passes, cross the Kulekhani River during the eight-day journey from Bhimphedi to Kathmandu via Chitlang. Depending on the size of the car, the porters would be hired in multiples of twelve on each bamboo pole: 16, 32, 64 or 96, carrying the load on their shoulders and wearing straw slippers.

“These days vehicles get paid to carry people, back then we were paid to carry vehicles,” Dhan Bahadur Gole, another porter, told Nepali Times five years ago. He had helped ferry to Kathmandu the first limousine, a Daimler, when he was only 17 in 1949. 


Hira Bahadur Ghalan told Nepali Times in 2015 that not all cars were carried to Kathmandu. Some had to be portered from Kathmandu down to India, as happened when Bahadur Sumsher Rana left Nepal in 1950, and wanted to take his car with him. Ghalan had kept one of the bamboo poles he used for ferrying the cars as a memento.

Hira Bahadur Ghalan’s passing also marks the end of an era that lasted between 1922-1957 in Nepal, when vehicles did not carry people, people carried vehicles.

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