The occupation of Tundikhel

Residents and activists protest Kathmandu mayor’s decision to further constrict the last of Kathmandu's open space


On Monday, 16 people were injured in a crowd crush at a Maghi festival in Tundikhel. The crowd was too dense for the last remaining grounds of what was once a vast open space in Kathmandu’s centre. 

Over the years Tundikhel has been fragmented and encroached upon by the military and other institutions, reducing it to not even 15% of its original expanse.

Even as it has shrunk, new projects have been proposed for Tundikhel. The latest plan by Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) under Mayor Balen Shah is to build two football fields at Khula Manch, the part of Tundikhel where historic pro-democracy rallies have been held.  

“The idea for a football ground came up because local clubs found it difficult to get a field for practice,” says KMC spokesperson Nabin Manandhar, adding that a project report had been prepared. 

“This will also help to build future athletes,” added Manandhar, who said Machhindra, Sankata, and New Road Team would use it for training, but it would also be accessible to the public. He admits that KMC did not look for alternatives.

Shirish Shrestha of Machhindra Football Club said having the field nearby would help build local talent since Kathmandu’s urban sprawl and population density has meant that there are very few open spaces left for them to practice.

Read also: Giving Tundikhel back to the people, Sahina Shrestha

Khuma Manch NT
POLITICAL FOOTBALL: Khula Manch on Thursday, where KMC plans to build two new football fields. Photo: SUMAN NEPALI

But that is precisely why activists are also against turning one of the last remaining bits of Tundikhel into a football ground. 

They are worried that ultimately the football fields will be out of bounds for the public.

“KMC is merely a trustee of Khula Manch. It does not have the right to build over public land,” says Sanjay Adhikari, advocate and spokesperson of Occupy Tundikhel, a citizen-led movement to reclaim Kathmandu’s open spaces. “Its role should be to protect and manage the site, not build it over.” 

Occupy Tundikhel wants KMC to stop the plan since it will erase the identity of the space. Biren Maharjan of Ward 28 where Khula Manch lies says KMC did not consult local stakeholders before moving ahead with the plan. 

Says Maharjan: “Khula Manch is public land and it should be accessible for everyone and not just the football clubs.” Activists say clubs can easily use the stadium or Sano Gauchar for training and Khula Manch can be utilised for the purpose it is actually meant for.

Business consultant Ashutosh Tiwari of SAFAL Partners posted on Facebook:  ‘Khula Manch as the name suggests is a stage and has a history just like London’s Hyde Park. It is an open space, civic space and a citizen space. Not a private space. Trying to convert it into a football field is a narrow and useless way of thinking.’

Read also: The way we were, Kunda Dixit

Occupation of Tundikhel NT
Occupation of Tundikhel NT
Occupation of Tundikhel NT
Occupation of Tundikhel NT
Occupation of Tundikhel NT
Occupation of Tundikhel NT

This is not the first time the KMC has proposed a development plan at Khula Manch. Last year, it wanted to build a three-storey underground parking at the site but had to cancel it after public uproar.

Read also: Kathmandu loses its open spaces, Tom Robertson and Nilima Thapa Shrestha

Khula Manch is located behind the Army pavilion which itself is an encroachment on Tundikhel. And as its name suggests, was a Panchayat-era open air theatre. It has since been the scene for the 1990 and 2006 People’s Movements and political rallies. 

It is also culturally important as to its northwest is Dui Maju, the goddess of grain which is considered the unseen energy linked to Goddess Taleju. The Newa people of Kathmandu called the open space Tinkhya, which later became Tundikhel.

The Nepal Indigenous Legal Society in a letter to the KMC says that the Newa people left the area open for cultural and religious activities, and that encroaching on it is against the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People as well as ILO Convention 169, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989.

‘It is deplorable that Khula Manch is being turned into a football field without conducting research on alternatives. Moreover, setting aside a budget for a task that shouldn’t even be taken up is similar to committing corruption,’ the letter read. 

An aerial view of Tundikhel and the surrounding area. Photo: Kunda Dixit

Former Defence Minister and MP Bhimsen Das Pradhan who represented Kathmandu-6 says that historically Khula Manch has always belonged to the public and  remained open even during the Panchayat.  

Says Pradhan, “The people of Kathmandu elected Balen as mayor with a lot of expectations but he is going against people’s sentiments. Khula Manch is an integral part of Nepal’s socio-cultural and political history. As before, the people will rise up against turning this into a football ground. If they don't back down we will take them to court."

Read also: Let Tundikhel be what Tundikhel was, Anil Chitrakar

Khula Manch NT

Tinkhya (Tundikhel) was a vast open space set aside by Kathmandu's ancient rulers and indigenous people for social and cultural events. It originally stretched from where the Dasrath Stadium is today to Rani Pokhari in the north. 

Over the centuries, successive rulers and government agencies fragmented the space. 

1671: Malla king Pratap Malla constructed Rani Pokhari on the northern end of Tundikhel. 

1956: The southern section of Tundikhel was turned into a stadium to mark the coronation of King Mahendra. 

1961: Shahid Gate was built with a road that bifurcated Tundikhel into two halves. The Royal Nepal Army then occupied the northern end for a parade pavilion. 

1962: Ratna Park, dedicated to Queen Ratna, was carved out of Tundikhel, and in 1973 the Khula Manch open-air theatre was added.

2010s: The Army took over the southern half of Tundikhel and captured the Thapathali-Bhadrakali road.

2016: The bus park was shifted to Khula Manch and parts were rented out to vendors. 

2022: KMC proposed a three-storey underground parking at Khula Manch, but abandoned the idea after public outrage.

2024: KMC now plans to build two football fields at Khula Manch.

Read also: Nepali cities must champion climate action, Rastraraj Bhandari and Simone Weichenrieder

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.