The Maharaja’s Sawari Camp stamp
by Malcolm Campbell

The stamp known to us as the Maharaja’s Sawari Camp stamp has been reported as issued at Christmas 1898 or in January 1899 according to Major Dawson. We generally accept it was issued in January 1899.
I suggest it is unique amongst the hundreds of revenue stamps, court fee documents and fiscal stamps and all postage stamps of the Gurkha Sarkar (government) as not bearing a value! The Devanagari inscription reads on the top line ‘Gurkha’ and I suggest that the bottom line reads प्रधानI ‘Pradhana’ which has several meanings such as chief, main, leader or Prime Minister, (who was at time of issue, Shree Teen Maharaja Bir SJB Rana), rather than आधा अन्ना ‘ahda anna’ as in half anna. I was encouraged to pursue this observation when I saw in the late Prof. Armand E. Singer’s book of his collection, “Nepal 1772-1961 and beyond” published by George Alevizos 1997, that carries an image on page 124 of “The budget letter card” that was sold for half an anna (2 paisa) to which the Camp stamp was to be affixed and generally cancelled with a few pen strokes.

Singer stated that the half anna paid for the card not the stamp. In very small print on the front of that post card was “Court Share”, whatever that meant? I find it hard to believe that the hosting Maharaja of such lavish shikar or hunting expeditions and tours of inspection for the Royalty and political leaders of Europe and the subcontinent’s nobility and British Raj would have charged his illustrious guests a paltry 2 paisa to use his free mail service within the kingdom. The postcard could not be used beyond the Kingdom of the Gurkhas at the time of issue, so it was mainly used to and from the capital in the Kathmandu valley, known as Nepal then. Covers exist to at least the 1912 Sawari Camp. Later mail use from the Terai hunting camps was mainly via the Indian Embassy with special cancellations in English generally on covers bearing British India postage. There are used single stamps of the first issues of this stamp posted from Kathmandu cancelled with a Kathmandu type III in use 1899-1904 as Hellrigl & Hepper describe in “The native postmarks of Nepal” 1978 and described as a D68b cancellation in use during the same period in Dr Ramesh Shrestha’s “The postal history of Nepal”2009. I suggest that maybe these stamps were indeed supplied free to guests at the Maharaja’s shooting camps between 1899 and 1912, as I haven’t seen any used later than that and that they were given to entitled individuals to gain access to the Prime Minister’s free mail access, while they were his guests in Nepal. This would account for why these cancelled stamps all appear as singles, even those used in Kathmandu, when there was no postage rate of half an anna for a letter.

The elements of the stamp design features a coin issued by Raja Chakra Vartendra Malla (who was Newari) of Kathmandu 1668 AD and ruled for just one day. That was surely to put the Newars of the Valley in their place, as the Ranas had outlawed the speaking of Newari and many cultural aspects of the Newars in Kathmandu. Mookala? (Newari for “is that not so?”) The elements of the design depict the three methods by which the Ranas retained power: the Banastra (bow & arrow), the Pas (noose) over emblems of the Khukris (crossed weapons). This iconography was particularly appealing to the visiting native princes of India, but the significance was probably lost on the visiting British Raj.

Over to our members to critique my proposal as to the original use of this stamp and maybe this issue of 1899 was a concession franking stamp for honoured guests to use rather than a postage stamp or a revenue stamp? Of course, it was later decreed that supplies in storage in 1917 would have a value of half an anna each to facilitate their use as payment for telegrams and phone messages until 1930 when postage stamps were used, but my proposition here relates to the issue and its use from 1899 until about 1912.


  1. Sawari Camp followers December 1911 in the Terai, King George V and his Raj followers with PM Chandra SJB Rana and Nepalese hosts. Image by Capt. Medusa no copyright.
  1. Several cancelled stamps of the 1899 issue in pin-perf and imperf types bearing the Kathmandu type III cancellation of 1899-1904.