Nepal’s richest man to start slumming

June 10th, 2008 - 4:13 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 10 (IANS) Once regarded as the richest and most powerful man in Nepal, deposed king Gyanendra will start slumming from Thursday, when his deadline to vacate the royal palace expires. A royal myth was exploded Monday when the government, in a bid to stop criticism of its decision to allow the dethroned king to shift into a former summer palace, opened the Nagarjuna palace on the outskirts of Kathmandu valley to the public for the first time in history.

Fabled to be the luxury retreat of Nepal’s royal family, the Nagarjuna palace, where deposed king Gyanendra and queen Komal have to shift from the Narayanhity palace by Thursday, proved to be even less comfortable than a two-star hotel.

The two-storied bungalow, the main building in the sprawling retreat, where the former royal couple spent about a week on the eve of the constituent assembly’s historic proclamation of a republic on May 28, would be spurned by even the moderately rich, let alone the billionaire Gyanendra is said to be with his flourishing business ventures.

A 21-inch television set and three remotes lay on an ordinary round table in the master bedroom where the bed was covered with an astonishingly plain and cheap red bedspread with white flowers printed on it.

Called Hemanta Bas, after the autumn season, the bungalow has two pokey bedrooms and a small dressing room that was reportedly used for such plebeian activities as ironing clothes.

The ground floor is taken up by the sitting room where the furniture is extraordinarily simple and some not even of particular good taste.

The only sign of royal occupation comes from the dozens of photographs and wildlife trophies kept in contravention of wildlife regulation laws. Besides heads of deer, rhino and wild buffaloes mounted on the walls, there are also peacock feathers, and tiger and leopard skin rugs.

Though the floors are marbled, the roof is of corrugated tin. There are nine one-storeyed cottages, six of which are named after the seasons. One of them was used as a kitchen during visits by the royal family.

It is a wonder why the former king, with all his wealth and contacts, would choose to take up residence in such a pathetic retreat and face public anger into the bargain.

Public criticism has been pouring in, flaying the government for allowing the deposed royals to move into the Nagarjuna palace and for approving their request to let the former queen mother, 80-year-old Ratna, as well as a 91-year-old concubine of his grandfather Tribhuvan, to continue to stay in their quarters inside the Narayanhity royal palace.

The state media Tuesday played up the spartanness of the summer retreat, implying that by allowing the former king and queen to stay there the government was not allowing them any special privilege.

With Gyanendra’s exit from the palace drawing closer, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala Tuesday summoned his former principal secretary Pashupati Bhakta Maharjan to enquire about the crown and sceptre, which are said to be missing.

A high-level government team sent to take inventory of the national heritage inside the Narayanhity palace said they had not been able to get any information about the crown and sceptre, last worn by Gyanendra in June 2001, when he succeeded his brother, assassinated king Birendra.

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