Nepal nails famed US explorer for illegal treasure troveMay 24th, 2008 - 1:07 pm ICT by admin
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 24 (IANS) A famed American explorer and writer, whose books on Tibet opened the forbidden former Buddhist kingdom to Western eyes, has been nailed by Nepal Police for possessing an illegal treasure trove of wildlife parts and ancient archaeological artefacts. Ian Baker, who first came to Kathmandu as a 19-year-old student to research Tibetan paintings and made the Himalayan kingdom his home since the 80s, making forays from there to China-occupied Tibet, has become overnight Nepal’s most wanted after police discovered over a sizeable cache of ancient idols, Tibetan paintings, tiger skins, bones of endangered animals and other illegal animal parts in two apartments in the capital rented by him.
Baker, who led an expedition to Tibet in 1998 sponsored by the National Geographic and is acclaimed by the National Geographic Society as one of the six foremost explorers of the millennium, avoided the police dragnet, being away in Thailand but the raids Friday netted his domestic help, a Nepali named Rajesh Maharjan.
Acting on a tipoff, police first went to Baker’s apartment in the upmarket Baluwatar area of the capital, where an incredible sight awaited them.
A tigerskin draped the dining table while the bed had a leopard skin thrown over it. Tiger and leopard heads were used as decorative items while the sofa cushions were of animal skin.
The explorer’s extensive wardrobe consisted of overcoats, jackets and caps made of animal skin as well as accessories fashioned out of animal parts.
A panicky Maharjan told police about a second apartment used by Baker in the nearby Naxal area and a raid there also yielded an equally astounding cache.
According to police, the apartments also contained statues, temple carvings and paintings which were stolen from temples. Some of the artefacts date back to the prehistoric period.
Only last month, Baker had spoken at a programme at the Unity Church in Santa Barbara, the US, to raise funds for a peace project.
Baker, a regular contributor to National Geographic and Newsweek, has authored several books, including “The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place”, an account of his Tibet explorations published by Penguin.
He has also co-authored several books with expatriate Americans living in Nepal, like photographer Thomas Kelly and his wife Carroll, and Nepali Romeo Shrestha.
Nepal Police has issued an arrest warrant for Baker and said they would ask Interpol to issue a red alert for his capture.
If found guilty, Baker faces a 15-year prison sentence as well as a NRS 50,000 fine.