Indian tourists flock to Nepal’s palace museum

February 27th, 2009 - 5:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 27 (IANS) Within minutes of Nepal’s former royal palace opening to public as a national museum Friday, hordes of Indian tourists flocked to the capital’s best-known landmark for a curious peek into how the former royal family of the neighbouring nation once lived.

“After arriving in Kathmandu on Wednesday, we began to hear people saying that the Narayanhity royal palace would be opened as a national museum from Friday,” said Nagendra Pawar, a representative of leading tour operator Cox and Kings that escorted 120 people from New Delhi.

The group included mostly dealers of Ambuja Cement from India’s Haryana state and Ambuja officials. For most, it was their first trip to Nepal.

Dev Raj, a 58-year-old dealer, said he was excited at being allowed to have a glimpse into the life of splendour the former god-kings of Nepal led.

“I met a group of Nepali schoolchildren inside the museum,” he said. “All of them told me that they had never in the past hoped to enter the royal domains that were forbidden to all but the privileged.”

Ratnesh Jha, an official from Ambuja Cement, said though he had visited Nepal several times to visit his relatives in Janakpur city near the Indian border, this was his first foray into the palace.

“Once, we were watching a film on television in Janakpur when the photograph of the then king Birendra appeared on screen,” the 32-year-old reminisced. “Immediately, everyone stood up. It made me realise how much they respected their king, like Mahatma Gandhi in India.”

Jha said he was grieved by the sight of the demolished mansion inside the museum that was marked as the tragic site where the horrifying massacre of King Birendra and his family occurred in 2001.

“I found it a horrible sight,” he said. “This was the place where a once happy family were gunned down, killed for the sake of mere money and power. When King Birendra was honoured, we Hindus in India too basked in his glory as he was the monarch of the only Hindu kingdom in the world. ”

Pawar said he had reshuffled the group’s itinerary to include the palace museum after he read the local newspapers in the morning and was assured that it had indeed opened to public.

“Most of our group had to leave by early morning flight today,” he said. “They were all very disappointed to miss the visit to the palace. Now we are going to put this site in Cox and King’s tours to Nepal, along with Pashupatinath, Swayambhunath and the casinos.”

The cement dealers were followed by a bridal party, who had come from Kolkata.

The group was led by D.P. Patra, a doctor and the father of the groom who will be wedded to a Kathmandu girl.

“The wedding is at night,” the child specialist said. “So we decided to make the most of the day and visit the palace museum. I have seen many other palaces - the Jaipur palace, Buckingham and the palace of the Thai king in Bangkok. This is something new.”

Hundreds of students, tourists and others stood in the serpentine queue at the ticket counter, hoping to glimpse what was once out of bounds for them.

“Once we were subjects,” said Binod Thapaliya, 55, who runs a medicine shop in Bhairahawa town in south Nepal. “Now we are citizens celebrating the end of our enslavement by the royal family. When I went inside and saw the pomp in which the former royals lived, I realised how they did not care a jot for the misery of the Nepali people.”

Thapaliya, who said he had voted for the Maoists in the April election, said he welcomed Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s assertion Thursday that the government would begin a fresh investigation into the palace massacre that was blamed on the then crown prince Dipendra.

“Did Gyanendra or Dipendra perpetrate the massacre?” he said, speaking out the secret suspicion that was harboured by many citizens after the horrific carnage. “Nepali people have the right to know. We hope the true killers would be punished and there would be an end to impunity.”

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