Asia | Nepal | Kathmandu Valley | Kathmandu – The death of the Royal Family
May 26th at 1:00am I arrived back at my hotel in Kathmandu. I was glad to be back again. It surprised me a bit that I had really begun to miss Nepal a few days before my return. I was in Singapore for 11 days and it was great to be in a clean healthy environment with family. Yet, once my illness had passed and my injuries had substantially heal, I began to realise just how much my students, friends and hotel ‘family’ mean to me.
I know that I have reported to you all of my troubling experiences, but in the present circumstances, it has become clear to me that I have failed to share many of the good things. For example one Saturday some of my students came to the hotel garden for a picnic. Afterward, the girls stayed behind to help me prepare for an engagement party by making sure I was properly dressed in my Nepali ‘kurta’. They arranged my shawl, jewelry and hair ‘just right’ and when they were satisfied they told me how beautiful I looked. These kids will be a part of my heart for the rest of my life.
I have also failed to tell you of the little old lady on the corner who sells glass bangles and beads. She waves at me every time she sees me and says a nice ‘namaste’. She speaks no English, but the lines on her face and the depth of her eyes speak of decades of experience and strength. Whenever her shop is closed, I hope she is not ill and am relieved to see her back in her little stall the next day.
I have friends here, both Nepali and ex-pat, who ring me up on weekends for dinner and drinks. I look forward to these nights. It seems a bit strange to me that I have made more friends here in the past 2 months than I have been able to make in my 3 years in Denmark.
Finally, there is my ‘family’ at the hotel. The manager and I have been friends for over a year and I am considered a sister to him and to the rest of his real family. One Saturday his sons came to the hotel and we spent the day with crayons and drawing paper. I taught them how to draw fish in the sea and they taught me to draw alligators and a rhinoceros. The staff here also treat me as a special family guest and have often made special foods for me.
I feel strongly connected to this country and to these people. Love, respect and friendship more than makes up for the bad experiences I have had so far. It is important that you understand my love for the people here in order to understand how recent events have affected me.
Unfortunately, a massive tragedy has befallen the country and people I care so much about. On Friday night the 1st of June, I was out with a friend for drinks. I came home oblivious to what was happening as we sat laughing and talking of my friend’s upcoming marriage. Upon waking Saturday morning, I learned that nearly the entire royal family had been gunned down during a family dinner at the palace. Initial reports said that the Crown Prince had opened fire after a family argument and then turned the gun on himself. He had survived but was in a coma and on life support. Shortly after the news hit the street, phone lines were cut and all outside communication including TV was shut down. We endured a 15 hour information black-out. Shops were all closed and a few people wandered through the streets in a daze, unable to grasp this harsh reality.
I attended the funeral procession of the late King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and their children Prince Nirajan and Princess Shruti. Thousands of us lined the streets to pay our respect and to glimpse a final look at the deceased royalty. Death here is a very public affair. As the bodies came past, one by one, we looked upon their serene faces and the crowd surged forward to toss flowers to their beloved royalty. This was a very intense and sad moment as the reality was undeniable. I was not allowed to enter the grounds of the Pashupati temple where the cremations took place as I am obviously not Nepali. I instead went to the only place I could find open and watched the final ceremonies on TV. I watched them set fire to the faces of each person, as is the Hindu custom. I was deeply affected and no words can describe my feelings.
The people here are shocked and angry. Many refuse to believe that the Crown Prince Dipendra could have possibly gunned down his entire family out of anger. While he was in a come, he was named the new King of Nepal, despite reports that he was also the killer. His uncle Prince Gyanendra, who was not present at the family dinner was named as acting regent while the country prayed for the recovery of the new King Dipendra.
As I wrote this story, the Crown Prince/King Dipendra was still alive and in a coma. Events changed and I have had to revise much of what I had originally wrote. King Dipendra was pronounced dead on Monday morning and his Uncle was crowned King Gyanendra.
Anger and sorrow run deep in the Nepali people. They refuse to believe the original story of events and are looking for someone to blame. The government came out with an absurd story of an automatic rifle accidentally going off or exploding at the family dinner. This story just angered the people even more as it was a blatant lie, later admitted by the government. As anger rises and conspiracy theories fly at the speed of light, people are beginning to demand answers. The next week or so will be a tense period indeed. Many people have expressed the feeling of being orphaned by the deaths of their beloved King and Queen.
I too mourn the loss of the King and Queen and my heart goes out to the devastated people of Nepal. This is a time of great sorrow and thousands of men have shaved their heads in a show of respect for the deceased. Most shops remain closed out of grief and the country is observing a traditional 13 day mourning period.
Here again, I must add to my story. The new King Gyanendra was crowned secretly and it was aired on Nepali TV an hour later. After watching the crowning ceremony, I went out in search of some food. People were gathered in the streets and I assumed it had to do with the crowning or with the coming funeral procession for the now deceased Crown Prince/King Dipendra. I walked quite a way down the road through the crowds when suddenly I found myself in the midst of a stampede of brick throwing protestors and armed police and military launching tear gas at us all. I, of course, did not stop to ask questions. I turned tail and ran with all my might to the nearest alcove I could duck into. I snapped a couple of photos and realised that I was still in a very dangerous position. More bricks and tear gas came my way. I again began running. The street to my hotel was blocked by demonstrators. I was scared and my adrenaline was running at full throttle. Two Nepali men helped me to scramble over a brick wall toward my hotel. I stumbled home with burning eyes and a scraped knee, but I was safe.
I rinsed my face waited for my eyes to clear, but like Pandora I was still very curious. With my adrenaline still pumping, I went back into the fray to snap a few photos. With another blast of tear gas, my courage deserted me and I ran back to the hotel again. The gate was locked and I had to scream my name over the shouts of demonstrators so that the guard could hear me. He quickly got me to safety and at that moment, I knew I would never again aspire to be as good a reporter as Christiane Amanpour. I just don’t have the guts for it. I had actually feared for my life. The experience was the most terrifying of my life, though I must admit it was also one of the most exciting.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on the roof of my hotel snapping photos of fleeing demonstrators and armed troops marching down our street. Other people on roof tops were pouring jugs of water down to tear gas victims to help them clear their eyes. The government announced a 4:00pm curfew and at that time more armed soldiers began marching through the streets. The whole scene was intense and surreal.
I later learned that the protests were based on a general dislike for the new King and on demands for answers to what really happened to the royal family. Already a number of theories are being spread. The new king has promised to give answers in 3 days time. It is now Tuesday afternoon and we have been under another curfew since noon. At exactly that time I ran to the roof to see armed police firing guns. I took a quick photo, but they saw me and I dashed to the ground and back inside. At present, I have no idea what to think or believe. What I do know, is that my heart is with the Nepali people and I hope they find the answers they are seeking.