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Day 44: Kathmandu

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Michael Palin - HimalayaAt three o'clock I'm with Pratima in the grounds of the Royal Palace, blinking a little wearily in the bright sunshine as King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, the late Crown Prince's uncle and incarnation of Vishnu the preserver, descends his front steps between statues of guardian animals dragons, horses, peacocks, dolphins and elephants to the strains, and in this case strains is the right word, of a Scottish-sounding dirge weirdly played by a pipe band in red and white plaid scarves and white gaiters.

The palace, with its Potala-like central tower, Hindu temple shapes, Tibetan loggias, red brick skin and clusters of concrete columns that hang down without touching the ground, seems to have been built in a style that might best be described as Himalayan Fantasy. Which might also apply to the rest of the day.

The King takes his place behind a red, padded leather desk, which makes him look a bit like a hotel receptionist. At a given signal his subjects begin to move forward and he sets to work applying tika to the nation's foreheads. Having so recently seen the Dalai Lama work a line, I know that it's possible to combine gravitas and jollity, but King Gyanendra maintains one expression throughout, and that is a sort of jowly glumness, as if being ruler of Nepal is absolutely the worst job in the world.

The line is slowed down ahead of me by a succession of middle-brass army officers whose huge, peaked caps have to be pushed back before the tika can be applied, then repositioned to enable them to salute.
It all takes time and the King looks even more bored by the time my turn comes. Pratima moves forward to introduce me. I don't know what's said, but a flicker of animation crosses the royal features and after applying the royal tika to my deeply incised brow, the King extends a hand (his own) for me to shake and, leaning forward, wishes me a happy stay in Nepal.

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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 44: Kathmandu
  • Country/sea: Nepal
  • Place: Kathmandu
  • Book page no: 100

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