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Day 44: Kathmandu

Michael Palin - HimalayaAfter some time a procession can be heard approaching. Led by women with lamps and incense sticks and musicians playing cymbals and drums, a group of masked figures enters the square. The masks are big, elaborate and brightly coloured and their arrival provokes a mad rush as the press photographers, closely ringed by police, scoot across towards them like a squad of black beetles, thrusting people aside with their cameras as they try to get close. The masked dancers, some of them with towering headdresses and wearing animal skins like African witch doctors, seem to have been at it some time, and they twist and turn to the music as if in a trance.

There is still no sign of the King. The photographers have taken their pictures, the dancers have made their spectacular entrance and by the time the royal motorcade looms out of the darkness, the energy and spontaneity has all but evaporated. Army, police and plain-clothes security men with fingers at their ears move in around the King and escort him forwards. The most impressive of the masked figures, a representation of the goddess Bhadrakali, with a blue face, staring eyes, and scarlet lips, moves up close to the King. She blesses him with divine powers, hands over a sword, flashbulbs erupt and moments later it's all over.

The press pack close in; the King, tiny and insignificant beside the great blue head of the goddess, gives a brief and nervous smile, before being rushed back to his Mercedes and away.

This combined display of paranoia and celebration puzzles me greatly. Why was it so important to take such a risk with the King's safety? If it was so important why weren't the public invited? What is it that frightens King Gyanendra so much?

Perhaps I shall learn more as we go along. If this is the overture, my stay in Nepal promises to be a very rich piece indeed.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 44: Kathmandu
  • Country/sea: Nepal
  • Place: Kathmandu
  • Book page no: 101

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