Nepal’s deposed king gave up his crown of peacock feathers, yak hair and jewels and, with the streets slicked by rain and the air filled with metaphor, left his palace forever.
Former King Gyanendra’s departure closed the final chapter on the world’s last Hindu monarchy, but a remnant stayed behind: the 94-year-old mistress of the deposed monarch’s grandfather, who died more than half a century ago.
Few Nepalis knew of the mysterious elderly woman’s existence until authorities announced yesterday that she would be allowed to continue living in the palace. The reason: the youngest mistress of King Tribhuwan, who ruled the Himalayan kingdom from 1911 until his death in 1955, has no house to move to or relatives to take her in.
Little else, however, will remain of a dynasty that united Nepal and reigned for 239 years. Most of the palace – a pink, concrete 1970s monstrosity – will be turned into a museum, one that seems unlikely to celebrate the monarchy that Nepal’s leaders were so eager to do away with.
And the last king, Gyanendra, is to live as something akin to an ordinary citizen, albeit and incredibly wealthy one, protected by police at a one-time summer palace on a forested hill on the outskirts of Katmandu.
“I have no intention or thoughts to leave the country,” Gyanendra said yesterday, hours before departing his family’s seat. “I will stay in the country to help establish peace.”
The vast majority of Nepalis have made it clear they are pleased to see the monarchy end and while Gyanendra’s throne was formally abolished last month, yesterday’s move carries great significance in a nation that was ruled by Shah dynasty monarchs for more than two centuries.
The former king pulled out of the palace gates in an armoured black Mercedes at about 8.45pm, followed by a police and army escort. A few loyalist onlookers shouted at Gyanendra to stay on the throne, but most of the several hundred people gathered were happy to see him go.
“I came to see the end of a dark era,” said Gopal Shakya, a shopkeeper in Katmandu who watched the king leave the palace. “Tomorrow it will be a brand new beginning for Nepal.”
Nepal was declared a republic last month after elections that saw the country’s former Communist rebels win the most seats in a special assembly charged with rewriting the constitution.
“I have accepted the decision,” Gyanendra told reporters who had gathered in a grand palace hall decorated with portraits of the Shah dynasty kings, stuffed tigers and ornate chandeliers.
The Narayanhiti palace has been Gyanendra’s home since becoming king in 2001 after a massacre in which a gunman, allegedly the crown prince, assassinated King Birendra and much of the royal family before killing himself.
After his brother’s death, Gyanendra assumed the throne. But the killings helped pierce the mystique surrounding a line of kings who had once been revered as reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu.
No proof has ever surfaced that Gyanendra was involved in the killings, but rumours have swirled for years that he was behind the slaughter.
Yesterday he dismissed the accusations as a “campaign to defame the royal institution”.
The king does not leave public life a pauper, even if his palaces have been nationalised and his £1.5 million annual allowance cut.
Before assuming the throne, he was known as a tough businessman with interests in tourism, tea and tobacco. He also inherited much of his family’s wealth after the palace massacre.
The government is letting Gyanendra live in the summer palace – which was among the royal residences that were nationalised – because the former king’s son is living in the family’s private Kathmandu residence.
As for the former mistress, Sarala Gorkhali, she and Gyanendra’s 80-year-old stepmother are being allowed to remain at the main palace because they own no property and have nowhere else to go, says interim home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula.
It was common knowledge that Tribhuwan had mistresses, but Nepal was shocked to discover that one of them was still alive and had lived in the palace for over half a century. She rarely emerged, except to occasionally visit Hindu temples alone, without guards or escorts.