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2001: Aftermath of a royal massacre

Tom Farrell is a freelance journalist from Ireland. He was travelling in Nepal at the time of the massacre of the royal family. Here he describes the days that followed.

One of the first things I had read upon arriving in Kathmandu a fortnight before was the belief that the king was the incarnation of Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu trinity. But maybe the true progenitor of Dipendra was Shiva, the Destroyer.

In any case, Nepalese of different classes and castes that I knew personally reacted with horror on that weekend.

The poorer mourned their slain royal family and wondered what celestial imbalance could bring this upon their kingdom.

The more educated knew with dawning horror that they had imbalances of more unearthly nature to worry about now.

The Narayanthiti Palace is a bland and modernist design, more akin to a Chinese provincial government building. A long highway goes down towards Thamel, the tourist district.

By Saturday evening, less than 24 hours after the killings, I was watching as thousands of Nepalis lined up along the route that would take the bodies of the dead to the Pashupathinath temple, cremation and casting into the Bagmati River.

Young tourists watched with wonder and some with faint amusement.

City-dwellers, the women with bright red ash on their foreheads, many of the men already with shaved heads watched with anxious expressions.

A gaggle of foreign journalists fretted over their equipment at a flower-stacked roundabout in the road. When the bodies came, held aloft on stretchers and heaped with garlands of flowers, cloth and petals, police with long sticks held the crowds back.

The face of the Queen Aisywara was replaced by that of a china doll, so savage were the bullet wounds to her head.

Police vans passed along behind the procession with nervous young recruits looking out. By Sunday afternoon, Kathmandu was starting to close down.

Outside a Hindu shrine close by Durbar Square, I saw tufts of black hair where men had shaved their heads [in mourning]. Neat piles of it lay around the streets as almost all businesses began to close except the barbers, who were working at breakneck speed.


" I saw one youth disengage from the others, red-faced and in hysterics as he screamed teary eulogies for the royalty "

On Monday morning I had gone to visit an NGO worker in Lalitpur. As I walked across the traffic-free streets, I encountered boisterous marchers, carrying banners of the dead king aloft, waving the Nepali flag.

The comatose Shah monarch was taken off life-support later that afternoon. Appropriately enough, it was starting to rain when I reached Ratna Park, in time to see the Royal Neplaese Army fire off canons.

A short way away, as if in anticipation of the dark new times Nepal seemed to be entering, crowds were converging on a police station.

I watched as they surged forward, then began to run back again as a white cloud billowed upwards. Even from that distance, my eyes began stinging.

The next day, the mood was more ugly. At around 1pm, some shaven youths were congregating near the palace, hurling rocks and lighting fires. I saw one youth disengage from the others, red-faced and in hysterics as he screamed teary eulogies for the royalty.

It could not be said how much the Maoists had infiltrated the protests but few doubted they were here. Their Peoples' War, begun in 1996, would now enter a new phase.

At 4pm, Royal Nepalese troops lined up outside the palace and began informing passers-by that they would shoot curfew violators. I watched from a side street with other foreigners as they charged down the silent streets, rifles at the ready.

In the days that followed, there were killings, arrests, threats to and by the Maoists and a new king crowned, Gyanendra.


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