National Geographic : 1957 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine years since Western eyes had glimpsed a Nepalese coronation, and then the lucky witnesses had been precisely two European officials. Now we were to miss what would probably be the last chance to capture on film this unique pageant out of Asia's past. "Then the Minister said, 'Wait,'" the beaming voice went on. "'I see His Majesty coming down the hall. I will ask him.' "And, my dear Mr. Gilliard, the answer is 'Yes.' You can radio Mr. Thomas that the King knows all about Cinerama. He says, 'Give the Americans every assistance.'" Lesser miracles followed in due course. Finally, late on a Saturday afternoon-the last possible day-a Globemaster dropped out of brazen skies. Aboard were the Cinerama crew, seven tons of equipment, and Lowell Thomas. "Here we are, Tom," he called in greeting. "And I can tell you, I still don't believe it." Sun Predicted for King's Big Day On coronation day we were awake before dawn, squinting anxiously at the sky. Rain is no stranger to Katmandu in May; two days before, a cloudburst had nearly floated us out of our hastily constructed tent "hotel" in the outskirts of the capital. But the royal astrologers had predicted sun for His Majesty, and here it was, rose-tinting the distant Himalayas. Mist still flooded the valley, but, as the haze lifted, russet-hued houses, temples plated with brass, and brick walled paddy fields swam into focus. Lowell Thomas, who had come to Nepal as one of President Eisenhower's three emis saries, with the rank of special ambassador, emerged splendid in top hat and tails. "I feel odd," he muttered ruefully, "wash ing in a tin basin, taking a bucket shower in a pasture, and then donning this outfit for breakfast." Sacred Images Borne to Katmandu We surged off toward the city, camera men and all, primly correct in jackets and ties. The roads were alive. Peasants on foot and mounted on ponies streamed toward Katmandu from Bhutan, Sikkim, and Tibet. Fittingly, some of them carried gleaming Buddhist images, for the Lord Buddha him self was born not far from Katmandu more than 2,500 years ago. The wealthy traveled in tubs carried on long poles, sometimes with a folding top like that of an old-fashioned buggy. Im pervious to the traffic, fakirs stumbled and even crawled along the highway's edge; some entered a trance every hundred yards or so. Banners, strung across triumphal arches, proclaimed, some of them in English: "Long life to our gay royal couple" and "Distin guished guests from foreign countries are heartily welcome." Flags representing the dozen or so nations whose representatives would attend the coro nation flew on every hand. Among them I saw the standard of Red China flying along side United States flags, handmade by the thoughtful Nepalese. Lost in this dream world of strange tongues and stranger actors, I drifted along with the varicolored human tide until it washed me to sthe foot of a towering idol: Kali the Destroyer. Generations of worshipers had worn smooth the low approaching steps, knelt in submission beneath the painted lips in the coal-black face, bowed be DIA fore the crown of skulls. As I Watched, children and old men Reverently sprinkled flower petals SIover their heads, unawed by the Goddess' powerful arms and orna ments of skulls and human heads (page 151). I seemed to have been caught S up in a kind of Oriental Mardi :a Gras. Nepalese maidens, sleek in their jet braids and jeweled at 142 ,:F , ; :F"