National Geographic : 1950 Jan
Peerless Nepal-A Naturalist's Paradise photograph the two Durbar ceremonies when the new Minister presented his credentials to His Majesty the King and was also enter tained by the Maharaja (page 11). Occasions like this are virtually the only ones when the King makes a public appear ance, for since 1867 the kings of Nepal have been without power, although they are titular heads of the State. A Court in Medieval Style I was most fortunate on this trip to meet His Majesty, Maharajadhiraja Tribhubana Bir Bikram Jang Bahadur Shah Bahadur Shamsher Jang, to give him his full name, a handsome man of 43. When appearing in public, he is always led by the Maharaja hand in hand in courtly medieval style. The clothes worn by the royal family and the members of the ruling Rana family on these occasions were dazzling in splendor. Atop a military uniform of scarlet or white, according to the season, above a tunic spar kling with orders and gold lace, the Nepalese rulers wore a sort of crown unlike any other known to the world today. The base was of tightly fitting inverted basketwork covered with seed pearls. The rim all around was adorned with a design, a ropelike affair set with precious stones, usually diamonds. From the lower edge hung pear-shaped emeralds. In front there was an ornament, usually of diamonds. In addition, there was a jeweled holder, just above the forehead, from which sprang an enormous plume which swept up and over and down in back. It was composed of the flank plumes of the greater bird of paradise, the New Guinea species which has been an article of trade and a badge of royalty for centuries in the East. Only in Nepal is this royal insignia still worn. The crown of the Maharaja had a huge spinel ruby head on the center of the top, memento of the imperial Chinese order ac corded his father, Maharaja Chandra. On one side, next to a great grape cluster of emeralds, was set a famous carved emerald which belonged to Nadir Shah, the Persian conqueror who pillaged Delhi in 1739, and later to the Nana Sahib, the general in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 responsible for the massacre of Cawnpore. No less fine are the great flatted diamonds on the King's crown. These glittering jewels stirred the imagination with thoughts of Oriental history, so often ruthless and violent. The Durbar Hall, with its lines of chairs and thrones at the end, was magnificent with gleaming chandeliers, portraits, velvet and gold-embroidered rugs, stuffed tigers, and gigantic brass lions spouting electric lights from their mouths. Added to this panorama of splendor and incongruity were the figures of the rulers, glittering with stars and jewels and sur mounted with their shining panaches of plumes. The high priests were there in orange-colored gold brocade, the dignitaries in black and gold carrying golden trays set with boxes and goblets of attar and pan rose water and betel nut. The court criers, like medieval heralds in red and white with golden staves, called the turns of the elaborate protocol ceremonies in tones like nothing so much as those of a tobacco auctioneer down South. We left Katmandu before the final festivi ties were completed, because we were eager to get off into the back country. Our first project was western Nepal, least developed and least known. To travel from place to place in Nepal, if long distances are involved, it is easier to return to India and take a train to the nearest rail terminus. From Bengal west into the United Provinces stretch the spidery meter-gauge tracks of the Oudh and Tirhut Railway, one of the long est meter-gauge railways in the world, and certainly the most tiresome. Back and forth across the network of foam ing rivers that flow south into the Ganges from Nepal the tracks weave, stopping at a multitude of way stations. This is a great jute and sugar-cane belt, although it was once an old home of the indigo plant, a crop which largely died out before World War I. A Tedious Train Trip To get to west Nepal from Raxaul, we had to take a train journey of more than 800 miles, lasting 40 hours with four changes. Fortunately, the railroad, knowing the vicissi tudes of its own line, allowed passengers to rent a whole car by merely paying the normal fare for the number of passengers which the car would ordinarily carry. A double first car, so-called, had accommodations for six first-class passengers and three servants. The car itself, although called a first-class wagon, was always incredibly dusty and dirty, with yanked-out electric-light fixtures and faulty fans. At least, though, we had it to ourselves, and could revel in the luxury of having it shunted onto the other trains at the changes without having to get out and shift our mountains of luggage. We always seemed to have to change trains in the middle of the night.