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Hundreds Swarm to Palace Museum in Kathmandu

Friday marked a very special day in the lives of ordinary Nepalese people. For the first time ever, the former Royal Palace, which served the monarchy for 240 years, was opened to the public. Our correspondent Billi Bierling was there when the doors first opened.

The former royal palace in Kathmandu has been converted into a museum

The former royal palace in Kathmandu has been converted into a museum

Hundreds of people had queued up to enter the former Nepalese royal palace, which was closed to the public for over two centuries.

They were “excited!” said one man. A female visitor explained it was as if her “dreams had come true” and another was eager to find out what there was to be seen.

After the monarchy was abolished last year and former King Gyanendra was evacuated from the palace, the government decided to declare the whole complex into a museum.

“The palace has to be turned into a museum -- there is no other alternative. The palace was not suitable for any official or other purpose. This is the best idea of the government,” said Jal Krishna Shrestha, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture and State Restructuring.

2001 royal massacre

However, nobody can forget that the palace complex was also the site of a tragic event: In June 2001, the then Crown Prince shot 10 members of his family, including the king and queen, before killing himself.

The actual building in which the massacre took place was torn down some years ago. All that is left to see for the Nepalese, who were deeply shocked after the shooting, is a pile of bricks and signs pointing to the bullet holes.

The public is currently allowed to visit 19 of the palace’s 52 rooms and they can also enjoy a short wander around the royal gardens.

The rooms on display are the royal bedroom, the visitors’ quarters, the dining hall and several living rooms, which are all decorated in a 1970s-style.

Some expected to see a luxurious abode

Many of the visitors who expected to see flamboyant decoration were rather disappointed, such as this tourist from the United Kingdom.

“My impression of the palace was that it was actually not terribly grand. To be honest with you compared with other palaces I have seen in other parts of the world this was pretty plain.”

“It seems that they did not spend huge amounts of public wealth on the decoration and the furniture. Perhaps the valuable stuff is in storage. We did not see the crown jewels or any those sort of riches. It wasn’t a hugely luxurious abode,” she said.

A tourist attraction?

When Nepal’s monarch was still in power, more than 400 staff looked after the huge estate but now there are only 82 people running the museum.

Shrestha from the Ministry of Culture doubted the museum would become “a big tourist attraction. We have already seen many big museums in Europe and Southeast Asia and compared to other museums this is not so big.”

He thought it would be interesting mainly for Nepalese and South Asian visitors.

Whether or not the museum will be a tourist hit remains to be seen. But for the Nepalese, Friday 27 February 2009 will remain a historic day in the colourful history of their country.