Nepal's royal palace now a public museum

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Narayanhiti Royal Palace has been converted into a museum, signifying the end of Nepal's 239-year-old monarchy.
Image: Petr Novák.

Narayanhity Royal Palace, home to Nepal's kings for over a century, was today converted into a public museum, further signifying the country's recent transition from a monarchy to a republic.

At a brief ceremony, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala hoisted the national flag where previously only the royal flag had flown, and unveiled a plaque reading "Narayanhity National Museum". Proclaiming the museum as belonging to the people, Koirala said, "Today the son of a common people has hoisted the country's flag in this palace. Now Nepal has entered a new era."

Nepal's deposed king Gyanendra vacated the palace on Wednesday, after the newly elected Constituent Assembly voted to abolish the 239-year-old monarchy on May 28. He then moved to Nagarjuna Palace, a summer home on the outskirts of the capital Kathmandu, where he is now living as a civilian. However, this home is only a temporary one, and he will soon be asked by the government to leave it as well.

The world's eyes are on Nepal for the unique example it created of proclaiming a republic without any bloodshed.

—Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala

Prime Minister Koirala said he was glad the transition occurred peacefully. "The world's eyes are on Nepal for the unique example it created of proclaiming a republic without any bloodshed," he said. He also thanked the former king for "understanding the desire and expectation of the people by voluntarily moving out to live an exile-like life." Koirala also addressed the need to focus on more pressing issues, such as drafting a new constitution and choosing a new federal structure.

The process began around two years ago, when a national uprising forced the king to relinquish the absolute power he had installed and to reinstate the parliament. In late 2007, the parliament agreed to declare Nepal a republic, which was to be implemented after the April 2008 elections. The Maoists, who had been fighting against the monarchy for over 10 years, won the majority of seats, and the monarchy was officially ended in an overwhelming vote.

Despite the ceremony, Narayanhity National Museum is not yet open to the public. Nepali home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said, "After proper preparation, the palace will be opened to the public in two to three months." There are some differing opinions of what to do with the museum; Nepal's national library wants the museum to include a national archives of important documents, while others want to develop the museum into a major tourist attraction.

Officials say the museum will likely include the king's crown, sceptre, and royal throne, as well as a 1939 Mercedes-Benz given to Gyanendra's grandfather by Adolf Hitler. "The car will be a major attraction there,", said Govinda Kusum, a senior Home Ministry official. King Tribhuvan used to ride the Mercedes when there were no other cars in the country, and it currently lies on the palace grounds, after an engineering college in Kathmandu said they didn't have enough money to restore it.