Outside the door a collection of tiny men in identical Nepalese dress stood by expectantly as Mr. Rimal, His Majesty's Director of Hospitality, showed me my room. It was about 40 by 20 feet with a bath at least half that size. The ceilings were high and ornately carved. French windows opened onto a balcony above a courtyard brilliant with pink and orange blossoms. In one corner of the room there was a canopied bed; in another, a brocaded couch, armchairs and several small tables set with fresh flowers. The building was not heated, but a portable electric unit was already attacking the chill. The equerries bustled about patting pillows, distributing seven pieces of luggage, opening and closing shutters and generally getting in each other's way.
"They are at your command, madam," Mr. Rimal said, and indeed they were. Whenever I stirred, no matter the time of day or night, one or another of the faithful was there.
"Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England and the Duke of Edinburgh stayed there," said Mr. Rimal, pointing to a row of windows directly opposite mine across the courtyard. "But now you must have lunch."
We traveled down the hall for another block or two, then turned into what I assumed was the dining room for the entire guesthouse. It proved to be merely the dining room for my suite. It was about twice the length of my bedroom. Down the center was a table that could scat 100. There was a single place set at one end. I was evidently eating alone. A column of little men appeared from behind a tapestry screen. They marched in step down the length of the table, each holding a covered china tureen at shoulder height. I expected four-and-twenty blackbirds to fly into the air. Instead there were several meats, four vegetable dishes, a variety of raw greens, two kinds of potatoes and three kinds of rice. I accepted a little of each to offend no one. Calories were obviously not going to count. The troops were expressionless as they served the dishes. I waited until the last disappeared behind the tapestry, then contemplated the forks. I shut my eyes and chose one, clumsily knocking another to the floor. The sound reverberated. One of the waiters popped from behind the tapestry and vanished again, doubtless to report my disgrace. Systematically, I worked through forks and feed. Every bite echoed. The instant I finished, my army returned. It brought fresh china and cutlery, and the second course. I was learning about Nepal hospitality.
Beginning with the National Day parade on the afternoon following my arrival, the next few days were filled with receptions, cultural shows, banquets, official presentations and formal and informal festivities. Each necessitated a different outfit and a scramble back to Sital Niwas to effect the change. Rarely did the day's "programme" allow time for such intermissions. Things were further complicated by the heavy-traffic through my room. The custom at the guesthouse when anyone wanted to deliver a message, pay a visit or make a bed was simply to rap once and walk right in. Since I was unable to lock the door on the inside—although one of my men loyally sealed it on the outside with a giant padlock whenever I went out—I found myself diving for cover fairly regularly.
A member of His Majesty's Foreign Service was assigned as my official escort in Kathmandu. His name was Mr. Gaywaly, and he insisted on calling me "madam, my most precious charge," which suggests that he had chosen the right profession. Besides being good for my ego, Mr. Gaywaly proved invaluable at unraveling the names, titles and relationships of the countless ministers and dignitaries I met.
His Majesty the King was present at many of the week's festivities, but he remained the one man I did not meet, since this was to be accomplished at a formal presentation. My audience with the King was the subject of considerable advance concern. Half a dozen palace officials stopped by to confirm the time, the date, the place—and then reconfirm everything at least twice more. On the appointed day I succeeded in dressing only by barricading myself in the bathroom. I emerged to find Mr. Gaywaly, three palace directors, my driver, a standby driver in case something happened to the first driver, two soldiers and most of the servants pacing around my room. They made no effort to mask their inspection of what I was wearing. Evidently the black Italian-silk suit with pearls, mink stole and tiny veil were suitable. We left, in force, for the palace. I was Dorothy about to meet the Wizard.
The royal family lives, not in the 1,500-room Singha Durbar, once the palace of the Rana prime ministers and at that time the largest private dwelling in the world, but in a smaller palace located midway between Sital Niwas and Durbar Square in the center of Kathmandu. It is small only in relation to Singha Durbar. Imposing stone walls surround the palace and its various substructures. Semitropical gardens line either side of a long, curving drive to the main residence. I was shown into a royal waiting room where several more palace directors checked their watches. They, like Mr. Gaywaly, were in formal dress. This differs from regular Nepalese attire only in that the usual jodhpurs and tunic are white and the jacket and topi are black.
The audience was scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. and last for half an hour. We had at least 15 minutes still to wait. His Majesty's Principal Private Secretary, Mr. Bhandary, directed me to a chair. The others sat down stiffly, staring straight ahead. Nobody spoke.
"The audience is at 7:30?" I ventured.