SI Vault
Virginia Kraft
December 20, 1965
A Western sportswoman is invited on a royal shoot in the kingdom of Nepal. There, amid the high Himalayas, the Valley of Kathmandu and a forbidding jungle, she finds a wonderland whose enchantment all but transcends the thrill of the hunt itself. She arrives as balloons fly and guards stand in formal dress for a state holiday (right), has an unnerving audience with the king and then joins him for a confrontation (next page) in a circle ruled by a tiger.
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December 20, 1965

In The Land Of The Tiger

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It was 9 p.m. when we shook hands all around and, in the manner of Mr. Bhandary, I backed from the room, praying that I would not trip en route. I stumbled through the door into the arms of my troops. They had undergone a drastic change of mood. No longer somber, they completely surrounded me, grinning, nodding and pumping my hand. Mr. Gaywaly looked happiest of all.

"Madam, I am so proud," he said. "Your audience was scheduled for one-half hour, a gracious period. But you were with His Majesty the King for one hour and a half. It is a triumph for your country and for mine."

Mr. Gaywaly's enthusiasm extended all the way to Sital Niwas, where the staff turned out in force to welcome me. I had asked for a light supper in my room and found chicken, pork, venison, a curry, several vegetables, two cheeses and a variety of fresh fruit awaiting me. The director of protocol insisted I celebrate with a small drink, and I agreed to a brandy. Instantly, a little man appeared with an unopened bottle of Hennessy on a silver tray.

When my fans finally left and the feast had been sampled, I sat back on the brocaded couch to sip the brandy and think over the remarkable meeting with the royal family. I wondered again if this were all really happening. Surely it must be a dream. It turned out to be only a prelude to the fantasia ahead.

There were great crowds of soldiers, dignitaries, ministers, spectators and musicians at the airport two days later when I boarded the King's private plane for the flight to the big-game camp. Their Majesties had left Kathmandu the previous day to attend a state function, but His Royal Highness the Crown Prince was to be on the flight, along with one of His Majesty's two younger brothers, Prince Himalaya, the Prince's wife, Princess Princep, and Ambassador and Mrs. Wilhelm L´┐Żer of West Germany.

RF1 (for Royal Flight 1) was a twin-engined Ilyushin, a gift of the Russian government to His Majesty. Inside, it was divided into a forward and after cabin, each lavishly carpeted in Persian rugs and furnished with couches and armchairs decorated in blue and gold. I was shown to a couch in the front cabin where, the Crown Prince said, I would have the best view of the mountains. A steward passed candy, gum, cloves and pieces of dried ginger. Another served cold beer.

It was a perfect morning. The sky was clear and blue. On our right the spectacular Annapurnas stretched to the Tibetan border in a burst of sparkling spires. Beneath us the valley lay lush with foliage. Presently we climbed above the rim of snowcapped mountains and began a long, slow descent into the area called the Terai. This is the lowland of Nepal, a fertile, tropical plain barely 500 feet above sea level that begins in the foothills of the Siwalik and Churia ranges of the Himalayas and runs to the border of India, thus extending along the southern portion of Nepal for almost its entire 500-mile length. Here, within sight of the snow, are steaming jungles, dense forests and endless stands of tall grass.

In July and August, when the monsoon turns the Terai into a gigantic breeding ground for the anopheles mosquito, malaria stalks the region like a man-eater. But in the spring, before the rivers overflow their banks and the wild game is scattered by the floods, the Terai is one of the richest hunting grounds left in the world.

Great herds of handsome spotted chitals graze in its fields. Barking deer and hog deer tiptoe through scrub jungle. Heavy-antlered barasingha stags feed in the swamps and wild buffalo snort in the marsh. The great Indian one-horned rhinoceros survives here, protected now after centuries of slaughter for the mysterious medicinal properties attributed to its horn of agglutinated hair. The sound of wild elephants trumpeting is still heard in the forests. Along the edges of small villages, leopards prowl the shadows, and when darkness comes the tiger hunts the Terai.

We landed on a dirt strip at Dhangarhi in the southwest of this country and transferred to a helicopter for the final 20-minute flight to camp. Our baggage, which had followed us from Kathmandu on RF2, a DC-3, was transferred to a second helicopter waiting nearby. Like RF1, the helicopters were gifts of the Russian government. For the latter the U.S.S.R. had provided Russian crews as well.

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