Few things speak clearer to the political changes that have transformed Nepal over the last 15 years than this walled palace at the northern end of Durbar Marg. King Gyanendra was given 15 days to vacate the property in 2008 and within two years the building was reopened as a people’s museum by then prime minister Prachandra, the very Maoist guerrilla leader who had been largely responsible for the king’s spectacular fall from grace.
The palace walls and gates were damaged in the 2015 earthquake, but the palace itself dates from the 1960s and was largely unaffected.
Full of chintzy meeting rooms and faded 1970s glamour, the palace interior is more outdated than opulent; it feels a bit like the lair of a B-grade Thunderball-era James Bond villain. The highlights are the impressive throne and banquet halls and the surprisingly modest royal bedrooms. Stuffed gharial, tigers and rhino heads line the halls next to towering portraits of earlier Shahs and photos of the royal family taken with other doomed leaders – Yugoslavia’s Tito, Romania’s Ceaușescu and Pakistan’s Zia ul-Haq.
The locations where Prince Dipendra massacred his family in 2001 are rather morbidly marked, though the actual building was rather suspiciously levelled after the crime. Bullet holes are still visible on some of the walls. Just as interesting as the building are the locals’ reactions to it, as they peek behind the wizard's curtain at a regal lifestyle that for centuries they could only have dreamed about. Cameras and bags are not allowed inside the complex but lockers are available.