By Prakash Silwal
KATHMANDU: The Narayanhiti Royal Palace is now a museum. Although a national property now, security guards keep vigilance at the place round the clock and prevent the break-in of the commoners to this enclave in downtown Kathmandu except from the front door for the museum.
Earlier, commoners were not even allowed to walk nearby the walls of the palace, but many hard and fast rules were loosened following the April 25 earthquake. Some portion of the 308-hectare palace at its backward has been turned into a temporary shelter for some 1,200 commoners since the 7.6-magnitude quake rendered their houses inhabitable.
One among such commoner refugees is Bimala Shrestha. Originally from Tanahu district, Shrestha’s rented place ahead of the museum’s South Gate suffered damages due to the quake. Thereafter she fled to safety to the open space inside the museum as the walls there were also fallen.
“We do not have any inconvenience here except for the deafening howling of the foxes at night,” shared Shrestha, adding that she finds the place a haven as there was no fear of the wild beasts in the presence of on-guard armies.
Shrestha has no plan to stay under the makeshift tents like this forever. “I will move to safer rented room elsewhere as I find one,” shared Shrestha.
Initially, the Nepal Army did not allow the quake-hit persons like Shrestha to trespass the national property, but later, on humanitarian grounds, they not only permitted an admission to those rendered homeless but also offered them tents and other relief materials.
Aman Rajak is another fellow commoner sheltering in the palace following the massive earthquake. A washerman by profession, Rajak has been off the duty for two weeks and half. Although the stay in the museum premises is relatively safe than other temporary shelters as in Tundikhel, Rajak is spending his time fidgeting.
The place where commoners are staying temporarily has a clean lawn, and greenery all around. It also has proper facility of drinking water and toilets.
The chirping of the birds residing in the trees here are also serving the role of harbinger of the quake or aftershocks, giving the commoners some sort of mental comfort.
Many of them have made a makeshift kitchen too. Their children also seem to enjoy the open space stay as it offered them a big playground and a chance to cultivate friendship with fellow children.
Not only commoners, some army personnel and their family persons are also sharing the space with them in this temporary shelter as the army quarters inside the then palace premises have also sustained damages.
According to an Army man, they have been providing shelter to the quake-hit persons coming here to take refuge. But they also take a regular attendance of the people sheltering here just to prevent the infiltration of the fake quake-hit persons.
Many humanitarian organizations do keep coming to this temporary shelter to distribute relief materials and offer medical assistance especially to the expecting mothers, children and the elderly, according to him.
It is also learnt that the former Queen Mother Ratna is residing inside the museum building under a tent after her residence ‘Mahendra Manjil’ developed some cracks.