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Nepal: writers' new muse

books Updated: Apr 16, 2007 15:32 IST
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The Himalayas, youth hostels, backpackers ... and then a dead body. The royal family visits a temple and a yogi makes a stunning prediction: one day, the crown prince will kill his royal parents. It sounds chilling, but then it is meant to be. These are all plots taken from several adventure thrillers.

Though the stories are different, they have one thing in common - Nepal. After anthropologists, photographers, historians and mountaineers, thriller writers are discovering Nepal and making it the backdrop for their literary dark doings.

After Nepal opened up in the 1950s and the first travellers started arriving, many of them wove imagination with things actually seen and experienced to produce a series of adventure mysteries.

One of the first Nepal-based fictions is Escape from Kathmandu - four stories about the misadventures of US expatriates with a yeti, espionage and mountain climbing.

The 1989 book's author Kim Stanley Robinson, an avid mountain climber, has continued to weave his interests in the mountains and Asian religions in his later books as well.

In 1994, The Kali Connection, a potboiler with drugs, disappearances and a mysterious eastern cult, hit the stands. Written by Claudia McKay, the plot takes investigative reporter Lynn Evans to Nepal after coming across a death apparently due to a drug overdose and a girl who vanishes.

Six years after McKay's book, a Canadian techie afflicted with wanderlust arrived in Nepal from India.

Jon Evans, 27, had finished going through Japan, China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and South Africa and had quit a "grossly overpaid job" after four months to see a little more of the world.

Evans spent a month in Nepal, visiting Kathmandu and sunny city Pokhara, trekking in the Annapurna mountain region and rafting down the Sun Koshi River.

When he returned, he took back something more than fond memories - the plot for his debuting novel Dark Places.

It's the story of Paul Wood, who during his travels in Nepal, comes across a corpse with Swiss army knives embedded in each eye. A serial killer is prowling among backpackers and it becomes Wood's mission to track him down, using the Internet.

Though Evans says he collected 100 rejection slips when he sent the manuscript to publishers, Dark Places did win an award. Asked if he would like to write another Nepal book, Evans leaves it to his destiny and destination.

"I have no specific plans to write another Nepal book," he says, "But I absolutely adored the country when I was there. So if and when I return ... it wouldn't surprise me at all if that turned into another book."

The most prolific 'Kathmandu writer' is probably Dominic J Cibrario, an American expatriate who first came to Nepal in 1962 as a Peace Corps volunteer.

His nearly two-year stay, when he taught in village schools, inspired a Kathmandu trilogy: The Pomelo Tree, The Harvest and The Shamans.

These are the adventures of anthropologist Carl Brech, who travels to South Asia to study shamanism.

Kathmanduites would be delighted with the appearance of the familiar landmarks of the capital in Cibrario's books: the Kathmandu Guest House, Taleju temple, Pkhara and the Fewa Lake.

Though written in the 1970s, the novels are remarkably modern since Cibrario visited Nepal in 2000 to attend a Peace Corps reunion and stayed for five weeks to update his book.

The trilogy is uncanny in a way not intended by the author. The Pomelo Tree, written in 1977 and published in 2000, has an eerie prediction.

"There is an attempted assassination at the royal palace, but the plot is unsuccessful," Cibrario says. "A yogi during Dasain (Nepal's biggest festival, akin to India's Dussehra) predicts that that the crown prince, who is just a little boy, will assassinate the king and queen. This occurs while the royal family is making a public appearance at the Kumari temple."

A year after the book was published, the imaginary prediction comes true with Crown Prince Dipendra apparently killing his parents and seven other relatives during a dinner in the palace.

In the last book of the trilogy, The Shamans, the young daughter of a shaman predicts the death of nearly all members of the royal family, another imagining that also comes true.

The second book, The Harvest, published in 2005, the year King Gyanendra staged his coup, again uncannily describes a violent protest of students involving the destruction of shops, restaurants and hotels near the royal palace.

That too comes true in April 2006 when the Maoists ally with the seven-party opposition to lead 19 days of continuous street protests against the royal regime, finally forcing the king to step down.

And now, Cibrario has another Kathmandu book in his mind.

"I have written an outline for a sequel to the trilogy," he says. "Return to Kathmandu will take place 25 years later, involving the massacre of the royal family."

Readers, and Nepal, will hold their breath to know what else about the future Cibrario has seen in his clairvoyant mind's crystal ball.

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