King Mahendra didn’t pay hunting bill in US

King Mahendra and Queen Ratna posing atop a rhino they shot on a hunting trip in Africa

The Anchorage Daily News in its 18 October edition has profiled a US Navy veteran who guided King Mahendra and Queen Ratna during a hunting trip in Alaska in November 1967, who has revealed that the royal entourage left without settling $60,000 in expenses.

The news item, part of series on Alaskan history by David Reamer, has some startling revelations about the Nepali royals splurging during a side-trip to Alaska after a state visit to Washington DC as guests of the US government.

This was the height of the Cold War, before the US-China rapprochement, and the Americans were courting Nepal because of its strategic Himalayan location.

Reamer writes: ‘Nepali flags, donated by the State Department, flew alongside American flags around the city hall block (in Anchorage) for the duration of his stay. A procession of black limousines ferried the king and queen around town, including to the Hotel Captain Cook, which operated as their home base.’

Screengrab of the story in Anchorage Daily News, 18/10/2021

The State Department got the king the hunting guide, Al Burnett, who told the media later that the king gave him a list of game he wanted to shoot: Kodiak bears, grizzlies, sea lions, moose, wolves, elk and even walruses.

Hunting some of those animals during the Alaskan autumn would have been unlawful. But Reamer writes: ‘The State Department, eager to impress a head of state with the majesty of the United States, overrode every complaint.’

King Mahendra got a complimentary temporary hunting license, and Burnett negotiated with the Royal Nepal Embassy in Washington DC for the three-week royal itinerary in Alaska and its cost.

Burnett is quoted as telling the Los Angeles Times two years after the trip by Nepal’s king and queen: ‘They’re used to hunting in a different way … waiting in a comfortable machan or on the backs of elephants for their shikaris to drive game to them. Then Their Majesties fly in by helicopter and take the best of them.’

Burnett also described King Mahendra as having poor eyesight, adding: ‘He’s the kind of hunter you take out there and get him real close and say, ‘OK — shoot.

Queen Ratna posing with a tiger she shot in Chitwan.

The article reveals that Queen Ratna also killed a bear from a Department of Interior plane, even though shooting from the air was not allowed. After the trip, the king took home trophies of moose, caribou, mountain goat and two bears, the paper says.

Burnett also talks about the royals lavishly paying for luxury items in Alaska, and always having a hanger-on who carried ‘a bag filled with travelers cheques’ on shopping expeditions.

The article claims that Burnett presented the Nepal Embassy with bills for $60,000, worth nearly 500,000 in today’s dollars, which was never repaid. Kodiak Mayor Pete Deveau is quoted as saying: ‘Everybody here knocked themselves out for King Mahendra and then he doesn’t pay his bills.’

The paper quotes the general manager of the hotels that the royal entourage stayed in telling the Los Angeles Times in 1969: “We’ve been had.”

The US State Department reportedly refused to pay for the royal expenses, and the issue of unpaid bills was even raised by Congressmen on behalf of their Alaskan constituents. Burnett tells the paper that the non-payment left him deeply in debt, and he had to sell his plane and other possessions to pay some of it off.

Even so, Burnett thought Mahendra was “a real nice little guy”, and gives the king the benefit of doubt, saying may not have known that the Embassy did not pick up the tab. Mahendra even sent Burnett a ‘Happy New Year’ note after he got back to Nepal.

King Mahendra died five years later during a hunting trip in Chitwan, and was succeeded by his son, Birendra. 

Although Nepal’s royals were fond of hunting big game, some of them turned into avid conservationists later on in life. The King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation was named after the king himself, and was headed by his other son, Gyanendra. 

The trust is now called National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) after parliament voted to abolish the monarchy in 2008, and Gyanendra stepped down as king.  

Nearly a third of Nepal’s area is now set aside for national parks or conservation areas.