Recently I met ‘Mummy’ Elizabeth Mendies (now in her 80s), who mentioned how she and Inger as young women squabbled over the tourists who arrived on the first ‘Fokkers’ from Patna. Elizabeth representing the Snow Lion Hotel, Inger Hotel Royal. What a sight, two very tall beautiful young women, one an American ex-Salvation Army officer, the other a Danish beauty.
Bridget Kellas came in 1967 with her husband the British Ambassador, Arthur Kellas, along with three small children. A talented artist and lover of art and culture, Bridget and Inger became friends, spending time together painting, and traveling and once on the Terai on safari, Bridget once marvelled when Boris produce Crepes Suzette over a campfire. Boris and Inger had a cottage at Ichangu Narayan where the two families held picnics, and of course there was the British Embassy cottage at Kakani, when they wished to picnic further afield, or spend a weekend away.
In 1970 Boris was jailed on a trumped up charge, so Bridget insisted Inger stay with them in the Embassy residence, to avoid the publicity seekers. The Hotel Royal had closed and by this time the Lal Durbar (in the old Rana section of the Yak and Yeti Hotel ) was transformed into a restaurant and bar, and the ‘Naachghar’ the only palace theatre, became a theatre restaurant. So while Boris was languishing in jail, Bridget set to and painted the murals on the walls and ceilings, as a farewell gift to her dear friends. She was leaving, their four years were drawing to a close.
During this whole time, the Royal Wedding of King Birendra was about to take place. Bridget Kellas had a house full of guests, including Prince Richard of Gloucester his family and aides. She rushed from a ladder in Naachghar, to championing Boris who was still in jail, to the parties that were part of the preparation for the wedding, wearing small white gloves at the parties to cover up her paint stained hands and fingers. And packing up her house and possessions at the same time. She was a woman with enormous hyperactive energy.
The murals reflected her friendship with the Lissanevitch’s, showing jungle scenes, elephant rides with Inger and Boris, and treks in the mountains.
Bridget’s most recent letter gives Inger news of her children and grandchildren and Arthur now in his 80s. Asking too about Inger and her own painting, and whether she has got back into it. In 2000 Inger exhibited her paintings along with two other women, Dorothy Mierow who died last year in Oregon at 80, and Uni Brandt who died only three months after the exhibition. Both these women had spent 30 years on and off in Nepal, and like Inger had painted, with Dorothy particularly well known for her illustrated bird books on Birds of Nepal.
I gave a party earlier this year which Inger attended, resplendent all in blue. She only wears blue these days, with her inevitable blue hat. Jan Salter the portrait artist came too, (Faces of Nepal by Jan Salter and Harka Gurung). After the lunch Jan said she would really like to paint Inger before she leaves Nepal. Yes, Inger is planning to settle back in Denmark after 50 years in Nepal.
I drove Inger to Jan’s house for the first sitting and took a few photos as the portrait evolved. Drove them mad actually, so Jan finally told me to go away, and leave them alone.
So instead of remaining on the walls of Naachghar, Inger has now been immortalized at the hands of Jan Salter, Nepal's finest portrait artist.
The photos of Inger sitting, were sent to Bridget Kellas on email, and low and behold a letter came from Bridget only a week or so ago, commenting on Inger's beauty, and on her love for blue.
Inger's many friends here in Nepal will miss her when she finally leaves, and Nepal's tourism industry has much to thank Inger for, as the fledgling industry was nurtured along under her capable guidance.
In a bygone era, there was no such thing as a hotel in Nepal. Travelers would stay in a home...