Inv. SDE/cn-63211
Nepalese Collection

Item acquired by Nicolas Stevens for the Surnateum in
Origin: Katmandu (Nepal)


A complete and extremely rare example of a Nepalese shaman's basket, containing a strange mummified hand reminiscent of a yeti paw; a drum and part of an outfit.

Report: Legends

According to an ancient Nepalese legend, King Prithvi Narayan, while travelling through Katmandu valley, met a wise old man, whose lined face was actually a disguise for the god Gorakh Nath. The king offered him some curds, which the old man accepted but then promptly regurgitated and offered back to the king. Prithvi Narayan turned the bowl over with disgust and some of the curds splashed onto the god's feet. Mad with rage, the ill-tempered god Gorakh Nath cursed the king, telling him his descendants would disappear after the tenth generation, i.e. the number of years corresponding to the number of dirtied toes.
But since that is not where the legend actually starts, let's go back a few more years.
In the 18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, who had set out on an expedition to explore the outermost bounds of his kingdom of Ghorka, met hunters who had captured an 'abominable snowman'. The creature was in a pitiful state. The king bought the yeti and had it cared for as best he could, but unfortunately it was too late; the creature was dying. The abominable snowman informed Shah that it was one of the last descendants of its race and that after its imminent death its body should be carefully hidden away. It said that Shah's compassion would lead to him being named king of all of Nepal, as long as the royal family had possession of the creature's mortal remains. This prophecy was confirmed later by the Brahmans, even though in 1743, Prithvi Narayan was just one of countless petty Rajput kings established around 100 kilometres to the west of Katmandu.
In 1766, Prithvi Narayan Shah seized the citadel of Kirtipur, which commanded the valley of Katmandu. He then had the noses and lips cut off of all the inhabitants and sent these 'death's head' men and women out to sow terror throughout the valley.
On 26 September 1768, Prithvi Narayan entered Katmandu on the day of the festival of Indra Jatra and was named King of Nepal at the age of 45. Throughout the following decades, the history of Nepalese royalty resembles a violent game of intrigue and massacre, but the dynasty remained in place.
In or around 1905, archaeologist Sylvain Lévi - who had approached the reigning monarch (at that time confined in his palace "with the women and flowers") - told the then Collector the curious legend of the abominable snowman. He emphasised that possessing a relic of the creature would enable the owner to justify his claim to the Nepalese throne. At that time, the 'Ranas' from the family of Jung Banadur (prime minister and a notorious usurper) held power, not the Nepalese sovereigns. They did not possess the relic that would allow them to be rid of Prithvi Narayan's descendants once and for all.
In 1924, a rumour swept through the scientific community that a Franco-Prussian archaeologist had brought back a yeti skeleton from Tibet.
In the first volume of his book entitled Sur la piste des bêtes ignorées (On the track of unknown animals), published in 1955, cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans reported a number of similar accounts of creatures living in the forests of Nepal. These accounts came from Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan..
It might have all stopped there, as nothing more than legends and anecdotes - if it had not been for something else...

The expedition

It all began with an e-mail from the Surnateum's Nepalese correspondent telling us of the discovery of a shaman kit containing a curious amulet in the shape of a giant hand - probably a yeti paw. Unfortunately, according to legend, only the king of Nepal can have access to this type of object, the absolute symbol of royalty. Possession of this 'amulet' means power. The message also told us that various groups were looking for the object and that they posed a genuine threat to anyone trying to get their hands on it. Killers hired by a member of the royal family, as well as followers of a Maoist group were competing with our team. The race was on.
Nicolas Stevens volunteered for the expedition. He had the brilliant idea of concealing the real purpose of his trip in the guise of a hiking holiday. He would travel with his twin brother to create a red herring and was sure that he could find a way to cross the border with the relic.
July 1999: The mission is in Katmandu and our Investigator must find an excuse to leave the group for three days in order to go looking for the shaman's basket. Conveniently, he succumbed to a bad bout of emphysema and was confined to the town and given medication while the others left on their first trek.
A meeting was arranged with the museum's Nepalese correspondent, who guided Nicolas through the squalid, stinking alleys of the town near Pashupatinath, and showed him the basket and the full array of shaman kit. The giant paw attached to the stick reminded him of the discovery made by Humboldt-Fonteyne in March 1924 at the sanctuary of Tasi-Cho-Songny in Tibet, which he called Eanthropus nivalensis. (The skeleton brought back by Humboldt-Fonteyne can now be found in a Belgian museum.) The trader explained in broken English that he preferred to sell to foreigners, because they paid better, than to members of a given sect or to visionary who wanted to ascend to the Cobra Throne - especially since if the relic fell into the wrong hands it could tip the country into anarchy. He was also keen to keep his head where it was for the time being, since he had a large family to feed and so on. The talks went on for four hours and finally Nicolas acquired the item. The next problem was how to get the object through customs. So, our intrepid explorer visited the customs clearance office, where he was told that taking these objects out of the country was strictly forbidden. The customs officer would only let a tiny part of the acquired objects across the border. Nicolas knew that he had been identified by the customs agent. Leaving the office he noticed a young boy following him to his hotel. He tried to shake him off using the techniques taught to the Surnateum's Investigators, but he was not sure that he succeeded.
In the meantime, the rest of the expedition - unaware of the secret mission - had returned to the hotel. Nicolas' brother said he wanted to go on a trek on his own into a safe part of the country. He ended up being attacked by Nepalese bandits wielding axes and only escaped with his life by keeping his wits about him and diving into a ravine. After wandering for two days, and left for dead by his attackers, he managed to make it back to Katmandu in a pitiful state, having lost all of his gear. He was taken to the emergency room of the hospital, where he was saved by a local doctor, and urgently repatriated thanks to a repatriation insurance policy that he had wisely taken out before leaving home. The carefully wrapped package made it across the border without being opened.


During the evening of Friday, 1 June 2001, the entire royal family of Nepal was wiped out and Gyanendra, the king's brother, came to power in Nepal. King Birendra was the eleventh descendant of Prithvi Narayan Shah. The king's brother was politely compared to Adolf Hitler by the people. The prophecy had been fulfilled. The god Gorakh Nath was finally able to revel in his vengeance and Nepal is teetering on the brink of anarchy.