King Gyanendra is attending a public felicitation ceremony in Nepalganj on Sunday at a time when student-led protests in support of republicanism are intensifying across the country.
More than 300 welcome arches have been put up along the seven kilometre stretch of road from the airport to the stadium where the king will be honoured. Potholes have been hastily plugged and roads widened.
But the mood in Nepalganj is subdued. The Maoist-affiliated Tharuwan Liberation Front has announced a three-day bandh starting Friday in four districts adjoining districts. Violence has risen: two policemen were killed in explosions this week and 30 security personnel were injured on the Mahendra Highway Wednesday. Security has been stepped up, with choppers hovering overhead. "Watch us, you will see from tomorrow how tight security will be," Regional Administrator, Rabindra Man Joshi told us. At joint meetings to coordinate security and preparations, the main worry is the low turnout. This is the third official felicitation ceremony for King Gyanendra since he ascended the throne in June 2001, and is part of the tradition for a new king. The first two ceremonies were held in Biratnagar and Dhangadi last year.
For locals, this is a time to lie low. "We have learnt not to expect much from these official visits," said a local, Prem Bahadur Malla.
Local NGOs, businesses, offices have been mobilised. VDCs and DDCs in the outlying areas, including districts in the Maoist affected areas have set up preparatory committees to arrange for people to travel to Nepalganj.
The local leaders of the political parties say they will boycott the royal event. Krishna Man Shrestha of the Nepali Congress said: "We have not received any decision from the central committee, but we are not going to participate." The UML's Deb Raj Bhar said the felicitation ceremony was "quite meaningless", adding: "It is very bad timing. All this expense at a time when the country is in crisis." Student unions affiliated to the parties are planning a protest program on the same day.
Not everyone is so negative. Purna Lal Chuke, a Nepalganj-based political analyst said: "This is a Maoist-affected region, and maybe when the king comes here he will find out for himself how bad things are and help us."