8-14 November 2013 #680

Inger Lissanevitch, 85

Inger Lissanevitch, 85, passed away in her apartment in Bhaktapur on Monday afternoon. Inger was the widow of Boris, the Russian émigré who opened Nepal’s first hotel in 1951.

The Danish met Boris at his 300 Club in Kolkata in the late 1940s. They were married in Copenhagen in December 1948 and returned immediately to India. In 1951, they relocated to Kathmandu following the downfall of the Rana regime and the return from exile of their friend, King Tribhuvan.

Boris opened The Royal Hotel in what is now the Election Commission offices in central Kathmandu. He persuaded Tribhuvan to issue the first tourist visas to Nepal and played host to a range of famous mountaineers and dignitaries and even orchestrated the state visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Nepal in 1961.

While Boris - who was more than 20 years her senior - pursued his ever-fanciful business interests, Inger looked after their four children and was popular with the hotel’s guests, including author Han Suyin, whose novel, The Mountain is Young featured a character based on her, in which she was described as a ‘Nordic goddess’. “In the 15 years we have been married, I have only spent two evenings alone with him,” she told author Michel Peissel for his memoir-cum-biography of Boris, Tiger for Breakfast.

Inger played another important role in the day-to-day running of the family and hotel: that of Boris’s long-suffering accountant. “He was a terrible businessman,” she told me in an interview in 2011, “he didn’t think about money at all, so that was left to me.” Her affection for her husband was impossible to dispute, however, and was rivalled only by that which she felt for her beloved Kathmandu. After Boris’ passing in 1985, Inger continued to live in Nepal and after suffering a robbery, moved to Bhaktapur. She preferred the comparatively quiet atmosphere there to the bustle of the capital, where the rapid, unplanned urbanisation of the city left her pining for the intricate Newari architecture that had once dominated the city.

In the final years of her life, Inger lived independently with the care of architect Rabindra Puri, who she became friends with in 2002. She described Puri as ‘the second most fascinating man I’ve ever met’ – after Boris of course – and it was with his family and her friends that she spent the evening of Laxmi Puja at a private party in Bhaktapur.

She died of a suspected stroke the following day. Inger is survived by her three sons: Mishka, Alexander, and Nicolas and their families. She was cremated at Pashupatinath on Thursday.

Colin Cooper

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