The opportunity comes out of the blue but sounds too inviting to turn down: A Swiss girl is sent to Himachal Pradesh, also known as the «Indian Switzerland», to stay with a local king.
The beautiful mountainside is astonishing, and with the blue and cloudless sky below me, I can’t help to think of my own country. The sleepy villages, the forests, the calmness…Every moment I expect Heidi crossing my way. The same kind of ambiance inspired the Swiss author Johanna Spyri 1880 to write the world famous children story about the orphan girl Heidi who is sent to live with her grandfather on the alp.
And this is what irritates me: I have been told that a king family still lives in this remote Himalayan mountain area. In Switzerland with its deep democratic roots, empires belong to the world of fairy tales. ((And if you go three generations back, you will find farmers roots in the genealogy of each and every swiss citizens.)) This is not part of my concept at all. Heidi is bouncing bare-footed in the lush green meadow; her nature is simple and a little naïve. There’s nothing royal about her at all, her behaviour is everything but not aristocratic, and she lives in an alp cottage and not in a palace. It’s hard to believe that in this innocent Heidi atmosphere, a kingdom does exist. Will they wear royal dresses with a crown and ride horses and sleep in huge beds like in my childhood books?
Vikram Sen, the current king of Junga, welcomes me in front of his beautiful wooden palace. He laughs that his moustache almost touches his nose. He is dressed in ordinary jeans and sweater and instead of riding a horse, he drives a cute red car. But if someone thinks Vikram Sen is a ordinary guy in ordinary jeans, he’s definitely wrong. When Vikram Sen drives his car through the only street of the village, the villagers on the sides bow their heads in the moment they recognise the king. More than obviously, he is respected by his people a lot. Maybe Junga is only a small village with a few hundred habitants of not big importance. Maybe the king drives through the capital of his kingdom by car in less than three minutes. But still it’s a kingdom. And its ruler is Raja Vikram Sen himself.
Raja Vikram Sen got the throne after his father died in 2002. He is the 103rd king who rules the State of Keonthal in District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. In the old days, Junga used to be the capital of 22 small states, today, it’s the capital of the few surrounding villages. From the sundeck of the palace, the king has a great view over the valley, his kingdom. Secretly, I’m watching out for the throne, but I can’t find it. Instead, Vikram Sen shows me a huge wooden door which contains a safe. Are there all the treasures of the kingdom inside? The only who knows the code to the safe is the Raja himself.
«The life of a princess is simple», explain his 12-year old daughter Sunandanee later on. She likes sports and spends all her day outside in the fresh air, even in winter time the meals are taken outside on the sundeck. This is a paradise for children, no doubt. The family usually sits around the bonfire in the evenings, they don’t use the gas heater, «because the bonfire is better for health». Next to the palace, they have their own cows which give them milk. Every lunch they drink lassie and the milk moustache which remains on their mouths proofs how healthy their lives is.
There is no doubt: The nature-loving Heidi, who is sent to her aunt in the city and hates the stiff atmosphere there, would like the simple life of this king family of Keonthal. No stiffness, less royalty, but masses of nature.