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Overwhelming welcome for Gurkha heroes

Reporter Chris Denham is out in Nepal with campaigner Joanna Lumley and Kent supporters of the Gurkhas.

Here is his dramatic eyewitness account of the adulation - and flowers - showered on the team.

Joanna Lumley
Joanna Lumley

Thousands of Gurkha veterans and their families gave actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley a staggering welcome to Nepal on Sunday, with an outpouring of emotion.

Her arrival at the airport was an incredible moment, as a throng of people and the hyperactive Nepalese press descended on her.
Ms Lumley is visiting the country accompanied by Folkestone councillors Peter Carroll, Lynne Beaumont and Dhan Gurung; the legal team behind the veterans High Court victory this year, the world's press, her son Jamie and her husband Stephen Barlow.
They are on a whistle-stop tour of the fledgling democracy, ranging from capital city Kathmandu, to second city Pokhara, Dharan, Jhapa and even Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
So far they have been deluged both literally and figuratively, as people have come from miles around to meet the group, and it is monsoon season. Ms Lumley is regularly referred to as a "goddess" and "daughter of Nepal".
Democracy only came to the country on May 28 last year, so it was significant that among those the group has met were Prime Minister Madhav Nepal, President Ram Yadar and the Foreign Minister. The King's palace is now a museum, although he still lives in the country.
GAESO, the Gurkha Ex-Servicemen Organisation, also laid on a welcome, with a theatre filled with veterans and their families.
Joanna Lumley, Dhan Gurung, and Peter Carroll were all feted by the organisation, which presented them with certificates - made of wood and brass, not paper - of their gratitude.
At every public meeting garlands have been thrust upon the party, and the GAESO meeting was no exception.
In a rare moment of peace, Ms Lumley told the KM: "It has been wonderful and overwhelming.It is important, though, that all these people realise how my we appreciate this honour. It has also helped put Nepal back on the map and it is a reminder of what a wonderful place this is."
Addressing a meeting of the Gurkhas, she added: "My father served with the regiment, I feel that he and all the other soldiers are with us today. I can tell you the stories my father told me, of Gurkha courage and their good humour and grace."
An interesting revelation came from Prime Minister Nepal, who said he had been personally contacting Britain's political leaders over the issue of Gurkha rights, when much was made by the British government over the past year that Nepal's Government did not want anything to do with the issue.
As much as two billion pounds is sent to Nepal by Gurkhas in Britain every year and it plays a vital part in the economy of a country with no industry to speak of, no ports and only 30 percent flat land.
PM Nepal said:" I think that the Gurkha soldiers deserve their justice, whetehr that justice is complete or not is not for me to say, but they have achieved much and is proof of the good relations between Nepal and Britain."
While speaking to Mr Nepal, Peter Carroll took the opportunity of inviting the Nepalese Olympic Team to stay in Kent during the 2012 Olympics.
Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala, herself the daughter of a former Prime Minister, said to Ms Lumley: "I was so very excited when I heard you were coming. I would like to thank you for what you did for the ex-servicemen and for their families. We feel the British people are very close to us and we are also getting alot of ecnomic support from the Government and the people.
"I am very proud that you have come to my office."
Kathmandu is ringed by hills, with their tops hidden by cloud, giving it an otherwordly feel, although a strike by binmen means coming back down to earth does not take long. There is still some unrest in the Eastern part of the country, and certain parts of this visit will take place in the knowledge that people may be taking up arms again nearby.
Many Gurkha veterans in Folkestone have been granted asylum as they still cannot go back to their villages for fear of guerillas. But Nepal is not a wealthy country and the income from former Gurkhas and current Gurkhas can only help.

Peter Carroll
Peter Carroll
The Gurkhas in action
The Gurkhas in action
  • The tour continues all week,and thousands more veteransare expected to walkdown from their villages to meet the woman they are calling the Daughter of Nepal.
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