updated 6/11/2008 3:42:45 PM ET 2008-06-11T19:42:45

For more than half a century, few Nepalis knew of the mysterious elderly woman living in Katmandu's royal palace. They found out Wednesday about Sarala Gorkhali when authorities announced the frail 94-year-old could stay in the palace even though Nepal's recently deposed king was being forced to move.

The reason: She was the youngest mistress of King Tribhuwan, who ruled the Himalayan kingdom from 1911 until his death in 1955, and has no house to move to or any relatives to take her in, interim Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula said.

So as Nepal's last monarch, Gyanendra, leaves his family's one-time seat Wednesday, Gorkhali will remain, a final member of the royal court and a reminder of a dynasty that reigned over the Himalayan nation for 239 years.

It was common knowledge that Tribhuwan had mistresses, but Nepal was shocked to discover that one of them was still alive and had lived in the palace for well over half a century.

A witness to history
The woman, who was called Queen Grandmother inside the palace, apparently has been a behind-the-scenes witness to much of the country's dramatic history: King Mahendra's autocratic moves in the 1960s, King Birendra's abdication of power in 1990, the royal slaughter in 2001, Gyanendra's royal coup in 2005, the ensuing democratic protests, and, most recently, the abolition of the throne itself.

Nepal's monarchy ended last month when the nation was formally declared a republic after an election that brought to power former communist rebels called Maoists.

The new government will allow Gyanendra live in the summer palace, which was among the royal residences that were nationalized. It plans to turn the main palace into a museum, though Gorkhali will be allowed to use two buildings on the palace grounds, Sitaula said.

Along with Gorkhali, deposed King Gyanendra's stepmother, Ratna, 80, will also be allowed to remain at the palace, he said.

They were allowed to stay because they owned no property and had nowhere else to go, Sitaula said.

Gorkhali has only been known to leave the palace grounds to visit Hindu temples, and she walked unaccompanied by royal guards or escorts, said a source close to the palace who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with palace rules.

Sitaula said authorities would leave it for the incoming government to decide how long the women can stay.

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