Between the Lines

IN EARLY JUNE, the shocking reports began to emerge: It was said that Crown Prince Dipendra had murdered his parents and seven other members of Nepal's royal family before killing himself. In the days that followed, a seismic upheaval rattled the foundations of one of the world's most remote and beautiful kingdoms.

As the political aftershocks reverberate, one group is profiting from the chaos—an obscure communist insurrection whose followers carry muzzle-loading rifles and control up to a third of the country's interior. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), or CPNM, draws guidance from a chilling set of preceptors: the Khmer Rouge, whose genocide wiped out 1.7 million Cambodians; Peru's Shining Path, which was responsible for the disappearance of 15,000 Peruvians; and Mao Tse-tung, whose Cultural Revolution killed uncounted millions of Chinese.

Two weeks before Dipendra's rampage, Outside contributing editor Patrick Symmes became one of the first American journalists ever to gain access to the CPNM, which hopes to take over the country and create a dictatorship of small farmers. After making contact in Kathmandu, Symmes was escorted deep into the Rolpa District, where the Maoists' Red Army operates with impunity. He attended a rally of some 10,000 supporters, met with a commander who takes his nom de guerre from an Indian cartoon character, and was taught the army's secret handshake—encounters that struck him as both farcical and ominous. "They have this idea that tourists will come to Nepal, meet them, and go home spreading the doctrine of Chairman Mao," he says. "It's so early into their descent into madness that it's almost funny."
Almost, but not quite. Several days after Symmes returned to Kathmandu, the prince started shooting, ushering in a period of greater instability and escalating guerrilla violence. "The Last Days of the Mountain Kingdom", offers a disturbing augury of what may soon befall the premier adventure-travel destination on earth. "This country has been famous for living in the past," says Symmes. "All that has just been blown away. Nepal has been yanked into the modern world."

"It's kind of like taking Hitler as your hero and not seeing any dilemma," says Irish photographer Seamus Murphy, whose work accompanies Patrick Symmes's story of the Nepalese guerrillas who revere the murderous Mao and seem poised to take over the country. Murphy, who is based in London and has witnessed civil war in Afghanistan and Rwanda, fears the worst for the people of Nepal. "They're putting aside the lessons of history," he says. "That's deeply troubling."

Associate editor Marc Peruzzi has kayaked, biked, and skied the backcountry from Vermont to Montana. But until recently, he had never experienced the challenge of canyoneering. "It's like a bunch of sports wrapped into one: whitewater, rock climbing, orienteering, and cliff diving—all taking place in a cool canyon just a few hours from scorching, golf-course-infested Phoenix," says Peruzzi.

A few years ago, longtime correspondent Mike Grudowski was so jazzed by a previous Dream Towns package that eventually he visited one of the places we featured (San Luis Obispo), rented a house, fell in love, and got married. With credentials like that, Grudowski was the perfect choice to write this year's review of America's top Outside-friendly towns. "I can't guarantee similar results for others," he says. "But at least I hope you'll be inspired."

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