Crown Prince Paras of Nepal is not a man to trifle with, especially after he's had a session on the bottle. Johnnie Walker Black Label is his preferred tipple and when word courses around the bars of Kathmandu's fashionable Babar Mahal Revisited, a restored 19th-century Rana palace, that the 35-year-old Paras is drunk again astride his black Harley-Davidson and cruising with his thuggish outriders, down come the shutters on the nightspots. Some clubs even employ Paras-watchers to keep an eye on the car park, lest the royal posse show up and wreak havoc. Nepalis know that Prince Paras has form. He's allegedly killed three men, including folk singer Praveen Gurung, who challenged Paras while rescuing a woman the prince was said to be man-handling outside a club. Paras is reported to have run over him a few times in his four-wheel drive. A half-hearted police investigation took no action. Violence seems to follow the Shah dynasty. Paras is the only heir to the throne because his cousin, Crown Prince Dipendra slaughtered 10 family members, including himself, in a regicide in Narayanhity Palace five years ago. 'It's no mystical mountain Shangri-La kingdom of smiling people any more,' said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times. But since April, Nepalis haven't seen a lot of Paras or his equally unpopular father, King Gyanendra. The recent political upheaval in Nepal, topped off last Saturday when parliament stripped the king of his right to veto laws, has put paid to the prince's nightclubbing. If Paras were to mount his Harley and head out to party these days, he'd likely be killed at the hands of the mob, such is the deep-seated and now widely aired derision held for the god-king and his family. It was a close-run thing for the royals. As protesters advanced towards the palace earlier this month demanding loktantra, or total democracy, Gyanendra had the helicopter engines whirring on his lawns. The Indian ambassador laid out the home truths: resist and in 24 hours you'll probably be dead if you don't leave; or step down, perhaps go into exile in India or, more likely, Africa or France where the royals have recently bought some property. A massive mid-afternoon hailstorm broke the tension and the king, a superstitious man who has his own palace astrologers, saw a sign and allowed parliament's restoration in return for his family staying in Nepal. An unwieldy seven-party governing coalition is now trying to craft a new constitution. 'The man did not have the intellectual or organisational skills to run a police state,' said Kanak Dixit, who like his brother Kunda is one of Nepal's leading journalists. The royals have been reduced to ridicule. Liberated newspaper cartoonists scorn Gyanendra as going quietly insane as he symbolically saws, one-by-one, the legs off his throne. Royal Nepal Airlines occupies one of the tallest buildings in Kathmandu, but the tenant is now just Nepal Airlines, the word 'Royal' painted over. The hammer-and-sickle propaganda of Nepal's Maoist insurgents and an image of their commander Prachanda are posted on palace walls. While the political elite fiddle, Nepal simmers, which is fine for the Maoist guerillas led by the high-caste Brahmin establishment. Maoists have killed 13,000 Nepalis in a 10-year insurgency. Prachanda summoned his cadres to Kathmandu two weeks ago and about 300,000 Nepalis attended their biggest rally yet, the Maoists' first in the capital. Businesses were told to shut down for the day, and to contribute a 'revolutionary tax' for party coffers. Nepal's twitchy military, now under the control of 85-year-old Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, kept its distance at Maoist direction. The rally was peaceful, red and superbly organised, sending a powerful message to uncommitted Nepalis used to years of misgovernance, the caste system and corruption. It also sends a message to Washington, Delhi and Beijing, none of which wants a red Nepal. Prachanda didn't show at his rally, allowing the momentum to build for the next one, and his carefully crafted personality cult. Mr Koirala is something of a last-man standing in mainstream Nepali politics. He's already been prime minister four times, and all since 1990. As the world's only Hindu monarch, Gyanendra has been cosying up to India's Hindu-chauvinist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the background of the dysfunctional nation's upheaval are the foreign mountaineers and trekkers whose travels are crucial to the struggling economy. For the climbing industry, the politics is little more than an exotic backdrop. This season, one of Everest's worst, saw the mountain claim 12 lives. To many climbers, Nepalis are the gentle porters who lug their bags, oxygen bottles, food, espresso machines and sometimes the climbers themselves up Everest - not the thousands of people who took to the streets to force the king out. But competition for overseas business is fierce and there're few in Kathmandu who'll stop them risking their lives lest they risk a share of the Everest honeypot. Operators hope that if the Maoists take government, their snowy Eldorado will continue. And Prachanda has said he wants to turn Nepal into Switzerland. About 900 people, foreign tourists and their guides, attempt to summit Everest every year, six times more than the 150 who climbed the mountain in the 30 years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first conquered it in 1953. With the limited weather windows, that's about 100 people a day trying - with half failing - to summit Everest. Ecuadorian climber Jose Jijon insists the weather didn't kill people this year. 'The mountain was perfect,' he said. 'It was beautiful. What killed them was disrespect for Everest and stupidity.' 'There are simply too many people on the mountain each season for the wrong reasons,' said US climber and two-time Everest summiteer Jake Norton. 'The climbing industry is weird. Small, incestuous, ego-driven, cutthroat at times, but very friendly at others and in certain ways, out of control.' Competition in Kathmandu for Everest dollars is largely unregulated, despite being hugely important as a moneyspinner. The business is also often nasty and, according to many climbers, cutthroat to the point of endangering clients' lives. 'I would say about 25 per cent of the Everest operators here could kill you and should not be in business,' said Mr Jijon. Much of the battle is fought on the internet, where competing websites plant lies about expeditions that become mountain lore - an extra danger for would-be climbers abroad researching expeditions. 'There's a lot of crap on the Web,' said Russell Brice, a New Zealander and veteran mountaineer. Mr Jijon has summitted with Asian Trekking, the same company used by David Sharp, the Briton who last month died just below the summit, reportedly being passed by other climbers, and the Australian climber Sue Fear, who died on Manaslu, the world's eighth-highest peak. Mr Jijon said Sharp died from his own carelessness, buying the bare minimum package for a solo climb. Almost a subculture in the Himalayan kingdom, the Everest industry attracts larger-than-life characters. British entrepreneur Henry Barclay Todd is described by mounteverest.net as the 'most dangerous man on Everest'. It said he was 'violent' and 'with a chequered past'. But the man I meet at a relaxed Kathmandu dinner party, hosted by an exiled Tibetan prince, is charm personified. Perhaps appearances can be deceptive. In 1977, the 'Toddfather' got 13 years in jail for running the 'biggest acid lab in the world'. Running expeditions to Everest, which Mr Todd has never summitted, is his latest way of getting people high. Never far from controversy, the irrepressible Scot has been barred from entering Nepal for two years by the Nepali government for allegedly assaulting a US journalist at Everest base camp - although his company was allowed to continue operating. Now Mr Todd is fielding a private prosecution from a British tycoon for the unlawful killing of his son, 22-year-old Michael Matthews, who died on Everest during a blizzard in 1999. His father claimed his death was caused by negligence. Mr Todd and two associates have denied the charges. But for his many detractors, he has as many supporters and continues to put clients on Everest. It's Sharp's death that has Nepal's mountaineering community buzzing. There's not a lot of closing of ranks among operators, who seem happy to discredit one another. Mr Brice is known as one of the industry's safest - and most expensive - operators. He's the man who reportedly instructed his clients to walk past the dying Sharp, a charge he denies. 'Apparently I'm the most hated person in the world,' he told me. However, in a rare display of camaraderie, most operators expressed surprise that Mr Brice would have been so callous. He even visited Sharp's family in Britain en route to his base in Chamonix, France, to explain his version of events. Mr Brice said there was no debate on mountain etiquette. 'You help where and with what you can,' he said. 'Human lives are more important than mountains and money.' However, long-time chronicler of Everest adventures, Elizabeth Hawley, has a dimmer view. 'A lot of these raw amateurs haven't a clue about code of behaviour,' she said. 'It's tunnel vision, they're desperately concentrating on getting one of their feet to go after the other.' Mr Norton said passing injured or dying climbers en route to the top was 'just sick and wrong'. 'Summit, schmummit,' he said. 'The summit was there yesterday, it will be there tomorrow. Hold David Sharp's hand, try to drag him off the mountain, sit with him until he dies if it comes down to it.'