Meet Mette Rolff – one of the two interesting Danish Dames in Nepal

Why haven’t I heard about Tiger Top’s Mette Rolff before?

When you meet your friend Edward, please ask him why John Coapeman and Mette Rolff aren’t a part of Tiger Tops history on their website?

Message from Claus Rolff, May 2018

It was a guest who ‘introduced’ me to Mette Rolff

We LOVE getting messages from friends we have met through our life with Tings.

Not because they have stayed with us (which is of course nice) – but mostly because the people we stay in touch with are the ones we have a lot in common with.

Tiger Tops (Mette Rolff w Tiger).jpg
Power Woman – Mette Rolff at Tiger Tops

Like Claus who was a part of a group of runners living in Hong Kong who stayed with us back in 2011 because they were attending an extreme altitude Marathon event.

We have absolutely NO interest in any kind of sport – but we shared a lot of other interests. And very soon it turned out that despite his many years in Asia we have a lot of friends in common.

So it was a nice surprise waking up to a message from Claus. Especially when the message turned out to take a lot of my time…

Kristjan Edwards has been a friend our’s since we met at The Danish Ambassador’s dinner party back in 2010. Kristjan owns our favorite lodge, Tiger Tops, and a lot of elephants. So I guessed that Claus was referring to him.

But I had never heard about his mom Mette Rolff. And because we have spent most of our time the last two years in Portugal starting up Tings Lisbon, I haven’t had a chance to dig deeper into her story.

Now it’s not necessary to dig. A week ago Mette Rolff entered my live again – thanks to Lisa Choegyal’s story in Nepali Times.

Pilgrimage to Copenhagen

… to track down the Indian-born son of American missionaries who first built Tiger Tops in Chitwan

Nepali Times Logo Transparant

It is hard to imagine what life must have been like for Mette, alone and allegedly confined to the staff bungalow, whilst her bullying husband constructed the Africa-inspired conical roof of the main lodge and the first four treetop bedrooms in a spreading silk cotton tree.

Mette Rolff at work at Tiger Tops
Mette Rolff behind her desk in her Tiger Tops bungalow office

Two Dallas oil millionaires with a penchant for big game hunting, Toddy Lee Wynne Jr. and Herbert W. Klein, had found the Chitwan site whilst out shooting tiger with their ‘white hunter’ guide John Coapman, and contracted him to make it happen.

Mette was one of two interesting Danish Dames in Kathmandu?

The first thing that came to my mind after reading Nepali Times was: Two Danish Dames in Kathmandu? 

Michel Peissel's bestseller

Lisa Choegyal’s story kick started a wave of other stories and anecdotes from our almost 10 years in Kathmandu.

Especially all the stories about Boris Lisanevitch & Hotel Royal that I got from Boris’ Danish wife, Inge Lisanevitch, whom we met in 2009 at the Queen’s Birthday party at the Danish Embassy.

She introduced me to the Michel Peissel’s bestseller Tigers For Breakfast about her and her Russian Ballet Dancer Husband, Boris‘ adventurous life in Kathmandu – about how they opened the until then Hidden Shangri-La of Himalaya to the outside world.

Jim Edvards.jpg

Inge was a beautiful elderly woman whom we stayed in touch with until her death in 2013. Every time we met I came to the same conclusion: Her story must be more interesting than her husband’s. 

He lived Hard is the epitaph on Jim Edwards’ tombstone. Being his wife must have been ‘interesting’ but difficult. Same with the lives Boris’ wife (Inge) and John Coapman’s (Mette Rolff) .

So the way Inge Lisanevitch and Elizabeth Hawley had to help Mette escaping her choleric husband Coapman’s turbulent suspicions tells me that the answers to Claus Rolff’s question is hidden somewhere in Chapman’s ‘history’.

At the party Alexander Lisanevitch (Boris' son) Lisa Choegyal, Jim Edwards and Toni Hagen. (2)
I knew I have seen Lisa Choegyal before. Alexander Lisanevitch (Boris’ son) Lisa Choegyal, Jim Edwards and Toni Hagen.

Nepal’s ‘new’ history is in many ways unique.

Lisa Choegyal knows what she writes about. The way she tells her stories made me stop up and re-read several times until I realised that she was actually part of the local crowd back in Mette Rolff’s days – and that I have ‘seen’ her name before – it turned out that I have kept other stories from her pen in my Kathmandu Stories Folder.

Until the end of the 50’s Nepal visas didn’t exist. Before then the country was a secret Shangri-La in fairytale Himalaya surrounded by Yetis.

Boris, Jim, Inge, Mette and a few other adventurers were part of Nepal’s opening to the outside world. So it’s so young that you have people around you that was part of it all and are willing to tell their fantastic stories – like Lisa. And of course all their sons and daughters who either remember them (like Kristjan who one told me he got an elephant for birthday present when he turned 3) or have heard them as goodnight stories like Claus Rolff.

I would have loved to share a bottle of wine with Mette and Inge together. But that’s not possible. Instead I will invite Lisa Choegyal when we return home to Kathmandu for Tihar 🙂


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