Visiting the Istana, Nurul Iman or Royal Palace

Tracy attracting attention outside the palaceA Muslim family trekking up the hill to the Istana.On the three days following the end of Hari Raya, the major Muslim holy observance, the royal family of Brunei opens their Istana or palace, and receives visitors for three days, greeting guests for three hour each morning and afternoon. When one of the hotel staff suggested that we make the trip, we jumped at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You see, not only do visitors get to see the sultan's palace, but they get to meet the members of the royal family. So, this was our chance to meet the wealthiest ruler in the world (actually my chance, as it was segregated by sex--Tracy got to meet the queen, the Sultans #1 wife). We booked a taxi and headed to the palace, about 15 minutes away. Arriving at the gate, Tracy attracted a great deal of attention as she posed for a photograph outside the palace gates (photo to the left). Suffice it to say that with the exception of the odd western contractor, tall blonde haired people are a bit of a rarity on these occasions. There was a crush of people waiting for the busses to carry them up the hill to the palace, and so we elected to walk up the hill. On the way we encountered many Muslim families, attired in their Friday best (that is the Islamic holy day), and snapped a picture of the family in the picture at the upper left. The first stop on our tour was a massive Nasih Putih, anyone?outdoor pavilion. The multitudes dining at the IstanaActually, it was two pavilions separated by a courtyard. The pavilion on the right was set up as a grand buffet, feeding the 17,000 or so people who visit each session. The photo at the lower left shows one of the many serving stations. The food was free, part of the Hari Raya celebration, donated by the Sultan. The photo at the lower right gives some idea of the magnitude of the crowds dining on the Sultan's dime.

The courtyard separating the food area from the waiting areaTracy in line--do you think she stands out?Crossing the courtyard shown in the photo to the left, we arrived at the marshalling area, where visitors were divided by sexes. At about the point marked by the purple bush in the photo to the left, I said goodbye to Tracy, and gradually wound my way through the line to the seating area. In the photo to the right, I say goodbye to Tracy, as her line initially moved much more slowly than did the line for males. Consequently, I got to the seating area much more quickly than did Tracy. However, when I arrived, the majority of the seats were occupied by the military and the police. Apparently, we arrived on the day that the Sultan personally thanks his armed forces. So, as I waited patiently while 4,000 or so members of Brunei's armed services shuffled through, Tracy's line moved much more quickly. The photo at the bottom left shows the women's receiving line. There were 20 rows, with at least 50 chairs in each row, and the line moves constantly. While there was a slight breeze, it was still very hot waiting in this pavilion for two hours. Once you work your way beyond the chairs into the actual receiving line, the process goes much more quickly. My meeting with the males of the royal family was relatively uneventful. No one makes eye contact with the royal The goodie box, along with the Sultan's picturefamily, but simply bows their head and receives (by western standards) something vaguely resembling a handshake. In fairness, they do this six hours a day for two days, and so this gets old. However, when I walked in, I did get the satsifaction of all heads momentarily craning upward, before returning to their routine. Tracy's 20 rows of women waiting for their audience with the queenaudience was much more exciting, as the queen brightened upon seeing Tracy, asking her where she was from and how she was enjoying Brunei. To be addressed by the queen elevated Tracy to celebrity status, and she was pressed (in bhasa Malay, Brunei's national language) what the queen said. As visitors exit the Istana, we were all given a "goodies box" of sweets (photo at lower right), while all children received an envelope with five dollars. The videos below show what the receiving lines looked like. Below is a video taken by Michael Cannon of his June 2018 trip to the Istana. It includes footage of the handshaking ceremony with the sultan.

Video of Hari Raya Celebration at the Istana Nurul Iman

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