If towns and resorts swarming with tourists are not your idea of an ideal holiday destination, then Tansen is it. Located midway on the drive between Pokhara and Lord Buddhas birthplace of Lumbini, this tranquil hill station in south-central Nepal has changed little over the centuries. Straddling a steep 1,370-m high hill, Tansen prides itself in its glorious past, exquisite craftsmanship, beautiful hills that are ideal for hiking, and a town layout that is old Kathmandu.
Tansen today is one of the larger Newar hilltowns, although it was originally a Magar stronghold, ruled by the chieftains of the fierce martial race. In the 15th century, its strategic location made it the capital of powerful Palpa. Kathmandus skillful Newar merchants arrived only after Palpas merger with a greater Nepal in 1806 and soon started catering to trade between the plains of British India and the hills of north-central Nepal, turning Tansen into a center of commerce. But its prosperity diminished after the opening of an airport at Pokhara in the 1950s and the construction of the Siddhartha Highway that bypassed Tansen altogether, leading to an exodus of the trading families to nearby Pokhara and Butwal.
Tansen Bazaar with its rows of red-brick houses lining the steep, cobbled streets is the hub of the town. Like all other Newar towns, the compact houses with their intricately carved wooden windows and sloping tile roofs, pagoda temples and shrines bear resemblance to medieval Kathmandu. Small shops, looking very much as they did decades ago, occupy the ground floors of these houses where craftsmen still practice their age-old trades. As you walk through the narrow streets, the air resonates with the sounds of metal being beaten as artisans hammer into shape copper utensils or bronze jars known as the Palpali karuwa, a coveted item in Nepalese homes. Inside homes, men and women weave the famous Palpali dhaka, handwoven cotton cloth with intricate designs.
The main bazaar is always busy with hill people buying their daily needs - cooking oil, clothes, beads and bangles - to carry back home. One thing you notice very quickly in Tansen is that tourism has not quite arrived here. There are no beggars. No tour guides pestering you. And people seem least concerned about your presence.
The most imposing building in the town is the pinkish Tansen Durbar, once the seat of the Bada hakim, or governor. Its north gate, known as the Baggi Dhoka, was built so large as to allow an elephant to pass through. Behind the durbar is the renovated temple of Bhagawati built in 1815 to commemorate the Nepalese victory over British-India forces at Butwal. To the east of the town lies the multi-roofed temple of Amar Narayan, rich in metalcraft and erotic carvings - one of the finest pagoda temples outside Kathmandu.
In August, Tansen breaks out into a week-long celebration of festivals beginning with Janai Purnima (on August 15 this year), the changing of the thread ceremony. On Ropai Jatra, performers enact the rice planting ceremony in the streets, while on Bagh Jatra, participants dress up like tigers and hunters. Images of Ganesh, Bhimsen and Narayan are taken around the city in palanquins. On the last day, a procession of the Goddess Bhagawati is taken out with full military honors to mark the historic battle for Butwal.
Behind the town looms the picturesque Srinagar Danda, a 1,525-m hill with a park that provides stunning views of Mt. Dhaulagiri, the Annapurna range and Machhapuchhre as well as that of Tansen on its lap.
Trails through Palpas hills and forests lead visitors to Magar villages, sacred sites and historic places. Ridi, situated at the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and Ridi Khola, with its Rikheswar Narayan temple and cremation ghats is considered as holy as the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. The Palpa Bhairav temple lies 8 km west of Tansen and is said to have the largest golden trident in Asia. Remnants of buildings and cottages from the Rana period can still be seen. An impressive vestige, though now in ruins, is the Ranighat Durbar, situated a two hours hike to the north of Tansen. Constructed on a massive hard rock on the bank of the Kali Gandaki river, the durbar, built by a governor of Palpa in memory of his wife, has often been dubbed as the Taj Mahal of Nepal.
With its well-preserved identity and fresh climate, Tansen is enticing, yet waiting to be discovered. A trip to this town of extraordinary crafts and monuments, and people little touched by modernity, would thus make for a worthwhile holiday.
Regular buses leave for Tansen from Kathmandu (302 km, 8-10 hours), from Pokhara (119 km, 6-8 hours), from Butwal (39 km, 2 hours) and Chitwan (4-5 hours). Tansen can be visited all year round. The rainy season lasts from June to August.
MD Publishing Co.
Tripureswor, P. O. Box 3525, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Tel: 260327, 256003 . Telex: 2611 EMC NP. Fax: 977-1-261159.
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Last Updated: 24 July, 2000
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