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Trekking from Pokhara to Tansen

The huge sunflower held my attention for one ‘long’ moment in time. The bloom was discreetly tucked away beside a table at Nanglo’s restaurant. Nanglo’s at Sitalpati is widely advertised as the best restaurant in Tansen. (Sitalpati was built in 1891-2 by Governor Khadka Shamsher and is the meeting place of roads, people and their goods.) We (myself, Praveen Partha, Nagesh Shenoy, Matthew Oomen, Arun Gopinath and Prakash Kamath) were having a wonderful dinner at the Tansen branch of the famous Kathmandu restaurant chain. The food was excellent, the décor traditional and the service attentive.

The Himalayas from Srinagar Hill

Tansen is a hill town with a long history. The town is situated on the southern slope of Srinagar hill at an elevation of around 1372 metres. It is located off the Siddhartha highway to Sunauli at a distance of about 110 kms. from Pokhara. It is a steep 4 km. ascent from the Bartung chowk on the highway to the hill town. It was Dr. Brahmadathan who stimulated my curiosity about Tansen by his vivid and romantic descriptions of the place. Before the unification of Nepal, Tansen was the capital of the Palpa kingdom and was ruled by the Sen Dynasty. The mother of king Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal was from the Sen Family. For many years the Gorkha and the Palpa kingdoms maintained an alliance and dominated western Nepal.       

We were comfortably settled at the United Missions to Nepal hospital guesthouse. The UMN hospital for a long time was the only hospital in the western region. Even today it is a major center of healing and is perpetually crowded with patients. The guesthouse rooms were very tastefully decorated and there was a wonderful library. The style of decoration veered towards the feminine with all the frilly and flowery stuff, according to Praveen. We had arrived after a rather tiring bus journey from Pokhara around three in the afternoon. The evening was spent in local sightseeing. Our first stop was the Amar Narayan temple, a traditional three-tiered pagoda structure built in 1806. The temple has erotic carvings on the beams and roof struts. The carvings are believed to protect against lightning strikes as the Goddess of lightning, a chaste virgin avoids structures with erotic carvings.

The Newars from the Kathmandu valley had settled in Tansen many decades ago and the cobbled, narrow streets, the buildings, the pagoda style temples and the bazaars all point to the strong Newari influence. The other town I can recall with a similar influence is Bandipur. Tansen later became one of the places for exiling troublemakers from the Kathmandu valley. (The worst offenders were sent to the western terai where they were sure to die of malaria.) The Tansen durbar is an imposing Rana-style palace in the centre of the town. The building has sixty-three rooms and was built in 1927 AD by General Pratap Shumsher and is the secretariat of Palpa district. It is however, slowly going to seed!

Ranighat Palace

Mul Dhoka or Baggi Dhoka, a huge doorway leads from Sitalpati to the palace grounds. The doorway was built in 1891-2 by Governor Khadka Shumsher and the size allowed for his entrance on an elephant during processions. We had hired a jeep for the drive to Bhairav Shthan or Palpa Bhairav. The temple is reputed to have the largest trishul in Asia (world?) The idol of Bhairav is said to be so fierce that even the priest approaches with his eyes covered. Devotees of Bhairav however, can see his silver mask. Worshippers offer animal sacrifices every Tuesday and Saturday.

The light was fading as we visited the Bhagawati temple. The temple was built by the Governor of Palpa, Colonel Ujir Singh Thapa to mark the victory over the British troops. The temple is artistic and every Krishna Nawami processions are held.

Early next morning it was a long climb in the pre-dawn blackness to Srinagar Danda. In the guesthouse notice board I had read about the ‘Tansen challenge’. The contestant has to climb up to Srinagar hill and descend down to the UMN hospital. The fastest time was around 40 minutes! We can consider a ‘Kahun challenge’ in our institution. At 1515 metres Srinagar hill offers a distant view of the snow capped Himals. The view is said to extend from Kanjiroba in the west to the Annapurnas and to Langtang in the east. Something similar to Bandipur. But with all the wonderful views I had from Poon hill, ABC and Kala Pathar, the view did not impress me terribly! To the south the Madi valley was a lake of white clouds. Now that was a view! As the Sun climbed up in the sky, the clouds slowly dissipated and the valley was progressively disclosed! The morning was spent in our favourite pursuit – photography. No tripods though! After the exertion of the climb, breakfast on Srinagar danda was delicious!

It was down to the guesthouse and then the long trek (more than 15 kms.) to the ‘Taj Mahal’ of Nepal – the Ranighat palace. The complex was built by Governor Khadka Shumsher in the memory of his beloved queen Tej Kumari. The location on the banks of the placid Kali Gandaki was magnificent. We had a long and slippery descent to the banks of the Kali Gandaki to reach this eerie palace. We were only five. Kamath had declined the slippery trail, as he was wary of damaging ‘vital organs’! Praveen was falling every 10 metres but was gamely continuing, damage to vital organs not withstanding! There were two or three small houses near the complex and one of them served as our lunch stop. Dal, bhaat and tarkari. Delicious! The sylvan surroundings deeply impressed me. It indeed was a setting fit for a queen. The outside of the palace was in fairly good condition but the inside was another story! It was in utter disrepair. The climb back up to Tansen was steep. The afternoon heat and humidity really wrung us out. Our muscles were aching and creaking as trudged our weary way back.

Ranigat Palace on the Kali Gandaki

My imagination was running riot. A carefully restored palace would be a wonderful tourist attraction. Imagine waking up with the waters of the Kali Gandaki gently lapping your windows. Ashutosh having done the wild rapids of the Kali Gandaki with the Israelis, would surely be interested in the placid incarnation of the turbulent river. A ferry service along the river to the various attractions would be an added bonus!

The pine forests were really magnificent. I was surprised at pines growing at such a low elevation. In the Manang and Khumbu valleys conifers are dominant at around 3000 metres. In the soft light of the previous evening the pine forests had taken on a whole new dimension! 

Time did not permit us to make the long trip to Ridhi. The bazaars of Tansen are famous for metal ware and dhaka, the material made into Nepali topis and many other things besides. The streets of Tansen are really steep. This fact was made painfully clear to us as we walked back to the UMN guesthouse after our evening dinner. The lights of the town were seen below. The crescent moon was hanging low in the sky and the night had quietened the boisterous and frantic activities of the day. Peace to man and mankind!

Fellow trekkers Praveen and Nagesh

What does the future hold for this wonderful town? Will it become a commercialized ghetto like many other tourist places or will it manage to preserve its charm, serenity and laid-back attitude to life? For the present, steeped in history and culture the town of Tansen is really the ‘pearl of Palpa’.
Glossary of terms:
Nanglos: a big restaurant chain with many restaurants in the Kathmandu valley.
Sunauli: A town on the Indian border about 5 kms. from Bhairhawa. The corresponding Indian railhead is Gorakhpur.
King Prithvi Narayan: was from Gorkha, a small hill kingdom in western Nepal. He carried out many campaigns and brought nearly the whole of modern Nepal under the Gorkha kingdom.
United Missions to Nepal runs many hospitals and dispensaries in Nepal.
Newars are an ethnic group originally from the Kathmandu valley. Skilled artisans and traders they are today found all over Nepal. Their cuisine is said to be the finest in the land.
Dhoka means doorway in Nepalese.
Bhairav is said to be one of the fiercer manifestations of Shiva, the destroyer in the Holy Hindu trinity.
Krishna Nawami is the birthday of Lord Krishna, one of the Hindu Gods.
Trishul or trident is a Hindu religious symbol.
Danda means a hill in Nepalese.
Topi means a cap in Nepalese.

About the author:
Dr.P.Ravi Shankar is a teacher and doctor at the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, Pokhara, Nepal. He is a keen trekker and photographer and often writes about trekking. 

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