Places to Visit in Nepal
Tansen, an ancient hill town, with its architecture strongly influenced by Newari migrants from the Kathmandu valley is waiting to be discovered by the tourists. Situated at the southern slope of the Mahabharat range; about half way from the Indian border to
Pokhara and the Himalayas, this town offers an opportunity to experience genuine Nepalese culture, away from westernized places like Thamel in Kathmandu or Lakeside in Pokhara. Old artistic Newari houses and cobbled streets shape the townscape. The town's hill, Shreenagar, allows breathtaking views of the Himalayan range from Dhaulagiri in the west to Ganesh Himal in the east.
Tansen is the district administrations headquarter of Palpa district, one out of 75 districts in Nepal, and since 1957 a Municipality. It is itself often referred to as Palpa, and its people (population approx. 13,000 in the core area) as Palpalis.
At an elevation of about 1350-m (4430 ft) above sea level the town experiences a pleasant climate throughout the year. The maximum temperature, even in pre-monsoon times, hardly exceeds 31°C (88 F) and only in December/ January the minimum temperature can fall below 10°C (50 F). The annual precipitation is about 1500 mm of which 90% falls in the monsoon season.
The name of the town "Tansen" has its origin in Magar language, meaning "northern settlement".
Magars are one of the ethnic groups of Nepal having their own language, culture and history, and are assumed to be the first settlers in this area. Around 600 years ago, Nepal was divided into several small kingdoms and hill states. In this region, they were known as "Bahra Magarat", meaning the "twelve regions of Magar". The percentage of Magar population in these districts is very high till today.
During the invasion of Muslims into India, numerous kings and clans escaped from there to the northern hill areas. In the late 15th century, they entered the Himalayan region. Some of them conquered the local kings and established their own states. The former Sen - Dynasty of Palpa, founded by Rudra Sen, had its roots in those days. Under the reign of his son, Mukunda Sen (1518 - 1553), the kingdom of Palpa reached its largest expansion and Tansen became its capital. The kingdom of Palpa spread as far as the Koshi River in the east, Gorakhpur in the south and today's Gulmi and Kaski districts in the west and north. Mukunda Sen, though unsuccessful, attacked Kathmandu valley too. After ruling thirty-five years, he resigned and spent the rest of his life as a saint.
In 1806, after a lot of political unrest, the kingdom of Palpa, which until then had been independent, was annexed into the kingdom of Nepal and was then administered by a governor, appointed from Kathmandu.Political changes in Nepal brought up changes in the administration too. Today the head of Palpa district is the CDO (Chief District Officer) and Tansen is one out of 58 Municipalities in Nepal.
Due to the diversity of the ethnic groups living in this area, one also finds a diversity of languages spoken. Although the main language is Nepali, in the core area the Newari community is partly using their own tongue as do the Magar people in the surrounding villages.
The main religion is Hinduism, followed by Buddhism. Parts of the population are Muslim and also a small Christian community has established itself.
Before the major road between Butwal and Pokhara was built, connecting the plains of the Terai with the foot of the Himalayas, Tansen was an important commercial center for North/South trade (Tibet/India) and the main bazaar for the surrounding districts. With the development of better infrastructure and industry in this country, which had been molded for centuries by mountains and porter services, the importance is now shifting to the plain Terai, to new industrial centers and into villages along the new roads.
The main occupation of today's inhabitants are in small business and industries, handicraft, trade, public service, health service (United Mission to Nepal runs a big hospital in Tansen) and education. In the surrounding villages, agriculture is still of high importance.
The town of Tansen is a prosperous looking- collection of red brick houses set on the steep hillside and is among the largest far-flung Newar trading posts scattered across the hills. Though the Newar community forms one of the major communities in this place now, the place originally belonged to the Magar community, one of the most delightful ethnic groups of Nepal.
Tundikhel, the large plateau in the southeast part of the town, near the bus park, is the best starting point to discover the fascinating destinations of the town. The former kings of Palpa made this artificial plateau when they needed a drilling and parade ground. Today Tundikhel is a popular gathering place for people to chat, walk and play in the afternoon. A statue of King Birendra marks the southwest corner of the Tundikhel; the building at the north side is the town hall.
Amar Ganj Ganesh Temple is a beautiful three-storey pagoda style temple. The rest house of the temple that has space to shelter thousand people has been converted into a school. On the premises of the school, there's an old small one-storey temple of Bhairab. The mask of Bhairab, which is worshipped here, was snatched from Kathmandu by Mukunda Sen, King of Palpa. To
get here, one needs to follow the northeast path from Tundhikhel.
Amar Narayan Temple is one of the largest temples in Tansen. The whole temple complex, including the temples, the ponds and the park was built under the reign of Amar Singh Thapa, the first governor of Palpa. According to a legend, a holy spring (or lake) is hidden under the three-storey pagoda style Narayan Temple. The two other temples of the ensemble are dedicated to Vishnu (to the west, next to one of the ponds) and to Shiva (to the south, next to the staircase). The remarkable huge dry stone masonry wall surrounding the whole premises is called "The great wall of Palpa". One can get here by taking a west path from Tundikhel and then turn right to get to the temple at its upper end.
Sital Pati (shady restplace), near Ason Tole, is the most popular square in Tansen. The square is named after the white octagonal shaped building, that lies in the middle of the square. The Sital Pati was built under the order of Khadga Shamsher, governor of Palpa from 1891- 1902. Khadga Shamsher, an ambitious politician, was exiled from Kathmandu after plotting against the Prime Minister.
The south corner of the square leads to Baggi Dhoka, the main gate to the Tansen Durbar, the former palace and today's district administration's headquarter. Baggi Dhoka is the gate where the chariots of religious festivals have to pass through. The fine woodcarvings on the buildings on both sides of the gate represent the fine Newari craftmanship. This Baggi dhoka leads to the palace grounds. The right route leads to the Bhagwati Temple, that was built in 1815 by Col. Ujir Singh Thapa to commemorate the victory over the British-Indian troops in the the battle of Butwal.
If you return to the Durbar grounds and continue your way to the palace itself, you will find an older, smaller palace, built in 1927. Today the Durbar houses the district's administration. There still exists a room called "the throne hall" in the Durbar's second floor.
The gate opposite to the palace leads to Makhan Tole, the main bazaar of Tansen that focuses the town's commericial activity, notably the sale of Dhaka cloth. Of woven cotton or muslin, this cloth is characterised by jagged, linear designs orginally made famous in Bangladesh. With principal colours of red, black and white, the cloth is used to make saris as well as "topis" (Palpali topi), the hat that is an intergral part of the national dress for men.
Taksar is another interesting place of the town, where for centuries the famous bronze and brass works of Tansen were produced. One can have a look at how the famous ancient articles such as Karuwa (water jug), Hukka (water pipe), Antee (jug for Nepali brandy) etc are produced.
Shreenagar hill, at 1525 m high, is about an hour uphill from the town center. While climbing this hill, one can not only enjoy a breath-taking panoramic view of the Himalayas running from Dhaulagiri in the west to Ganesh Himal in the east, but also get pleasure of passing through peaceful forest, pine plantation and decidious forest with a lot of beautiful rhododendron flowers.
There is a statue of Buddha at the eastern end of Shreenagar ridge. It takes about half an hour to reach this statue. Thai monks donated the Buddha statue with the monkey and elephant. It commemorates a part of Buddha's life. According to the legend, when Buddha was meditating in a jungle for roughly three months, a monkey and an elephant served him in many ways.
Ghorbanda - Kumal Gau (Potter's Village)
The village of Ghorbanda is on the way to Pokhara from Tansen. It is the best place to see the unique style of pottery making in Nepal. The articles produced here are traditional water pitchers, pots and "Handa" (a vessel with holes in the bottom; used for brewing rokshi, which is Nepali brandy).
Ranighat is the palace built on the banks of the Kali Gandaki river by Khadka Shamsher in remembrance of his beloved wife Tej Kumari. It takes about two hours to reach this place from Tansen. On the way, one has to pass through a small settlement called "Hatti Dhunga" (elephant stone).
A half days walk through fertile landscape shaped by terraced rice fields lead to Ramdi at the banks of the Kali Gandaki. Ramdi is a "Ghat" (cremation place) where people bring their deceased relatives for their final rites. Besides this, Ramdi is famous for its cave temples, where the
farmers from surrounding villages offer milk to protect their cattle from leopards and jackals.
Ridi, sacredly located at the confluence of the Ridi Khola (stream) and the Kali Gandaki, is visited by pilgrims from Nepal and India who take holy bathes and worship at the temples. Additionally, like in Pashupatinath, in Kathmandu, old people
arrive and stay here to take their last breath and get cremated at the banks of the holy Kali Gandaki. Furthermore, Ridi is the locality for the biggest yearly fair of the area. The walk down to Ridi will take around five hours, rewarded by beautiful landscape. To return to Tansen, we suggest you takae a bus or jeep.
A pleasant walk along the mountain ridge to the west of Tansen will bring you the alleged largest golden trident of Nepal. After walking roughly 9 kms, you will reach Bhairabsthan, a temple sitting atop a hillock. The temple's statue of Bhairab iis kept hidden, because it's sight is unbearably frightening and it is said that people who catch a glimpse of it are in danger of losing their liver. So even the priests worship the statue from behing a curtain.
The main days of worshipping for the common people are Tuesday and Saturday. In the yard of the temple you can see the largest golden trident of Nepal, the centre of the ceremonies. From the temple's terraces you again have a beautiful view of the Himalayan range.
To leave the beaten track and visit the site of an important fair, Satyawati lake, a bit more effort is needed. You have to take a morning bus to Butwal and get off at "Chaubis Mile"(Twenty four miles). From there you first descend to the valley of the river Tinau and then steeply ascend through dense jungle (it deserves the name here) to the pecuilar lake on the top of the mountain ridge. The lake is said to be the home of a goddess. To avoid backtracking and
to have impressive views of the Himalayan range, you should follow the ridge to the south and then descend through picturesque villages back to the road and take a bus to Tansen.
Maghe Sankranti Mela (Ridi Mela), held in Magh (Jan/Feb) in Ridi Bazaar, is the most important fair of this region. The fair, lasting three days, is well known for the sale of local handicrafts and products such as woolen blankets, wooden pots, bamboo products, sugarcane cakes, walnuts, medical herbs and a kind of dried cottage cheese.
Besides the busy trading, a large number of Hindu pilgrims from different parts of Nepal and India take a holy bath in the Kali Gandaki River and worship at Ridikesh Temple.
Satyawati Mela (Night Fair) is held in the full moon night of Kartik (Oct./ Nov) at Satyawati Lake. According to the legend an old goddess lives here, Satyawati Bajai (grandma). Today she is said to be hard of hearing, she possesses supernatural powers. Pilgrims from the surrounding hill districts and Terai attend this mela to ask Satyawati Bajai to fulfil their hopes. For that, they circle the lake three times shouting their wishes for sons, employment, wealth, death of enemies etc to this goddess. Goats and cocks are sacrificed and pigeons are set free. Mute children should drink the waters of the lake to be healed. The fair which starts in the evening, ends before sunrise, so as not to offend the goddess.
Parvas Mela is held on Shivaratri in Fagun (Feb./Mar.) in Parvas, 6kms south of Tansen.
Lalpati Mela is held on Holi in Fagun (Feb./Mar) in Lalpati in the center of Madi valley.
Rambha Pani Mela is held on Krishnaastami in Bhadra (Aug. /Sept.) in Rhamba Pani, 30 kms east of Tansen.
It goes without saying that the Palpalis celebrate the Hindu and Buddhist festivals listed in the Nepali festival calendar. But there is a week of special festivals in this area worth mentioning, starting with Janai Purnima at the full moon day in August.
On Janai Purnima, Brahmin and Chetri men change their religious threads, worn from shoulder to waist. Traditionally on this day, the Gai Jatra Festival is announced for the following day.
Gai Jatra (Cow Festival) was launched by a former king of the Kathmandu valley to heal his wife from a deep depression after the death of the prince in a smallpox epidemic. So this festival combines the remembrance of the deceased with an attempt to cheer up the mourners. Families who experienced a death during the previous year form
processions through the town singing religious songs. Children of the mourning families, dressed like kings and saints, lead some of these processions. Wealthy families may even hire a choir for an impressive remembrance procession in the evening.
Huge artificial cows, made of bamboo, cloth, paper etc. are carried around, accompanied by clowns. These groups perform small ironic and satirical dramas in public squares and entertain the town.
Gai Jatra is followed by Ropai Jatra (Rice Planting Festival), when farmers of the area show the city people the pleasure of rice planting, "ploughing" the streets of Tansen while singing folk songs.
On the next day's Bag Jatra (Tiger Festival) men dressed as tigers and hunters roam around the town to caricature the favorite hobby of the old rulers.
For the Chariot Festival, where chariots of Ganesh (elephant headed god of success), Bhimsen (strongest hero) and Narayan (one out of the trinity of Hindu gods) are carried through Tansen, the town inhabitants light candles in their windows and offer flowers, fruit and money to the chariots passing through their houses.
Bhagwati Jatra marks the end and climax of the week of festivals. The goddess Bhagwati, who symbolizes power, supported the fight against the British-Indian troops. People stay in the Bhagwati temple the night through to worship, sing, dance and observe the placing of a statue of Bhagwati into a chariot.
The following morning government officials, as well as the army, police and many Palpalis make up a large procession through the town.
However, due to the topography of the town the chariots do not have wheels and are not pulled by animals, but are carried by members of a special ethnic group, the Kumal, whose usual occupation is pottery.
Daily bus services (duration 8 - 10 hours)
7.00 a.m.: "Sitara bus" leaving from the new buspark in the north of Kathmandu.
6.30 a.m.: "Sajha bus" leaving from Sajha bus station in Patan Pulchowk.
5.00 p.m.: "Nightbus" leaving from the new buspark in the north of Kathmandu.
You can also fly from Kathmandu to Bhairahawa and take a bus up to Tansen. Unfortunately, there is no direct bus service and you have to change buses in Butwal.
Daily bus service (duration 6-8 hours) 7.00 a.m. Tourist coach to Sunauli. You have to get off at Bartung junction and take a bus or jeep for the 4-km link road to Tansen.
There are two possibilities to reach Tansen. Having made your way from the National Park to Narayanghat, you can either catch the "Sitara bus" or "Sajha bus" coming from Kathmandu on its way to Tansen (duration 4 -5 hours), both buses arrive around noon in Narayanghat Pulchowk; or take one of the several buses to Butwal (duration 2 - 3 hours) and change there for a bus to Tansen.
Unfortunately, there is no direct bus service from Lumbini to Tansen. You have to change buses in Bhairawa as well as in Butwal.
It can be easily seen that Butwal is the most important traffic junction for Palpalis to nearly all destinations. Buses leave every 40 min. for Tansen, as do buses from Tansen to Butwal. The duration of the journey is approx. 2 hours.
There is a daily tourist coach service from Sunauli to Pokhara. You have to get off at Bartung junction and take a bus or jeep for the 4km link road to Tansen.
Several local buses leave Sunauli for Butwal, where you have to change a bus to Tansen.
There is a direct bus service twice a week from Guleria via Kohalpur to Tansen, and daily buses leave from Kohalpur to Butwal, where you can easily get a bus to Tansen.
For departure times, connections and length of journey, please ask your hotel or lodge in Bardia National Park.
There are large number of low budget accomodation around the buspark. The approximate cost to stay a night or two around nice hotels range in price between US$5-US$15. "Srinagar", "The Bajra", "The White Lake" and "Gauri Shankar" are some of the decent hotels of this place.
There are large number of small restauants in the town, selling Nepali dishes and snacks. "Nanglo West" restuarant at Sital Pathi square is one of the excellent restuarants that serves western style, Palpali, Nepali, Indian and Chinese cuisine. Hotel Srinagar provides some western meals too.
Tansen Municipality Office
Tundikhel, opening hours 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Telephone: 20109/129
Tourist Information Center
Tansen Municipality runs a tourist information center on the campus road near the buspark. Basic information is available here, concerning in-town hotels, bus connections and tickets etc. Opening hours 11a.m. - 1p.m. daily, except Saturdays.
The Rastriya Banijya Bank at Makhan tole, near the Tansen Durbar, changes a limited amount of foreign currencies, including US $, German Mark, British Pound, French Franc. It also cashes travelers cheques.
The two English language newspapers published in Nepal, "Kathmandu Post" and "Rising Nepal" are available in the town.
There are several shops and hotels offering national and international fax and telephone services.
United Mission Hospital to the east of the town, telephone number: 20111. A number of western doctors of various nationalities are available here.
A cinema hall showing Nepali and Hindi movies is situated near the Tansen Durbar.
Quintessentially products of Palpa include Karuwa, dhaka cloth and dhaka topi. These can be obtained from many shops in the town.
Information Providers for places to visit in Tansen are by:
PALPA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY.
GETUP PALPA, GROUP FOR ENVIRONMENTAL AND TOURISM UPGRADING.
DED, GERMAN DEVELOPMENT SERVICE.