Tinkering around Tansen

Palpa

Photo courtesy of Nikesh Ghimire

Tansen is a picturesque little town in Palpa district of western Nepal. It’s not far from Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha, the Apostle of Peace. Situated at a height of 1,372 m, the climate is pleasant throughout the year. In this sense, it is a proper little hill station. Tansen is known for quite a few things that gives it a unique identity. One is its history. Before the country became one under King Prithvi Narayan Shah, it was the capital of the strong Magar kingdom of Tanahun. In the 16th century, it had a powerful king in the form of Mukunda Sen, who came close to conquering Kathmandu then. Newars from Kathmandu Valley migrated here around the 18th century, and now it has a large population of Newars who continue enriching Tansen with their fantastic artistic skills.

One skill that the Newars brought with them has made Tansen famous. This skill is metal craft, for which the Newars are highly reputed round the world. Most domestic tourists visiting Tansen make sure to buy one of the town’s most famous products—the karuwa. For the uninitiated, a karuwa is a snout-nosed bronze vessel used for pouring drinking water. Cast in bronze, they are often embellished with artistic embossing, and become works of art that can be found adorning the shelves of many a hotel lobby as well as drawing rooms of the more discerning. For restaurants touting themselves as ethnic restaurants, the karuwa is of course a must. Many souvenir shops around tourist sites also display shiny karuwas in their display windows.

Taksar Tole in Tansen is where most of the establishments are located that make karuwa and other metal products meant for everyday and ritual use. While there, make it a point to visit an establishment called Palpali Karuwa Udyhog, whose owner, Mr. Suresh Raj Bajracharya has made what he claims to be the biggest karuwa in the world, one that weighs a mammoth 150 kilograms. Apparently, 300 kg of Palpali bronze and 20 kg of honey wax were used in its making, in addition to copious quantities of cow dung, black stones, black mud, and doal mud. This gigantic vessel could still be in its shop, so do make a visit. Surely, the enterprising owner will be delighted!

Another specialty of Tansen is Dhaka fabric, a particular kind of cloth woven in Tansen and block printed with bold designs. If you are wondering what this Dhaka fabric is all about, please be assured that you have seen it umpteen times even if you have been in Nepal for just a day. The chaps at the immigration counter could well have had the typical Nepali topi (cap) on their heads, as could numerous other individuals all over Kathmandu, including the guy at the reception desk of your hotel. The traditional Nepali topi is a pretty ubiquitous part of Nepali culture, something you couldn’t have missed. Well, there are two kinds of Nepali cap; one is the more staid Bhadgaunle topi that’s made of a stiff black cloth, while the more popular one is made of Palpali Dhaka fabric. Palpali Dhaka is also favored over other fabrics for making the daura suruwal that is the groom’s attire at his wedding. From time to time, Dhaka fabric comes to the forefront of fashion, and then you’ll see quite a few lovely girls modeling blouses, gowns, and such made of this fabric from Tansen at fashion shows around the capital. Needless to say, Dhaka fabric and accoutrements made of it are also must buy souvenirs of Tansen.

The setting of this lovely little town brimming with art and craft is very scenic, to say the least. There’s a place called Srinagar (1,542 m) on a hilltop about 30 minutes away from the town that offers great views of some magnificent Himalayan peaks (Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Langtang, Kanjiroba, Macchapuchre). There’s also a palace in a place called Sitalpati right in the center of the town that has a history going back to 1927. This palace, known as Tansen Durbar, managed to grab quite a bit of space in the national media some years ago. Tansen, being the headquarters of Palpa district, was a prized target of the Maoist insurgents during their 10-year insurgency from 1996 to 2006. Towards the end of their rebellion, they set the ancient durbar on fire, not because it was a feudal symbol, but because most of the government offices were located there. All-round condemnation was what the Maoists got for this dastardly act. However, the durbar has been restored now, and even if it may lack the authenticity of the original, it is still a sight to behold.

So, there, don’t you think you should be visiting Tansen the next time you are in Nepal? Tansen has the particularly exhilarating charm that is so inherent in hill stations everywhere, but what makes it a cut above the rest are the attributes mentioned above.

 

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