Tansen is an undiscovered gem. High above the Kali Gandaki River on the road between Butwal and Pokhara, staying in this charming little town is a very worthwhile detour for a few days. Full of history, this old Newar town with its steep cobblestone streets is virtually traffic-free. The traditional wooden Newari houses with their intricately carved windows line the narrow roads. You can hear the looms clacking as families weave the famous Dhakar fabric that Tansen is known all over Nepal for.
Most people come here planning to spend one or two nights and end up staying four or five. There is plenty to see and to do here. Take in the beautiful mountain views from Srinagar Hill, explore the fascinating history of Tansen, visit temples, go hiking, drink good coffee, shop for local handicrafts made only here, and live with locals staying in one of the comfortable and hospitable Community Homestays.
- Explore Tansen’s fascinating history
Likened to Darjeeling for its steep roads that climb the hillside, it has its own charm and a rich history. Once the capital of the Magar kingdom of Tanahun under the reign King Mukunda Sen, the kingdom of Palpa had expanded as far as the Koshi River in the east, Gorakhpur in the south and Gulmi and Kaski districts in the west and north respectively. Until the rise of the Shahs, it was one of the most powerful kingdoms in Nepal. It even came close to conquering Kathmandu in the 16th century under the leadership of King Mukunda Sen (1518-1553 AD). Although the power of the Magars waned in the 18th century, Tansen recovered as a Newari trading post on the busy trading route between India and Tibet. In 1806, Prithivipal Sen, the last king of Palpa, was invited to Kathmandu but was a trap and he was beheaded there. Palpa then became part of the Kathmandu kingdom with Tansen the administrative city for the area.
- Sightseeing: palaces and temples
There is plenty to see in Tansen. You enter Durbar Square through the huge gate, Baggi Dhoka, where the chariots of religious festivals have to pass through. There are fine woodcarvings on the buildings on both sides of the gate, examples of the fine Newari craftsmanship. Tansen Durbar was built in 1927 by Pratap Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana and formed the grand palace that was the seat of the Rana governors. Though in January 2006 during the Maoist insurgency it was destroyed, after the abdication of the king a few months later, the palace was one of the first government buildings to be restored. It now houses a small museum.
Sittalpati, a curious octagonal pavilion can be found in the main square. It was built under the order of Khadga Shamsher, governor of Palpa from 1891- 1902. (Shamsher, an ambitious politician, was exiled from Kathmandu after plotting against the Prime Minister.) In the past, it was used by the governors of Tansen when they had public announcements to make, but now it is a popular spot for locals to hang out and chat. Close by is the oldest temple in town, the two-tiered pagoda style temple of Bhimsen. According to the ‘Mahabharata’ although not a god, Bhimsen was the mightiest hero and Newars worship him like a god for the protection of their property and for when they go on business journeys.
At the bottom of Asan Tole, there is Amar Narayan Mandir, the large classic three-tiered pagoda style temple is sacred to the Lord Vishnu. It was built in 1807 by the first governor of Tansen, Amar Singh Thapa and is very beautiful with its carved wood deities. The erotic carvings on the wooden structures are remarkable. The temple is surrounded by one meter wide stone wall locally known as the Great wall of Palpa. In the vicinity of the temple, there are two other temples. Mahadev Mandir is found just below, sacred to Shiva and the other is to Vishnu Paduka.
Bhagawati Temple was rebuilt by Colonel Ujir Singh Thapa, the governor of Palpa in 1815 in commemoration of the victory over colonial British Indian Forces in the battle fought at Butwal. The large temple was damaged by the devastating earthquake in 1935 after which it was renovated in its smaller present size. Close to Bhagawati Temple are three small temples of Shiva, Ganesh and Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom. Every August, a chariot procession of deities is paraded through the town with military honor to observe the historic battle.
Up of the side of Srinagar Hill, you can find Siddhi Binayak Temple, the temple of the God Ganesh. It is said that the sculptors who came to Tansen from Kathmandu to build Amar Narayan Temple, also carved the figure of an elephant on a big stone. It was given the shape of God Ganesh, whose head according to mythology was replaced by the head of an elephant after he was beheaded by his father, Lord Shiva.
- Unique textiles
Tansen is home to the traditional colorful woven Dhaka fabric. Sewn to make the topi, the typical Nepali cap, the Palpali Dhaka topi is the most famous and popular among Nepalese people. Shawls and ‘Thaili’ (a typical Nepali woman’s purse) made of Dhaka also make very good souvenirs. There are lots of Dhaka shops and you can visit the small factory where the fabric is woven, though many homes also have looms where the fabric is made.
- Traditional metal crafts
Taksar is an interesting part of the town where for centuries the famous bronze and brass works of Tansen were produced. Here you can see how the famous bronze ‘karuwa’ (water jug), ‘hukka’ (water pipe), and ‘auntee’ (Newar jug for storing ‘raksi’ a distilled homemade alcohol) are produced.
- First grown coffee in Nepal
The first coffee plantation of Nepal can be found here. Coffee has been grown here for the last 36 years and is still regarded as the best. Now with over 2000 farmers growing coffee beans, this is one of Tansen’s important products. You can visit Bista’s coffee plantation, where the farmer has been growing coffee beans for nearly four decades.
The coffee from here is all organic and no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides are used. As it is grown between 800 and 1500 meters above sea level, the quality is very high. The Arabica beans grown are generally medium in size, aromatic and tasty. Recently the coffee from Tansen and its surrounding areas has started to be exported overseas. It is available in many shops around Tansen Bazaar.
- Festivals and fairs
There is usually at least one fair or festival every month, based on Hindu or Buddhist mythology and celebrated according to the lunar calendar. The most important fair is the three-day Ridi Mela or Maghe Sankranti (Jan-Feb) at Ridi Bazaar where Hindu pilgrims from all over Nepal and India come to take a holy bath in the Kali Gandaki River and worship at the temple. At this fair handicrafts and products like woolen blankets, wooden pots, bamboo products, sugarcane cakes, walnuts and more are sold.
Other fairs include Satyawati Mela, a one night festival held during the full moon in October-November at Satyawati Lake, south of Tansen. According to legend, on this night the Goddess Satyawati will fulfill the wishes of the pilgrims who circle the lake three times and shout their hopes out to her. People take a holy bath in the lake and sacrifice animals and birds.
The Parvas Mela (Feb-Mar) on Shiva Ratri, the birthday of Lord Shiva is when people come to worship the god Krishna and Shiva, bringing animals and agriculture produce to the fair where the best farmers are rewarded. Lalpati Mela is held during the Holi Festival around the same time in Lalpati in the centre of the Madi Valley and Rambha Pani Mela is held in August-September in Rambha Pani, 30 km east of Tansen city when people come to worship Goddess Rambha Pani and sacrifice animals and birds.
- Hikes around Tansen
Srinagar Hill is just a short walk up out from Tansen Bazaar (1524m) where you can climb a view tower and admire the spectacular panorama of the Himalayas as well as the plains of Terai. You can see Kanjiroba, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Langtang Himal. Looking south, you see over the plains of the Madi valley and the Terai.
There are a number of other hikes in the area such as a visit to Ranighat Durbar, a day hike away from Tansen. On the east bank of Kali Gandaki River at the confluence of the Ridi is known as Nepal’s Taj Mahal this crumbling baroque place was built in 1896 by Khadga Shamsher Rana. Ranighat temple is found beside Ridi River and is an important Hindu pilgrimage center, especially during January when pilgrims bath in the river to celebrate the Magar festival of Maghe Sankranti.
- Community Homestays
To make your stay here all the more memorable, why not stay a few days in one of the friendly and hospitable local family homestays. Clustered at the top of the top Tansen in Bhagawati Tole, there are several Community Homestays where guests can live with a family, gaining an insight into the way of life in this fascinating little town.
- Local cuisine
While staying in here, try out the local cuisine. Tansen is very famous for Hansko chhyola (roasted or grilled spiced duck meat ), Chukauni (boiled potato and curd) and Batuk (a lentil flour patty ). Try out Jhiniya roti and Sel roti (bread made from fermented rice). Sel Roti is made of rice flour and the semi liquid dough is prepared from milk, water, sugar, butter, cardamom, cloves and other secret ingredients which is poured into oil in a circular shape and cooked gently until it turns a golden color.
- Great location and climate
Historically, Tansen was ideally situated on a main trading route between Tibet and India. Up in the hills, at 1372 meters above sea level, it has a perfect climate – not to hot in summer and not too cold in winter. Many people like to come here in the summer when it is too hot in the sweltering plains below.
Located as it is on the highway between Pokhara and Lumbini and the Indian border, Tansen is a good place to stop for a few days on your way north or south. Though there are no flights to Tansen, you can fly from Kathmandu to Bhairahawa near Lumbini and then take a bus via Butwal to Tansen (64 km/3hrs drive) or fly to Pokhara, from where Tansen can be reached in about 5 hours drive.
From Kathmandu (306 km/7-10 hours): Buses leave early morning and in the evening from Gongabu Bus Park, and microbuses go from Sundhara, near the Central Post Office. Hiring a vehicle it is about 7 hours drive.
From Pokhara (122 km/ 5-6 hrs): There is one direct daily bus service leaving at 6 am. (You should confirm the departure time). The Tourist bus to Sunauli on the Indian border passes the Bartung junction where you can catch a local bus or jeep for the remaining 4 kilometres to Tansen.
From Chitwan (175 km/4-5 hrs): From Narayanghat you can catch a bus or microbus coming from Kathmandu on their way to Tansen, or take any bus to Butwal (2 – 3 hrs) and change there for a bus to Tansen (90 minutes).
From Lumbini (85 km/ 4-5 hrs): There is no direct bus service from Lumbini to Tansen so you need to change at Bhairawa and then Butwal.
From Bardia National Park (362 km/12 hrs): There is no direct bus service from Bardiya National Park to Tansen so you should change at Butwal.
From Butwal (38 km): Buses leave every 40 minutes for Tansen, as do buses from Tansen to Butwal. (60-90 minutes)
From Sunauli (65 km/6 hrs), Indian Border: There is a daily tourist coach service from Sunauli to Pokhara. Get off at Bartung junction and take a bus or jeep along the 4 km link road to Tansen. Otherwise, take a local bus from Sunauli to Butwal and change for Tansen.
By Marianne Heredge
If you would like to stay in a Palpa Community Homestay, book at CommunityHomestay.com.
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