Visitors to Nepal become familiar with a water-bearing snout-nosed bronze vessel called a karuwa sooner rather than later. It is a ubiquitous presence in any restaurant claiming to be ethnic (plenty of these in the capital, Kathmandu); on display as decoratives in lobbies and rooms of hotels; on the shelves of tasteful drawing rooms; in showcases in souvenir shops; and in most Nepalis’ homes. The karuwa is not only a utilitarian utensil for pouring water, but a work of art in itself, with lovely curves and beautiful etchings. Yes, you’ll come across a karuwa somewhere or the other during your visit to Nepal. And, if you want to see the biggest karuwa in the country, and no doubt in the world, you’ll have to go to a lovely little town called Tansen in Palpa district of western Nepal.
This town is akin to a hill station, with pleasant weather all year around, and with the typical characteristics of any town located in the hills of Nepal. That is to say, you’ll find lots of winding stone-paved lanes and alleys and stone steps meandering through the town; a central market area where is held a ‘haat bazaar’ where people from adjoining hills villages converge to sell their produce once a week; hardy and smiling men and women living simple hardworking lives; and so on. You get the picture. And, yes, not to forget, beautiful scenery all around.
Well, while many things are similar among all towns and villages of the hills, there are also bound to be some unique characteristics, Tansen has quite a few, one of them being Taksar Tole. This is where the biggest karuwa in the world was born, specifically, in the ‘Palpali Karuwa Udyhog’, one of many such establishments in this site famous for manufacturing a plethora of bronze products used in the everyday life of various communities, and particularly more so of Newari households. While many such products are for common use (mostly in the kitchen), there are as many meant for religious purposes. You might like to know who made the biggest karuwa; well it was the work of Mr. Suresh Man Bajracharya, as skilled a metal-smith as any found in Taksar Tole.
When you go to Tansen, which is actually not far from Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, you’ll of course be visiting this place. You’ll surely enjoy looking at the adept hands of the Newari metal-smiths at work, and of course you’ll buy a couple of bronze souvenirs, even if they may be a bit of a heavy purchase, in the literal sense. Other souvenirs you must also buy are clothing made out of Dhaka fabric, a fabric unique to Nepal that’s made in Tansen. It’s another thing that you have already become very familiar with, having seen it adorning numerous heads in the form of a Dhaka Nepali topi (cap) all over the country, more so in villages and more traditional parts of towns and cities. The immigration officer at the airport probably had one on. The Dhaka Nepali cap is one of the unique identifying features of Nepal and Nepalis; a national symbol, as evident from the fact that the President, the Prime Minister, ministers, etc. will never be seen without one.
So, you see, there are already some very good reasons for visiting Tansen. You should also know that it is pretty historical, and the presence of a royal durbar (est. 1927) in the center of the town validates this claim. It was the capital of the Magar kingdom Tanahun, a powerful regional principality once upon a time (before the country was unified), and at no time was it more powerful than in the 16th century under King Mukunda Sen, when it nearly conquered even Kathmandu. Although so far from the principal Newari settlement of Kathmandu Valley, you’ll find plenty of Newars in Tansen, their forefathers having migrated from the Valley sometime in the 18th century, seeking their fortune. .
In more recent times, Tansen was a prime target for the Maoists during their 10-year insurgency (1996-2006), at the fag end of which, they set fire to the historic royal palace. Conservationists were pretty upset, it must be said, but with funds arranged from here and there, they set about restoring this monument to history. So, when you are in Tansen, you’ll no doubt take a tour of the palace. It’s only a five-minute walk from Taksar Tole to the market square known as Sitalpati where the place is located. The square around the palace is a pretty interesting place to laze around on a sunny afternoon. You’ll come cross villagers selling dried river fish and pure ghee (clarified butter) that are must buys for most domestic tourists.
Some places of interest around Tansen are also worth visiting. There’s a hilltop site called Srinagar Danda nearby from where the best views are to be had, including panoramic ones of Himalaya peaks like Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Kanjiroba, Mansiri, Macchapuchre, Ganesh Himal, and Langtang. Then there’s Ranighat, a Rana-period palace situated on the bank of the Kaligandaki River, and a sacred site called Rid Bazaar at the confluence of the Kalingandaki and Ridi Rivers that sees hordes of pilgrims around mid January every year when the Maghe Sankranti festival is held. As a matter of interest, about one mile east of the town center is the 160-bed United Mission Hospital that was established way back in 1954, the first project in the country of the United Mission to Nepal (UMN), a missionary organization of the Christian faith.
As said before, there are indeed many good reasons for visiting Tansen.