Nepal’s ‘Taj Mahal’ remains hidden from honeymoonersBy Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Monday, February 14, 2011
KATHMANDU - When New Delhi resident Ketaki Gupta visited Nepal on her honeymoon this year, the bubbly copywriter and her sales executive husband Nitin dutifully visited popular tourist destination Pokhara city, the casinos, and the hallowed Pashupatinath temple, as recommended by their travel agent.
“It’s after I went back home and met a chance traveller from Nepal that I came to know about Nepal’s ‘Taj Mahal’,” the 28-year-old bewails. “Why weren’t we told about it earlier? We would have loved to visit it.”
It’s not only the Guptas who were in the dark about the ideal destination for honeymooners. Thousands of Indian tourists who flock to Nepal every year remain glued to the beaten track, with little knowledge about other exciting destinations in the tiny neighbouring republic that however has an incredibly rich range of places to visit and do.
As Nepal celebrates its Tourism Year 2011 with a campaign to bring one million tourists, the emphasis is on promoting neglected destinations with intense potential.
The 19th century Tej Mahal in western Nepal, known as Nepal’s Taj Mahal, is also a tribute to love, built by an aristocrat who was also the grandfather of Vijayaraje Scindia, the Rajmata of India’s erstwhile princely state of Gwalior.
Located in Tansen, a quiet town at 4,300 m above sea level and known as Nepal’s Darjeeling, Tej Mahal, popularly called Rani Mahal, was built by Khadga Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana in 1897.
It was a tale of love in the times of intrigues, danger and banishment. The ambitious Rana, a general of the Nepal Amy, plotted the assassination of his uncle, Ranadip Singh Bahadur, with his brothers but once the deed was done, he banished to Palpa in western Nepal by his wary brother Bir, who succeeded the slain ruler.
Rana was also stripped of his title as commander in chief of the army and later died in exile in Banaras.
During his disgraced exile in western Nepal, he is said to have consoled himself by strolling with his wife Tejkumari along the banks of the Kali Gandaki river and the foothills which offered a scene of breathtaking beauty.
According to the legend, the queen had a premonition of her death and asked Rana to build a memorial so that her memory would stay alive in people’s mind.
When she died, he is said to have built the two-storeyed memorial mansion exactly where she expressed the wish, surrounded by shrines and a layered garden.
The palace was neglected after Rana’s death with his successors afraid to claim the property due to his disgrace.
It was taken over by the Department of Archaeology and given a facelift in 1998. But since then, given the protracted political uncertainty in Nepal, the Tej Mahal has neither been restored fully to its old beauty nor promoted widely.
Tansen can be visited from Pokhara and offers several other places of interest.
It has a 64-room old palace that was attacked by the Maoist guerrillas in 2006, a bustling market also famed for the handwoven Dhaka cloth, reminiscent of the intricate Dhakai saris of Bangladesh, and a breath-taking view of Himalayan ranges, including Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Machhapuchhre.
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at email@example.com)