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Travel report to Ranighat palace

The narrow pebble trail was slick with moss. The rains had just ended and the stones were slippery and wet. Our shoes found it difficult to get any purchase on the rocks and we were repeatedly prostrating before Mother Earth. Our good friend had had enough. He was to tie the nuptial knot shortly and was very wary of damaging his vital organs. He decided discretion was the better part of valour and gingerly retraced his steps back to our base, the hill town of Tansen.

It was a rather steep descent to the valley of the Barandikhola. We were now only five people. We were hitting the brown Palpali soil with astonishing regularity but were still in high spirits. The trail widened and we joined an unpaved road linking mountain villages. Mathew decided to stop for a small bite on the way. We had nothing since a rather substantial breakfast on top of Srinagar danda in the company of the Himals. The Sun was now high up in the sky and the groans of our stomachs was rather alarming!

Sel roti and dudh chiya were consumed at a rather alarming rate. No ‘Royal Stag’ though! We were watching the flow of life on the village road. Praveen was chatting up the chiya pasal owner’s two small daughters. Biskut and cheroot were purchased and we were off. The walk was rather level but the sun was in an angry mood. The village of Khanigaun was reached and it was time for a photo session under the nameboard extolling the attractions of the site.

It was now more than four hours since we hit the road. The Ranighat palace was still a distant mirage and we were beginning to get a wee bit despondent. The spring had gone out of our steps! Nagesh and Praveen were looking rather resplendent in their wide brimmed hats. We asked a villager how much farther to the palace and he answered less than an hour. However, our previous experience on trekking trails had taught us to be rather sceptical of distance and times in the hills. We climbed a ridge. Arun was getting inspired to follow the example of his good friends and turn back. However, Praveen was full of energy and was egging the group on. The Kali Gandaki river was seen in the far distance and we knew our objective was in sight. I was thinking of my treks in the upper Kali Gandaki valley, the land of the Thakalis. The river in these low hills was quite difference from the ‘Thak Khola’ of my treks. The descent was steep and slippery. The path was not much used and in places disappeared into the undergrowth.

We rounded a bend in the trail and the Ranighat palace came into view! The bird’s eye view of the complex was stunning. The location was remote and idyllic, by the banks of the majestic Kali Gandaki. The blue waters of the river swept a rather lazy curve by the palace gate. Bird life was plentiful and birdsong was a soothing balm to our ears battered by the constant cacophony of urban civilisation.

The Ranighat palace is also known as the Taj Mahal of Nepal. The palace was constructed in 1892 AD/1949 BS by the then commander in chief and governor of Palpa, Khadka Shamsher in memory of his beloved queen, Tej Kumari. The complex included a huge main building surrounded by layered gardens, stone walls and a small, rocky shrine. The descent on a steep and rather well worn stone staircase seemed unending and was rather tough on the knees. As we descended the palace grew larger and larger steadily filling our visual fields.

There was something eerie in such a magnificent building located in such a remote area. I wondered how they could have transported building materials to this out of the way place. My imagination took wing! The palace could be renovated and restored to its former glory. A heritage resort for tourists with access by boat along the Kali Gandaki! Wake up to the lapping waters of the river and bird song streaming in through the windows. Far, far away from the madding crowd. On second thoughts maybe such a beautiful monument to love should be left alone? The magnificent proportions and symmetry if the palace are to be seen to be believed. Many guidebooks describe it as a creation of supernatural power. I could imagine the palace on a full moon night with the moonlight glinting off the waters of the Kali Gandaki. A sight for the gods? However, the interior was in ruins! There was no one around other than us. Such a magnificent monument to love and no one to admire it. There was a musty air hanging around the place. The floor was covered in bird droppings, dead leaves and rotten woodwork. The view from the large windows was magnificent. Praveen was still full of energy and ‘joie de vivre’ and was running about the place photographing everything in sight. The front façade with the Grecian columns vaguely reminded me of the Parthenon. There was a small house near the palace and here we had lunch. Dal, bhaat, tarkari and aachar eaten from gleaming copper plates. We were famished and ate like hogs. I have always wondered why food tastes so good in the hills. It is the exercise, the clean air, the freshness of the ingredients or is it the monstrous appetite worked up by the exertion of tramping up and down hills? Our stomachs were full, our mind at peace, the air was still and sultry and we were feeling increasingly drowsy. However, we had a long trip back and it was a very steep climb in the initial part in the enervating heat. We were sweating by the buckets and some of us were doing the ‘half Monty’!

The sun was beginning to sink beyond the distant hills as we finally straggled back to the hill town of Tansen (our base for the last two days) and the UMN guest house. It had been a long day but also an exhilarating one. We had climbed, descended and walked more than 15 km excluding the pre-dawn trek to Srinagar danda. I would strongly recommend this day hike to anyone visiting Tansen, the pearl of Palpa. Take a walk along the by lanes of history to Nepal’s Taj Mahal, the eloquent symbol of the eternal love of a governor to his beautiful queen.

Source: The Himalayan Times, 13 March, 2005


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