(Jit Gurung Senior Mission Support Officer, United Nations Mission in Darfur,
“Why read when you can pick up a spade and find out for yourself?” – Penslope Fitzgerald 1916 (The Golden Child 1977).
Tamu Dheen Association, United Kingdom (TDUK) recently organized a ‘pilgrimage’ to Kohla Sonpre Toh/Sonthar, an ancient Tamu/Gurung settlement ruins, that lies on the foothills of Annapurna and Lamjung Himal in mid-western Nepal, in April 2018. A team of sixty odd enthusiastic trekkers (including porters/guides) started its trek to Kohla Sonthar from Pokhara, via Beshishahar, Ghale Gaun, Bhujung (Lamjung). It took seven (7) days for the TDUK team to complete the trek and return to Pokhara. I grabbed the opportunity and volunteered to be part of the pilgrim and visit such a historical/archeological place which I yearned since a long time ago.
Posing with the statue of late Dr. Harka Gurung at the entrance of Gurung Museum in Besishahar
Day 1. I and three other friends (Dr. Chandra Gurung, Kesh Gurung and Tarka Jung Gurung), together with a guide/porter, departed Pokhara by Jeep for Ngadi/Taranche, Lamjung which happened to be my sasurali (my wife’s maternal village). En-route to Ngadi/Taranche, we stopped over at Besishahar and visited the Tamu/Gurung Sangrahalaya (museum) there. We were delighted to find a statue of late Dr. Harka Gurung at the entrance of the museum. The museum was well maintained but I felt that there are still rooms to improve. We arrived Ngadi/Taranche where we were welcomed by Mr. Til (Teju) Gurung and his good lady with delicious food and drinks. He then took us around the village where late Dr. Harka was born and buried. It was good to visit late Dr. Harka Gurung’s tomb and pay homage to him. We are all grateful and thankful to the family and relatives of late Dr Gurung for welcoming and showing us around and, most importantly, for their hospitality whilst in Ngadi.
We then drove off to Ghale Gaun (‘Kuinli Nasa’ in Tamu/Gurung language), a famous tourist destination in Lamjung, from Ngadi/Taranche, via Khudi, along the bumpy/sneaky motorable tracks. After a few hours of adventurous drive, we arrived Ghale Gaun and joined our group, members from the TamuDheen Association, United Kingdom (TD UK) in the evening. Ghale Gaun or Kuinli Nasa is a beautiful village with breathtaking natural scenery from where we can see the Annapurna range, Lamjung Himal and Manaslu at very close range. Ghale Gaun lies at an altitude of 2100 meters from the sea level. It is one of the most famous tourist destinations for both external and internal tourists. This village is historically important as it is believed that the Ghale rulers moved from Kohla Sonthar to the present Ghale Gaun/Kuinli Nasa; the last Ghale Raja in Kuinli Nasa was ‘Gyahlpo Rajalke’. One can see the ruins of the Ghale Raja (king)’s palace and a statue of the last Ghale Raja in Ghale Gaun. Ghale Gaun is undoubtedly rich in Gurung culture and traditions. We were welcomed by the Chairperson of Kohla Sonthar Gaun Palika, Mr Prem Ghale and all villagers in to Ghale Gaun, with Naumati Baza, Tika, Fulmala/Khata and delicious snacks. The villagers also organized a cultural programme, with typical/traditional dances (such as Ghanto, Sorathi, Pachyu and Ghyabre dances) which we all enjoyed watching. Having enjoyed the cultural programme, we all retired to our home-stays for the night.
Day 2. The following morning, Ghale Gaun organized a farewell programme at their local ‘Kohibo’ (Tamu/Gurung sacred meeting place) prior to our departure to the largest village in Lamjung, Bhujung (Bohjo nasa in Tamu language). We stopped over in Bhujung for lunch where the TDUK team were welcomed with Tika, Fulmala (garlands) and beautiful cultural dances. Although it was a short stop over, we found that the people of Bhujung were very welcoming, friendly and hospitable. We all enjoyed our short stay in Bhujung. Having had lunch in Bhujung we then started off (our journey) to our destination, Kohla Sonthar, by climbing ups and down the hills. We could not climb up that far on day 2 as such, we had to stop over at a place called ‘Samiro Kuna’, on the bank of a stream for the night
Day 3. The location where we stayed overnight was an uneven slope, so we could not erect all tents that we had; as many people as possible had to be squeezed in to the tent – more than its capacity to accommodate. I certainly did not sleep well that night. After having breakfast, we started climbing up the 3300 meter high Kobaro hill. After conquering the Kobaro hill, we walked down the hill and stopped over at a place called ‘Ngasi Kharka’, at the altitude of about 3000 meters. We spent the night at this place, which was a bit better than the previous location. The journey from Namiro Kuna to Ngasi Kharka was the longest and toughest but the tranquility and beautiful natural scenery along the route helped lesson our tiredness.
Day 4. We were all very excited today as we were approaching very close to our destination. We departed Ngasi Kharka for Kohla Sonthar immediately after breakfast. After only a few hours of climbing yet another uphill, we finally arrived our destination – ‘Kohla Sonthar’ or ‘Kohla Sonpre Toh’ just before the mid-day. Seeing the ruins of our ancestor’s settlement and the beautiful natural scenery in and around the destination, we all seemed to have forgotten, so quickly, about the tough/adventurous journey that we started all the way from Ghale Gaun/Bhujung (Kuinli Nasa, Pojoh Nasa) to Kohla Sonthar. Everyone, instead of resting, started walking out and about the ruins so enthusiastically – trying to understand and find out facts about the ruins at this very historical/archeological site.
Kohla Sonthar/Kohla Sonpre Toh. ‘Kohla Sonthar/Kohla Sonpre Toh’ is an ancient settlement for the Tamus/Gurungs that is believed to be the last settlement for the Tamus/Gurung tribe that lived collectively before they dispersed and migrated down to lower elevations and scattered around the Gandak areas (western Nepal). Kohla Sonthar is located at an elevation of 3300 meters on the foothills of Annapurna and Lamjung Himal. The settlement in Kohla is distinctly divided into three different sites such as, Tu Kohla (upper Kohla), Mu Kohla (lower Kohla) and Pa Kohla (middle Kohla). A cave lies on a rocky cliff at an elevation of 3800 meters to the north-east of the main settlement, close to Tu Kohla. The cave (‘Jyomsyo Wu/Ngara’) is believed to be the ‘monastery’ for female/unmaried monks. The lower part of Kohla (Mu Kohla) is the largest settlement where one can find more than fifty (50) ruins of houses, including larger ruins that are believed to be the Ghale Raja’s palace and meeting hall (Chhonja Dheen). Among several other ruins, we can see evidences of Pani-ghatta (water mills), Dhiki/Okhal (grinding mills), a large stone which is believed to be used by the ‘village crier’ who stood on it and announced/communicated the ‘happenings’ in the village and a Pole-like-stone believed to be a horse stable (Some, however, argue that the large stone that lies just above the biggest settlement and the stone-pole standing intact may have been used for different purposes). Until the start of the millennium, there had not been any ethnical or archeological research/study on this ancient settlement. It was only in the year 2000 when a team of scholars from University of Cambridge, UK, comprising of anthropologists, a shaman and archeologists (including one from Nepali government) visited this site and conducted the first ever ‘study’ on the ruins of Kohla Sonthar/Sonpre Toh. The team believes that the Tamus may have lived in this location between the year AD 1000 to 1300s and, Tamus/ Gurungs may have abandoned Kohla Sonthar around AD 1400s. The research data related to dates or the period of habitat, however, cannot yet be determined due mainly to lack of reliable evidences.
Listing Kohla Sonthar/Sonpre Toh as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Having been there and seen the ruins and evidences of settlement by the Gurungs/Tamus in Kohla, I wanted to compare this historical/archeological site with ‘Machu Picchu’ of Peru which is a 15th century ‘Incas’ settlement situated at an altitude of 2430 meters from the sea level. It has now been listed as a UNESCO heritage site and has become one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations. I am of the view that Kohla Sonthar/Sonpre Toh should be linked up by road through various routes, e.g. from Tang Ting, Sikles, Yangjakot in Kaski and from several villages in Lamjung, and develop tourist friendly infrastructures so as to attract as many tourists as possible. Visitors to Kohla should, however, be advised not to move or take away any evidences or ruins that are the integral parts of the Tamu settlement. I sincerely hope that the local and central governments will initiate the process for listing the site as a UNESCO heritage sooner rather than later.
Day 5. I, together with Kesh Gurung, Tarkajang Gurung and Ngamarjang Gurung, departed Kohla for Sikles. The rest remained behind for further observation around Kohla. The route to Sikles was very rough/steep down hill; descending along this route all the way to Madkyu Khola was a real challenge and struggle. We finally arrived Sikles in early evening of the same day and stayed over in my Mamawali (maternal home). It was great to see my Mamawali family and relatives in Sikles after a long time. Having had our dinner, we all went to bed early and slept like babies!
Picture taken just after descending the rough/steep downhill – all the from Kohla to Madkyu (nearby Sikles)
Day 6. Relax/Free in Sikles. The main group (TDUK team) arrived Sikles (Chiuli Nasa). The people from Sikles welcomed the TDUK team in its style: the village Musical Band leading the way, members of the village mothers group and young girls lined up with garlands and Tika, the rest, greeting, welcoming and shaking hands with the guests – it really was a grand welcome!
Day 7. Interaction Programme on Kohla Sonthar/Sonpre Toh. I and the visiting group attended the interaction programme on Kohla Sonthar/Sonpre Toh that was organized by Madi Gaun Palika, the local governing body. The Chief Minister, Mr. Prithvi Subba Gurung was the chief guest. Dr Jagman Gurung, an expert on Gurung/Tumu culture presented a paper that recommended more than sixteen action points pertaining to Kohla Sonthar/Sonpre Toh. Hopefully both the local and state governments take these recommendations seriously and implement them without delay. I also hope that by working together, both the state and central governments will, subsequently, be successful in getting Kohla Sonthar/Sonpre Toh listed as a UNCESCO heritage.
Having attended the interaction programme, we all departed Sikles (Chiuli Nasa) for Tang Ting (Tauni Nasa). It was already late afternoon when we left Sikles. Walking down to Madi Khola and climbing up to Tauni Nasa (Tang Ting – my village) took the team about four (4) hours; it normally takes only two (2) hours for a fit local person to get to Tang Ting from Sikles.
Welcoming in Tang Ting. The Youth Club and Mothers Group, together with the rest of the villagers welcomed TDUK team and entertained them with Ghantu and cultural dances. Since it was already late night and they were tired, all the guests ‘retired’ to various home-stays for the night.
Short trip to Nauju Danda. Following morning, majority of the TDUK team were taken up to Nauju Danda (Nauju Hill) to observe yet another Tamu/Gurung settlement. It is believed that people from Tauni Nasa (Tang Ting), especially the Tamu clans/Thars: Painki Lam, Pahchyu and Plehmai, settled here prior to moving to its current location (during an unknown period of time). Nauju Danda is a historic and archeological site. One can enjoy the Himalya ranges and beautiful natural scenery from this hill. While climbing up the hill was tough, it was a worthwhile trip; all the visitors were delighted to seeing such beautiful scenery from Nauju Danda!
Day 8. The team departed Tang Ting (Tauni Nasa) for Pokhara in the morning. Upon returning to Pokhara, where we started our journey, I could not keep up with the TDUK team programme as I had to return to my duty station – Darfur, Sudan. The TDUK team, however, continued their group journey beyond Pokhara for a couple of days more.
All in all, it was a tough and challenging trip but was a real educational to me. I am totally satisfied and happy that I finally succeeded in fulfilling my desire to visit Kohla and Lamjung which I yearned for since a long time ago. There are plenty of places to visit/see in Nepal, of which Kohla is undoubtedly one of them. I would advise everyone of you to try and visit this beautiful and historical place, Kohla Sonthar/ Sonpre Toh atlest once in your lifetime, you will not be disappointed!