Nepali Times Asian Paints
Phoenix rising


I always had a strange affinity for Mangalsen Palace, even before I ever visited Achham district. My introduction to the historic building, which stood guard on the northern flanks of the mountain above Kailash Khola, was through photographs sent to me by colleagues in Achham. The three-storey brick building housing the District Administration Office always featured as the backdrop in district-level activities, and the red brick against the pristine blue sky caught my fancy.

It was in February 2002 that I read about the Maoist attack on Mangalsen. It was one of the most brutal attacks of the armed conflict. The siege of Mangalsen, just after midnight on 17February, took the lives of nearly 140 soldiers, policemen and civilians (including the Chief District Officer), in addition to an unknown number of Maoists. The Maoists also shelled and torched all government buildings in Achham district headquarters, including Mangalsen Palace. All that remained was a smouldering building, its red bricks blackened by fire.

When I finally visited Achham in 2008, the building I had become so attached to had been reduced to huge rectangular stones at plinth level, already overgrown. Scraping away the dried winter grass over the ruins, I could see a layer of charcoal, testimony to the inferno that brought the building down.

I felt an inexplicable sense of loss, as if part of my memories and my patriotic pride had gone up in smoke with the building.

It was not a just a district administration building that was reduced to ashes on 17 February. The nearly 150-year-old palace had been a real survivor, and symbolised the importance of Mangalsen, once within the baisey rajya that fought against the Gorkhali army.

Going back to Mangalsen recently, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The palace was being rebuilt! A board at the site said the building was supposed to have been completed by mid-June 2010, with a budget of Rs 2.25 million. So far the construction has only crept up to lintel level. But being built it was, with walls of brick and lime mortar and solid doors and windows.

Most of the government offices that were destroyed that fateful night have found new homes in Mangalsen. The collapsed skeletons of some buildings still remain, a sombre reminder. But Mangalsen Palace is moving on. There were a dozen or so boys practicing karate near the construction site. These youngsters, many of whom would not remember the battle of Mangalsen, were carefully following the commands of their instructor. They looked full of hope as they learned how to defend themselves.

Mangalsen seems to be casting off its old skin. Peace and stability may still be out of reach for much of the country, but perhaps the rebuilding of the palace is a sign of things to come. Slowly but surely the phoenix is rising from the ashes of Mangalsen.

Mangalsen Palace housed the District Administration Office of Achham District.

The ruins of Mangalsen Palace after the Maoist attack of February 2002.

Foundation stones were the only remnant of the 150-year-old palace in 2008.

The palace being totally rebuilt, 2010

Local children practice karate in front of the palace, with Mangalsen Bajar in the background

Who's watching?, Indu Nepal
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Dishing it out

1. ywpela
destroyed buildings can be rebuilt, but how about those countless priceless & ancient scriptures that the maoists burnt at sanskrit university in dang? there was world-wide outcry after that moronic and stupid act by the maoists. can those be brought back too?

2. jange
And of course, the destruction of Mangalsen was a revolutionary act for which all Nepalis are eternally grateful to the Maoists.

Such hypocracy. You are pleased to benefit from the historic political achievements which the Maoists brought to you but you are not prepared to acknowledge the brave and glorious Maoists whose acts of destruction made it all possible.

The author should be ashamed. Not a word of gratitude to the Maoists for having carried out this heroic act.

3. Daniel Gajaraj

Composite Culture.Our neighbour India has about1,652 languages including 53 non-Indian languages.The Supreme Court of India has pointed out that the foundation of this composite culture is Sanskrit language.and literature which is the great binding force."for the different peoples of this great country and it should be preferred in the educational system for the preservation of that heritage,-apart from the duty of the Govrrnment under Act.351."To quote the Supreme Court-

"Though the people of this country diferred in in a number of ways ,they are all proud to regard themselves as participants in a common heritage,emphatically is the heritage of Sanskrit."

Sanskrit need not be compulsary "Its richness is almost beyond belief." -Nani Palkhivala.Many western intelectuals,Friedrich Max Mueller,Schopenhauer,RalphWaldo Emerson,Raynor Johnson, J RobertOoppenheimer, Einstein  and many others were highly appreciative of Sanskrit.

It was foolish -ness or ignorance or mischief on the part of the Maoist movement to burn Sanskrit Books of immense values. They must apologize to the nation one day when good sense will prevail. Carthage or Alexendria must not be destroyed any zonger; nor Bamiyan ,nor Babri Muszid,nor Vishwanath. They are all Heritage of not only ours or theirs,but of the whole mankind.They should not have destroyed public o properties, infrastructures,nor killed innocent teachers.Chairman  Mao had even directed to return straw borrowed for sleeping at night haltage to the owners after their use at night.,also not to destroy public properties.

4. sanjay
this construction is  one big sham.Nepal doesn't have the expertise nor the money to restore the building to its ancient state.I doubt if there's any documentation of the actual structure of the building in all its  intricacies and design.Essentially they are going to build the so called palace with all the modern materials and make it look like the old building.In the end some sorry freewheeling skunk faced politician will come along,garland himself and declare the palace open to again begin a new cycle of neglect and disrepair.

5. Anonymous
By the way, why put government administrative offices in old historic palaces and buildings? These  stupid bureaucrats and politicians are ignorant about the history and culture of the place. Nor do they have a sense of native pride! Better hand over such places to the local people and community at least they are proud of their culture and history. They have a big stake in such buildings and could be used as a platform to revive native traditions and culture. Future generation of children from all over Nepal could visit such places and be aware of the sensitivity and learn from such places. The State should provide security to such places with cooperation from the local people.

6. jange
# 3 "It was foolish -ness or ignorance or mischief on the part of the Maoist movement to burn Sanskrit Books of immense values."

It was neither ignorance, nor foolishness nor mischief. It was part of the Maoist party's policy of destruction of the old so that the new could rise up. It is precisely because of acts like these that Nepalis have been able to make the political progress that we have now.

Be grateful that the Maoists had the courage and foresight to destroy these things and look at the political benefit it has brought to all Nepalis.

7. Bashu Arya

I don't see why Nepalese have to be proud of or appreciate what Maoists have done. Ushering the culture of killing with impunity? Destroying the infrastructure?Destroying historical heritage? Forced ethnicity-based republics? Indoctrinating youth who had less opportunity of education and employment to fossilfied and failed ideologies?

Maoists have no vision, no answer how to address multi-faceded problem that Nepal faces. There is utter lack of debates even within their top-ranking people. The whole Maoist movement is shame to Nepal.

8. DK


You are absolutely correct. The political benefits are immense and Nepal is riding high on it.

Depleted economy, rock bottom morale amongst its citizens, further to that, poverty spreading far and fast and the policy makers in chaos.

Of course, why would Nepalese be less than grateful to Maoist for opening our eyes and minds.  Let us all throw the heritage out the window or shall we say Nepal, wipe out the "old thinking generations" and bring in the "new thinking comrades".

Jange, I pity you that you would think what Maoist and other branch of this people's revolution has invaded our country with.  I do not know what it is suppose to symbolise by burning down already limited resources but what has come out of it is emptiness.  We are left with nothing!  I do not see how our country can process with all this chaos and madness.  Yes, our country is divided and that leaders of Maobadi did not forsee the chaos it had created.  I hope for their own good that their dreams will come through.  If not, there will be quite a few who would love to "wup thier ass." 

9. jange
#7, #8

Maybe so. But still a lot of people voted for them.

All those who voted for the Maoists  must have agreed to the Maoists' action and policies or they would not have voted for them.

10. pasdp
jange et all - haha, good one ... they have turned into khaobadis for, of course, benefit of common people.

11. Bal Narsingh

#9 Jange

Maju Gurung , the child soldier,s statement in the United Nations  Security Council last week is in itself sufficient  proof of humanitarian crime committed by the Maoist in their guerrilla days.May be trying to do right thing(in their thinking) out of the wrong way. One can put the right foot in the left shoe and the left foot on the right shoe ,and can still call the world wrong; if one can create one,s ideology  first. Foul is fair.

12. DK

Lot of the people who voted for Maoist bought the idealism of communist manifesto.  (And no disrespect but most of the voters are from the rural areas.) Not practical when the whole world is going through globalisation.  Unless isolation is what we are heading for.

Anyways,  we have to save our heritage...what's left of it.

13. yeti
Lal Salaaam.........looking at the long lines outside the Dashrath Rangashala for the Korean carrot, it seems only Prachanda and his henchmen like jange will be left in the country....and thats exactly what they want I guess...just amazing these commies!!!

14. Kancha Dai
People have forgotten the atrocities and crimes committed by the Maoist in the name of revolution and voted for them. We Nepalese are ignorant people who believe in the rhetorics of the leaders - building castles in the air. Any way we are illiterate and can be fooled easily, that is why the politicians of all hues and colors have been cheating  us. The Ranas, the Shahs, the Panchas, the Kangresis, the Males, and the Maoists have all fooled us and have brought the nation to the brink of collapse. See the security situation today where people are kidnapped during daylight. See the poverty in the country. Most of the people have fled to India for seeking menial jobs like security guards and hotel captans. Women trafficking is in no better position than what it was 30 years ago. What happened to the NGOs championing the cause of women. All are just pocketing the money in the name of poor. No industries have cropped due to fear of unions, hundreds of hotels have closed down, and unemployment of youths is up. People are flocking to all places in the world for jobs.   

15. tesroankha
What political revolution are we talking about here? I dont want to sound like a pacifist here but the destruction that took place during the years of conflict has reaped no benefits and has left a scar that is too deep to heal. For the destruction transcends beyond just the damage done to the physical monuments.  I was in Achham two years after the conflict was over and the children were still scared to talk to strangers. And why not? For they had seen their friends being dragged to fight the war. They had seen their fathers being shot, stabbed and killed. The sounds of the bombs were still fresh. The remnants of the buildings reminded them of the war, each time they wanted to move on. I wasnt surprised to see people seeking revenge for the death of their fathers and brothers. Keep yourself in their shoes. Would you forgive the culprit? Nothing can fill the psychological void that the conflict has created. For the psychological damage in the name of revolution is just unfair for the person who go through it. It takes generations to get over it. The scar from the war is just too deep to forgive and forget, regardless of the monuments we try to revive. I not being pessimistic but this is definitely an explanation to the growing rate of crime and anarchy. We better soothe the psychological wounds before we even start working on our bombed buildings lest that the newly revived buildings are not brought down soon after its completion.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)