Nepali Times
State Of The State
Nothing to do in Tikapur


TIKAPUR-If you have nothing to do, you can do all that to your heart's content here in the middle of nowhere. With no mountains to gaze at and no monuments to explore, there are no pressures of anticipation in this town set amidst a forest. Towns often evolve around a central function-administration, trade, industry, or even entertainment. But this town is different. Tikapur has been designed as a town with the sole purpose of creating a town. Leisure is the central feature of this settlement that was created to commemorate a royal visit.

In 1968, the area where the town stands today was a dense forest with a few sparsely populated Tharu hamlets in the clearings. King Mahendra was on a hunt in Suklaphanta when he had a heart attack. Royal physicians advised against flying the king to Kathmandu, so a patch of forest was cleared on the western bank of the Karnali to land a plane, and a hunting lodge of wood and thatch was erected in double-quick time. And King Mahendra started to rule from his makeshift sanatorium here in the western tarai. the seeds of Tikapur town were sown when some of his minions decided to stay back even after the king had left for his palace in faraway Kathmandu. They needed a patron who could help them colonise the new clearing, and Khadga Bahadur Singh turned out to be just the man.

A mere also-ran, Khadga recognised the chance to leap into the big time. He transformed himself into a political sponger of an emotionally insecure ruler and begged the king to grant him the land he had stepped on to build a memorial park and a beautiful city. Those were the days of royal whims and fancies, and the wish of a flunkey was gladly granted.

Tikapur is a nowhere place on the map. It lies 14 km south of the East-West Highway and 15 km north of the border with India. Flanked by the Karnali on the east and several of its branches on the west, the town has no rural hinterland. Supply lines from India are better connected with Dhangadhi in the west and the feeder road to Achham in the mountains branches off from Chisapani in the east. In the middle of it all, Tikapur flickers in splendid isolation-an urban dream of a royal loyal conceived as a statement of supreme sycophancy.

As long as the town establishment had hardwood sal trees left to fell and sell, it didn't lack the revenue to finance its follies. But now that the royal grants have run out, decay seems to have set in. Gardeners of the sprawling Bangla (Bungalow) Park have not been paid for the last three months, and weeds have started taking over the floors of the two holiday homes built for visiting royalty.

Renowned engineer-architect Shankar Nath Rimal prepared the physical plan of the town, and it shows. Thatched huts sit on extensive plots meant to accommodate bungalows with double-car garages, but there are no vehicles on the four-lane roads, save a few cycles. With no economic opportunity to make a living, people who were lured into building houses here find that they can't afford to set up home. Two out of every three houses are either locked or looked after by a keeper. If Tikapur has to be saved, it desperately needs a function.

Becoming an education centre is the dream of Tikapur, but it's more of a mirage, considering its location. It can never be an industrial or trading town for the very same reason. That leaves leisure, and Tikapur suits to a tee for doing nothing.

To be sure, there is ample scope for conventional tourism. Taking out a dugout canoe to the Karnali, going on an excursion into the cane forest nearby, sightseeing tours to Ghora-Ghori lake in the north-west, or a safari in the wildlife reserve of Bardiya are enough attractions to entice adventure enthusiasts. The lifestyle of indigenous Tharus of the plains and migrant Achhami settlers from the hills (with their other-worldly miniature cows) can provide sufficient stimulation to even the most jaded culture-vulture. Tikapur could become a tourism destination if talent, time and money were to be intelligently invested in its promotion.

But it's to the lonely-and the lost-that Tikapur provides succour the most. It is a new town-nobody belongs here. Ergo, everyone is like everyone else-a little lost, and searching for something all the time. Could the collective search be for peace? Even a stray visitor forms a bond with the locals that seekers strike over a long time along the trails of pilgrimage. In Tikapur, if all you want to do is count stars in the azure sky on a balmy October evening, people understand. They don't ask you why. In fact, some of them may even say that it is the most natural thing to do. Shops down shutters by six, streetlights go off by seven, and by eight most of the town is fast asleep. The town is officially dry, so only the very rich can afford to drink in the safety of their houses. But there aren't many rich people here anyway.

Away from the pollution of commercial media, the topic of discussion with some of the local youth was not the war of vengeance being waged against a country that is already in ruins. We did not talk about Nepali Maoists either, even though we did agree that the scourge of the countryside appeared to be on the wane. Instead, we chatted about the possibility of putting up a \'Water Kingdom' type of recreation centre in Tikapur and attracting domestic tourists. We prattled about turning the abandoned airport into a couple of sports stadiums and luring cricket lovers into this remote corner by staging India-Pakistan matches.
The idea of holding kite-flying competitions on the windy shores of the Karnali was explored without a touch of irony. And when we climbed down from the roof to go to sleep, the half moon mocked us with a barely suppressed smile.

If you haven't been here, come before the Tourism Board discovers it, and decide to stage one of their garish mahotsavs at Bangla Park.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)