"Welcome to Tansen" exclaims a roadside billboard. We're in a jeep jostling its way up the winding road that parts from the highway and curls its way up into the steep hillside. The noisy bus -- one of whose four rear tires had blown on the journey -- and the travellers we'd met heading for the border are now behind us. Ahead, up this winding road, is Tansen.
We are dumped unceremoniously into a noisy, dirty bus station that is really just a small gravel parking lot with a lot of buses, jeeps, and people milling about doing a lot of nothing. We use the wheels on our bags until we see the cobblestone road rising steeply before us -- too steep for anything but pedestrians and the bravest, most suicidal motorcyclist. Hefting our bags to our backs, we start trudging uphill.
We are quickly covered in sweat, slowly step-by-step mounting the hill despite protesting legs. Our bags are heavy -- too too heavy -- and we'll be thankful to finally mail home a ton of stuff from India.
We arrive at our first choice of guesthouse. A man is sleeping in the office until we wake him up. He doesn't look too excited to see us. Laura follows him to a room and returns unimpressed; the only room, apparently, is a a dingy place facing the parking lot. It is the only room left, he claims, though we're certain he's lying (later, we confirm this, having met a man who stayed on an upper floor beside a room that was empty the whole time). We head to the next place.
It is worse, with stained mattresses and walls, filthy curtains, and common areas ripe with smells wafting from the shared toilets. The last remaining choice is beside the bus station, all the way back down the steep hill. We should have looked at it first, but hadn't.
As we return downhill, we feel everyone's eyes on us. The stares are not curious or friendly. They are the expressions of people watching a monkey eating faeces: fascinated disgust, grimaces, sneers, ridiculing laughter. I try to ignore it, replying with a friendly "namaste". It is ignored and no reply is given to my hello. Even the children stare at us as if we are animals.
We arrive at the last guesthouse. It is dark and dingy. The first room that Laura is shown has a showerhead that had been sawed off; the second had no fan, no screens on the windows, and -- when shown you can open the windows for fresh air -- a flock of flapping pigeons on the ledge outside. We leave. Laura is tired, having just recovered from the flu a few days previous. There is only one option left: a hilltop resort for $25 US a night.
Back at the bus station, we try to find a taxi. We ask a jeep and are sneered at, waved away. We ask at the bus office and he yells toward some nearby jeeps. We approach. In one jeep, a group of six young men are talking noisily. It takes quite a while before we can get their attention. The first wants 200 rupees, the second will accept less. Soon, we are heading back uphill along steep winding roads, horn blaring the entire time to clear the narrow streets. When we arrive at the resort, we are told it is actually $35 US, but are being (generously) given a discount to $24. As such it will be one of the most expensive places we will have stayed on our trip, especially since no meals are included.
There is absolutely nothing to recommend the place. The room is plain, albeit equipped with a television. The "resort" boasts myriad views of concrete and rebar construction, unkempt lawns, and dirty plastic lawn chairs. The only justification for its high price, as far as I can tell, is that every other guesthouse in town is depressing and filthy. We check in, noticing the number of Nepali guests also staying at the hotel. I bet they aren't paying $24US a night!!
By the time we move our bags into our room, we have decided to leave Tansen the next day. It is something we almost physically sense, like a bad smell or the beginnings of a headache: we are not welcome here.
We decide to take a short walk to a nearby Buddha statue and, our guidebook tells us, impressive views of the surrounding valley. We are met with the same disgusted-looking stares as before. We walk along a quiet gravel road followed at a distance by two women and a man (more on them from Laura!). It is eerily empty of people. Uncertain we are going the right way, we keep walking. Cicadas chirp loud enough that we talk more loudly to be heard over their high-pitched din. Yet I also want to be quiet, aware, listening. This place makes me nervous, yet I don't know why.
We arrive at a large empty parking lot where blaring music pours from a tiny shack selling soft drinks and chips. A cluster of young men leer at Laura as we pass, then laugh loudly when our backs are to them. Ahead is a grassy area, some empty buildings, a path that branches right and left. There is no one here, though the place resembles a huge park. Where are we?!?! A sign pockmarked with bullet holes tells us: xx. Not that that helps.
A quick walk around tells us the place is truly empty. I remain nervous, half-expecting to be confronted by something, someone. Inexplicable how a park can have an ominous feeling, but this one does, at least for me.
A path leads downhill to a Buddha statue. I stop, noticing a group of people sitting near the statue. Noticing women in the group, we continue. Their presence makes it less threatening, though no more welcoming either.
As we near them, a boy stands and approaches us with the determined stride of someone about to practice their English. "Hello," he greets us, "Where are you coming from?" "Canada," we answer. He begins to question us: Do you like Nepal? Where are you going? How long staying? What is your job? We tell him we are going to Lumbini next, the birthplace of Buddha. "I am asking you," he replies intently, "what is the classical definition of Lumbini?"
A very good question, I think. I wish I had an answer. I tell him so, and we say farewell. He returns to the group of sari-clad women who laugh and titter as he sits amongst them again. We look at the worn, tired looking Buddhist temple, then the valley below half-hidden behind a wash of hazy cloud. Dark clouds gather in the distance. We decide to head back.
At the "resort," we enjoy a good shower (a good showerhead being the only perk for our $24), and some television (before the power goes out). I am gazing longingly at the restaurant when the power comes back on, face almost pressed against the screen. Electricity restored, we head for dinner.
The food is passable vegetarian Indian with pleasantly spiced daal and a vegetable curry. The dining hall looks like a room in a fifth-rate Scottish castle that had been redecorated in the 70's, complete with placemats that Laura believes she used as a child (because the yellow flowers matched their fridge).
While we finish our dinner, a group of Nepali people come in, eat, and leave -- all in the course of about 10 minutes. No wonder the food is so tasteless here, I muse. They eat it so fast they probably can't even taste it.
We are in a taxi by 7:30 the next morning and sitting on the bus fifteen minutes later, eager to leave Tansen. Outside, a man sits in the middle of the parking lot chewing and spitting out toothpicks, one by one. The creases of his toes are coated with flies. Perhaps they are raw and cut, but I cannot tell. His black hair is matted and dirty, his clothes worn. He is ignored by the people milling about the bus stand, occasionally looked at with disgust. I am about to get our pack of peanut cookies to give to him when the bus starts moving, pulling away from Tansen.
As we leave, we pass the "Welcome to Tansen" sign once more. It has an irony now. Tansen is home to people who sneer, grimace, and laugh at tourists as if they are unpleasant animals at the zoo. They don't want us here. Fair enough. But I think its time to take down the sign.
Tansen - what tis the classical definition? Well, everything that Bandipur is not. I get an immediate sense of dread upon stepping off the bus yet I don't know why. The place is busy, loud and the locals are not smiling and welcoming us. In fact, it would be better if they were totally ignoring us, but instead they are staring at us. Not the stares we get in India that are curious and intense but rather as if they are angry at us. I wonder if perhaps a tourist has done something very bad here recently?
I look at a few hotel rooms, but for some reason just do not have the energy needed to stay in a dump. An attitude of acceptance and a willingness to "suck it up" as Matt so aptly puts it, is required to stay in dingy hotel rooms. But today, I do not have it. I am prepared to get on a bus right now and leave Tansen, but we are not sure we would make it to Lumbini today as the afernoon is wearing on, and we don't want to be stuck between here and there.
I tell Matt that for the sake of my mental health, I need to stay at the resort. I think my inability to accept the substandard rooms is the lack of welcome we are receiving and the flat out lies that the one hotel owner told me about his availability of other rooms. I know where we are not wanted.
Our walk to the Buddha statute takes us along a road and we encounter a path into the woods and a road. We are standing at this intersection wondering what to do when two women and a man gesture to us to follow them along the road. We are pretty sure they are telling us it is the way to the Buddha statue... As we walk, we pass them as they are walking very slowly. One of the women tries to keep up with us. She is walking right behind me, so I move over to let her pass, but then she is right behind me again. I am about to turn around and ask her what she is doing back there, when she reaches out to touch my hair and then runs back to her two friends in a fit of laughter. This town is so weird. I have had women touch my skin and my hair before, that is not the weird part. It is the sneaky way she did it and the bizarre laughter afterwards. Is this some kind of dare? What is the deal here?
The only thing that saves this place is the BEST shower in all of our travels. The water is warm and the temperature is regulated. The showerhead is large and not one of the holes is plugged with gunk. Again, not rocket science, but it is one of the many luxuries we have at home and that I took completely for granted. I also watch a bit of TV and sit in the drug-induced like state for an hour while watching a show about Hollywood movies. TV has the ability to let my mind completely relax and escape and that is exactly what I needed today. I can't wait to get out of this town tommorrow morning. I set the alarm early enough to take one more leisurely shower before we leave. We have to get our money's worth somehow...