Let’s go to Cholung Park

One of a kind facility in eastern Nepal conserves nature and preserves Limbu cultural heritage

True to its location in Terathum’s Laligurans Municipality is a protected ridgeline that will soon be abloom with rhododendron in dozens of colours and shades of Nepal’s national flower.

The Cholung Park is now a tourist destination as mobile wielding youth travel long distances to do video and selfies in the peak flowering season in March. The park is also a centre to document the history and culture of the indigenous Limbu community of eastern Nepal.

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Lung in the local language are the mysterious stone pillars that emerge from the ground in abundance across the Yakthung Pangbhe (Limbu villages) in the eastern Himalaya much like smaller versions of the moai in Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

The lung are believed to be erected as gravestones, to perform traditional rites, as well as to address border and clan disputes, and there are thousands of them scattered undocumented across the mountains.

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The Limbu believe that the spirit of their ancestors resides in the lung, in the soil, mountains, caves, water bodies, plants and animals. The community holds nature as sacred, believing it to be the key to health, prosperity, and mercy.

The Mundhum cultural belief system of the Limbu is the basis of the existence of Cholung Park. The scholar Sirijanga Sing Thebe Limbu, who taught Limbu script, and religion, is credited with the revival and reach of Mundhum. The 18th century educator and historian believed that he was descended from yakthung, the son of the earth. 

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Yuma, the principal deity of the Limbu community, is regarded as the mother of the universe, and the mother of yakthung. Yuma, who liked to weave, is said to have set up a loom on a stone pillar by the side of a river. Parts of that very loom, like the thakkuri, juwa, its yoke, and the water pump, are all on display at the Park, thought to have been left there by the goddess.

Visitors can also see stone scales, called pasanga, in the park. During a marriage ceremony, performed by Limbu shaman, the bride and groom are placed on either side of the scale. They can only marry when the scale is balanced, or if they are equal in age.

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To balance the scales, a khukuri is placed on the groom’s side, while clay ornaments are placed on the bride’s side. Also on display are sacred stone pots and tree trunks filled with water. In the event of a divorce between spouses, an assembly that includes elders announces the separation of the couple after sprinkling the wife with sacred water.

The park is also a model for ecological conservation. More than 150 species of plants and herbs have been planted, including bikhma (Aconitum palmatum), and jatamasi (Nardostachys jatamansi). Additionally, 20 out of the 28 rhododendron species found in Nepal are right here.

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The park has also constructed a traditional village square where Limbu ancestors gathered to share stories and experiences, play the game of suisuila (calling the wind), and sing folk songs. 

The sacred cholung worok pond inside the park is surrounded by rhododendron, ornamental peach, Himalayan cherry, magnolia, and perfume ginger plants. The Limbu believe that if the water in the pond dries up, it is the harbinger of epidemic and death within the community.

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The hundreds of species of plants found within the park are associated with Limbu knowledge, history, and heritage. Some of them include the wadhegangna, morchejha, and paltgada plants used to make the traditional Limbu yeast cake, the pangdu, majiti, and Indian madder used to dye clothes, as well as the danphe and lokta plants used for making paper.

The Yuma Museum at the site is an archive of the 2,100-year-old history, heritage, and society of the Limbu people. It showcases recently discovered fossils, inlcuidng one that looks like the jawbone of a mammoth. 

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Other archaeological artefacts in the museum include Limbu stone beads which are said to have been used as flint stones to make fire. It is believed that the souls of ancestors of the Yakthung Limbus reside within the beads, which is why necklaces made from them are considered sacred.  

The museum also displays iron, copper, and silver coins of the Lichhavi, Malla, and Shah periods as well as coins depicting the Prophet Mohammad, Shah Sher Shuri of Delhi, and Tibetan kings, showing that the region was influenced by the ebb and flow of empires to the north and south.

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Weapons of the Gorkha, Khambu, Limbu and Bhote communities such as bamboo bows, khukuri, knives, shields, swords, and hand cannons are on exhibit. Traditional instruments used by Limbu farmers and shepherds, as well as tools Limbu women used to weave fabric are also up for viewing.

Administrative seals used by Limbus and Subbas during the Sen, Shah, and Rana periods have also been preserved in the museum, as have original documents like the sanad and rukka — state order papers given to the Limbu by the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and the Namgyal of Sikkim.

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Among the historical papers are documents issued by King Rana Bahadur Shah to the Limbus regarding the kipat land tenure system. Manuscripts by Limbu scholar Sirijunga have been preserved along with genealogy records kept by other researchers. 

Since its opening, Cholung Park has seen a significant number of domestic tourists, bringing Rs2 million as revenue to Laligurans Municipality.

Arjun Babu Mabuhang is the mayor of Laligurans Municipality and started the construction of Cholung Park during his first term.

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