Tansen, in Palpa District, is situated atop a crest in the Lesser Himalayas, on the highway connecting Lumbini and Pokhara. You may choose to stop for a while in Tansen if you want to better understand different regions of Nepal. This way you experience a gradual transition between the subtropical southern part of the country and the high Himalayas.
Whether you’re coming from Pokhara or Butwal, you’ll have to get off the bus at the crossroads with the Tansen Road. From there, jeeps travel up a few kilometers to the center of the town. From the bus park, a network of walkways wind through a marketplace and invite visitors to discover the history of one of the most powerful kingdoms of Nepal, the Magar kingdom of Tanahun.
Overlooking the Kali Gandaki Valley, the Newari town still has a charming medieval feel. I started to explore Tansen from the beginning of the Bank Road, next to the general bus stand. The cobblestone street led me to the Bishal Bazaar, which is a good stop after the steep ascent that brings you there.
At the end of the Bazaar I entered the Sitalpati Square, organized around a small, white octagonal pavilion that echoes the days when governors used it for public functions. A meeting point for locals, this tiny square is a good landmark for any walk throughout Tansen. On one side of the square, Mul Dhoka was a former gate for horse-drawn carriages and leads to the old palace. Restored after Maoist battles, the palace (durbar) is a proof of the elaborate architecture that was created at the beginning at the 20th century.
Besides the former administration area of the palace, the residential old neighborhood of Tansen is organized along the narrow streets that abruptly go uphill to one of the panoramic lookouts over the town. I left the Sitalpati Square and hiked up a street that quickly brought me to Basantapur Road, where I strolled along the limit of Shreenagar Park.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Tansen? Check out the new Palpa Community Homestay.
Shreenagar Park is a 1,600m-high hill that lies at the upper part of the town. There are a few choices if you want to extend the afternoon with a short walk. It has short hiking trails, views of sunrise and sunset from a modern observatory, and picnicking opportunities near the top of the hill. It is also a good point for having a panoramic view of the high Himalayas, from the Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Ganesh and Langtang Ranges.
While coming back toward the center of the town, the Jama Mosque is worth a detour, and is proof of the religious and cultural diversity that marks some regions of Nepal. The same goes for Asan Tole, where tailors still have their workshops in the street. Visitors can see how traditional sewing is done.
Tansen is also surrounded by authentic walking country. Particularly good hikes are the three-hour walk to the village of Ghansal, the potters’ village of Ghorbanda or the old trade route from Tansen to Butwal. A visit to the Nepali countryside is an opportunity to understand Newar culture outside the main tourist spots in and around Kathmandu.
Top image: Andrey Samsonov