Spread out on a Churia hillside at 1,371 meters, Tansen is something of a rough diamond. Picturesque though not especially pretty, it is one of the most typically Nepali towns on the tourist circuit where Hindus Temples, Buddhist shrines and even a mosque coexist easily in a temples urban setting surrounded by hills and valleys.
Tansen is the administrative headquarters of the district of Palpa. It is itself often reffered to as Palpa, and its people as Palpalis. Until the late 18th century it was the capital of the Sen Kingdom, one of the many autonomous regions which made by Nepal before its political unification under the Gorkhas. Indeed, Palpa is renowned as the last kingdom to fall to the Gorkhas, not relinquishing its independence until 1806. even then it required deceitful means to lure king Mahadutta Sen to Kathmandu where he was arrested, imprisoned and subsequently executed.
The town lies on a small, oval shaped plateau and centers around a former Rana Palace, now the seat of local bureaucracy. The surrounding cobbled streets are the focus for the town's commercial activity, notably the production and sale of Dhaka cloth. Forested slopes to the north lead to Srinagar Hill from where there are excellent views to all sides. One of the finest views is of the Mardiphant valley to the north.
Birendra Phulbari : the southwest corner of the Tundikhel is marked by a statue of King Birendra, complete with painted black jacket, topi and spectacles. The statue stands on a marble lotus plinth in the shade of a large tree. The surrounding garden contains more than 150 varieties of rose.
Amar Narayan Mandir : this fine three storeyed Vaishnavite temple was built by Amar Singh Thapa in 1807 and is the oldest and best Known temple of Tansen's temples. Surrounded by a broad stone wall ('the great wall of Tensen'), the roofs are tiled and are supported by struts beautifully carved with images of various deities. There is also some magnificent woodwork on the ground floor. The shrine houses an image of Mahadev and to one side is a natural spring. Daily worships takes place in the early morning and evening.
Immediately to the southwest is another, smaller temple, the Shankar Mandir. It is in a sad state of disrepair, with numerous tufts of grass growing from its single roof, but it also has some finely carved woodwork and must have looked beautiful once.
Around Mul Dhoka built by Khadgar Shamsher Rana as a pilgrims' rest place, the Shitalpati is a white pavilion in the center of the roundabout north of the Tansen Durbar. The originally octagonal structure functions as a local meeting point where men and women sit in casual conversation, with a cigarette or glass of tea, to pass the time of day. The road heading north from Shitalpati leads to Tensen's largest mosque which also serves as the main mosque in the Palpa district.
Mul Dhoka is the main gate to the Tansen Durbar,a huge white arch said to be the largest of its kind in Nepal and big enough for elephants to pass through with their mounts. There are lion pillars on either side and, facing the gate, you will see a fantastically carved window on the building to the left, a reminder of the Newari craftsmanship imported from the Kathmandu Valley and which has flourished in this region since the late Middle Ages.
Bhimsen Mandir, the small two-storeyed pagoda temple immediatelyto the west of Mul Dhoka, has a tied roof with an attractive copper engraved torana above the shrine entrance.
Tansen Durbar this serve looking red brick building was constructed by Pratap Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana in 1927 as the local seat of Rana rule. With restoration of effective monarchy in 1951, the palace became the center of the regional bureaucracy.
Bhagwati Mandir just to the north of the durbar, this small temple was built by Ujir Singh Thapa in 1814 to commemorate the Nepali victory over the invading British Forces. This event is celebrated by a festival every August when a processions made its parades its deities through the town. It was badly damaged in the 1934 earthquake and several renovations have left its smaller than its original size.
Tansen has a number of Buddhist shrines and monasteries. The best known is the Ananda Vihara, near the bus park. It is the oldest monastery in west Nepal, its main chitya having been built by Sunder Sakya in 1806. it contains images of the 'Panch Buddha' and two more of the Buddha himself, though all are later additions. The Shree Mahaboddhi Vihara is a modern Buddhist monastery where occasional meditation courses are held. The Mahachaitya Vihara, at Taskar Tole in the northwest of town, was built just before the Second World War and has a number of bronze statues and other Buddhists objects d'art.
Srinagar Hill: looming some 200 meters above Tansen to the north, you can reach the top of Srinagar hill in 45 minutes. The walk takes you through a delightful, fragrant pine forest. From the top there are panoramic views over the kali Gandaki Valley to the Himalaya, including both peaks of Macchapuchare. On a good day you can see the entire Annapurna range and as far as Dhaulagiri. Best time to view, November-February. The way up is sign-posted from Shitalpati. Alternatively, follow the ridge up from the hotel Srinagar. There is also a motorable road to the top. The Srinagar Jatra festival is held in August.
Rani Ghat This is probably the best walk you can make from Tensen if you are staying here for any length of time. Rani Ghat is the site of the magnificent skeleton of a palace built in 1896 by Khadagar Shamsher Rana for his wife, Tej Kumari. Khadgar was 'expiled' from Kathmandu following an unsuccessful attempt at a political coup.
Although overgrown with weeds and trees, it requires little imagination to visualize the palace in its former isolated splendour, its grand colonnaded porch and terraced gardens playing host only to Khadgar's wistful thoughts of what might have been. Built on a broad spur of rock on the bank of the kali Gandaki river, work aimed at renovating the palace was started in 1996.
It is a walk of about three hours there and four hours back, so allow a full day. The path leaves Tansen at Kailash Nagar where there is a signboard with a map of the route. The walk is fairly straightforward, but after about one kilometer the path branches; if in doubt, ask any local for Rani Ghat. You pass through several tiny hamlets and terraced farmland before entering a narrow forested valley with a crystal clear stream. The trail is distinct, though steep and uneven at times. You can't see the palace itself until you get to the large steel suspension bridge crossing the river. There are a couple of tea stalls and snack shops at Rani Ghat, but it is advisable to bring enough water and a substantial packed lunch with you.
Ghorabanda-Khorbari : This small village lies on the Siddhartha Highway about three kilometers north of the Tansen junction. Its 'kumal' potters are the main suppliers of pots, water vessels and other earthenware goods to the area. Because the pots have to be 'sundried', all pottery activity is confined to the dry, winter months. Little English is spoken here. The village also has good views across the valley. To get there it is best to hire a car, though there is also a cross country walking route passing close to the hospital.
Chandi Bhanjyang : A hilltop viewpoint with what is locally considered to be a better Himalayan vista than from Srinagar Hill.
Ridi Bazaar : Ridi is venerated by Hindus for its sacred location at the confluence of the kali Gandaki and Ridi Khola rivers, 17 kms west of Tansen. The are is also rich in saligrams, the fossilized ammonites dating back more than 100 million years to a warmer geological age when the region was under water and before the Himalayan uplift began. Saligrams are regarded as religiously significant by Vaishnavite Hindus.
The town's Rishikesh Mandir is believed to have been established by the great Palpa King, Mani Mukunda Sen, though the present structure was built in the early 19th century. The temple is one of the Nepal's more important pilgrimage sites. According to local legend, the temple idol was founded in a river and has developed from youth to adulthood since it was installed. Major festivals are held in the month of Magh (January-February), including Ridi's most important festival of Magh Sankranti which involvesfasting and bathing in the river; and in Bhadra (August-September).