Once the seat of a powerful kingdom, the hill town of TANSEN (Palpa) now seems little more than a bazaar town stranded in the hills. Tourism comes a low second to trading, yet slowly, almost reluctantly, Tansen yields its secrets: clacking dhaka looms glimpsed though doorways; the Himalayan view from Srinagar Hill; the fine day hikes and bike rides in the surrounding countryside. If you’re coming from India, Tansen makes a far more authentic introduction to Nepal than Pokhara, and at an altitude of 1370m, it’s usually pleasantly cool after the heat of the plains. From Pokhara, the 120 tortuous kilometres of the Siddhartha Highway provide a splendid show-opener.
Under its old name of Palpa (by which many Nepalis still refer to it today), Tansen was one of the seats of the Sen princes, who may have been a local Magar clan or possibly Rajput princes fleeing the Muslim invasions of India. Either way, it was from his base in Palpa, that the dynasty’s fabled second king, Mukunda Sen, raided Kathmandu in the early sixteenth century. He is said to have carried off two sacred Bhairab masks, only to be cut down by a plague sent by the Pashupatinath linga. After Mukunda Sen’s death, in around 1533, his kingdom was divided between his sons, and weakened. Successors formed an alliance with Gorkha, which bought them breathing space when the latter began conquering territory in the mid-eighteenth century. Aided by the friendly Indian rajah of Oudh, to which it held itself feudally subject, Palpa staved off the inevitable until 1806, when it became the last territory to be annexed to modern Nepal. Tansen remains the headquarters of Palpa District, however, and retains a strong sense of its own dignity.