Located in the Palpa region of southwestern Nepal, a palace lies on the Kali Gandaki River nestled against the mountains, preserved from the outer world by its relative difficulty to access. It was constructed in 1893 by General Khadga Shumsher to commemorate his late wife Tej Kumari Devi, and is named Rani Mahal which translates fittingly to Queen's Palace. He fled with his family to India in 1902 and by negligence, the palace fell to ruins, and is only recently being restored by the government of Nepal. It's well off the beaten track, and is a hidden gem of the country and a definitive highlight of my month so far here in Nepal.
How to Get There
Take the road less traveled in Nepal and come to Tansen (Palpa) to explore this palace. There is a possibility of chartering a taxi or a group transport from Tansen, but these were not cheap. A couple I met coming down estimated the trip to be about 5,000NPR ($50USD) for the journey. The simplest way to visit is to prepare for a full day of hiking down from Tansen (Palpa) through the forest, down through rice paddies, rivers, small villages, and the towering mountains above to Ranighat, the location of Rani Mahal. Man Mohan in the tourist center at City View Homestay in Tansen is an amazing resource for the area and can give you exact directions from Tansen to start the trail. He will show you the road to the west of town that you follow, then the landmark gate to turn left down into the valley. Beyond that, you are fairly on your own, save for asking locals which way to Ranighat. Stick to this: when in doubt, keep heading down to the river at the bottom of the valley, and take most paths going left that lead further down.
As soon as you pass a "fishing resort", you will be on a main road that will lead directly down to the palace through an incredible river gorge.
Rani Mahal, the Taj Mahal of Nepal
Now, I haven't been to the Taj Mahal (yet!), but the setting of this palace blew my mind. Tucked against a mountain at the confluence of Kali Gandaki River and the Ranighat gorge, the prowess of the white and blue palace glowed in the morning light as the sun rose from behind the mountains. I was so glad to have begun the hike at day break to reach Ranighat in time to watch the mist clear around the foot of the palace, and also to have saved myself the journey down in the heat of the day. It does get significantly hotter as you climb down in altitude.
There is a rope bridge opposite the palace that you can cross to get awesome panoramic views of the palace suspended above the river. Enjoying my mid-morning snack, I was surprised to see not one, but two speeding motorcycles down the length of the bridge towards me and quickly scurried to the side to narrowly get out of their way. Oh, Nepal. Also nearby is a "resort" that has a few small local-style restaurants, shops, and basic accommodation if you do so choose to spend the night.
It was fairly smooth sailing on the way back up to Tansen for a little over two hours. I somehow, in the heat of the day, wasn't thinking and continued along the dirt road until I ended up on a neighboring mountain to the left. This path is much longer, and I was so fortunate to have passed a bus taking a group of Nepali tourists down the hill, and on its way back up the driver noticed that I must be lost and he muttered "Palpa?" with a grin, and offered to take me up.
All in all, I clocked out at about 24 kilometers and took about 2 hours to hike down and 2.5 hours uphill until I caught the miracle bus. If you do attempt this yourself, which you absolutely should, do note where you leave the last village and merge with the main road. You will need to turn right off the road coming back up to return on the same (much shorter) route!
This trip was definitely worth the effort. Combined with a trip to Tansen (Palpa), the starting point of the hike, it is a great stop for a few days between the Terai lowlands and Pokhara just to the north.