Hiking to the Remote Rani Mahal Palace in Nepal
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. He gave it the name Rani Mahal, that 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 in the southern foothills of Nepal. Read on to discover why Rani Mahal has been deemed “the Taj Mahal of 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.
Behold 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. When you descend from Palpa to Rani Mahal through the small paths leading through the villages, make a mental note (or mark) where you merge with the main road. You will need to make sure to turn off the main path to return on the same route and save yourself from an extra long return trip.
The landscapes and charm of the villages on the route down from Tansen to the great Rani Mahal palace made the trip worth the effort. This is a fantastic off-the-beaten-track adventure on the route from busy Pokhara to the Terai lowlands in the south that house Chitwan National Park and Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.