Text by Anuj D. Adhikari / Photo: Anuj D. Adhikary

The leisurely town of Tansen known for a relaxing holiday and family picnics is now shifting gears to pump some adrenaline.

The sky radiates flaming hues of orange over distant rolling hills. Surreal mist envelopes the valley below and rising slowly vanishes to reveal wide swathes of paddy fields. Faintly audible chimes from temples are in perfect harmony with early birds chirping overhead. While the town sleeps, a handful of devotees, sweepers and milkmen are already running errands. The crisp morning breeze blends with the sweet smell of fresh jeri swari wrap, the most quintessential Nepali breakfast. The hillside draped with giant fir trees exudes remarkable warmth with each passing minute, and finally first rays of sunlight hit Shreenagar Tower perched atop. Tansen comes to life.

The picturesque ancient Newari town in Palpa about 175kms west of Kathmandu is rich in traditional legacy with landmark monuments and holy sites. Handicrafts, textile and organic coffee go on display from early morning in the animated market where tourists are seen shopping. A group of friends line up in Palpa Durbar to get a glimpse of the architectural marvel. Another clique struggles up the steps on Shreenagar hill where heartwarming panorama of the majestic Dhaulagiri and Annapurna mountains awaits. The mystical Rani Mahal palace meanwhile sits peacefully on the shores of the Kali Gandaki River where buttnaked kids playing hookie take a dip.

In recent months though something completely alien has emerged in this rather calm and restive town. Last year Tansen hosted Palpa Urban DH race, which was the first ever urban downhill event not only in Nepal but also in South Asia. Some twenty-odd professional athletes, many who flew in from as far as Bhutan and the UK, participated in the extreme adventure race that drew awe and thrill among the locals. They stopped their breath and gasped with every biker that ripped through the narrow alleyways and jumped over rugged trails from the top of Shrinagar hill, right through the town. Tansen was instantly put on Nepal’s adventure map and there’s been no looking back since.

It wouldn’t take long for a host of adventure sports to roll out. Within a matter of a year, Tansen has positioned itself as one of the most promising and progressive destinations for adventure tourism, especially for mountain biking, paragliding and trail running. This can largely be attributed to the steep terrain Tansen lies on, perfectly complemented by rocky steps and natural pathways; but more importantly, to locals who have wholeheartedly embraced novel sports and activities in their hometown.

That is quite evident when you run to the outskirts and invariably find your sweaty self welcomed inside their homes for some lipsmacking chukauni and soulwarming aila. Or when you roll your bike down to Rani Ghat and over a modest lunch of pickles and buns are reminded by other patrons about a similar bike they saw in a downhill race sometime ago. And just like when you run to the wide Madi valley below - that becomes a White Lake in the morning - as you stride over trickling brooklets and through muddy farms and look up to find a parachute hovering overhead. Till less than a year ago, nobody could have imagined any of this.

Tansen is located strategically in doable distances from Kathmandu and Pokhara, and happens to be the original trekking route of Dhaulagiri and Muktinath trekking regions. Further, it connects to several major destinations like Butwal and Chitwan on sleek paved highway, which makes it a likely candidate for road cycling - a sport largely unexplored in Nepal till date. Likewise, the steep face of Shreenagar hill makes for an amazing venue for paragliding, which has already commenced. And as far as the unreal goes, rumor has it that a bungee jumping station could be underway en route Rani Mahal, a mere couple of hours hike from Tansen.

There’s no wonder why several sporting events are already lined up in Tansen, the most prominent ones being Tansen Ultra (ultra running, downhill biking and cross-country biking) and Tansen Enduro (introducing a thriving genre of biking) organized by Gnarly and Dharohar Adventures. In addition to Nepali participants, the town has drawn attention from several international athletes and sports communities as well. It is indeed gaining rightful repute as the next big adventure destination in Nepal. Once international flights are operational in Bhairawa, about 2 hours from Tansen, it will be a windfall advantage for the town.

Possibilities definitely seem endless on this front as Tansen makes more game-changing developments in sports tourism. The romantic little town is having a different kind of affair altogether with adventure and extreme sports. And it’s just getting starting.