I’ve finally finished putting photos from last Easter’s Tsum Valley Trek into a Flickr album – Tsum Valley – Nepal, March/April 2015 – with titles, tags and daily notes.
It was a great two week trek, into a quiet and remote part of Nepal full of Tibetan culture and calm. Great views of the mountains of the Sringi Himal and then the Ganesh Himal (गणेश हिमाल) – most magical on our snowy morning at Mu Gompa.
The three days I spent distributing LED’s NISAMAX solar lights with Val and Namgyal, our Tsum Valley Guide, were amazing too – visiting remote communities in this already remote and isolated valley in Nepal, being welcomed into people’s homes and given tea, tsampa and saag.
You can read more about Light Education Development (aka LED) on their website – it’s Val’s charity, I’m a trustee.
It’s taken me a while to be ready to revisit the trek though. Three weeks after our time in Tsum the area was at the centre of the first of the devastating earthquakes that struck Nepal in 2015. I’m still not 100% comfortable with sharing photos of people who may have died, or be struggling to rebuild homes and lives.
However, in putting together these notes I found active Facebook pages for the Tsum Valley Cafe coffee shop in Chhokang Paro (the last thing you’d expect to find in a village in this part of the world) and lovely Laxshmi’s Lodge in Lupabesi. So there’s hope.
And I’m going back to Nepal this April to do the Manaslu Circuit with Val. Having worked with LED and Val’s network of contacts in Nepal on delivering aid on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes (and they’re still getting aftershocks), it’s an opportunity to spend my tourist dollars with some of the survivors. We followed the start of the Manaslu Circuit on our trek to Tsum.
If you’d like to do a similar trek, contact Val via the Light Education Development website.
Here’s what Hazel and I did on our Tsum Valley Trek.
Thursday, 26 March 2015: London to Delhi (photos)
Jet Airways flight from LHR to DEL.
Friday, 27 March 2015: Delhi to Kathmandu (photos)
Jet Airways from DEL to KTM – one of only a handful of international flights to land.
We stayed at the Hotel Marshyangdi in Thamel. Met fellow Tsum Valley trekker and LED solar light engineer, Anthony, and had dinner at the Northfields Cafe, last visited in 2005…
Saturday, 28 March 2015: Kathmandu (1400 m) – Arughat Bazaar (550 m) – Soti Khola (597 m) (photos)
Kathmandu (काठमांडौ) to Arughat Bazaar (आरुघाट) by private bus, lunch at the Arughat Bamboo Cottage (home to some “interesting” concrete sculptures and wood carving decorations) before changing onto local private bus and driving up the Budhi Gandaki river valley to the end of the current “road” at Soti Khola (सोती खोला) where we camped in the grounds of the Manaslu Community Lodge.
Sunday, 29 March 2015: Soti Khola (597 m) to Khorlabesi (970 m) (photos)
Early start to minimise the time we’d need to walk in the heat of the day. The path paralleled the Budhi Gandaki river, sometimes high up above the waters and sometimes right down low beside them, but starting off with a metal suspension bridge to cross. Then …
– Steps cut into rock, paths trodden in sand.
– Beautiful flowers.
– Cloudy. Humid. Hot.
Coffee at Lapubesi (लापुबेसी); lunch at a riverside “restaurant” under the shade of its corrugated iron roof; tea, camp, dinner and doctors at the Shangri-la Home Cottage & Tent House, Khorlabe(n)si.
Pizza and chips for dinner = winner!
Monday, 30 March 2015: Khorlabesi (970 m) – Jagat (1330 m) (photos)
Bed tea at 4.45am – another early morning, this time to beat the rain (and the large MedEx group). More fabulous flowers, donkey trains, hot springs at Tatopani (तातोपानी), water sculpted rocks in the Budhi Gandaki river gorges. Again our path varied from high stone staircases to a riverside route.
Noticeably cooler as we climbed, with the rain starting just before we reached our lunch spot overlooking the floodplains at Yaruphant (यारुफाँट ) where we had a leisurely lunch watching the new houses being built, entertained by ugly ducks and cute kids, then onwards to Jagat (जगत).
In Lower Jagat Val settled us into the “Best Lodge”, upgrading our overnight accommodation from tents to rooms in light of the heavy rain. An afternoon of tea, biscuits, chocolate, diary, scrabble segued into an early dinner, culminating in apple pie….
Tuesday, 31 March 2015: Jagat (1330 m) to Lokpa (2240 m) (photos)
Via Salleri, Sirdibas (सिर्दिबास), Ghatte khola, Phillim / Philim, Chisapani (lunch, where Namgyal, our Tsum valley guide caught up with us), Ekle Bhatti and Gampul. Diverging from the main Manaslu Circuit where the Sardi Khola joins the Budhi Gandaki, we turned right at Gampul, taking the path towards Tsum.
Clear blue skies, rainbow-lit waterfalls, butterflies in Philim, bright spring tree flowers – our first sighting of the wonderful red rhododendrons that would line the next section of our route to Tsum, and of the magically majestic snowclad peaks of the Sringi Himal.
A beautiful day.
Plus, once in Lokpa (लोक्पा) we got to wash (rinse) some clothes, albeit vying with a resident horse for the water in the washing up bowl…, and fending off the flies.
Wednesday, 1 April 2015: Lokpa (2240 m) to Chumling (2385 m) (photos)
Only a half day today, but still an early start. A walk along rhododendron-lined path, dropping down to a tea house by the bridge across the Sardi Khola (Syar Khola / Tsum Chu) – a long bridge, a deep gorge and the river a long, long way below = wobbly legs for me! – before zig zagging back up high again, shaded by pine forest, and to the village of Chumling (चुम्लिंग).
A short way from the gompa and chorten – in true Tsum now, totally Tibetan – we set up camp by the stone-built weaving sheds where some of the village ladies were trimming their newly woven aprons. Green fields of barley, and a lovely welcome-with-a-flower from two small children.
As word spread of our arrival, villagers from far and wide arrived to ask for an LED solar light for their home. Leaving Hazel, Anthony and the trek crew to relax for the afternoon, Val, Namgyal and I headed off with a young guy from lower Tsum as our guide to distribute lights to the families in Tharung – a handful of farmhouses set amidst barley fields clinging to the steep mountain slopes of the river valley “just around the corner”. A lot of up and down! A fantastic afternoon – very special welcomes, with invitations to take some Tibetan butter tea and very heartfelt thank yous.
In bed by 8pm – not unusual on trek!
Thursday, 2 April 2015: Chumling (2385 m) to Chhokang Paro (3030 m) (photos)
A mega day taking the high route via Chumchet (चुमचेत), Yarcho (Yarchyo / यार्च्यो), Gompa Goan, Lari and Puh, distributing LED solar lights carried by porter Henry, before dropping down to the Sardi Khola / Syar Khola / Tsum Chu at Domje (Tumje / तुम्जे) and climbing back up to Chhokang Paro where we were met by Namgyal’s mum, bringing tea and snacks to help us on the final mile or so to their home.
En route, lots of Tibetan tea, tsampa, rice and veg; offers of arak and chang; ~2000m ascent… visits to many, many homes, and a school, high in the mountains of Upper Tsum Valley.
Friday, 3 April 2015: Chhokang Paro (3030 m) to Chhule / Nile (3350 m) (photos)
Via Rachen Gompa and Pangdun, under increasingly grey skies.
Lots of mani walls, gompas and chortens as we made our way further up the Tsum Valley and towards the border with Tibet.
Pujas and sweet chai from a friendly nun at Rachen Gompa, across the broadening river valley from one of Milarepa’s many secret caves.
On to the twin-and-rival village of Chhule (छुले) / Nile (निले) via the village of Pangdun, walking on the main trail between fields and dry stone walls.
After lunch in a being-built new lodge at Nile, sheltering from the snow, we crossed back to Chhule where we camped in the grounds of the Tsum Shenpen Men-Tsee-Khang clinic run by a Tibetan Ani who provides healthcare in this part of the valley.
Chhule boasts two dramatic waterfalls, high above, and, on our visit, the remains of recent avalanches which had destroyed the hydro-electric power system that supplied power to the valley’s villages.
Cold and grey outside, low cloud hiding the Churke and Kipu Himal, so we spent the afternoon playing scrabble in the clinic’s main room, making way to patients tended by the Ani and Val, once the day’s work in the fields was complete.
Saturday, 4 April 2015: Chhule (3350 m) to Mu Gompa (3700 m) (photos)
A magic day, a high point in several senses.
Leaving Anthony and Val in Chhule (छुले) repairing and checking LED solar lights distributed 10 years or so ago (most still going strong… and much valued), Hazel and I headed up the Tsum Valley with Chhring and Krishna, following the Sardi Khola / Syar Khola / Tsum Chu river as usual – running more glacially as we got further into the mountains and closer to the southern edge of the Tibetan plateau.
Beautiful weather, lots more mani walls and chortens (and patches of old snow) on the approach to Mu Gompa, with a steep, slippery climb at the end.
Chhiring set up our tents on the highest paved terrace, with stunning views back down the valley – the Ganesh Himal (गणेश हिमाल) to the east, the Sringi Himal to the west. Across the valley – the river now far below us – a high yak kharka leading up to (hidden) Longnang glacier and the Phuchun Khola, and the peaks of Taya Himal and Pashuwo. A Himalayan Griffon (Gyps himalayensis) gliding high above the stone roof of the gompa. Helipad – incongruous – below.
Hot lemon and kit kats for elevenses-with-that-view on the terrace segued into lunch in one of the lower sets of terraced rooms. Hardly a soul about – everyone’s gone to KTM to see the visiting Rinproche. We had the caretaker and yak herders seeking shelter for company.
Come the afternoon though, the weather changed, and our afternoon stroll up to Dhephu Doma – the ancient Ani Gompa at 4000 m – featured snow… the one thing I’d (sort of) assured Hazel we wouldn’t have!
By dinner time our tents had been transformed into iced bombes, necessitating a night of tent bashing from inside and out to dislodge the snow….
A super, silent night – my first time camping in snow. Magic.
Sunday, 5 April 2015: Easter Sunday: Mu Gompa (3700 m) to Chhokang Paro (3030 m) (photos)
After our night of snow we woke to blue skies and a magical snowy view out over the Tsum Valley and the mountains of the Ganesh Himal. Crisp and clear. Val decided on a change of plan – rather than spending another day and night at Mu, we’d start our journey back down the Tsum today to rendezvous with Anthony and Namgyal in Chhokang Paro.
After breakfast in the terraced rooms, and checking to see if the snowfall had caused any damage, there was time for Val, Chhiring and me to continue a short way further along the ancient trade route to Tibet, turning back at a fresh landslide and fast melting snow. Fabulous. I wish I could have spent longer here right up at the top of Upper Tsum, exploring the higher level trails that wind their way around the mountains.
Back at the gompa, we visited the main prayer hall before starting our descent. A morning of strong sun at high altitude meant that most of the slopes we had to negotiate on our way down were clear from snow. Phew.
Lunch at Chhule (3350m) back at our Ani campsite, a quick visit to the village elders, then on to Chhokang Paro taking the west bank of the Sardi Khola / Syar Khola / Tsum Chu river this time. A long day.
Great to see Anthony and Namgyal again in the evening and a Cham festival – with traditional dancing and fertility playlets – in the village gompa. A real treat. Lots of other tourists there – quite a surprise as we’d not seen many other westerners on the route. Dinner at Namgyal’s family home, complete with cake.
Monday, 6 April 2015: Chhokang Paro (3030 m) to Chumling (2385 m) (photos)
Two treats to start the day, before we’d even left Chhokang Paro: excellent cafetiere coffee at the Tsum Valley Cafe (chairs in the courtyard of a family house near to Namgyal’s) and a group of monkeys sunning them selves on rocks in the fields on the path out of the village.
Retracing our steps back down the Tsum Valley, Anthony and Hazel took the direct path to Chumling (चुम्लिंग) with Chhiring, while Val, Namgyal and I took a more roundabout route distributing LED solar lights to homes in the remote communities of Gho, Renjam / Rainjam and Domje / Tumje. Tsampa and saag at the final farmhouse – very welcome. Tea offered everywhere.
Our path entailed lots of ups and downs, stretches along the banks of the Sardi Khola / Syar Khola / Tsum Chu river and rising back up to terraced fields and suspension bridges traversing the high steep slopes of the hills above.
Calling in at the gompa in Domje we met a Tibetan nun on her way to Mu who’d crossed the 5000m Nangpa La on her journey from Tibet.
Lazy afternoon in Chumling, and opportunity to enjoy this relatively large village in the sunshine and to gaze across the valley at Ripchet, a long village clinging to a narrow ledge.
Dinner in the weaving rooms again, and a thank you dance and song from the village ladies.
A few drops of rain – in KTM the forecast had been for bad weather across the whole of Nepal on 7/8 April. We were keeping our fingers crossed….
Tuesday, 7 April 2015: Chumling (2385 m) to Philim (1570 m) (photos)
The day dawned with beautiful blue skies, rich colours over the fields and village of Chumling.
Another day downhill, through the Lower Tsum and back into the valley of the Budhi Gandaki river. Sunny and warm as we dropped down another 800 m.
Lots of flowers, and large flocks of sheep and goats making their way across the river using the new bridge below Lokpa, where we’d lunched back at the friendly family dining rooms.
We reached Philim around 3pm and found ourselves back in the land of lodges (back on the main Manaslu Circuit. Our one was also home to two British gents who were facing up to an early end to their Tsum trek due to a twisted ankle. Not very chatty, probably preoccupied with their trek troubles.
Settled into our tents, did a bit of washing, then scrabble in the gardens followed by dinner à la Krishna in the dining room. A busy place!
Wednesday, 8 April 2015: Philim (1570 m) to Dobhan (1050 m) (photos)
Back into our routine of early morning departures to avoid walking in the heat of the day.
After leaving Philim by the long suspension bridge, I managed to slip on the stepping stones across the stream in smelly Sirdibas, grazing my shin – Val and the medical kit cleaned it up.
Lots of trekkers / expedition teams coming up the valley, most heading for Manaslu. One Korean couple excitedly took photos of us.
Looking back, more great views of the Sringi Himal.
Through Jagat, lunch back at our old haunt in Yaruphant – hot and sunny this time around, which tempted most of our trek crew to take a dip in the waters of the Budhi Gandaki river, and to wash their clothes. I have to confess that I was in need of both…..
Increasingly humid as we continued our descent to Dobhan (दोभान) where we camped on the school terrace, zipping tents tightly to keep out snakes. Scrabble then dinner under the covered tables. Val tempted me to a sip of her beer – I blame the heat…… H held firm.
Thursday, 9 April 2015: Dobhan (1050 m) to Lapubesi (880 m) (photos)
Another hot and humid day of descent, retracing our route back down the Budhi Gandaki river valley. Lots of donkey trains coming the opposite way.
At Tatopani Hazel and Val took advantage of the hot springs for a spot of hair washing, Anthony and I took tea. Onwards back through Khorlabeshi and Macchakhola.
Lunch back at the riverside restaurant just after the (new) bridge, local people earning 100r/kg carrying heavy metal bridge parts up the valley stopping for food and drink too.
We reached Lakshmi’s lodge in Lapubesi early in the afternoon, and decided that beers were in order – Hazel and I sharing a large bottle of Gorkha beer and Anthony supplied tasty tamari almonds in lieu of crisps. We watched the world go by – donkey trains, boxes of day old chicks stacked 4 high on porters’ backs, more weighty bridge parts.
Lakshmi’s has a super campsite – good views, set well back from the path. Only us in residence, although the lodge itself was busy. An afternoon of R ‘n’ R making good use of the camp’s water tap for washing some clothes, and the washing line for drying and airing our sleeping bags.
Friday, 10 April 2015: Lapubesi (880 m) to Arughat Bazaar (550 m) (photos)
The final day.
Another early departure to beat the heat and the donkey trains – they’re not very forgiving when you meet them on the path, which gets rather narrow on this section of the Budhi Gandaki valley, clinging to the cliff side.
Within a couple of hours we were back at the road head at Soti Khola where Val and Chhiring sorted out our bus back to Arughat Bazaar and the (slightly bizarre) Bamboo Garden. The cement sculpture and tiled water feature was coming along well.
For our last night “on trek” we had rooms ….. and more importantly a bathroom, including shower! Clean hair, clean clothes. Bliss.
An afternoon of lounging around in the comfy wicker chairs out on the upper terrace. Anthony and Chhiring worked on LED solar light repairs, I caught up on diary. Scrabble. Reading. Tea and biscuits.
After dinner we presented our tips to the crew who were celebrating the end of the trip with beer and coke provided via Val. Lots of singing and dancing – as usual we westerners rather lacking in both. A lovely evening.
Saturday, 11 April 2015: Arughat Bazaar (550 m) – Kathmandu (1400 m) (photos)
Rise and shine with a cup of tea at 5.45am. After breakfast we said fond farewells to Arughat Bazaar, Namgyal and our Soti Khola porters.
Val had been hoping to hire jeeps for a speedier journey back to KTM, but we were foiled by only finding one jeep with a roof rack. So it was back on a bus that could accommodate us all plus our kit. A hairier journey than our outbound trip – chatty driver not keeping his eyes on the unsurfaced road and with a penchant for overtaking on blind corners….
Back on the Prithvi Highway the road was busy with overloaded / under powered trucks. I snoozed.
An early lunch of dal baht at a smart roadside cafeteria and a surprisingly speedy, frustration free journey back to the Hotel Marshyangdi, dropping off our crew at various KTM locations on the way.
Having retrieved rucksacks and settled into our room we met Val and headed over to “her” outdoor kit shop where she and Bim sorted me out with a new Val-approved daypack, “Mammut” waterproof trousers (to replace my 50Y Chinese ones from Saga in Tibet) and matching “Mammut” red fleece zip jacket sporting sufficiently long sleeves. US$60 for the daypack, 2500R for the top and trews.
Back at the hotel Mike had arrived – last seen on last summer’s Alpamayo Circuit in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. We three spent the afternoon strolling the streets of Thamel, buying a mini Manaslu / Tsum map from the Himalayan Map House, checking in for tomorrow’s Jet Airways flights and checking email.
Back to the hotel for a couple of nice cold (Nepali Ice and Ghorka) beers, settling up with Val and dinner at the Mandap with Maila and Lakpa courtesy of Kang Kora Treks & Travels aka “The Office” for Val.
Late night – 10pm! Alarm set for 6am….
Sunday, 12 April 2015: KTM – DEL – LHR (photos)
Cooing pigeons beat the alarm. Up, shower, pack, breakfast. Farewell to Val and Mike then off to the airport with Maila and Chhiring. Security in KTM as stringent and longwinded as we remembered, and we’d both forgotten the full, repeat security checks at DEL. Frustrating as ever but Homeward Bound!
A few other notes
Things to remember re kit
- Things to add into my daypack plastic grab bag (meds, penknife, sun cream): Antiseptic wipes, water purification tablets, diamox, pen.
- Do pack a long sleeve shirt for hot sunny days – to protect arms and neck from sunburn
- The Tsum Welfare Committee – http://www.tsumvalley.org/ – Based in Kathmandu, a not-for-profit organisation established by the local people from Tsum Valley to make Tsum a model Himalayan valley for sustainable community development.
- The Himalayan Map House’s Trekking Map for Manaslu & Tsum Valley – I’ve used the paper copy I bought in KTM, which is the pocket version and uses a smaller scale (1:175,000). The Himalayan Map House’s map for the Ruby Valley Trek, Ganesh Himal Region covers Tsum too, and provides 1:100,000 scale. Comparing to two, my pocket version is fine for checking place names etc. And it’ll come with me to Manaslu in April.
- Mapcarta – http://mapcarta.com/28242010 – This link is for Tharung, the first village where we distributed LED solar lights. As you can see in this photo of Tharung, it really is just six or so small farm houses scattered across vertiginous hillsides, terraced where they get the sun. You can move the map around to find other villages.
- Google Maps / Google Earth – https://goo.gl/maps/Cqy2W7DrNS32 – This link is for Mu Gompa. Again, you can move the map around, and – amazingly – it shows the path.
- For an excellent map of the physical geography see Günter Seyfferth’s Die Berge des Himalaya (The mountains of Himalaya). His annotated photos of the mountains are especially helpful and I’ve relied on them extensively in naming / tagging my photos.
Established by the inspiring Val Pitkethly, Light Education Development is a charity supporting remote communities in Nepal and Peru. I’m a trustee. LED’s mission is to provide low-tech solutions to 3 basic needs: affordable and sustainable solar lighting, basic education and essential healthcare. To support LED you can donate via our JustGiving page, volunteer or trek with Val. Read more on our How You Can Help page.