The trip was planned for 2020 as a following chapter to the Annapurna Trek. In one of the many updates of the project, the Tsum Valley was added to provide more cultural content to the voyage.
The Manaslu Himal, “Mountain of the Spirits”, is one of the 14 “Eight-Thousanders” in the world: it continues to grow with the active collision between the Indian and Asian tectonic plates, pushing 4 cm per year (1.57 inches). The untamed power of this slow crash now doubles with the force of extreme monsoons unleashed by climate change, to cause catastrophic landslides. The trip itinerary was changed, the week before departure, because the single mule path access to Tsum Valley was destroyed in several places by a series of avalanches. As we arrived in Kathmandu, the valley was deemed “opened”. Indeed, it was opened to people, but not yet to mules, and we would soon realize why…
With 8 trekkers, the sherpas and porters brought the total company to 21. We had to bring our food, tents, and equipment, since it was unrealistic to expect enough sustenance and shelter to be available in the isolated villages we would go through. The few nights in tea-houses were a feast of unexpected luxury, sometimes even with a shower of (officially) hot water…
The Tsum valley is a hidden gem. There are no roads coming to and from the valley, no motor vehicles, no motorbikes, and almost no electrical equipment. Somehow, life becomes slower and simpler when the next place is one day’s walk away. Opened to visitors only in 2008, the valley displays a traditional lifestyle, with intense, joyful, ubiquitous Buddhism practice. Tsum Valley is quite open to the world however, with a wide variety of agricultural productions, not all of which are traditional. Many men work outside the valley, and all the school age children are gone to the lower valley boarding schools. While life is austere in the small, isolated villages, the countryside is magnificent with an ample valley surrounded by lush mountains crested by the famed snowy “himals”. Electricity is incipient, cell phone connections occur from time to time, and money from remittances circulates: houses are being upgraded, the fields are well kept, the land is rich, mules, cows and yaks are abundant and in splendid conditions. Life is hard, but not miserable. More importantly, people smile like nowhere else. This is notable in the areas where landslides have destroyed properties and have washed away rare arable land. Walking through Tsum valley feels like drinking a cure of optimism, and contentment: days are unhurried, tasks are simple, surroundings are pristine. Life feels good.
The Manaslu trek also lacks road access yet is a known trekking circuit with international tourists, and some hotels and tea houses. In this trek segment, with more young businesses, life took back its faster pace. The perception of remoteness changes to one of wilderness with an intensely rough environment. The overbearing presence of the Manaslu is constant. It is massive, almost threatening. Still, we go through splendid surroundings constantly changing with lush forests, brilliant cascades and wide perspectives. As we advance slowly up towards the high pass of Larkya La at 5,135 m (16,848 ft), the trek becomes more physical and the group of trekkers, sherpas and porters somehow tightens its solidarity. This is a new experience where the mental concentration and the physical effort come to merge into one single performance. Arriving at the pass is an achievement for everyone and for the group: it is a moment of pure joy and appreciation for the companionship that made it possible, a gift given by each to all that can never be taken away.
During the 17 days, we walked 251 km (156 miles) or an average of 15.7 km per day (9.75 miles). The challenge was the difficult terrain, the 15,165m of cumulative positive elevation (9.42 miles), representing 892m per day (or 2926 feet), and altitude that made progress more strenuous. Yet our experienced Sirdar, the Head-Sherpa, timed the trek to match our “senior” conditions and added a day to the standard itinerary: it allowed us to arrive well prepared yet rested to the challenging pass segment. Ultimately, the best of the trek was the companionship, and the joy of the voyage was the encounter with the wise and resilient people of the Himalayas.
KEYWORDS austere, contentment, Nepal, trekking