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November 20, 2009

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Tsum Valley – A Forgotten Place

by Chris Werren

For thousands of years the Himalayas have been a refuge for seekers of relaxation and inner peace. Due to its remoteness the Tsum Valley has remained such an oasis of quietness and recreation up to the present time, a hidden spot where it is easy to forget the hectic and the turmoils of our daily life.

This serene valley in the north of Gorkha is situated under the impressive backdrop of the mighty Buddha Himal and its towering peaks Himal Chuli (7‘823m) in the west, Ganesh Himal (7‘429m) in the south and Sringi Himal (7‘187m) in the north and is carrying a long history of ancient Himalayan civilization styles; culture, art, tradition, religion, customs and thinking.

Tsum is one of the eight “sacred” valleys (Beyuls) in the inner Himalaya and owes its genesis to the Buddhist saint “Padmasambhava”. According to the legend he created these “beyuls” in the 8th century as safe havens for people fleeing from the effects of war, famine and religious oppression. In these valleys the Buddhist culture has remained in its traditional form up to the present days and its religious values and the lost way of life have been preserved here for generations.

In and around the Tsum Valley

The Tsum Valley has been opened to tourists only in October 2007 and since then its well kept numerous historic monuments can be admired by interested visitors in their original forms.

Once you reach the first settlement in Upper Tsum you get the impression of entering into a new world. Decorative stone built settlements, crystal clear streams, massive forests, cultivated fields and magnificent snow covered peaks characterize this small and beautiful valley. The route through the Tsum Valley takes trekkers along the old “Nepal – Tibet” caravan path to Mu Gompa, the last inhabited settlement in the valley. Mu Gompa features two important monasteries, the 1895 AD established Mu monastery and the oldest monastery in the valley – Dephyudonma – which was founded about 700 years ago.

The trail through the Tsum Valley is dotted with many mani walls, chortens and kaanis (gateway chortens). Chortens are distinctive features of the Tsum Valley which were built to keep away evil spirits from important places like river confluences or bridges and to commemorate the visits of historic figures or the death of important personalities and lamas. Kaanis are the typical gateway chortens which can be found at the entrance of most villages and it is expected that everybody walks through them. Many walls are long stone walls decorated with important mantras (words/formulas of spiritual significance) whose main purpose is to ask the gods for the wellbeing and the protection of all travelers.

In the higher areas of the Tsum Valley and closer to the snow clad mountains and frozen glaciers the more adventurous visitors can follow a number of attractive pilgrimage trails and explore the high alpine landscape on the border of Tibet.

The Tsum Valley – A World Apart

The Tsum Valley is an ideal spot to escape the hectic of everyday’s life. Here people still live in complete harmony and in perfect unison with nature. In this remote and poor valley there is for example no slaughter of animals not even as offering to the gods, a religious procedure otherwise still practiced in many parts of this country. It is also the custom for each family in Tsum to send one child to the local monastery to become a monk or a nun.

Monasteries are therefore the outstanding landmarks in this forlorn valley. Rachen Gompa is the largest monastery in Tsum and is inhabited by monks and nuns. Its life size statues of Avalokiteshvara (Lord of Infinite Compassion), Guru Padmasambhava (Founder of the Tibetan Buddhism), Tara (The Holy Mother) und Buddha Amitabha (Lord of Infinite Light) are the main attractions in this important Buddhist learning center. Besides these statues visitors can also admire a large number of traditional paintings with scenes and symbols of classical Buddhism.

The “Piren Phu Caves” (pigeon caves) located in the village of Burji are considered to be the most important caves in the valley. They are of great spiritual significance and also called Milarepa caves after the great Buddhist Yogi Milarepa (The Yogi of Tibet) who is supposed to have meditated here for a while and whose “footprints” have been preserved in these caves. The Milarepa cave is probably the largest and best known cave in the district of Gorkha. Attached to the cave are also two monasteries which house again life size statues of Avalokiteshvara, Buddha, Tara and Milarepa.

Kyiumulung is the sacred and mysterious Buddhist pilgrimage trail in the mountains around the Tsum Valley. The trail goes along the Nepal-Tibet border and is passing through various important pilgrimage sites. On the 30 days pilgrimage the more than 5’000m high Lajyang Bhanjyang and Thapla Banjyang passes are crossed and the settlements of Chhekam, Philim, Sirdibas, Dyang, Bihi, Namrung and Loh in Nepal and Rui Gaon, Sala Himal and Nyang Tibet are visited.

While visiting the Tsum Valley one can feel the Buddhists’ deep mystical sense for the beauty of nature and learns to understand the importance of a harmonious interaction between man and nature, a way of life that is considered to be the basis for reaching a higher and deeper sphere where simple existence turns into an experience of living with wisdom and compassion.

The Tsum Valley – A Place forgotten by the World!

Because of its isolation, its remoteness and due to the exodus of many young people the inhabitants of this valley suffer from great poverty and massif economic problems. Even the most basic modern infrastructures have never reached Tsum and the people were turned into a minority who is fighting for its survival. Their traditional way of life with its art and religious values is threatened with extinction. It would be the Nepalese government’s duty to protect the existence of this exotic spot and to assure the needed support measures. But also travelers from all over the world who are looking for a special trekking experience in Nepal can contribute their part to improve the economic situation of the people of Tsum by visiting this long forgotten valley thus helping to create new income opportunities for them.

The Tsum Valley owes its reputation as an exotic and forgotten spot on the border of Tibet primarily to the fact that it has been spared from the impacts of modern civilization – however, the inhabitants of this isolated area also have a right to a life where they can in some ways benefit from the achievements of today’s civilization, at least in the areas of education and health care.

As one of the first international trekking program operators we are giving a limited number of participants the opportunity to explore this remote area with us in May and October 2010. From a trek to the Tsum Valley participants return not only with many happy memories but also with the feeling of having made a small personal contribution to the improvement of the living conditions of the people in this forgotten valley at the foot of the Himalaya.

More information on our Tsum Valley Trekking Expedition you find here: Tsum Valley Exploration

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