The future of Tsum Valley
A wonderful addition to the Manaslu Trek, and a fabulous destination on its own, is Tsum Valley. The valley has had a ‘violence free’ creed for over 90 years. No animals are are slaughtered in the valley, and pains are made to avoid accidental killing of insects or animals, explains Lopsang Lama from Tsum. It’s yet another place in Nepal which challenges the outsider’s view of Buddhist practice.
A 2010 Manaslu and Tsum trekker had the following to say: “The remote Tsum Valley side-trip should not be missed. In nine trips to Nepal this was the absolute highlight, with strong, friendly, hospitable people, a living Buddhist culture and untouched wildlife because of Buddhist prohibitions on hunting. Tsum comes from the Tibetan word ‘Tsombo’, which means vivid and we can only agree.”
But things are changing fast in Tsum, at least it feels like it from the Tsumba perspective. It was opened to tourism in 2008 and the amount of visitors is still small but rising year on year. And like in much of Nepal, road building looms. The technical survey has already been completed from the Ngula Dhajeu pass (5,093 m), on the border with Tibet, to Kalung some 17km to the south. The road is waiting some 5-10 km inside Tibet at the nearest village across the border.
Sonam Lama is from Tsum Valley though has spent several years studying architecture and urban planning in Germany and now Spain which gives him interesting perspective when he returns to Tsum Valley. He, like many of the people from Tsum, are concerned about the influx of the modern world in this secluded valley.
To this end, he is organising a meeting entitled “Planning for Sustainable Development” taking place in Kathmandu on 23rd December 2011.
“There are many organisations and government with different interests. Tsum is a sensitive place, and if we don’t shape the vision for it, it will be shaped for us,” says Sonam.
“Tsum, people generally want new things. They do not realise what they might loose in the name of modernisation. People do want development in terms of health, education, infrastructure. They don’t want to hide in the mountains,” he adds. “Changes are happening so rapidly,” he says, “we need to manage a process of comfortable change, rather than haphazard change,” as so often is the case.
They’ve already chosen to go the way of homestays rather than letting hotels be built, and since 2009, 15 young locals have been trained as government registered guides. In this way, the guide can share his knowledge of the local culture, and introduce visitors to his friends and family. Tsum is maintaining some control over tourism.
Sonam and friends are at the time of writing now walking up to Tsum to meet with village communities to try to establish a ‘shared community vision’ for their future. At the meeting in Kathmandu, representatives of the Tsum Welfare Committee will discuss with representatives of government, conservation agencies and even the Director General from the Department of Roads (see this PDF: Sustainable Development Plan of Tsum).
It is easy to think that a road in particular would be the ruination of Tsum as a tourist destination, but it is not necessarily the case. If residents can be consulted, with input from people in other areas where road building has conflicted with tourism, and provide well thought out ideas, they can perhaps have the best of both worlds. And it may never happen – road building in this area is thought to be pushed by the current government whose leaders hail from Gorkha. If the government changes, priorities will likely change.
Time will tell. We’ll add an update after 23rd December.