Tsum Valley with camera and a mountain bike
Photographer Alex Treadway recently hiked up to Tsum Valley to take some pictures. Photographers often need props, and Alex is no exception. This time he took a live one: a mountain bike fanatic called Mads. Alex answers a few questions about his trip to Tsum and offers some advice for would-be travellers there. [See here for mountain biking the Manaslu Trek.]
Who would you recommend the Tsum valley to?
Physically, it’s not an especially hard trek. In fact it’s one of the easier treks in Nepal in terms of altitude, ups and downs and general trekking skills. The trails are great, all the way up beside the Buri Gandaki (the Manaslu Circuit bit before heading into the Tsum Valley) the trails are in good condition and there are few steep climbs. Once into the Tsum Valley the trails are some of the best in Nepal – they’re quiet, well kept and free of hoards of trekkers. It’s a blissful place to be and I would say anybody that liked walking and didn’t mind a simple lifestyle for a few days can go. A big draw is the real lack of any altitude issues. The very end of the Tsum Valley is barely 4,000 m, and it will take a quick walker at least a week to get there, climbing gradually every day.
The only consideration for some is the lack of facilities. For me this is a plus, I would swap wide open wilderness and pristine culture for a packed tea house any day. But for some, the thought of a week or two without being able squat over clean porcelain is too much to bare. There are no lack of dramatic views and big mountain vistas in the Tsum Valleyand there are also plenty of little side-trip options to explore: Ganesh Himal Base Camp is surely stunning although I didn’t have to time to venture off there and there’s another final little loop beyond Mu Gompa to the Tibetan border which looked great from my perch above Mu Gompa. Another great reason to go into the Tsum valley is simply to acclimatise yourself if planning to head around Manaslu.
What’s one thing you’d take with you?
Nice question. For me it would have to be my Rab shell jacket because I lost the damn thing the day before I went and missed it the whole time! However if my pack had been complete I would have to say a tent. There’s no tea-houses or lodges as such in the Tsum Valley, just local home-stays. I ended up doing about half camping and half staying in houses. As much as I don’t mind roughing it a little and sleeping on straw pillows there’s nothing like being well rested for a long walk in the mountains. The home stay will be full of noisy snoring porters and probably a huge Tibetan family. There’s always a few screaming babies around and plenty of animals to make sure you don’t get any sleep. A tent is your own private little hideaway and also essential if you want to explore a bit further off the beaten track up to places like Ganesh Base Camp etc. If you’re a real adventurer and keen to travel as light as possible, just take a bivvy bag and eat in the home stays.
Why did you go to Tsum?
The lure of the remote. The intact Tibetan culture. The lack of pink Gore-Tex jackets filling up the trails. The wonderful welcome and genuine hospitality of the local Tibetan people who aren’t corrupted by streams of tourists with $ signs on their heads. Where else in Nepal can you go where the locals are singing in the fields rather than trying to tempt you into their lodge?
If you went again, which other places would you go, how long would you need to really appreciate the place?
We travelled to Tsum in a bit of a race against time, which is regretful in some ways. But something is better than nothing. Personally I like to amble along and enjoy. Take pictures and breath in the air. It wasn’t like that this time and would recommend people should take at least 14 days to appreciate Tsum, but better 20 days to get off up some of side routes.
What was you favorite moment in Tsum and why?
At Mu Gompa there’s hillside off to the north with chortens perched on outcrops at about 4,300 m. It only takes about one hour to scramble up there and the views are sensational! The hillside continues up and surely the views would get better and better the higher you went. I loved it up there, Ganesh Himal is spectacular. It’s crazy to go as far as Mu Gompa and not go up that one last little bit for the best views of the trek.
Which was your favorite view, and why?
That was it!