Hidden Valley of Happiness – Tsum Valley
One of the less well-know and more recently opened up areas for trekking is the Tsum Valley. It has been only open to visitors in the last five years. This enchanted valley is a beautiful and sacred pilgrimage site located in northern Gorkha, and is often included as part of the Manaslu trek.
The valley has its own distinctive culture, influenced by Tibetan culture. It is has religious significance as Yogi Chyuchin Milarapa, a legendary Buddhist sage, meditated in one of the caves in the mountains here. This sacred cave, known as Piren Phu (Pigeon Cave), is near a village called Burji. There’s a story that tells how the sage, who often disguised himself when he went to beg for food in the village, once was given just a meager scrap of bread by one of the village women. Soon after, this woman’s field became totally barren. It is said that even today you can see a small plot of land in the village where nothing grows.
In a monastery nearby, there are statues of Avalokiteshwara, Buddha and Tara. You can also see the footprint of Milerapa. There are many religious texts in Piren Phu as well as ancient scripts on the stones and ceiling. Other interesting monasteries such as Rachen Gompa, set up in 1905 in the Shiar Khola valley; Mu Gompa, established in the late nineteenth century, a six-hour hike from Chekkam; Dephyudonma Gompa, the oldest gompa in the Tsum Valley; and Lungdang Gompa which was established through the determined efforts of a blind man in the early 20th century.
The main way into this valley is by a trail that leads into the Manaslu Conservation Area. The route goes through a steep-sided gorge. You climb up to 1,200 meters, passing many waterfalls. It takes a couple of days to get to the Tsum Valley, passing through a narrow canyon with sheer sides and full of large boulders. Buddhist religious symbols can be seen painted on the boulders as well as the mantra, Om Mani Padme Hom, in massive meter high Tibetan letters. You then find the villages of Tsum Valley at an altitude of between 2,400 and 3,700 meters above sea level.
During December-January, there is a very important festival called Dhachyang (festival of the horses) during which beautifully decorated horses participate in a race. If you come in May, you can celebrate Saka Dawa with the locals in a celebration commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and demise of Lord Buddha.