The Tsum Valley is one of the Himalaya’s remotest areas, accompanied by the majestic backdrop of the Ganesh Himal, Siringi Himal and Boudha ranges. Literally, Tsum means vivid, and lies in the heart of the most isolated and hidden Himalayan valley. The trails have scattered artistic chortens, monasteries, nunneries, prayer flags and are lined with mani walls made of thousands of stone slabs carved with drawings of deities and inscribed with prayers. It is one of Nepal’s most beautiful valleys, cut off from the southern lowlands of Nepal by deep forested gorges and swift flowing rivers, and from Tibet in the north by snow-covered passes. The surprisingly flat valley floor provides for some 4,000 inhabitants of almost exclusively Tibetan origin with their own ancient dialect, art, culture and religion.
Start by following part of the Manaslu Circuit trek then continue north to the Tsum Valley which was a restricted area until 2008 and is still largely unvisited, it is relatively untouched.
Drive from Kathmandu to Barpak via Gorkha
You start out from your hotel by private jeep and drive through the hills leading you to Barpak. You can expect a dusty and bumpy drive as the road passes the beautiful rural communities of Gorkha, small towns, green terrace farms and lush hills. Barpak is a typical Gurung village, its primary residents ex-Gorkha soldiers. Hence, it is commonly known as Ex-Gorkha Army’s town. The beautiful landscape and the close-knit community lend great vibes to the whole village.
An interesting fact: Barpak used to be a trail for trading salt between Tibetans and the Newars of Kathmandu as early as 1400 BCE.
Trek from Barpak to Laprak. Visit Munche Danda viewpoint
You start with a steep ascent that leads to a mesmerizing view of the Ganesh Himal and Buddha Himal in the distance. During the spring, you can witness the hills covered with lush trees and bright red rhododendrons.
The Gurung village of Laprak proudly maintains its language, traditions and culture. Houses are traditionally built of stone and the rooftops is covered by wood and the wide range of agriculture practiced makes them largely self-sufficient.
Trek from Laprak to Machha Khola
You trek past paddy fields and scattered settlements, heading downhill on a rocky trail along the Budi Gandaki river as you head onto the village of Machha Khola.
Trek from Machha Khola to Jagat
Following a narrow trail, cross the Thado Khola to reach Khorla Besi. You pass through villages accompanied by the beautiful mountain views and come across a hot spring “Tatopani” where you can relax for a while. Then you climb again to the bridge across Budi Gandaki and head towards Dobhan. Further on, you enter the Manaslu Conservation Area and reach the beautiful paved village of Jagat.
Trek from Jagat to Philim
The trail starts with a slight uphill climb then flattens out. You cross a suspension bridge over Budi Gandaki before you reach Philim, which is a large village inhabited by the Gurungs. Here you can witness the beautiful views of the Manaslu range. You will have ample time to wander around exploring the village and visiting stupas and Gompas.
Trek from Philim to Chumling
The route is uphill towards Chumling, which lies in the southern part of Siringi Himal, and offers a great view of the Boudha Himal (6672m) and Ganesh Himal. Beginning in a deep slender, narrow gorge you climb through the dense tropical forests of rhododendron, juniper and pine. The route takes you through beautiful, pristine nature as you cross the Syar Khola.
Trek from Chumling to Chhokangparo
This route offers you scenic views of the valley throughout the day as you traverse rich farming land of maize and potatoes. The houses are classic Tibetan with barricades of firewood on the roof, but without flat roofs as it rains and snows here.
Up the valley to the east are superb views of several of the 7000-7400m Ganesh Himal, of long suspension bridges on the opposite bank, and far above the perched village of Ripchet (2468m).
Cross the Serpu Khola and climb for over 2hrs on well-graded but exposed track to upper Tsum and the joined villages of Chhokang-Paro (3010m), stone houses with a few iron roofs nestled under cliffs and where some households still practice polyandry (a woman may have more than one husband). The valley opens here into spacious fields of barley, maize, buckwheat and potato. Herds of thar often graze the wild cliffs to the north, coming right down to the fields.
Trek from Chhokangparo to Nile
As you trek, you pass the Piren Phu cave, also known as the Pigeon cave, one of the most sacred caves in the Tsum Valley which is located at the foot of a rugged cliff near the village of Burji. The famous Tibetan saint, Milarepa is believed to have meditated here and his footprint is imprinted on the cave. There are two separate monasteries that are attached to the rocky cave, abundantly painted with Buddhist murals, excellent artistic scripts carved on the stones and Buddhist prayer flags.
The route is very pleasant as you walk past green meadows, the landscape becomes fertile and then narrows until you reach the village of Nile. Located on the bank of the Syar Khola it consists of many households and is the last village in the northern part of the upper Tsum Valley.
Explorations around Mu Gompa
Today make a short trek to visit Mu Gompa, an old monastery and the largest in the region. It is located at the highest and farthest point in the Tsum valley. The route takes us through yak pastures and the typical dry and arid trans-Himalayan terrain, via ancient routes once used to import and export things to and from Tibet. The monastery has rows of Chortens and beautiful mountain views and houses.
Trek from Nile to Chumling
It is an uphill trail through woodlands, small settlements and amazing landscapes. You will arrive at Chumling, a beautiful village nestling at the southern foothill of the Siringi Himal that has wonderful gompas worth visiting.
Trek from Chumling to Deng
You will reach a small gompa at Gho and walk across the Syar Khola via a wooden bridge. The trail widens through the valley, and you’ll pass through bamboo forests to the Deng Khola River. Follow the path onwards to Domje, Ripchet and to Deng.
Trek from Deng to Namrung
Today is one of the most important and culturally significant sections of the trek. First, cross the Budhi Gandaki river and climb up to the bridge, where you’ll climb a bit further to join a trail from Bhi. Then head west up the valley passing through lush forests, alpine vegetation, and quaint villages housing ethnic groups of the Manaslu region, with major peaks starting to appear in the distance.
Even though there is another route, you will take the trail through Prok. This village has a beautiful vantage point of the snow-capped Siringi Himal. Take a break here and then continue to cross the Budi Gandaki several times today passing several gompas along the way. The trail then follows the river upstream through a dense forest and leads to a narrow gorge. Keep going until you notice the forest becomes less dense. This rewarding part of the walk is a magnificent way to experience the Manaslu Conservation Area. You’ll eventually make one last steep climb to reach Namrung Village.
Trek from Namrung to Shyala
Start the day with a walk around the village to view Siring, Ganesh Himal, and also Mount Himal Chuli in the morning light. Once on the trail, you’ll first climb steadily and pass through forests to reach Lihi, a fine village with many stupas and barley terraces. The trail then drops and crosses the side valley of Simnang Himal with Ganesh Himal always close by. Shyala Village is one of the best points to view the incredible mountains, as it offers dazzling sights of the Ganesh, Himchuli, Ngadi and Manaslu crests.
Trek from Shyala to Samagaon
As you climb higher, your walking days become shorter. Today as you climb through a rhododendron forest with red, pink and white flowers forest, you are accompanied by the beautiful panorama of the mountains stretching at the horizon, with close-up views of Manaslu and can also explore the famous Ribung Gompa.
Rest Day in Samagaon
To acclimatize to the higher altitude, you have this day to relax. You can hike to Manaslu Basecamp, visit the monastery perched on a little hill near the village. Pungyen Gompa has great views of the glacier, or you can walk to the glacial lake, Birendra Tal.
In Samagaon village you can learn more about Sherpa culture and admire the many mani stones with Buddhist texts and pictures inscribed on them.
Trek from Samagaon to Samdo with visit to Manaslu Base Camp
Your route initially leads back down to the Budi Gandaki river as you head towards Manaslu Base Camp (4800m). Descend to the Budhi Gandaki River and follow it to a bridge over a side stream. You’ll pass several mani walls as the valley begins to widen. The mountain views along this route are amazing and get you close to the Tibetan border.
This is an easy trek on a shelf above the river that passes juniper and birch forests in Kermo Kharka. Drop down and cross the Budhi Gandaki over a wooden bridge, and then climb steeply onto a promontory between two forks of the river. You’ll come to a stone archway and continue walking until you reach the village of Samdo. Here you might see caravans of yaks returning with loads from Tibet If you’re lucky you can visit some of the local houses and drink chhyang (Tibetan barley beer), or salt butter tea with the locals.
Trek from Samdo to Larkya Phedi (aka Dharamsala)
Crossing a wooden bridge over the Budi Gandaki, you start to hike up to where you can see the Larkya Glacier as you go around the Salka Khola river valley. You will reach a stone guest house (at 4480 m), which is not a lodge but a shelter, called Dharamshala. You walk past the glaciers all the time accompanied by spectacular views and the hike is short, and you have plenty of time for acclimatization and time to relax in the afternoon even if you have paused at some of the many small monasteries along the way.
Trek from Larkya Phedi to Bimtang via Larkya La Pass
The trail moves up from Larkya Phedi with stunning views of Larkya Peak. Lonely Planet states that “the Larkya La is one of the most dramatic pass crossings in the Himalayas”. This is the highest point of the Manaslu Circuit, the most challenging day. With an early start, you cross glacial moraines in the dark before reaching the highest point of the trek at the Larkya La Pass (5106m), just 8 kilometres from the Tibetan border. The Larkya La Pass is an excellent point to marvel at the surrounding snow peaks.
You have time to take in the unbelievable views before you go down the steep, ankle straining drop to the trail that follows the glacial moraine downwards that brings you to Bimtang, which consists of abandoned homes and Buddhist prayer stones.
Trek from Bimtang to Tilche
After passing through the dense forest, you cross a high pasture “Sangure Kharka” and then cross the Dudh Khola river.
From here, walk through a rhododendron forest and follow a trail along a rocky riverbed and through a narrow valley until you reach Karche, the highest cultivated land of the valley. Pass through lush fields before making a steep climb over a ridge. The trail comes off the ridge in a big, sweeping arc to the riverbank. A short distance beyond is the village of Gho where some trekkers choose to stay the night, but you continue, making a steep climb over a ridge to reach Tilije. Mostly, Manangis and Chettris reside here, thus we get to indulge ourselves with Nepali food and local Tibetan tea.
Trek from Tilche to Chamje
This is the last day of your trek and you descend all the way to Chamje. It is a rapid descent into the Marsyangdi Valley and through the forest until you join the well-trodden trail of the Annapurna Circuit. Finishing at Chamje, you stay here for the night and can celebrate your success as you have completed the Manaslu Circuit!
Drive to Besisahar and back to Kathmandu
After breakfast, you drive by local transport as far as Besisahar. Here your driver and private vehicle will be waiting to take you back to Kathmandu, dropping you at your preferred hotel.
This was my third trip with Royal Mountain Travel and it was by far the most challenging trek I’d undertaken. The landscape was the most incredible I’d seen on my trips in Nepal.