PICS: AMELIA PRIOR
Tsum is one of numerous holy valleys, or beyul, in the Himalaya where the Mila Repa or Guru Rimposhe are believed to have meditated. Mila Repa is supposed to have meditated at the Piren Phu Cave more than a thousand years ago, and seeing the serene mountain panorama there one understands why the sage chose this spot. Nearby is the Mu Gompa monastery with spectacular views.
Lhakpa, the mother of the house in Chekampar, is boiling water for tea and tsampa for breakfast for her family as well as the two trekkers who are home-staying with her. In this unique concept, hikers in the Himalaya stay not in commercial lodges, but with individual families, providing income directly to the hosts.
Tsum Valley is ideally suited for home-stay trekking since it hasn't yet got a developed infrastructure like other popular trekking valleys in Nepal. The region to the north of Ganesh Himal only opened up to tourism in 2008, and the landscape and villages are more pristine and less travelled.
If a home-stay isn't your idea of fun, you can give your feet a break and experience the mountain views on horseback. Horseback expeditions can also be set up through your guide, and it is important to make payments to the horse-owner directly.
A licenced guide is required for all trekkers. Hiring a porter is also helpful, especially if lacking trekking experience, as climbs can certainly get steep. Both guest houses and campsites are available overnight. Prime trekking season for Tsum is mid-October, after the monsoon and before the weather gets too cold.
With hearts wide open
Currenlty, five houses in Thumki and five in Namje are participating in the program and the villagers welcomed their first guests six months ago. For Rs 300 per night for a room with extra charge for food, guests can enjoy a meal of gundruk, dhedo, sisno, and local alcohol. In the evenings, they can take part in tradition Magar dances and songs called Hurra.
Thirty-year-old Nil Kumari Magar of Thumki who takes care of her two children on her own after her husband migrated to Saudi Arabia, says the home-stay has enabled her to broaden her horizons. "At first we didn't know what home-stay meant. We became more confident after the training. It's a good opportunity for us to interact with fellow Nepalis and foreigners and learn their way of life and culture," she admits.
With increasing number of men leaving the villages in search of employment abroad, the home-stay program has given women an opportunity to supplement their household incomes. Guests buy vegetables from the farms, and take home bottles of pickles and alcohol produced locally.
Thumki Learning Grounds (TLG) which promotes alternative models of development and ecologically sustainable practices in the area, helps households with logistics and training. It is also the contact organisation for tourists who want to know more about the project.
"It's good to see people from the community supporting the initiative. The District Education Office recently organised a meeting in Thumki and the officials stayed over for a few nights, police officers have been coming over as well," says Tanka Bhujel, principal at the Grameen Janata Higher Secondary School nearby, who was a memeber of the advising committee. "If we can get more tourists to visit, then the families can rely entirely on their earnings from home-stay tourism."