That one special travel moment

There’s that moment when travelling that everything comes together in an almost emotional moment that makes all the struggles worthwhile. After an arduous and treacherous two days, we had finally reached the middle of the Tsum valley, not far from the Tibet border. Just outside our lodging, one elderly Tibetan lady dressed in a long purple skirt with a belt of beads and a long sleeved maroon and brown battered cardigan was walking around the small block opposite consisting of just two rock walled houses, one pre and one post earthquake. In her hands she had a prayer wheel that she was spinning. Around and around she went, and was then joined by another lady with a length of prayer beads running through her hands.
I called the kids out into the tight laneway and we walked up to the end over broken rocks and donkey droppings where the rock walled lane opened up and the wild marijuana weeds were sparsest. We stood there as yet another lady joined the procession. They acknowledged us each time they passed, their deep, dark, wrinkled faces framing a semi toothed smile. The third lady in line kept moving small rocks on the rock memorial, as if to keep count of laps.
Soon another four ladies joined and we stood watching them, one with a black dreadlocked pony tail reaching to her lower back, walk past us in prayer. Beyond, newly ploughed fields caught the late afternoon sun, and thick green forest on the other side of the river, which was hidden deep in a chasm, rose steeply until meeting the cloud draping the mountains, sadly obscuring the view of their 6000m plus summits.
Sarah found us and we stood there together watching silently. Another couple of laps, and then the ladies just came over and sat down on the ground beside us. Ben noted their long traditional skirts hid well worn name brand sneakers underneath. The ladies’ detailed faces told stories of a tough life in a remote part of the world. Cold brutal winters, ethnically part of Tibet but geographically part of Nepal. They spoke no Nepali, so not even our few words were of any use. However, in those moments, language does not matter. Their warmth, their white eyes, and smiles said everything. It was a moment of connexion, not photography. They were fascinated by our children – pointing and talking, in much the same way we saw with señoras in remote Peru. Travellers do often venture this far, but presumably not with young children.

The two days leading here have been tough. Leaving the relatively pedestrian Manaslu circuit, the walking up through the gateway to the Tsum was initially quite easy, but steep and exposed in parts. After a lunch of fried rice in Lopka for a change from dal bhat, the next four hours were very tough. The track soared straight upwards through the precipitously sided gorge, clinging to the only bits of terrain possible to build a track on. Even then it wasn’t enough, and metal walkways were bolted to the side of the cliff. These had not escaped Mother Nature and were damaged by rockfall, sloping outwards with no barrier in parts.

The track continued unrelentingly up, zig zagging through beautiful forests, with moss and lichen and small perfect star flowers covered the ground. The track had occasional areas of safety with concrete stairs with a simple single strand fencing wire barrier to break up the continuous dizzying drop off. In some places the track had indeed fallen into the raging river far below, and a log and some rocks were now in its place.
Some donkey trains do pass this way, but not many as most of the Tsum trade and food comes from China through the passes into Tibet, where the crossing with yak trains is easier. The up and down was unrelenting, and finally we dropped into the river to cross a suspension bridge to finally see our destination high above us. That in itself was not a problem as going up is easy.
Late in the day we arrived at Chumling under a brooding sky that had been drizzling off and on for the past few hours.

We’re not drinking packaged drinks or foods (beer or soft drink) in this trek as the packaging and waste can’t be disposed of cleanly here, although they are all available at each tea house. It took some effort to stick to this goal after a day’s work of 1350m of climbing and 700m of descending over 15 kilometres. We were very proud of the children as that’s a big day with no real issues . They collapsed into bed after dinner and had a good sleep in.
The clarity of the morning revealed the spectacular peaks that surround the valley. To the east the sun’s rays burst over the lower summits of Ganesh. The sun’s rays were warming during breakfast as we sat outside with a local elderly lady just watching us.

With no complaints after such a huge day yesterday, the kids set off happily and enjoyed the easy walking through fields of buckwheat and through the coolness of the forest. After an early lunch of dal bhat at Domje, the climb began in earnest, leaving the few fields, one being ploughed with a bullock team. There are no motors in these parts.

Just 600 metres vertical of climbing, in two phases with the middle section the most wild that we’d traversed yet. High above the river, several hundred metres above, the narrow two foot wide track dropped straight down to the river. Then there was the bit that had fallen away leaving a bare eight inches of flat ground to walk on. The kids were unfazed, even when you could see the river waaay below when looking at your feet.
It didn’t faze me either, I’d crossed far sketchier things in my climbing days, but ensuring that the kids crossed safely does put things into a different context. Sarah felt sick. Our guide Chhewang guided Holly ever attentively on the steep parts.

Then you realise that you have passed old ladies carrying bags of wood on this track. And parents with babies. It’s the road here. Soon the track resumed a relatively normal perspective and after a brief foray through eight foot high marijuana forest it zig zagged into Chukang Paro, the entrance to the – relatively – flatter and wider upper Tsum and our accommodation opposite a Bhuddist memorial.
And as the sun’s rays were finally obscured by cloud, the ladies pushed themselves to their feet on strong but sinewy arms and bade us farewell leaving us to saviour the moment of travel that will be in etched in our memories for years to come.

7 responses to “That one special travel moment

  1. Dear Sarah,
    Wishing you a wonderfully happy and special birthday!!!

    Love the blog! So beautifully written!

    Missing you but what an amazing adventure you’re having!!!

    Lots of love to you, Dan, Ben, Xavier and Holly from Marina, Suresh, Sebastien, Isabella, Brigitte, Xavier and Dominic


  2. Wow, so many wonderful memories being made – and being remembered by me (the donkey droppings over the tracks and all the wild marijuana growing everywhere made me laugh). You must be so gloriously proud and feel very privileged to be taking the road less travelled with your children – enjoy every breath.


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