Recently my wife and I visited Nepal for the eighteenth time and enjoyed a wonderful trek, one of the best treks ever, and this was largely due to our guide, Rabin Gurung, with whom we also trekked around Manaslu in 2010.
If you come to Nepal with the idea of doing ‘your own trek’ with a small party, I highly recommend hiring Rabin. Not only does he have many years of experience but he is very honest and humble, so much so that one woman at a very basic lodge on our recent trek, impressed by his honesty, told my wife that “this man is very good man, honest man, all other guide-man say lie to customers, say them that price is higher than real price, so they can get more money.”
Rabin is always in a good humor and friendly and gets along well with the local people and the porters too. Furthermore, his varied experience from his earlier years as a porter and cook help to make him a better guide. I can’t remember how many times during our treks, when we stopped at a new or very basic lodge, or even at a tea house for lunch, when the owner’s cooking skills were at most primitive, Rabin tactfully volunteered to move into the kitchen and some amazingly delicious food would come out, made from the most simple ingredients.
Three years ago, in March of 2010, the Manaslu trek was not what it is now. Along the entire trek from Arughat (where we had to start walking), until we reached to Annapurna circuit route, there was at that time only a single lodge with what could be called a ‘menu’, and that was the one and only lodge in Sama village at that time. All other villages either had nothing but dal bhat and perhaps chapatis, or nothing to eat and no lodge at all. We had to camp some places, but when we could, we stayed in the simple lodges that existed and he often improved our diet by cooking foods that the proprietor did not know how to cook, sometimes even such a basic menu item as an omelet, to be rolled up inside a chapati for breakfast.
This year, again in March, we decided to return to the same area, with the desire to explore the newly opened valley of Tsum. This is a lovely, beautiful valley populated by some 4000 Tibetan people, who have lived for nearly a thousand years in that inaccessible ‘hidden valley’, connected by easy passes to Tibet but until not so many decades ago, without any reasonable connection to Nepal through the truly stupendous canyons of the lower section of valley. Indeed, many inhabitants could not speak any Nepali, only Tibetan, which made it difficult at times. We had a double permit, which if you ever want to see Tsum Valley thoroughly, I highly recommend. Most people try to do a quick one-week detour to Tsum Valley as a kind of bonus side trip on the way around Manaslu. They never know what they have missed. Some of the most interesting villages and the friendliest people and some truly awesome scenery can be visited in Tsum valley if you have time. One week is too little time to see more than a quick glimpse of the Valley.
I and my wife have been trekking in Nepal for years, myself since 1981, and our trek to Manaslu was the first time we had ever used a guide (because it was required on that trek), despite having visited some very remote areas such as crossing the Trashi Labtsa Pass from Khumbu into Rolwaling with friends in 1982. I had doubts about using a guide, I had seen how so many of them control their clients and take commission from lodge owners to fill their pockets, I have seen many guides from Kathmandu who knew less about the local people and places than I did. I say this not to boast but as a word of caution: there are all too few honest, humble, helpful, and experienced guides out there, and many of those who are have moved into the higher levels of trekking management and no longer guide. But from the first days, on our 2010 Manaslu trek, we were impressed by the level of experience Rabin has, and also his sensitivity in allowing us to make our own itinerary day by day. He never was angry, never showed irritation, always explained patiently what was going on, and aways in a good mood. We were a group of five that time, and by the end of the first week, we all agreed that if we returned to Nepal for another trek requiring a guide, we would try to get Rabin again.
This is what we did in March 2013 on our visit to Tsum Valley. Using more porters in order to have tents and extra food, we planned to visit the highest area of the upper end of Tsum Valley and ascend to one of the high passes overlooking Tibet. This year was plagued by poor weather and too much snow in March, however, and we were unable to do that, as were all the people who had set out to trek around Manaslu this March: the deep snow at higher elevations did not allow anyone in the first weeks of March to cross the Larkya La and go around Manaslu. But we had time, and because of the tents and food we had, we also had more options. The tents and food we used in a wonderful visit to the nunnery at Gumalungdang, up to a steep side valley surrounded by the huge peaks of Ganesh Himal. We camped there for two nights, as there is no accommodation yet, and enjoyed incredible sunrise views of the nearby Ganesh Himal and also the distant great Peaks of HImalchuli, Ngadi Chuli, and Manaslu.
Tsum Valley is developing rapidly, as is the Manaslu circuit. However, particularly if you are new to Nepal trekking, don’t believe the hype that many agencies will tell you, that the Manaslu trek is the “new Annapurna circuit”. The Annapurna trek, over a period of three decades, developed a huge infrastructure for trekkers, with scores and scores of hotels, often equipped with deluxe menus and services, hot showers, laundry service, spring mattresses, etc. I think it will be some time yet before these things appear on the Manaslu trek, and if you find them in some places, don’t expect them at the next place. Tsum Valley is one step back in development yet.
One problem to watch out for is this: Tsum Valley’s popularity and this can be said for Manaslu too, is growing much faster than services can be built–maybe largely because the road around Annapurna has grown so quickly and has put people off from that once glorious trek. We were there both times in March when there are fewer trekkers than in April or especially the high season in October and November. In Tsum, as of March 2013, there was only one real lodge with rooms, and that was just a bit beyond Lokhpa at the foot of the valley. The other ‘lodges’ were basically beds in a side room of a local house, the largest such able to sleep ten people but others only four or five. Most villages had only one such place for trekkers to sleep in, some villages had no place. When we reached Mu Gompa, in March all but one of the 80 monks were away from the valley for the winter and furthermore, there was no food available at all. Only because we had our tents and stove and food for going higher up the valley (which we were unable to do because of snow), were we able to stay there e and eat our own food, instead of returning to Nile village the same day. The same goes for Gumbalunddang, where no food was available. if you are going o visit Tsum valley, and perhaps Manaslu too, during the busiest season, think seriously about hiring at least one EXTRA porter and having a tent, stove, and food, in case of accommodation is full! It might be worth it! Also, think of the porters: we saw many groups of two or three with a guide and a single porter carrying an enormous load, who was trailing far behind the others during the day. Many of them were unhappy with the arrangement.
In conclusion, this time with four people in our group, and with several porters and with Rabin as our guide again, we once more enjoyed what all agreed was one of the best treks we’ve ever done in the Himalaya, out of a total number of over thirty now, in Nepal and India. Rabin is an excellent choice for a guide. He is honest, will help you save money instead of trying to find ways to squeeze more for himself, he is fun and funny and friendly and all along the trails, he makes new friends with the people we meet along the way. He is experienced but doesn’t try to tell the customers what to do, he asks what they want to do, and then explains the options. If you are the type of trekker who is truly interested in Nepal, in the places, the culture, and religion and people and villages, and like to understand what is happening around you, hire Rabin for your guide, you won’t be disappointed. Indeed, like us (except for one, the same group that went around Manaslu with Rabin three years earlier), perhaps you will want to return to Nepal and go on another trek with Rabin Gurung!
August 2013, Jeff Tucker, Hokkaido Japan