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Hidden valleys of Beyul Kyimolong

Posted by: MINGMA NORBU SHERPA  | Date: January 24, 2011

Sacred Beyuls are hidden valleys consecrated by the Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhawa) in the 8th century BC. Beyuls like the the Tsum and Nubri valleys of Gorkha district were declared by the Rinpoche from valleys bordering Sikkim in the east, Swat valley (Pakistan) in the west, India in the south and Tibet in the North. The Guru also hid a number of religious treasures (termas) in lakes, caves and forests, to be found and interpreted by future tertons or spiritual treasure finders. It is said by the Rinpoche that these sacred valleys can be found and resided in by spiritual people when the rest of the world suffers from conflict, disease, calamities and climate change.

The indigenous Tsumba and Ghale people have resided in these Beyuls since 14th century B.C. where they have followed customary laws prescribed by Guru Rinpoche for twelve centuries. The animistic belief of the people of Beyuls consider mountains, lakes, forests, caves, trees and wildlife as deities, with the mythical Yeti as their guardian and believe those who cause pollution and deforestation in their regions will ultimately suffer. The Tsumbas and Ghales have been following such teachings since they first settled there in the 14th century. Their valleys were revealed as Beyul Kyimolung in the 17th century.

The valleys are home to Mt. Manaslu (8,156 m) and other spectacular peaks such as Baudha Himal, Himal Chuli, Ganesh Himal and Sringi Himal. Endangered wildlife species like snow leopard, blue sheep, tahr, red panda, musk deer and grey wolf can also be found here. Religious artifacts such as chortens, monasteries and mani walls with festivals like Sakadawa and Fakngying form its culture. This serene region was isolated and hidden from the world till the 1950s, after which mountaineering expeditions came in from the world over.

Nepal’s Panchayat regime had imposed an area regulation upon this isolated territory for general trekking till 1991. Later, the central government opened Mt. Manaslu and other peaks of the Beyul Kyimolung for mountaineering, but without prior consent of the Tsumba and Ghale people. The Beyul community naturally regarded this as a desecration of their deities and a violation of their laws. Some local people of Samagoan thought that the Japanese expeditions to Mt. Manaslu caused the avalanche as their intrusion displeased the deities. The avalanche destroyed the Phun-gen monastery and killed eighteen people. Despite hostilities from the local people in Samagoan, a team including T. Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu Sherpa, led by Yuko Maki successfully conquered Mt. Manaslu on May 9, 1956. As of May 2008, Manaslu has been climbed 297 times with 53 fatalities.

Although the Manaslu region has tremendous potential for tourism activities, the area remained restricted until 1991. In the early 90s, the government decided to make the region a ‘controlled trekking area’ and imposed separate rules. It did not have promotional programmes and relied on national and international tour agencies for the promotion and marketing of the destination. The number of trekkers per year was limited to 1,000 and the trekking permit fee for a single person was US $ 90 per week. The trekkers had to join agencies and be accompanied by government-appointed liaison officers. Local people, however, did not receive any benefits from the mountaineering and controlled tourism.

In addition, in 1998 the government imposed another layer of restriction by declaring seven Village District Committees of the northern Manaslu region a conservation area. An area permit fee of NRs. 2,000 per person was decreed for the Manaslu Conservation Area (MCA) and the management responsibility was handed over to Nepal Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) until 2018. The MCA also started the Manaslu Eco-tourism Development Project in 1997 with loan assistance from the Asian Development Bank. It was completed in 2001. Its objective was to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods in the area.

Various agendas of the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation for Mountaineering Affairs, Department of Immigration for Controlled Trekking and the NTNC took over the Manaslu region, all without the consent of the Tsumba and Ghale people of the Beyul Kyimolung, the Nubri and Tsum valleys of Manaslu. The territory of the local people of Beyul Kyimolung got designated as a restricted area, leaving local people without many alternatives to improve their livelihoods. It was a disappointment for the Tsumba and Ghale peoples to find themselves receding while seeing the neighbouring Annapurna and Langtang regions continuously progressing.

To prevent themselves from falling behind, the youth of Tsum initiated the Tsum Welfare Committee (TWC) in Kathmandu to help develop Tsum valley. Similarly, Nubri youths formed Nubri Cultural Youth Group (NCYG) to conserve local culture and promote tourism in the Nubri valley. Since the local groups began to advocate for the change of tourism policy of the Beyul Kyimolung, Tsum and Nubri valley has been opened up to more liberalised tourism since 2008.

The top-down approach of the previous tourism policy had the state collect mountaineering and trekking royalty from tourists, which was never given back to the local communities. The revised tourism policy of 2065, however, incorporated pro-poor, pro-community, pro-women and pro-environment aspects into the policy. Tsumbas and Ghales of Beyul Kyimolung have much hope for this liberalised policy. They have initiated homestay tourism packages for both valleys. TWC is coordinating the tourism promotion and marketing for Tsum valley and have created a website and promotional packages (refer to http://www.tsumvalleyhomestay.com/tsum-valley).

Similarly, NCYG has developed homestays and other promotional packages for Nubri valley. They have partnered with Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) for promotions for the year 2011. NTB would gain credibility if it invested in this virgin destination for tourism year and compensated the population for the years of restricted status. This would give the local economies of the Tsum and Ghale communities a much needed boost and perhaps make up for the desecrations of the past.

 

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