Marlborough – On March 15, Marlborough resident Lee Miller traveled to Nepal where he spent time trekking through two connected areas – the Manaslu Circuit and the Tsum Valley. He returned home to Marlborough April 15 – 10 days later Nepal was rocked by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that killed more than 8,800 people and injured more than 23,000. On May 12, the region suffered another huge earthquake, this one a 7.2 magnitude.
Having been touched by the plight of the residents there, Miller has initiated a fundraising effort (http://www.gofundme.com/Aid-for-Tsum) to help those in the Tsum Valley who have been impacted by these devastating earthquakes.
Here, in his own words, is an account of his trip and his efforts to offer aid.
We were already seven days’ walk from any roads when we arrived at Mu Gompa, a Buddhist monastery at the head of the Tsum Valley in Nepal. Spring was late this year, and several snow avalanches had covered the trail as we hiked up to the monastery, which sits at 12,000 feet of elevation.
We were three friends – one American, two British, accompanied by our guide and our three porters. We had planned three weeks of trekking into the high mountains of Nepal, on what is known as a teahouse trek. This means that we do not bring our own tents or provisions, but rather stay and eat in villages along the route. The Manaslu Circuit has only in the last few years had enough lodges built to be able to depend on them; and the Tsum Valley has only been open to foreigners since 2008.
We walked on the paths that have been used for centuries as trade routes and that are the only access to the villages in the mountains. We ate what they eat, which is mostly dal-bhat – lentils and rice – as well as variations of what is available locally, including eggs and milk. As we gained elevation, we traversed the seasons. At our starting point we were at an elevation of about 2,000 feet and the temperatures stretched above 90 degrees during the day. As we reached our highest altitudes in both valleys, we were at 11,000 – 12,000 feet. It was below freezing at night, and snowed. As a New Englander, I had just left a very snowy and cold winter. The difference in Nepal is that the lodge rooms have no heat or insulation. The warmest places were in the rooms with the cooking fires.
We never did make it over the 16,000-foot pass around Mt. Manaslu. With the lateness of the spring, and the continued snowfall, the snow was too deep to traverse the pass. It was a slight disappointment to not complete our planned journey, but there was no disappointment in the overall trip. Stunning scenery, fascinating culture and welcoming people made for a terrific experience.
But of the whole trip, our time in the Tsum Valley was what I carry with me the most. As a completely protected valley until just seven years ago, the traditional Tibetan culture has been preserved. There is a sense of life in balance. Despite a subsistence existence, there is a feeling of richness. After walking on tight paths literally cut into the mountainsides up a very narrow canyon, an open valley broadens between the mountain ranges, with the river coursing down the middle. The larger fields were bright green with barley. Groups of women working in the fields called to us as we passed: “Tashi Delek!”, the Tibetan greeting. The evidence of the deep connection to Tibetan Buddhism was everywhere – mani walls with inscribed prayers, kani gateways at the entrances to the villages, gompas (temples) in all of the villages, monasteries and nunneries along the way. Ten days after we left Nepal, the earthquake struck. The epicenter was in the Gorkha district, which is the district where we trekked. My heart went out most strongly to the people of the Tsum Valley, as we began to get news of the impact of the quake. Fortunately, few people were killed. But entire villages were reduced to rubble. The houses are built of dry stone without mortar, and just could not withstand that level of quake. Further, avalanches destroyed portions of the paths, making them impassable.
I felt that I could help the most by fundraising and focusing that aid on the sacred Tsum Valley. Through friends, I located a resident of the valley who had begun a project to deliver emergency food and shelter there. He has now managed to get the first delivery of rice and dal into the lower Tsum by helicopter for distribution throughout the valley.
To donate to Miller’s efforts, visit http://www.gofundme.com/Aid-for-Tsum. To see more of Miller’s photos, visit