Tsum is a valley located in the North-East of Gorkha district. This valley covers two Village Development Comittees (VDCs) of Gorkha district. They are Chumchet (known as Lower Tsum) and Chhekampar (known as Upper Tsum). The valley consists of 33 small villages/ settlements with 1810 inhabitants from 529 households (Government of Nepal/Central Bureau Statistics , 2012: 56). The scattered human settlement is situated between 1901m to 3100m. Approximately 2000 species of plants, 11 types of forests, and over 50 species of medicinal plants have been recorded in this valley. A total of 33 species of mammal, over 110 species of birds, 11 species of butterflies, and 3 species of reptiles have been noted in the valley (ICIMOD, 2008: 15). The valley, stretched from South-West to North-East by the sides of Shiyarkhola river flowing from Norther-East to Southern-West, is surrounded by beautiful mountains.
The valley is traditional homelands of "Tsumba" indigenous people in Nepal. The legend has it that the valley is a beyul created by the eight century Guru Rinpoche who introduced Buddhism to Nepal. Beyul are havens of peace, prosperity, spirituality and a sacred refuge for believers. In the seventeenth-century, Tsum Valley became known as Beyul-Kyimolun. The Tsumba indigenous people that inhabit the valley are mostly of Tibetan origin and speak a unique dialect. They revere this valley as Beyul, and are mostly adherents to a mixture of Bon shamanism and Buddhism (ICIMOD, 2008; Rai et al. 2016). Except the important decisive and leadership roles of the Lama (the religious priest) on religious matters, the traditional village leaders structured in three positional hierarchies (Ghenchen, Syara, and Ghyange) play the decision making roles on village and family matters. The Ghenchen is village leader, Syara is clan leader, and Ghenchyan, supporter to the Ghenchen, is traditional community leader. They are nominated by the village assembly annually (Rai et al. 2016).
People in the valley follow a culture of non-violence and hence never kill any animals and living beings in their territory. They have formally declared the valley as Ahimsa Chhetra (non-violent area) in 1921 and have been preaching the concept through different regular and occasional religious festivals and celebrations. The declaration was a code of conduct (1. Not to kill any animals; 2. Not to hunt; 3. Not to collect honey; 4. Not to trade animals; 5. Not to trade meat; 6. Not to burn forests). People make their public commitments to follow the declarations in their occasional and regular village festivals and celebrations. The valley is also rich in cultural arts and monuments. For example, there are 15 big monasteries, 37 village monasteries, more than 150 Mani Bompas, more than 50 Mani walls, and many other historically and culturally important arts and architectures (Rai et al. 2016).
The valley is remote from the nearest bus routes in Southern part of Gorkha district. The valley was autonomous until government institutions (such as police check post, health and education institutions, etc.) were not expanded to the area. One of the important government interventions was declaration of "Manaslu Conservation Area (MCA)" in 1998 and formation of Conservation Area Management Committees (CAMC) at VDC and many other community groups such as women's group, youth groups, agriculture groups etc. The MCA covers seven VDCs of which 2 are from Tsum valley (one from each VDCs). Since then the conservation and management of the MCA is entrusted to the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), the semi-government organization. The integrated conservation activities, led by the NTNC, is implemented through the CAMCs and community groups.
The government maintained the valley as restricted area for the foreigners until 2008. However, influence of the developmental concept and approaches have made the valley open for the tourists in 2008 with the condition of special entry permits from the government authority. The natural beauty and cultural heritage of the people and the valley have become able to attract lot of tourists and hence the numbers of the tourists are increasing every year (Rai et al. 2016). The development and expansion of local government institutions such as District Development Committees (DDC), District Legal Code, District Police Office, Village Development Committees (VDC); and local conservation agencies such as CAMC and community groups, in one hand have been contributing to the demise of and weakening of the local traditions, customary laws, traditional institutions and practices. On the other hand the threats upon the natural beauty and the biological diversity maintained through the cultural and religious beliefs and practices are gradually been increased. Similarly, increasing public demands for the expansion of development infrastructure is becoming an issue of public debate.
The establishment of MCA and expansion of government as well as conservation institutions have created not only the confusions and conflicts between customary institutions (and practices) of the Tsumba people and formal institutions (both the local government and the conservation institutions) but also promoted the concept/practices of the non-recognition and non-respect to the customary laws, practices, and institutions. The Tsumba people were neither fully aware about the future implications of the establishment of the CMC nor the establishment processes adopted the rigorous community consultation processes that could ensure community consents. Rather it was a top down approach that denies the respect and recognition to the local knowledge, experiences and practices, for example the formal institutions operates according to the formal laws, policies, and programs. So, Tsumba people are in search of the respect, recognition, and support of their customary laws and practices rooted from the long history of the place. Local people have been happy about the tourism since it has become a part of the local income but they are worried about the possible bio-cultural damages/loss by the higher number of tourists in the place and unhappy about the state's (including NTNC) full control over the revenue from the tourists/visitors (through tourism entry fees). The initiatives through promoting the concept of ICCA Network Nepal is advocating for the recognition and support of customary laws and practices that have the value to the conservation of bio-cultural sites in diverse eco-regions of the country.