Upper Dolpo Trek

  • Duration: 25 days

Dolpo is a high-altitude, culturally Tibetan, region in the upper part of the Dolpa District of western Nepal, bordered in the north by the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. It is a very isolated area which has been strictly off-limits until only recently, so the traditions and way of life have remained intact. Like Mustang, it has a unique culture; people wear traditional Tibetan-style clothes and jewelry and practice the pre-Buddhist animistic religion of Bon Po. The remote region has preserved its Tibetan culture in relatively pure form, making it attractive to Westerners.

In spite of the near inaccessibility of the region and tourism restrictions for the more remote parts, Dolpo is a popular destination for trekking tourism. The trail passes many gigantic mountain ranges – Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Kanjirowa, to name a few – and through Lower Dolpo, at one time a small kingdom in its own right. Most villages in Dolpo are removed from the rest of the world to the south by one or more difficult passes. The people that live here number only a few hundred and are among the world’s highest dwellers. The villages in Upper Dolpo are 4,300 m and above.

Trek Profile:
Grade : Moderate Hard
Average walking per day : 6 hrs
Maximum Altitude : 5,150 m
Best seasons : Mar-Nov
Type of Trek : Camping
Starting Point : Juphal
Ending Point : Juphal

Standard Itinerary:
Day 01: Arrival in Kathmandu (1,400 m)
Upon arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport, meet our airport representative who will be displaying our company’s placard just outside the airport terminal. Then, get transferred to the respective hotel in a private tourist vehicle. Overnight at hotel, Kathmandu

Day 02: Pre-trip Meeting; Kathmandu Valley sightseeing
After breakfast, at around 07:30 AM, pre-trip meeting is hosted in your hotel in Kathmandu in order to introduce the trek leader/guide. It is recommended to seek this opportunity to ask any question relevant to the trek. Please remember to bring the passport, 3 copies of passport-size photos, and a copy of the travel insurance policy. In any case that you will be arriving late and therefore are unable to attend the meeting, please inform in advance.

After that, get ready for the sightseeing tour that will start at around 09:30 AM. A private vehicle and professional tour guide is provided to guide you through the Kathmandu Valley including Bouddhanath Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple and Bhaktapur Durbar Square. A full-day sightseeing takes no more than 8 hrs to complete including the lunch time and rest of the time in Kathmandu is free for further exploration and some last-minute shopping in Thamel. Overnight at hotel, Kathmandu

Day 03: Fly to Nepalgunj (150 m)
After early breakfast, take a morning flight to Nepalgunj. It’s a around an hour to reach Nepalgunj; reach there and get transferred to lodge. Overnight at lodge, Nepalgunj

Day 04: Fly to Juphal (2,400 m) & trek to Dunai (2,150 m)
From Nepalgunj, take an early flight to Juphal. It takes around 45 minutes to reach Juphal Airport at Dolpa. The service is fairly dependable. Sometimes, flights may be cancelled due to weather conditions or other technical problems.

Upon arrival, meet the trekking crew, do equipment packing and walk through terraced fields to the Bheri River and the narrow gorge, leading in 3 hours, to Dunai. This is a relatively larger village and is the administrative headquarters of the Dolpa District. Overnight at tented camp, Dunai

Day 05: Trek to Ankhe (2,660 m)
From Dunai, cross the new suspension bridge and turn west, following the trail past the new hospital; at the confluence of the Thuli Bheri and Suli Gad Rivers, turn to the north and follow the Suli Gad. The trail is fairly undulating but mostly up and the going is firm underfoot. You are never far from the river and can always hear its roar. Continue to track the river and eventually reach the settlement of Hanke, which is also the entrance to the Shey-Phoksundo National Park. The three villages you pass through have a strange name connection: Parela, meaning eyelash, Rahagaon meaning eyebrow, and Ankhe meaning eye. Overnight at tented camp, Ankhe

Day 06: Trek to Renje (3,104 m)
The trail starts becoming very hectic but once you cross the river twice on well-made bridges, you then make a steep ascent on a very narrow path, hugging the cliff face. Having descended to the river again, the trail takes another steep ascent, requiring frequent stops to admire the scenery, and also for some rest. Overnight at tented camp on the opposite side of the Suli Gad River from the village of Renje

Day 07: Trek to Shey-Phoksundo Lake (3,610 m)
Continue along the river and the going is fairly easy initially. But from Sumdo, the trail becomes very much line an incline. A stop at the National Park Office near Sumdo is well worth a visit. From here, ascend to a ridge, about 3,875 m, from where you will have the most staggering views of a 300 m waterfall, the highest in Nepal, and your first view of Shey-Phoksundo Lake. Then, descend through birch forests to the upper reaches of the Phoksundo Khola and on to the picturesque settlement of Ringmo with its mud plastered chortens and Mani walls. From the settlement, it is a short walk to the shores of Shey-Phoksundo Lake. Overnight at tented camp

Day 08: Trek to Phoksundo Khola (3,507 m)
From the lakeside, follow the trail that skirts the edge of the lake itself. This precarious trail is suspended on a gangway of wood, supported by pegs, driven into crevices in the rocks and signals the remoteness of the area you are about to enter. Go very steeply up to 4,040 m, and then plunge down again to the valley bottom to enter the floodplain of the Phoksundo Khola. Camp alongside the river, within the confines of the forest to avoid the worst of the wind which is prevalent in the valley bottom. Overnight at tented camp

Day 09: Trek to Phoksundo Bhanjyang (4,402 m)
There are quite a few stream crossings today, so you should take sandals or other suitable footwear. Continue along the level path through a glacial valley that heads north. As this becomes narrower and narrower, there are impressive vertical cliffs and contorted rock formations. At the confluence of the Phoksundo Khola and another unnamed mountain stream, there is an old wooden bridge. Here, you take the barely distinct path to the northeast up a side valley, which has a cavernous look. There is no trail as such, so it is necessary to clamber over rocks and boulders and to ford a stream that rushes down the steep valley. A long climb brings to a sheep meadow, where the trail veers up a steep ravine. A hard climb to the top brings to yet another valley, where you can see the Kang La, the pass that leads to Shey Gompa. Overnight at tented camp, Phoksundo Bhanjyang

Day 10: Trek to Shey Gompa (4,126 m) via Kang La Pass (5,150 m)
After an initial easy stretch going up the floodplain, the trail goes up very steeply. The somewhat indistinct track is physically demanding, especially on the loose slate scree. It will take about 2.30 to 3 hrs to reach the top of the Kang La Pass. The views from the top, however, are magnificent and well worth all the hard work. On descending steeply to the valley floor, not more than 45 minutes, make a long meandering trek along the banks of the river, crossing it once. A red chorten heralds your arrival at Shey Gompa, where a quaint wooden log bridge leads up to the Shey compound. Overnight at tented camp, Shey Gompa

Day 11: Rest day for exploration
Shey means ‘Crystal’, and this monastery is also known as the Crystal Mountain. The Lama of Shey resides at a red hermitage known as Tsakang Gompa, which is west of Shey. It is not really a monastery but a retreat that has been a meditation center of many famous Lamas from Tibet.

In Dolpo, the ancient Tibetan way of life combines animism with the teachings of Buddha. Drutup Yeshe introduced Buddhism in the Dolpo Valley. Shey Gompa belongs to the Chaiba community, followers of the Padmasambhav and Kagyu sects. It is a very strange mountain indeed; its contorted cliffs are laced with quartz and embedded with a rich variety of marine fossils. Shey Gompa stands above the confluence of Kangju Nala and Yeju Nala. Near the confluence, there is a group of prayer mills, turned by waterwheels. Overnight at tented camp, Shey Gompa

Day 12: Trek to Namduna Gaon (4,400 m) via Saldang La Pass (4,785 m)
Follow a pleasant track amidst juniper, which ascends to a grey, stony canyon. The trail begins to zigzag over bare rocks and coarse eroded soil, until it eventually comes to a flat spot suitable for a brew or lunch if the weather is fine. Then, continue very steeply up for 20 minutes before traversing to the top of the Saldang La Pass. Here, enjoy great views towards the arid landscapes of Mustang and the distant snow peaks of Tibet. The subsequent descent towards the north is long and tiring, but you finally come upon the welcome sight of pastures of grazing yaks and sheep and nomadic tents made of yak hair. This signals your approach to Namduna Gaon. Namgung Monastery, a red stone structure, is built against the backdrop of a cliff on the north wall of a gorge. The red and white colours of the Gompa and its Stupas are the only colour in this stark landscape. The village itself consists of six stone houses and has terraced fields both sides of the tributary, which flows down to the Nam Khong Valley. Overnight at tented camp, Namduna Gaon

Day 13: Trek to Saldang (3,903 m)
In the morning, you leave the Namgung Monastery and start climbing a scree slope. Further on begins a long thrilling traverse along some dusty barren mountains. Looking down into the valley bottom, it is very evident that the people have made best use of the fertile valley as one sees the neat terraced fields showing bright patches of green and ripening crops. You ascend before going down steep slopes to the picturesque village of Saldang, situated on a plateau high above the Nam Khong Khola and the biggest village of the inner Dolpo area. Although the village lies at about the same altitude as Ringmo, it is totally different. Ringmo, a Himalayan village, is situated below the tree line, while Saldang belongs to the arid zone of the trans-Himalayan Tibetan plateau. The village stretches for 2 km on an open slope and consists of 5 villages having 80 well-built houses with nearly 600 villagers. It is prosperous, not only agriculturally, but also for its strategic location on a trade route to Tibet. Overnight at tented camp, Saldang

Day 14: Trek to Sibu (3,942 m)
Leaving Saldang, on the way down to the riverbed you pass through terraced fields, stupas, chortens, heaps of Mani stones and a Chaiba Monastery. Namdo, the next village, stretches for more than 5 km on the high slopes to the left of Nam Khong Khola. The Namdo Monastery is located near the riverbed. There is also another monastery on top of a high cliff. Overnight at tented camp near the small settlement of Sibu, right on the riverbank.

Day 15: Trek to Jeng La Phedi (4,369 m)
Following the line of the river valley, the trail is fairly easy going initially; after about 2 hrs, it is necessary to wade another stream before turning into a side valley and the rise becomes very sharp. Only after 4 hrs walk, you reach to Jeng La Phedi, the foot of Jeng La Pass. This is a pleasant meadow, but be strewn with rocks, yak and other animal droppings. Overnight at tented camp, Jeng La Phedi

Day 16: Trek to Tokyu Gaon (4,240 m) via Jeng La Pass (4,845 m)
The trail is generally well compacted making the going underfoot easy, much easier than loose shale, but it is steep. It is only a 2 hrs climb to reach the top of the Jeng La Pass. From the top of the pass, there are good views of the Dhaulagiri massif, glittering in the morning light. A rough track descends towards the Tarap Valley. By the afternoon, you find a green valley, which leads through a pleasant track down towards the Tarap Chu. Tarap is a dream valley with vast plains in high mountains extending 20 km along the Tarap Chu River. It has 10 villages with cultivated fields, many gompas and chortens of both sects. Overnight at tented camp at Tokyu Monastery, Tokyu Gaon

Day 17: Trek to Dho Tarap (4,090 m)
Before leaving Tokyu, a short visit to the Chaiba Gompa can be made. The trail is broad and well travelled, making the going easy and there is much evidence of work in the fields, where the women will be bringing in the harvest – the men are away bringing down the herds of animals for the forthcoming winter. There are many Mani Walls but some of the chortens are in a bad state of repair. The ‘French School’ is just outside the village of Dho Tarap, where you have your night stop. Dho is surrounded by an irregular stone wall and consists of 34 houses, divided into 3 clusters and built in a haphazard way. Tarap is inhabited mostly by Magars, who have lived here for generations, but also by a few Tibetans. The inhabitants of this village are both Bon Po and Buddhist (Nyingmapa). In the afternoon, a walk of around half an hour up to the Buddhist gompa is very worthwhile. Overnight at tented camp, Dho Tarap

Day 18: Trek to Serkam (3,630 m)
The next 2 days are longish with a choice of several different campsites, so the itinerary can be flexible. The route follows the course of the Tarap Khola, generally downhill through narrow gorges with the river rushing through. One may see blue sheep, marmots, yaks, sheep and goats and perhaps meet people from Dolpo taking their flocks of sheep and goats to lower pastures for the winter. The afternoon brings more undulations in the path, when it leaves the immediate course of the river. There is evidence of improvements to the trail where parts of the rock have been blasted out. The track is very narrow in places. Overnight at tented camp on a grassy strip by the river, Serkam

Day 19: Trek to Khani Gaon (2,550 m)
From Serkam, continue to walk down the gorge of the Tarap River, at times alongside it and at others, high above, on a narrow trail built out of the steep slopes. The quality of the path varies from broad, smooth and firm to very narrow and crumbly. There are also flights of manmade stone staircases which need to be tackled with care – some of the constituent rocks wobble when stepped upon! An exciting day in deep and awe-inspiring gorges. Overnight at tented camp at a pleasant meadow in the shades of a set of trees, Khani Gaon

Day 20: Trek to Tarakot (2,281 m)
Leave Khanigaon by the new suspension bridge and then walk alongside the river, sometimes going very high before reaching down to the water again. Some of the trail is quite demanding and one bridge necessitates crossing on wet stepping-stones. Coming into the broad fertile valley of the Barbung Chu, you walk amongst the various crops of millet, sweet corn, barley, buckwheat, green beans, chilies and marijuana. Tarakot is an old fortress town known by the local people as Dzong, meaning ‘fort’. The famous Sandul Gompa, which lies 8 km east of Tarakot and at the junction of Barbung Khola and Tarap Chu, stands on a hill to the south of Bheri River. Overnight at tented camp, Tarakot

Day 21: Trek to Dunai
The trail is mostly down and fairly firm underfoot. Walking beside the Bheri River, use the original path built 20 ft above the river leading to the village of Dunai. Overnight at tented camp, Dunai

Day 22: Trek to Juphal
Retrace your steps to Juphal initially walking on a flat way, but the final hour up to the destination seems steeper than you remember on Day 01! Overnight at tented camp, Juphal

Day 23: Fly back to Kathmandu via Nepalgunj
Early morning, fly back to Nepalgunj enjoying a wonderful flight over the Himalayan foothills and then take a connecting flight to Kathmandu. On arrival in Kathmandu, get transferred to the respective hotel. Overnight at hotel, Kathmandu

Day 24: Free day in Kathmandu
After breakfast, relax and enjoy the day on your own. It’s also spare day in case of bad weather in Juphal and or the flight to Kathmandu is delayed. Overnight at hotel, Kathmandu

Day 25: Departure
After breakfast, free till check out time; get transferred to Kathmandu International Airport for your final departure.