Upper Dolpo Trek is the hidden gem of Nepal with its Tibetan style villages, stunning barren landscapes, and picturesque mountain peaks. Trekking in Upper Dolpo takes you to the remote western region of Nepal, classified as Restricted by the Nepal government. Hence, venturing to this wild western region requires a special permit.
After that, an unexplored part of Nepal opens up, and you will never regret entering the Dolpo Region given you love unspoiled travel experience.
The Dolpo Region is famous for several reasons. First of all, Dolpo has remained untouched by the modern world for a very long time. This means that culture and traditions in this region have been preserved through the time.
Your mouth will open wide at various sightings. At times, it will feel straight out of Hollywood, like you are on some unventured land only the heroics reach to tell the tales. On others, it will sink hard on you how this way of life is even possible. Of course, with tents, backpack and a sheer determination to explore.
Even though it was the 80’s that travelers started entering Nepal, only the city areas are westernized. Even with the internet and outreach with the world, Nepal prides itself on its culture and tradition. Dolpa (Dolpo) is the largest district of Nepal, with 7,889km2. The district has a population of 36,700.
The region is divided into sub-tropical, temperate, sub-alpine, alpine, naval and Trans-himalaya climate, respectively from south to north. The native tribe consists of Gurung, Sherpa, Magar, Bhote and Kham ethnicity.
The Dolpo Region is surrounded by Dhaulagiri in the east, Kanjirowa in the west and Tibetan Plateau in the north. The region strongly resembles Tibetan lifestyle and terrain, since the political border is the only thing that keeps the people between the two nations distinct. As a result, monasteries, shrines, prayer flags and rust landscape remind you of Tibet if you’ve ever been there. If not, you will enjoy the landscape and the culture nevertheless.
Shey-Phoksundo National Park is Nepal’s largest and Trans-Himalayan heritage. Like other conservation areas, the region includes a buffer zone, looked after jointly by the government and the community.
Phoksundo Lake is Nepal’s deepest as well as second largest Lake, and is void of any fish and creatures. As a result, a pristine crystal clear surface reflects the sky and rugged terrains. Popular plants found in the region are rhododendron, caragana shrubs, and Salix, Juniper, white Himalayan birch, and the occasional silver fir.
The national park is also home to endangered species of Snow Leopard, Himalayan Musk Deer, and capricious sheep /goats, including other species of high altitude mammals, reptiles and birds.
The permit fee is 500 $ for the first 10 days and $50 per day for each additional day. This fee is maintained by TAAN, a governing agency for trekking agencies in Nepal. The permit fee is used directly in the conservation of Dolpo Region, and helps in uplifting the lifestyle of the community. Since the people of the Dolpo Region still depend on traditional ways of life, the money can go a long way in the development of health and education facilities for the natives.
You will need to be extremely fit and able to hike continuously to be able to complete this trek. Since we will be in a remote region, you also need to be strong enough to carry your backpack, and determined to disconnect from the world for the period of trekking. Of course we will have special equipment to enable communication at all times. But internet and modern amenities are not possible at all times.
In order to take on Upper Dolpo trekking, we recommend that you practise jogging, hiking or running for a considerable amount of time, and involve in direct physical activities.
You will also be required to follow the instructions of your trek leader at several places, since the local guide will be an expert and know how to drive the group in various terrains and situations.
Upper Dolpo Trek is one of the most beautiful remote-area trekking adventures in Nepal. This is also one of the longest trekking trips in the mountains which offers an amazing wilderness of walking in the mountains and along the deepest lake in Nepal, Lake Phoksundo.
The trek is quite challenging as you have to cross three high passes, Nagdalo La, Shey La and Jeng La involving long climbs and strenuous descents. But the trek is quite satisfying as you come across stunning landscapes, spectacular mountain views and an insightful cultural exposure, the Buddhist and the Bon.
As a matter of fact, the Upper Dolpo trek is quite adventurous as the region lies in the remote mountains of western Nepal with a very difficult accessibility. And only after obtaining a special permit from the government of Nepal, you are able to go on this trek.
But, if you love remote mountains, lakes and mixed traditional cultures, this long walking adventure is sure for you. And this trek is 24 days duration and can be done in the months of Sept-Nov and Mar-May.
Trekking in the upper Dolpo Region is not a piece of cake to be honest. But don’t let it demotivate you. Upper Dolpo Trek lasts for up to 27 days (a month), and requires extreme trekking / hiking. You will need to physically and mentally prepare for this trek. You reach upto the altitude of 4430 meters and hence there are various days set aside for acclimatization.
Camping is the primary way of trekking unlike tea-house trekking, since we will be walking far and away from the human settlements at times.
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The trip starts from Kathmandu, with a day or two that can be set aside for exploring the valley. Once ready, we need to take two different flights to reach Dolpo. The first one, being from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj. The flight is about an hour long. Another 35 minute flight will take us to Juphal. From this village, our trekking will officially start.
You can find detailed route in the itinerary, but briefly here’s the route:
Kathmandu – Nepalgunj – Juphal – Chhepka – Palam – Phoksundo – Salla Ghari – Lar Tsa – Shey Gompa – Namgung – Saldang – Sibu – Jengla – Tokyo Gaon – Dho Tarap – Serkam – Tarakot – Dubai – Juphal – Nepalgunj – Kathmandu.
As you can see, the trip starts and ends in Kathmandu.
At Hiking Adventure Treks, we craft personalised trek and itineraries for our clients. Like other treks in Nepal, our Upper Dolpo Trek is developed with knowledge gained from experience in the field and feedback from our growing travel community. We have been trekking in Nepal for two decades and know just the right ingredient to make your trip memorable. Scroll down for the itinerary of this amazing trip.
Once you arrive and collect your luggage at the airport, step outside the ‘Arrival Terminal’ to find our staff with your name card across the road. From there, we will receive you and arrange a transfer to your hotel. After you are well rested, we will meet in the evening for a welcome dinner.
Today we will visit the world heritage sites: Pashupatinath, Monkey Temple and Boudha Stupa before lunch. In the evening we will take a walk around Thamel and Jason Market. You can also buy any trekking equipment or last minute items. Dinner with staff in the evening. Get briefed about your flight the next day.
Enjoy your breakfast and head towards the airport. An one hour domestic flight will bring us to Nepalgunj. Settle down for lunch and some rest. We will stroll out in the evening to visit the nearby town, temples and market. Dinner in the evening together.
From Nepalgunj, we fly north towards the small town called Juphal. We will have gained significant altitude compared to Nepalgunj (150m) as well as Kathmandu (1400m). The climate will be cool and refreshing. We will acclimatize and take the rest of the day exploring this small town.
We will start our trip as we descend and cross the Thuli Bheri River. Enter Shey Phoksundo National Park. Your guide will coordinate with the check post to ensure the permits are in order. This will be a brief break, after which we continue our trip along the lush green forest. The trail continues along the forest zone. Significant plants are pine tree, juniper, rhododendron and bamboo. The trail is clearly marked and we will be guided towards the village of Chhapka. We will set up our tent for the day.
After morning breakfast, wind up the tents and continue on the journey forward. Today we will be ascending 1 kilometers. However, the ascent is not continuous. That means, we will be descending at various points as well. Mules, Yaks and cows appear carrying load and grazing as we move forward. We stop at Reechi Village for lunch, and continue forward. On the way, there is an Ayurvedic local hospital which we will briefly visit. Reach Palam and set up the tents.
Today we will trek towards Phoksundo Lake. As described earlier, Phoksundo is Nepal’s second largest and deepest lake, with no life in it. This is because of the high altitude. On the way, we will also come across Nepal’s highest waterfall. It’s commonly called the “sunlight waterfall’. The settlement nearby is older than Buddhism, and they call it Bonpo. Our guides will tell us stories of this 18000 year old religion, its folklore and other interesting stories as we set up our camp.
Today we will take a side trip to explore Shey Phoksundo in more detail instead of moving forward. This helps in acclimatizing as well as taking a break for the day. As we won’t be ascending much, we will have the body adjust to the increasing altitude for the upcoming days. Get insight into Bon culture, followed by the natives along with Buddhism.
Today is a significant day as we will officially enter the restricted Upper Dolpo Area, covered by our special permits. This place is famous for the shooting of the Oscar Nominated Movie “Caravan”. Mount Kanjirowa (6883m) shines with all its glory. We are now entering the alpine area with the forest disappearing behind us.
This day we will have Salla Ghari, trekking through between high rock walls on both sides and crossing a couple of streams. We will enter a narrow gorge where we will set our camp. We can continue the trek but there is a possibility of altitude sickness. Overnight at tented camp, inclusive of full board meals.
Today’s journey will be divided into various parts. The first trip will be a 3 hour steep ascent to Kang La (5350m). ‘La’ translates to mountain pass, meaning that we will be walking along the hill curve to reach to the other side. We will arrive at a village called “Shey Gompa”. In this ancient land, villages are named after a shrine, stupa or monastery that they contain. The Gompa was built in the 11th Century by a Tibetan Buddhist, and has a great religious importance to the natives. It has its own folk story that you will know about when you are there. Set up the camp in the village.
Another day to acclimatize. If you haven’t noticed, we are now above 4000 meters and it is a well deserved day to adapt to the rising altitude. We can explore the Shey Gompa and learn more in detail about this mystic structure. It is said that Durup Ystse introduced Buddhism to the Bons in this region. We will also come across the ‘crystal mountain’, shaped by the winds and full of minerals. It will also be interesting to observe the mechanical water mills, mane stones and prayer flags in the region. The terrain is rugged and stretches as far as the eyes can see. Back to the tent overnight.
Today we will ascend to the height of 5000 meters to cross the mighty ‘Glen La’ Pass. From here, we can see the southern part of Tibetan Plateau. It will be a great feeling to know that Tibet is visible from the place we are exploring. To the east, Mustang, a popular village on the foot of “Thorong-La” is visible. The village of Namgung is itself beautiful. Set up the tent and prepare for overnight.
Today we will be ascending to 4700 meters before descending to the village of Saldang. As you will notice, this region used to be a popular trade route, and is still used by the locals to travel to and fro Tibet / Nepal. The beautiful villages of lower Dolpo is visible from this area as well. A relatively short trip today as compared to the other days, but we deserve our well deserved rest and spend the rest of the time watching the mountains in awe.
Today we started our trek towards Namdo from Saldang in the morning. We pass through the terrace fields, stupas shrines and Chaiba monastery. This is the local monastery for this region. Namdo has a population of about 500 and is a beautiful village. From Nambo, it is another two hours walk towards Sibu. We will set up our camp at the river bank.
Continue along the river valley to reach the foothill of Jengla. The second part of the trip is a sharp ascent. The views are breathtaking at both sides of the valley.
Today we will cross the Jeng La Pass. At the top of the pass, Mount Dhaulagiri is distinctly visible. Later, descend towards Tarap. The Tsarap Chu River makes several of the villages fertile and the settlement prosperous. Like in the previous villages, there are several shrines and monasteries in each of these villages. We will set up our tent in a small village called Tokyo Gaon. “Goan” means village in Nepali.
Today is a short hike of about 2 hours. So we can enjoy our breakfast and start the trek loosely. The trail is relatively easy and we will have a lot of time to observe. We pass by a local school, set up by the French, hence called “French School”. There are fewer houses here than in the upper villages that we passed the other day. We will visit the Gompa and meet the Lama today. The place is significant for its Thangka paintings and to hear the story behind them.
Today is going to be a good descend from Dho Tarap towards Serkam. The seven hour trek will be challenging to our knees. Sticks will be helpful. Walk across meadows and domesticated yaks, sheeps and goats along the edges of the village. These animals are known to change altitude based on the weather. During winter, they descend to avoid the snow and vice versa. Be careful as the trek is narrow in various places. Overnight in Serkam.
Cross the steel suspension bridge and continue along the river. Crossing the natively built bridges on other parts is going to be challenging, but we will do it together in a safe manner, sometimes even choosing to step over stones rather than to walk on the bridge !
We will come across an old fortress where once there used to be a King of the locals. From Tarakot central, we descend down for a better facilitated place to set up our tents.
We have gradually descended and continue doing so on this day as well. We backtrack to Dunai and set up our camp for overnight stay.
After breakfast, backtrack to Juphal. Downhill trekking comes with its own perks and jerks. On the upside we travel faster. On the downside, you will have to take care of your knees. We will find ourselves in our camps in Jupal in no time.
We will take a 35 minute flight back to Nepalgunj. Depending on the flight availability, from Nepalgunj.
Take an hour flight back to the capital. Transfer to your hotel and meet in the evening for farewell dinner.
Based on your flight itinerary, a vehicle arrangement will be made to the airport from your hotel. Then, fly back home.
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