Upper Dolpo Trek
Circuit of Inner and Upper Dolpo
The Himalayas offer an endless variety of landscapes, cultures and people. This unbounded diversity means it is a destination you can visit over and over again.
Upper Dolpo is difficult to reach and is very arid. Few people live in the harsh climate. They are farmers, traders and shepherds, often all in one because this is the only way to survive. We pass through a great variation of scenery between Dolpo and Mustang, rice and wheat fields, incredible mountains and a high altitude desert, all in the rain shadow of the Himalaya.
This variation makes this trek very interesting. Foreigners have ‘discovered’ Dolpo only recently. Peter Matthiessen was one of the first to document the region in his book, “The Snow Leopard”, which describes his journey searching for the elusive snow leopard and rare Himalayan blue sheep.
Even after the opening for tourism 17 years ago it remains relatively untouched. It is still a restricted area and high permit fees keep away many tourists. The costs are increased further by the lack of infrastructure so the trail has to supported by serviced camps.
Our Route starts at Juphal in Lower Dolpo. After walking some days in dense forests we will reach Ringmo. The village lies amidst lush fields near the beautiful Phoksumdo lake.
From there we continue northwards along the lake, after crossing the first high pass the scenery changes all of a sudden, and we are in Inner Dolpo.
A horseshoe of high mountains encloses the area, endless barren hills and ranges dominate the landscape.We make a special stop at Shey Gompa which dates from the 11th century, making it one of Nepal’s oldest monastries.
We then keep going north towards Nishal and Mushi Gaun, these village lies just 3 kilometers away from the Tibetan border. Once we cross Musi La we start our decent towards Chhraka Bhot. Where we will find wide golden barley fields instead of desolate deserts.
From here we trek to reach Jomsom, possibly the most difficult part of the journey. Apart from two villages, the area is uninhabited and wild, often trails are non-existent, bridges may be absent and campsites not easy to find.
- Road less travelled trails into remote untouched Dolpo
- Stunning high pass crossing above 5000m
- Rain shadow high altitude desert
- Ancient nomadic Tibetan culture
Trip GradingThis is a trek only and it requires no prior trekking experience. However, some camping experience is advised as Dolpo is a remote region so only minimal facilites will be available along the trail. Good fitness is essential as most days will involve 4-8 hr of trekking carrying a 5-10 kg day pack. The trail is non technical but will cross 5 passes above 5000m.
Food & Drinks
A Himalayan Ascent representative will collect you from the airport. It’s a free day to recover from your international flight. Later in the evening, there will be a group briefing and welcome group dinner.
This is a free day for you to explore the crazy, yet wondrously beautiful city of Kathmandu. Home to 5 World Heritage sites, Kathmandu is a stunning landscape of handcrafted wooden palaces (durbar or palace squares of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur) and glorious Buddhist stupas (Swayambu and Boudhanath). It’s a city that stimulates all senses, so be prepared because Kathmandu is a city that demands attention.
Overnight in Nepalganj, a large town just 6km from the Indian border on the Terai (plains) of western Nepal. Stay in a local hotel. Afternoon is free to ride a bicycle rickshaw to the India-Nepal border and to enjoy the hotel pool.
An early start as we escape the heat of the plains, flying up forested steep valleys and into Juphal in the Himalayan foothills. It’s just a short day’s walk, descending through the hillside village of Juphal to the river valley (the Thuli Bheri Khola) and then following the river to Dunai, a large village where we have lunch and make camp for the night.
We follow the Thuli Bheri Khola on a gently undulating trail, turning up the Suli Khola (river) valley and entering Shey Phoksumdo national park mid-morning. An easy day with some short steep sections, camping along the river under a sheltered rock face.
Another day with some steep sections, following the Suli Khola through forest and crossing side rivers on solid log bridges. We camp just past Sumdowa, on a plateau high above the river and tree-line giving us views across the valley and our next day’s trail.
A long uphill to 3850m giving great views of rocky karst and snowy peaks up two valley systems as we turn into the Phoksundo Khola valley. We cross the ridge high above a thundering waterfall and then descend to Ringmo through a forest of silverbirch and spruce. Our campsite is beside the beautiful turquoise lake Phoksondo and surrounded by snowy peaks.
Plenty of time here to explore this ancient Bon culture village and surrounds, visit the local monastery just a short walk further around the lake or relax and enjoy the views with a good book.
Our path skirts along the edge of lake Phoksundo, slowly climbing to 4040m before we descend through forest to the point where the upper Phoksundo Khola joins the lake. After lunch we say goodbye to the lake for an easy short walk heading up-river to a beautiful pine forest camp backed by a high snowy ridge. Explore the river banks or test your skills at bridge building to cross and reach untouched side valleys.
A gentle rise along the Phoksundo Khola ends with a steep climb to 4250m before turning into the Tra Chu river valley, leaving the forest behind for alpine desert. It’s just a short descent to our camp in a sunny alpine meadow along the Tra Chu river surrounded by steep rocky escarpments.
A short day as we gain altitude and prepare for our first pass. We ascend on scree and alpine meadow to 4640m then follow a narrow path cut into the mountain-side, possibly crossing our first patches of snow. We camp below the pass in a valley paddock (Mendok Ding means ‘flower valley) alongside the Tra Chu as it races steeply down the valley.
We cross our first pass today, the 5130m Kang La, starting the day with a steep climb for magnificent views at the top over the Tra Chu valley behind us and the Shey valley ahead. We are now in wild desert mountain territory and a magnificent mountain-ringed lunch site is welcome after descending snowy scree slopes and to strengthen us for another climb back up to 5000m before the long descent to Shey. On the way down, we see a 500 year old Buddhist monastery (Gompa) perched on a ledge in the cliff-face. Our campsite is on a grassy flat beside Shey village with the river (the Sephu Khola) a short climb below us.
Today is a well deserved rest day. You can spend the day exploring this tiny ancient village and visit its 800 year old Buddhist monastery, Shey Gompa; kick a ball with the local kids; read and relax by the river; go marmot and blue sheep spotting; enjoy a bucket ‘shower’; or if you’re feeling energetic and we find the lama, trek back up the valley for a special experience visiting the cliff Gompa.
We leave Shey and cross our second pass, the 5040m Gela La. It’s a long steep climb but well worth magnificent views from the top all the way to the snow-covered mountains marking the border with Tibet. Continuing down a gentle slope, we camp by a stream just outside the village of Namgung and should arrive with plenty of time to visit the village and monastery, at 600 years, one of the three oldest in Dolpo.
Climbing gradually, we pass above the village of Saldang and past the house of Tinle, who played the patriarch in the Eric Valli movie ‘Himalaya’. There’s a steep descent to our lunch spot and then on down to the Nang Kong Chu (river) which we follow to its junction with the Panzang Chu (river). The day’s landscape is all rock, folded into impossible vertical waves and eroded scree and rocky towers, disappearing into distant snowy peaks. Rivers snake through wide river valleys, while tiny settlements are marked by Buddhist chortens, both formed from and blending into the landscape. The day finishes with a 200m climb to our camp in the village of Nishal.
We head up a side valley, with some easy walking following the Musi Khola all morning, stopping for lunch in the village of Musigaon. After this a steep uphill, zig-zagging through low alpine flowers to camp at the top of the ridge at the base of the Musi La. A spectacular camp with 360 degree views and a great spot for a bit of snow leopard spotting (if you’re super lucky you might even see one).
Our third pass, climbing up to the 5000m Musi La then dropping steep down to another small river which we follow to the village of Shimengaon, notable for its clever irrigation system. Here we meet back up with the Panzang Chu, with easy walking covering the distance to our camp on a grassy area by the river (and a wash for the brave – the water is inviting but cold).
It’s just a short walk from camp to the quite sizable village of Tinjegaon where we stop torestock our kitchen. An easy day’s walking with a bit of rock hopping, moving slowly and ascending gently up the wide river valley. We camp by the river on a wide grassy site surrounded by steep hills.
After following the wide riverbed all morning gradually increasing altitude, we climb our fourth pass, the 4950m Charka La. From the top it’s a long gradual descent skirting along the side of a wide valley to the village of Charka Bhot with a few steep hidden gullies to climb down and up in the last stretch.
We take another rest day in Charka Bhot to recover from our last pass, 4 down and 1 to go! Charka is an interesting traditional village. You can explore its maze of narrow alleys and stone walls, and rammed earth houses with colourful timberwork.
Our walk continues to follow the river, now the Charka Tulsi Khola, with some steep sections, rock hopping and a climb for lunch to a high meadow where the river cuts through a narrow gorge. After lunch we tread carefully along a narrow trail high above the river that eventually opens up to a wide valley, making camp at the base of the next day’s pass.
A long and hard day, starting with our last pass, the 5120m Niwar La. The descent starts gently on alpine meadow, soon leading into a steep long canyon where we climb down a rock fall and then on a narrow path high above a long steep drop to the river. The canyon opens out to a wide valley as we continue following our narrow path past numerous side valleys until we reach a final steep descent on loose rock to our camp between wild rose bushes just below the village of Sangdok on the Jarche Khola.
Another long day on more well-worn paths, ascending and descending from ridge to ridge, reaching a top of 4400m and ending with a steep descent to our camp in this large town which we see from a distance standing out as a green oasis in the mountain desert.
We leave Dharadong, climbing for the last time to 3450m and getting our first views of the stunning mass of the Annapurna range right in front of us. It’s a 750m drop to Jomsom below where we arrive in time for lunch and the formalities of leaving Shey Phoksumdo national park. After a very welcome shower we can explore the town, catch up on the news or just kick back and enjoy some of the luxuries of civilisation.
Our early morning flight out gives us spectacular close-up views of the Annapurnas before winding through valleys to the large lake-side town of Pokhara. We arrive with plenty of time to catch up on some handicraft shopping, grab a massage to sooth 20 days of walking muscles and finish up with a sunset paddle on the lake.
After a lazy breakfast, we take a short 30 min flight to Kathmandu. The afternoon is free to finish souvenior shopping or just to relax.
Our last day to catch in some sight seeing, shop, relax and prepare for departure.
We bid Kathmandu and Nepal farewell….until next time.
Inclusions & Details
- Trekking permits,
- 4 nights Kathmandu hotel,
- trekking guides,
- transport in Nepal,
- extensive high altitude wilderness first aid kit,
- all meals outside Kathmandu,
- porters to carry personal/group equipment,
- down jacket,
- sleeping bag and expedition duffel.
- international flights to Kathmandu,
- meals in Kathmandu (USD 10-15 per meal), aerated and alcoholic beverages,
- personal items (e.g. phone calls, laundry),
- travel insurance (incl. early departure, mountain rescue) and personal trekking gear.