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Watch: Himalaya/Caravan (Himalaya: L’Enfance d’un chef). About Upper Dolpo Trek

In spite of the near inaccessibility of the region and tourism restrictions for the more remote parts, Dolpa is one of the most beautiful destination for trekking tourism.

Trekking in Nepal’s far-western Upper Dolpo region takes you into one of the most remote areas of the Himalaya. Expeditions into Dolpo can be challenging as the tourism infrastructure is almost non-existent, and organized tours are essential. But the rewards are worth it—Tibetan Buddhist culture, some of the oldest monasteries in the country, the spectacular Lake Phoksundo, rare wildlife, and a real sense of being in the wilderness.

Trekking in Nepal’s Dolpo region allows you to experience the grandeur of Nepal’s rugged and remote far west. Dolpo borders Tibet, where the culture and much of the landscape is reminiscent of its northern neighbour. The western part of the district is home to the She-Phoksundo National Park, which is Nepal’s largest.

As well as being remote, Western Nepal is also underdeveloped and quite poor. Tourism infrastructure in Dolpo is not what it is in much of Nepal, and it is necessary to camp and carry your own food supplies. Permits are expensive, and you cannot trek in Upper Dolpo independently.

But the deep valleys, high passes and peaks, the turquoise Lake Phoksundo, the 800-year-old Shey Monastery and some rare wildlife—including the elusive snow leopard—reward intrepid trekkers who visit here.

Getting There & Away

Western Nepal is remote, making access more difficult than other parts of Nepal. First, you have to get to Nepalgunj, on the plains, and then to Juphal in Dolpo district.

Most people fly to Nepalgunj from either Kathmandu or Pokhara. From Nepalgunj, you then fly to Juphal. (It isn’t possible to fly directly to Juphal from Kathmandu, although expensive charter flights can be arranged from Pokhara.) Most organised tours will fly from Kathmandu. Keep in mind that the airport at Juphal is no more than a tiny mountain airstrip, where bad weather can often delay flights.

Nepalgunj is also accessible by road, but it is a long trip from Kathmandu or Pokhara. Roads are improving throughout Western Nepal, but Juphal is currently several days’ walk from the nearest road-head.

Permits & Regulations

Permits for Upper Dolpo are expensive and strictly enforced. You also need to purchase a permit for Lower Dolpo, which you pass through on your way to Upper Dolpo. On top of that, only 250 foreigners are permitted to enter Upper Dolpo each year.

  • Lower Dolpo: $10 USD per week
  • Upper Dolpo: $50 USD per day (10-day minimum)

There is also an Rs. 1000 [10 USD] entry fee to the Shey-Phoksundo National Park. As it’s mandatory to trek with a guide on an organised tour in Upper Dolpo, your tour operator will arrange all permits and these fees are generally included in the total cost of your trip.

Brief Itinerary

The itinerary below is for the Upper Dolpo-Shey Gompa trek. Be sure to check out our article on domestic flights in Nepal for more information on flying to and from Nepalgunj.

Day Destination Altitude Duration
Day 1 Welcome to Kathmandu!
Day 2 Explore Kathmandu
Day 3 Fly from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj 492 m 1 hr
Day 4 Fly to Juphal; trek to Dunai 2,140 m 3 hrs
Day 5 Ankhe 2,660 m 6 hrs
Day 6 Sulighat 3,500 m 6 hrs
Day 7 Phoksundo Lake 3,600 m 5 hrs
Day 8 Phoksundo Lake 3,600 m Rest day
Day 9 Phoksundo Khola 3,507 m 5 hrs
Day 10 Phoksundo Bhanjyang 4,402 m 7 hrs
Day 11 Shey Gompa (4,126 m) (via Kang-La pass) 5,151 m 6 hrs
Day 12 Shey Gompa exploration 5,151 m Rest day
Day 13 Namduna Gaun (4,400 m) (via Saldang La) 4,785 m 7 hrs
Day 14 Saldang 3,903 m 5 hrs
Day 15 Yangze Gompa 3,855 m 5 hrs
Day 16 Sibu 3,942 m 6 hrs
Day 17 Jeng-la Phedi 4,369 m 6 hrs
Day 18 Tokyu Gaon (via Jeng pass) 4,369 m 5 hrs
Day 19 Dho Tarap 4,090 m 5 hrs
Day 20 Dho Tarap exploration 4,090 m Rest day
Day 21 Tarap Khola (Kamakharka) 3,800 m 6 hrs
Day 22 Khanigaon 2,550 m 5 hrs
Day 23 Tarakot 2,281 m 5 hrs
Day 24 Dunai 2,140 m 6 hrs
Day 25 Juphal 2,502 m 3 hrs
Day 26 Fly to Kathmandu via Nepalgunj 2 hours
Day 27 Depart Kathmandu

Best Season

Like much of Nepal, the best time to visit Upper Dolpo is the spring (April to May) and the fall (October to November) when temperatures are pleasant, skies are the clearest, and there is minimal chance of snow at high altitudes. Late/early snow can affect this trek in April and November, making some passes impossible to cross.

Difficulty

Trekking in Upper Dolpo is considered strenuous. There are steep ascents, three passes above 5000 m., several nights spent above 3500 m. and some long trekking days of six hours or more. The fact that this is a camping trek adds to the physical challenge and discomfort of trekking in Upper Dolpo, and rest days are recommended.

This is not a beginner’s trek or one to attempt if it’s your first time in Nepal. But it will be a worthwhile challenge for experienced trekkers and repeat visitors to Nepal alike!

Accommodation & Meals

Most treks in Upper Dolpo are fully-catered camping treks given accommodation and food supplies are hard to come by along the trail. (Upper Dolpo is known to have food shortages.) Some basic teahouse/lodge accommodation is available in some villages, but shouldn’t be relied upon.

It is advised to take as many food provisions when trekking in Upper Dolpo (and anywhere in Western Nepal, in general). If participating in an organised trek (essential in Upper Dolpo), your food needs will be taken care of. It is still important to be mindful of the fact that restocking provisions can be challenging for guides and porters in this region, and that resources are scarce.

Variations

  • Juphal to Lake Phoksundo

There are also shorter variations of the Upper Dolpo trek that you can take. One shorter variation is to trek from Juphal to Lake Phoksundo and back, which takes around eight days. Other variations connect Dolpo to Mustang and/or the Annapurna region, to the east.

  • Upper Dolpo to Annapurna Traverse

The Upper Dolpo to Annapurna Traverse, via Dhorpatan Wildlife Reserve, would add about a week onto the Upper Dolpo trek. There is a three-day stretch during which you pass no settlements at all.

  • Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek

The Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek is another variation. Jomsom is in the Lower Mustang region of Nepal, and also has a strong Tibetan-influenced culture. It is in the rain-shadow of Mount Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, offering a different view of the Annapurna Himals.

  • Dolpo to Rara Traverse

Yet another variation is the Dolpo to Rara Traverse via Shey Gompa. It is around the same length as the regular Upper Dolpo trek, but diverges at Shey Gompa and ends at Rara Lake, in Jumla and Mugu districts. This is the largest lake in Nepal, and renowned for its abundant bird life.

Dhaulagiri Circuit

Dhaulagiri is the seventh highest mountain on the planet (8,167m) and this extraordinary and very challenging circuit around it is one of the unsung mountain wonders of Nepal.

This is not a trek for the average person.

Two very tough weeks await anyone taking on the Dhaulagiri Circuit, with several nights camping on ice and snow at over 5,000m. The French Col (5,360m) and Dhampus Pass (5,240m) are the official highpoints of the trek, but many people also attempt to summit Dhampus Peak (6,060m).

Anyone attempting this trek should have lots of high-altitude trekking experience. Mountaineering experience would be useful too.

Be prepared to use crampons, ropes and ice-axes.

  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Trek Duration: 16 days
  • Max. Elevation: 5,360m
  • Accommodation: Camping
  • Start/End Point: Beni/Jomsom

What to Bring

As with other treks in Nepal, it is essential to have sturdy hiking boots, a waterproof outer layer and other clothing that can be layered and put on/off as the weather requires. Because trekking in Upper Dolpo can only be done with a guide, you will not need to bring your own tents or other specialist equipment. However, you should check whether your tour operator provides sleeping bags.

Caravan Himalaya

Himalaya/Caravan (French: Himalaya: L’Enfance d’un chef) is a 1999 Nepali film directed by Éric Valli and was funded through France-based corporations. It was the first Nepalese film to be nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the 72nd Academy Awards.

The film is a narrative on the both traditions and the impermanent nature of human struggle to retain and express power in the face of the gods. “The gods triumph” is the call that echoes at the end of the film and expresses the balancing of karmic destinies. The extreme environment of the Himalayas is magnificently contrasted to the delicacy of humanity and the beauty of Tibetan culture.

The film depicts not only the life style of the upper Dolpo people of the mid western uphills of Nepal but also their traditional customs, for example celestial burial.

Himalaya was shot in widescreen over nine months on location in a region that can only be reached on foot, with all but two characters played by real chiefs, lamas and local villagers. Director Éric Valli has lived in Nepal since 1983 and is also a photographer and author. His work is regularly published in National Geographic Magazine , GEO magazine and Life magazines.

The story concerns an old village Leader whose son has just died, leading the village without a clear Leader for the yak caravans that periodically go to market with salt for sale.

The villagers want a young man Karma to be the new leader, but the old leader Tinle suspects him of killing his son, to attain to that position, and disputes it, wanting his underage grandson to be the new leader.

The whole film is beautifully shot against the harsh background of the Dolpo mountains in northern Nepal, and is a story of passion and courage played out in the difficult lives of the villagers, who struggle even to survive.

It is also a story about traditional values and rebellious youngsters who have yet to learn why the old ways are important, as tradition embodies unspoken knowledge to guide the people through their difficulties.

This is certainly one of the most memorable films I have seen in a long time.