Dolpo lies in the rain shadow behind the Dhaulagiris where snow fed streams supply water, but few are perennial. Lower (Outer) Dolpo is semi arid with deep gullies and forested valleys. Upper (Inner) Dolpo is a vast, high and awe-inspiring arid region of semi-desert mountains: a continuation of the Tibetan plateau.
Dolpo (covering 15% of Nepal’s area) is home to a scattered, population of <5000 hardy people who practise their ancient Bön or Buddhist faiths: both represented throughout the trekking region. They are yak and goat herders, growing millet, buckwheat and potatoes in the short summers.
Fly from Kathmandu to lowland Nepalgunj for a sub-tropical night. Fly to Juphal. A three day trek up the Phoksundo Khola leads to Ringmogaon and the exquisite Phoksundo Lake: Nepal’s deepest at 650m. It is 4,8km long, contains little oxygen and no aquatic life.
Three days of tough trekking leads from the lake’s cliff path to the impressive Ngadra La, above the tree line, and down to Shey Gompa – and the nearby cliff-side Tsakang Monastery.
Two long days lead to Saldang via the Sela La. From this summit, a spectacular world of parched mountains fans away towards the distant horizon. Below, the fertile Saldang valley is a green haven. Trek north for a night to Yangze and the oldest Bön Gompa in Nepal.
Return and continue south over the easier Jyanta La to the broad Tarap Valley and explore its diverse monasteries. The trail then drops below the tree line through a series of narrow forested valleys to the commercial town of Dunai: just three hours below Juphal. Only self-sustained camping treks can offered to this remote region.
Day 01: Arrival Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport (1 300m/4 260ft). We will meet and transfer you to your hotel.
Day 02: In the City Kathmandu Valley Sightseeing Tour OR A day at leisure. Trek preparation.
Day 03: Kathmandu – Nepalgunj (152m/500ft), 50min flight
Day 04:Nepalgunj – Juphal (2 320m/7 600ft) – Sulighat (2 070m/6 790ft), 25min flight, 2-3 hrs trek
Day 05: Sulighat – Renje (3 010m/9 870ft), 5-6 hrs.
Day 06: Renje – Ringmo Gaon (3 640m/11 940ft) –Phoksundo Lake (3 620m/11 870ft), 5-6 hrs
Day 07: Phoksundo Tal: acclimatisation and exploration day
Day 08: Phoksundo Tal – Phoksundo Khola (3 630m/11 910ft), 4-5 hrs
Day 09: Phoksundo Khola – Ngadra Bhanjyang (4 120m/13 510ft), 6-7 hrs
Day 10: Ngadra Bhanjyang – Ngadra La (5 160m/16 930ft) – Shey Gompa (4 390m/14 400ft), 5-6 hrs
Day 11: Shey Gompa: rest and exploration day – visit the Tsakang Monastery (4 850m/15 910ft), 3-4hrs
Day 12: Shey gompa – Se La (5,010m/16,432ft) – Namgung Gaon (4 430m/14 530), 6-7 hrs
Day 13: Namgung Gaon – Saldang (3 770m/12 370ft), 4-5 hrs
Day 14: Saldang – Yangze Gompa (3 970m//13 030ft) – Torak Sumdo Dobhan (3 670m/12 040ft), 7-8 hrs
Day 15: Torak Sumdo – Rakyo Dobhan (3 850m/12 630ft), 6-7 hrs
Day 16:Rakyo Dobhan – Jyanta La Phedi (4 700m/15 420ft), 5-6 hrs
Day 17: Jyanta La Phedi – Jyanta La (5 110m/16 766ft) – Do Tarap (4 080m/13 382ft), 6-7 hrs
Day 18: Do Tarap: rest and exploration day
Day 19: Do Tarap – Nawarpani (3 550m/11 630ft), 6-7 hrs
Day 20: Nawarpani – Laisicap (2 600m/8 530ft), 5-6 hrs
Day 21: Laisicap – Tarakot (2 540m/8 320ft) – Dunai (2 030m/6 658ft), 5-6 hrs
Day 22: Dunai – Juphal (2 320m/7 610ft), 2-3 hrs
Day 23: Juphal – Nepalgunj (152m/500ft) – Kathmandu (1 300m/4 260ft), 20min and 45min flights
Day 24: Final Departure: Transfer to Tribhuvan International Airport for your flight to your next destination.
NB: Cloud and turbulent weather along the mountain ranges is common and may lead to internal mountain flight delays or cancellations. We suggest you add at least one extra day after your trek before flying out of Nepal.
Day 01: Arrival Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport (1 300m/4 260ft)
After completing passport, immigration and visa requirements, we will meet you outside the terminal building (look for your name board) and transfer you to your hotel: afternoon free. Evening: a welcome dinner, introduction to your guide and a briefing on the trek with a check on necessities. Overnight at hotel.
Day 02: in the City Kathmandu Valley Sightseeing OR A Day at Leisure
Sadly, many of our architectural treasures were damaged in the recent earthquakes: but these sites still have much to offer.
Take a day tour to five of the Kathmandu Valley’s cultural world heritage sites: Swayambhunath, the famed “monkey temple”; the city’s historical Durbar Square with ancient temples, unique art and architecture, plus the chance to see the Kumari (living goddess); Patan’s Durbar Square; the Hindu temple Pashupatinath and Bouddhanath, the world’s largest stupa.
A car and driver will take you to each site-entrance and wait for you. (Entry tickets and lunch are not included.)
Day 03: Kathmandu – Nepalgunj (152m/498ft), 50min flight
Transfer to the Domestic Airport for the scenic flight to Nepalgunj on the south-western border with India. This flat lowland region is hot and humid. Transfer to the hotel and check into an air-conditioned room, There is a pool in the garden. Overnight in Nepalgunj.
Day 04: Nepalgunj – Juphal (2 320m/7 601ft) – Sulighat (2 070m/6 790ft), 25min flight, 2-3 hrs trek
After an early breakfast, transfer to the airport for the 25 minute flight over the Himalayan foothills to Juphal. Snow covered Putha Hiunchuli (7 246m) passes to the right of the plane. On arrival, meet the trekking staff and donkeys, then gather and load all provisions for the trek. The adventure begins with an hour’s downhill walk through the Bönpa village of Motipui amid terraced fields to the Bheri River. Follow it upstream to a large suspension bridge: cross and enter the Suli Gad Valley. Follow the trail, past a hospital to Sulighat. Check in at the National Park Office. Overnight in Sulighat.
Day 05: Sulighat – Renje (3 010m/9 870ft), 5-6 hrs
Cross to the west bank at the abandoned settlement of Raktang (2 420m) and climb to a ridge at Jyalhasa: a winter settlement for Ringmo residents. Continue upstream to Shyangta (2 520m) at the confluence of the Phoksundo and Ankhe Kholas before undulating over grassy ridges to a trail junction: take the left trail to Phoksundo Tal. Ascend to a ridge before a short descent on a rocky path to Chhepka (2 720m). Continue close to the river, crossing it thrice, and continue up and down to the campsite at Renje. Overnight in Renje.
Day 06: Renje – Ringmo Gaon (3 640m/11 940ft) – Phoksundo Tal (3 620m/11 870ft), 5-6 hrs
The trail climbs over a ridge and descends to a wooden bridge. It then continues, up and down, along the valley floor, through light forest, to the confluence of the Phoksundo and Phungmo Kholas before the Tibetan village of Sumduwa (2 960m). Cross to the west bank, leaving the forest and traverse a grassy slope high above the river. The Maduwa Valley to the east leads to the Baga La and Do Tarap. Our route switchbacks steeply up a sandy trail through open country: and then more steeply, gaining over 400 meters to a ridge at 3 730m.
Just before the ridge, prayer flags and a hexagonal hut promise spectacular views of a 200m waterfall; Nepal’s highest. This is the outflow of the Phoksundo Khola that was dammed some 30 000 years ago by a massive landslide which formed the lake.
The lake comes into view a little higher up the trail. From the ridge, the path drops gently through a magnificent grove of birch and chir pine to the charming village of Ringmo Gaon and shortly beyond, reaches the astonishingly clear turquoise lake. Overnight on the banks of Phoksundo Tal.
Day 07: Phoksundo Tal: acclimatisation and exploration day
This is the first scheduled acclimatization day. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) experts recommend at least a 24 hr rest period. Keep active: climb high and sleep low is the acclimatisation advice.
Explore Ringmo village and visit the ancient Bönpa, Thasung Chholing Gompa. Climb the hill above the camp for views over the lake and, to the south over the village and valley beyond. The lake is 4,8km long, 1,08km wide and 650m deep: the deepest in Nepal. It is famed for its intense aquamarine colour – a miraculous greenish blue likened to Yu or Tibetan turquoise. The water contains little oxygen and thus no aquatic life. Overnight beside Phoksundo Tal.
Day 08: Phoksundo Tal - Phoksundo Khola (3 630m/11 910ft), 4-5 hrs
Contour around the lake on the thrilling rocky trail cut into the western bank: suspended in places on logs supported by pegs driven into crevasses. Beware oncoming yak-trains: wait on the inner side. After crossing a river, the trail rises steeply to a summit, offering stunning views back over the lake and village with the snow peak of Sonam Kang (6 019m) as backdrop. The trail then turns westwards, dropping through pine forest to the end of the lake and a lush meadow that opens into the river’s flood plain. Walk through this valley, crossing the river and avoiding boggy marshes to firm riverbanks in forest: below the glacial slopes of the Kanjiroba Himal (6 612m) to the west. Overnight at Phoksundo Khola Camp.
Day 09: Phoksundo Khola - Ngadra Bhanjyang (4 120m/13 510ft), 6-7 hrs
During the first hour’s walk the path enters a narrowing glacial valley that leads to the confluence of the Ghyampo Kapuwa and Tuk Kyaksa Kholas: which form the Phoksundo Khola. Turn northeast (right) into the narrow, stony Tuk Kyaksa gorge, cross an old wooden bridge, and/or ford the stream and begin a long and arduous climb up the boulder strewn river bed. A small kharka with trees makes a good place for lunch. Soon the tree line is reached and eventually the walls of the canyon broaden and the gradient lessens as the route swings in a gentle curve towards a higher valley below a ridge (Ngadra Bhanjyang) and an impressive waterfall. Overnight at Ngadra Bhanjyang High Camp.
Day 10: Ngadra Bhanjyang – Ngadra La (5 160m/16 925ft) – Shey Gompa (4 390m/14 400ft), 5-6 hrs
A short climb leads up the final slope to the bhanjyang: and new vistas of rising slopes ahead. The climb now becomes more strenuous over loose slate scree. Paths are indistinct and a long climb leads gradually to the summit flags. Ahead is a sharp drop and huge barren valley: with an equally high pass on the opposite slopes. Drop to the upper stream of the Hubaiung Khola and follow it down the valley towards Shey. Low vegetation and flowers soon appear. After lunch, continue the pleasant walk down the valley.
The untidy bulk of the Crystal Mountain (named for the crystalline veins – and marine fossils in its rock) rises to your left/west. Strings of prayer flags signal the first point from which distant Shey can be seen below. A second string denotes the start of the clockwise day-long kora route around the mountain. Further down an impressive mani wall straddles the path. Mud caves dot the hills. Beyond, the descent steepens as it drops to several broken water-driven prayer wheels, a small bridge and a short rise to Shey Gompa. The Gompa is situated above the confluence of the Hubaiung and Sephu Kholas, with good views up and down the valleys. Overnight on grass next to Shey Gompa.
Day 11: Shey Gompa: rest and exploration day – visit the Tsakang Monastery (4 570m/14 900ft), 3-4 hrs
Explore the enclosed jumble of mani stones on three sides of the gompa. A key is usually available if the gompa is closed. It belongs to the Chaiba community: followers of the saint Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) of the Kagyupa sect. It was the first Kagyupa monastery: founded by the lama Tenzing Ra-Pa, and built during the 11th century. Buddhism was first introduced into Dolpo by the lama Drutup Yeshe: after encountering a people whose supreme God was a "fierce mountain and nature spirit." This gradually led to Dolpo’s ancient Tibetan way of combining Bönpa animism with the teachings of Buddha.
Each July, Dolpopa travel great distances to attend a festival at Shey and complete the kora circuit of Crystal Mountain. It is also a time to meet friends, share stories and trade.
A visit to the nearby Tsakang (red chalk) Gompa perched spectacularly on the side of a cliff is well worth the 3 hour return walk. Built some 800 years ago next to a small cave with a permanent water supply, it is a retreat and meditation centre with a resident lama (currently from Sikkim) and his family – who eke out a living growing crops on tiny patches of land around the four buildings in the short growing season. Overnight next to Shey Gompa.
Day 12: Shey gompa – Se La (5 010m/16 430ft) - Namgung Gaon (4 430m/14 530ft), 6-7 hrs
The trail winds steadily up the Sephu Khola Valley to the northeast from Shey, through juniper scrub and low grassed summer yak kharkas before descending into a stony canyon. It then begins a long, meandering climb, northeast, over rock and eroded soils with patches of thin grasses to the flags at the summit. The breathtaking view from the top is completely unexpected: row upon row of brown mountains stretching away into Tibet, and deep valleys far below.
The downward path is gentle but long. Grasses and low colourful bushes begin dotting the hillsides around yak and sheep pastures. A kharka with a large pile of mani stones signals an ideal campsite above the gorge to Namgung Gompa. Overnight on kharka above Namgung.
Day 13: Namgung Gaon - Saldang (3 770m/12 370ft), 4-5 hours
After breakfast, drop down to cross the Namga Khola and up to Namgung Gaon which, with its walled fields, surrounds the gompa. This red stone building with golden roof ornaments is new, following the collapse of part of the old cliffside structure, and is worth a visit. The village has a prosperous economy derived from agriculture, animal husbandry and trade.
The trail then climbs along the cliffside above the river onto a long traverse around the barren mountains. Views of the distant ranges are constantly in view. After several hours, the path reaches a rounded ridge overlooking the fertile Saldang Valley. Below lies a ribbon of five interlinked villages set amongst fields of buckwheat, potatoes, oil seed and greens grown in the short annual growing season. The fields are irrigated from snowmelt streams that flow into the Nagaon Khola far below. A few trees have been planted; the first seen for four days. This is the largest settlement in Dolpo and is on the ancient trade route to Tibet: still used to trade maize, rice, wheat and tsampa for Tibetan salt from western Nepal, wool and chengra (high altitude goats with a particularly sweet meat). Overnight on kharka at Saldang.
Day 14: Saldang - Yangze Gompa (4 120m/13 520ft) – Torak Sumdo Dobhan (3 670m/12 040ft), 7-8 hrs
Trek north from Saldang down the Nagaon Khola into a remote, little explored region. The trail stays close to the river passing beneath villages and some caves to Torak Sumdo. The west-flowing Tora Khola is formed at the confluence (dobhan) of the Nagaon and Panjyang Kholas. Lunch at the confluence.
Cross the suspension bridge and climb the north bank above the Panjyang Khola, past white rounded river-stone mani walls (harder to cut than slate), to Yangze. Most of the ancient homes are mud built: testimony to the dryness of the region. The Bönpa gompa is west of the village: its main hall is small and dimly lit, but is surrounded by an impressive array of chortens and a magnificent view back down the valley. This is the oldest Bön gompa in Dolpo. (The trail beyond Yangze leads to Kagbeni (entrance to Upper Mustang), then up to Muktinath or down to Jomsom in the Kali Gandaki Valley – 9 days away.) Overnight at Torak Sumdo Dobhan.
Day 15: Torak Sumdo Dobhan – Rakyo Dobhan (3 850m/12 630ft), 6-7 hrs
Walk back up the trail to below Saldang, then continue up the Nagaon Valley. The trail climbs gradually above the river to Dundar Gaon, an impressive fortress-village perched on a rocky crag above wheat fields. Exit through a kani (gate house) and descend gradually, with great views of terraced hillsides ahead, to pass the hamlet of Ponra: with hillside gompa and neat school at a river confluence. The trail then ascends to pass impressive chortens before the large Namdo village of Sugugaon (3 840m): white-washed houses, surrounded by extensive terraces of barley and wheat fields.
The path then negotiates an eroded side cutting and traverses above the village of Chagaon (3 840m) – with its monastery near the river. After some time the trail drops to the small village of Rakyo at the confluence of two rivers. Shortly after the village, the trail crosses to the east bank of the river. Overnight beyond Rakyo.
Day 16: Rakyo Dobhan – Jyanta La Phedi (4 700m/15 420ft), 5-6 hrs
Beyond the campsite, the trail crosses back to the west bank of the Nagaon Khola; continue upstream to its source at Darsumana Dobhan (4 450m): the confluence of the Dachen and Dachun Kholas. Shortly before the confluence, wade across to the east bank onto a feint path and climb a rocky hillock to follow the Dachun Khola, southeast, as it rises fairly steeply up its valley. It eventually turns (right) into a side valley: to the pleasant Jyanta La Phedi, a summer grazing kharka for yaks and goats. Overnight at Jyanta La Phedi.
Day 17: Jyanta La Phedi – Jyanta La (5 110m/16 770ft) – Do Tarap (4 080m/13 380ft), 6-7 hrs
From the campsite, the trail climbs to higher grazing pastures and then fairly steeply into barren terrain, up gravel hillocks to the flag bedecked, rounded summit of the Jyanta La.
In clear weather, views from the summit will include good reverse views and to the south, beyond a greener landscape, snow ranges of the high Himalaya: crowned by the north face of Dhaulagiri I (8 167m/26 796ft).
Drop into the Jyarila Valley down a long and easy trail to impressive sandstone cliffs at the confluence of two rivers; and a suspension bridge. The hillsides become increasingly covered in low grasses. Cross the bridge and follow the river down to Tokyu (4 210m), the first village in the Tarap Valley; with an unusual, Chaiba monastery. A trail to the northwest, up the valley, leads to the Baga La, Numa La and Phoksundo Tal.
The Tarap Valley is ~10km long, is broad, gently sloping and flanked by mountains. Walk down the valley for ~5km, passing small settlements, to the main village of Do (or Do Tarap). There is a campsite in the village, but cleaner, quieter sites can be found beyond, near the confluence of the Tarap and Doto Kholas. Overnight at campsite in or near Do.
Day 18: Do Tarap: rest and exploration day.
The Tarap Valley is unique amongst Dolpo’s valleys with its abundant streams, marshes, fertile soils, and verdant stream-bank grasses. The valley’s architecture is of interest with houses and corrals clustered on poorer land, maximising agricultural space. The main crop in the single short growing season is barley (roasted for Tsampa). In autumn sweet grasses are harvested for winter fodder. Yaks are the beasts of burden, goats and chickens abound.
There are several Chaiba and Nyingmapa Buddhist and Bönpa gompas in the valley. Of note are the Nyingma ‘Temple of Maitreya’ (future Buddha) Jampa Gompa; the Sheding Dewa Gompa with a one-storey high Buddha, statues of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma traditions and the Eight Medicine Buddhas Stupa. The Doro Gompa and the Shipchok Bönpa Gompa and school are east of the town, on the Jomsom trail. There is also an Amchi (Doctor) medical school for training in traditional medicine. Overnight at campsite in or near Do.
Day 19: Do Tarap - Nawarpani (3 545m/11 631ft), 6-7 hrs
Today’s trek heads south towards Nawarpani, but there are several good camping sites along the river that can be chosen for the night. The remaining distance to Laisicap can easily be achieved the next day.
The trail out of Do follows the east bank of the river, now named the Tarap Khola, with the valley narrowing as it descends past rust coloured cliff faces and later the appearance of scrub juniper bush. At the confluence of the Tarap and Langa Khola valleys a bridge, the first of five crossings, leads to the west bank; and later a sheltered sooty cave for lunch. Beyond, the gorge narrows and a wooden bridge, beyond a waterfall, leads to a short steep climb up the east bank to a neck and chorten: Serkam – a bygone check post on this old trade route to Tibet.
Drop back to the river bank – where water is undercutting the rock – and continue downstream to a bridge, back to the west bank. Some impressive rock cutting and stonework reinforces the trail. Good campsites are available along the river.
A further crossing to the east bank over boulders, that may involve some wading, leads onto a trail that later crosses an old bridge to the west bank, beside a cave and campsite.
The trail then gradually rises above the river with lovely valley views in both directions before descending past grubby herder’s caves and down to the single stone hut and grazing patch at Nawarpani. Overnight at one of the campsites.
Day 20: Nawarpani – Laisicap (2 600m/8 530ft), 5-6 hrs
Continue down the west bank on a trail that soon leaves the river to climb high above the steep sides of the narrow valley before dropping back to cross a suspension bridge to the left bank, following it for a while and then cross back on a second bridge to the tented hamlet of Chhyugar (3 545m): and the offer of refreshments.
Beyond, the trail begins a beautiful 2hr high traverse that follows the curves of the gorge past spectacular side ravines and waterfalls through an increasingly green juniper and pine dotted landscape. There are good spots for lunch before a final gentle rise ends at a dramatic point from which the path plunges 400m straight down the steep side of the valley on a slippery zigzag gravel trail to the river below. Close by is the tented hamlet of Laini (3 160m) – and refreshments.
The path then enters forest and rises above the river (which begins a steep descent of 600m in 3km) but is soon forced to climb sharply over a tricky eroded land slip that has obliterated the track. It then drops back to the trail and continues to traverse, still high above the descending river, into a large forested valley with snow peaks ahead. The trail finally descends comfortably to Laisicap where there are good campsites in a level cedar forest just above the noisy river. Overnight in Laisicap forest.
Day 21: Laisicap – Tarakot (2 540m/8 320ft) – Dunai (2 030m/6 660ft), 5-6 hrs.
Cross to the east bank on the 120m suspension bridge over the Bharbung Khola (joined upstream by the Tarap), and pass a checkpoint as the trail rises high above the river in a broader valley. Khanigaon (2 950m) and its gompa stand on the hill across the valley. The trail remains high, as the valley enters a U curve to the west, before descending to cross the Yalangkot tributary beneath the imposing terraced fields and brown walls of the double-village of Tarakot (once a capital of this region). The residents speak Kaike, a unique language spoken nowhere else – plus some Nepali and Tibetan. Below Tarakot (the southern point on the U), the river becomes known as the Thuli Bheri Khola.
Now heading northwest and later swinging west, the valley narrows and a bridge beyond Beluwa crosses to the north bank and continues to the village of Byasgad (2 130m, with a forge). The trail then broadens and runs on a stone causeway just above the river, bar one short climb. Electric poles appear along the path and then a hydro electric plant powered by piped water from higher streams is passed before crossing the river and entering Upper Dunai.
Dunai is a major trading town that stretches for over a kilometre along a single street with countless densely packed houses, shops and a bustling economy. One hotel allows camping in its grounds; or continue to a peaceful grassed meadow on the river, 10 minutes beyond the village. Overnight at campsite in or near Dunai.
Day 22: Dunai - Juphal (2 320m/7 610ft), 2-3 hrs
Beyond Dunai, the broad trail follows the river to a large kani, a police post and the suspension bridge crossed at the start of the trek to Sulighat. From here it is a stiff hour’s climb through terraces back to the Bönpa village of Motipui and Juphal. Say goodbye to the porters and donkey man. Overnight at Juphal.
Day 23: Juphal – Nepalgunj – Kathmandu (1 300m/4 260ft), 20 min and 45 min flights
After an early breakfast walk to the airport, for the flights back to Nepalgunj and Kathmandu. Transfer to your hotel. Rest of day free.
Day 24: Final Departure
Transfer to Tribhuvan International Airport for your flight to your next destination.
NB: Cloud and turbulent weather along the mountain ranges is common and may lead to internal mountain flight delays or cancellations. We suggest you allow at least one extra day after your trek before flying out of Nepal.