Why Upper Dolpo?
Having only opening up to visitors in 1989 this area lying in the remote north west of Nepal remains a remote and rarely visited area. Situated between the Tibetan Plateau and the Dhaulagiri mountain ranges this is restricted area, requiring a special permit to enter. This also contributes to it remaining pristine and seldom visited by outsiders.
You might have seen the 1999 film directed by Eric Valli, knows as Caravan in Nepal, and Himalaya in the rest of the world. This film brought Dolpo to the attention of both cinema goers and adventurers. Nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards, Himalaya showed the beauty and hardship of Dolpo to the world.
Upper Dolpo still remains an area of high altitude desert like landscape offering a challenging trek with steep ascents which should only be undertaken by those with extensive trekking experience and a great level of fitness. Indeed, Upper Dolpo offers many high altitude treks for those who like to challenge themselves as well as experience something different.
Here we provide you with details of the much loved 24 day Upper Dolpo Circuit Trek as well as some alternative routes which we think will be of great interest to you!
Upper Dolpo Treks
Depending on your preferences in terms of cultural interest, time and fitness ability, Upper Dolpo can be done in several ways. But whether you are more interested in the Bon religion, the lifestyle of the people, the flora and fauna of the countryside, or in challenging yourself over high passes and spending many nights camped out under the starts, each of these treks will provide you with a taste of everything Dolpo has to offer.
Here we list out a few options for you including:
- 24 day Upper Dolpo Circuit Trek
- 25 day Phoksundo Lake to Rara Lake via Upper Dolpo
- 35 day Bon Po Sanctuary Trek
- 16 day Dolpo to Jomsom via Mukot Trek
- 20 day Dolpo Tichurong Heritage Trek
- 30 day Upper Dolpo to Upper Mustang via Lo Manthang Trek
- 33 day Upper Dolpo to Upper Mustang via Ghami Trek
We also include details here of the 15 day Lower Dolpo Circuit Trek.
Most Popular Upper Dolpo Trek:
Upper Dolpo Circuit Trek – 24 Days
This can be considered the ‘classic’ Upper Dolpo trek. Despite the fact this is a remote area, quite expensive to access when compared to other treks in Nepal, and sees few trekkers annually, this is the most popular route which lets visitors see everything Upper Dolpo has to offer. Being a high altitude trek and being over 3 weeks in length, a high level of fitness and stamina is required. However, we have built in acclimatization days as we know well the difference between challenging our bodies and expecting too much from them!
Day 01 Kathmandu to Nepalgunj (by Flight)
- Elevation at Nepalgunj: 150mA
- Approximate 1 hour 15 minutes flight time
Depending on the time of year, flying from 1,300m at Kathmandu to only 150m at Nepalgunj will mean it will be hot on arrival! But in order to avoid spending too much time in the heat we will fly from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj in afternoon and overnight there before the early morning flight to Jhupal where the trek begins.
Day 02 Nepalgunj to Jhupal Flight and Trek to Dunai
- Elevation at Dunai: 2,850m
- Walking time: 3 hours
Flights to Jhupal leave early in the morning from Nepalgunj. The crew will be waiting with the necessary camping equipment in Jhupal. On the first day hike around three hours to Dunai, which is the administrative capital of Dolpo Region. Today the trail takes us through terraced fields until we reach the Bheri River gorge. There is time to explore the small town before retiring for the night.
Day 03 Dunai to Ankhe
- Elevation at Ankhe: 2,896m
- Walking time: 5-6 hours
Today the trail takes us upwards through the Thulo Bheri Valley before entering the Phoksundo River Valley. There are a couple of villages on the way and walnut groves to admire. And naturally there are the mountains – Kagmara Peak is on display. Finally the trail goes down through dense jungle like vegetation to Ankhe.
Day 04 Ankhe to Sulighat
- Elevation at Sulighat: 3,180m
- Walking time: 5 to 6 hours
Today’s trail takes us up and down through forests and over a grassy slope above the river. Following the trail downwards, carefully descend a stone staircase to the river bank and on to Sulighat.
Day 05 Sulighat to Phoksundo Lake
- Elevation at Phoksundo Lake: 3,612m
- Walking time: approximately 4 hours
Today we reach the beautiful clear waters of Phoksundo Lake. But first we follow the valley floor passing Phoksundo and Pungmo rivers and pine forests. From the top of a high ridge we get our first glimpse of the lake shimmering in the sun below us. Here we also find one of the highest waterfalls in Nepal. The trail then descends through birch forests to the pretty village of Ringmo on the edge of Phoksundo Lake.
Day 07 Phoksundo Lake to Phoksundo Khola
- Elevation of Phoksundo Khola: 3,507m
- Walking time: approximately 5 hours
Today leave the lake by following the trail to the west, across wooden bridge like structures until we reach a meadow leading to the Phoksundo Khola flood plain. The trail takes us over boggy marsh ground through the valley to the riverbank where we will overnight.
Day 08 Phoksundo Khola to Phoksundo Bhanjyang
- Elevation at Phoksundo Bhanjyang: 3,910m
- Walking time: approximately 6 hours
Today walk through a glacial valley to the confluence of the Phoksundo Khola and another stream, marked by an old wooden bridge. Climbing north-east we reach a sheep meadow and on to a steep ravine. Climbing up here is hard but we need to reach another valley to where we will eventually cross the Kang La Pass after having a good night’s rest.
Day 09 Phoksundo Bhanjyang to Shey Gompa
- Elevation at Shey Gompa: 4,500m
- Elevation of Kang La Pass: 5,300m approximately
- Walking time: approximately 5 hours
We start the day with a very strenuous climb to the top of the Kang La Pass. When at the top there are great views of the valley below. Now the trail descends down to the valley floor by a steep trail. We follow the banks of the river, crossing and recrossing the icy waters. We can see mud caves lining the hills which look down on the river. Before reaching Shey Gompa we walk through meadows filled with yaks, sheep and mountain goats.
Day 10 Acclimatization Day
Today we need to take an acclimatization day as yesterday brought us a 590m elevation gain between Phoksundo Bhanjyang and Shey Gompa.
There is plenty of time to explore the Gompa which is of the Bon religion. This is similar to Buddhism but dates from pre-Buddha times. In this area is also the unique Crystal Mountain. Its name comes from the fact it has quartz and marine fossils embedded in it’s cliffs.
Day 11 Shey Gompa to Namduna Gaun
- Elevation at Namduna Gaun: 4,800m
- Elevation of Saldang La Pass: 5,100m
- Walking time: approximately 6 to 7 hours
Today we walk through juniper trees into a canyon where the trail winds over rocks and loose stones until we reach the top of Saldang La Pass. The descent over the other side is also tiring. Today we can see nomadic herders with their yaks and sheep. Arriving at Namduna Gaun where we will spend the night there is time to explore the red monastery built below a gorge cliff.
Day 12 Namduna Gaun to Saldang
- Elevation at Saldang: 3,620m
- Walking distance: approximately 4 to 5 hours
Today the trail takes us through barren mountains to reach Saldang village on a plateau above the Namga Khola. This is the largest village of the inner Dolpo area and is spread over a long (2km) slope. Interestingly it is not just one, but five villages, combining around 80 houses. Being strategically placed on the trade route to Tibet probably explains why there are so many houses here.
Day 13 Saldang to Yangze Gompa
- Elevation at Yangze Gompa: 4,960m
- Walking distance: approximately 4 hours
The terrain is barren as we follow the Nagon Khola through the villages of Marang and Ki. Crossing a tributary of the Panzang River a couple of times we reach another Bon monastery of Yangze Gompa.
Day 14 Yangze Gompa to Sibu
- Elevation at Sibu: 4,560m
- Walking distance: 6 to 7 hours
Today we pass terraced fields, mani walls (walls with prayers carved into stones), stupas, chorten and a monastery to Namdo village. This is another prosperous village of around 60 houses and sits high above the Nam Khong Khola. We walk on another 2 hours to camp at Sibu.
Day 15 Sibu to Jeng La Phedi
- Elevation at Jeng La Phedi: 4,900m
- Walking distance: approximately 5 hours
Today again we will most likely see caravans of yaks as we walk east and then ascend to a grazing pasture below the Jeng La Pass.
Day 16 Jeng La Phedi to Tokyo Gaun
- Elevation of Tokyu Gaun: 4,209m
- Elevation of the Jeng La Pass: 5,100m
- Walking distance: 5 to 6 hours
Since we are starting from Jeng La Phedi at 4,900m we are actually only ascending 200m to cross the pass. From the pass we see the amazing sight of the north face of the Dhaulagiri Massif. Crossing the pass, the trail descents along rough ground to the Tarap Valley and the monastery at Tokyu.
Day 17 Tokyo Gaun to Dho Tarap
- Elevation at Dho Tarap: 4,040m
- Walking distance: 4 hours
Today we enter a different landscape as marshes and grasses line the river banks.
Day 18 Rest Day
On this rest day we spend the day in Dho Tarap. Here there are around 40 houses of mainly people known as Magars, a hill tribe of Nepal. There are also some Tibetans living here and Buddhism is still a big feature of the area. There is also a Bon Gompa a short distance from the village. Today explore the village, Gompa and surrounding area.
Day 19 Dho Tarap to Tarap Khola
- Elevation at Tarap Khola: 3,800m
- Walking distance: approximately 6 hours
The trail takes us through juniper and wild roses towards a wide valley, narrowing to a gorge. Again we see herds of sheep before reaching the confluence of the Tarap Chu and Lang Khola rivers. We camp near the Tarap River.
Day 20 Tarap Khola to Khani Gaun
- Elevation at Khani Gaun: 3,150m
- Walking distance: approximate 4 hours
Today we meet many local people on the way, mainly taking their herds to lower pastures. We walk over stone slabs, logs, and rough bridges and perhaps even through the river itself!
Day 21 Khani Gaun to Tarakot
- Elevation at Khani Gaun: 3,150m
- Walking distance: 4 hours
Today follow the path to Lalberi village and on through forests and a gorge until we are following the river again. There is another monastery we can visit today, sitting on a hill above the Bheri River. Tonight we camp at Tarakot as there is no suitable camping place between Tarakot and Dunai which we will reach tomorrow. And therefore, it is also a short walking day.
Day 22 Tarakot to Dunai
- Elevation at Tarakot: 2,537m
- Walking distance: 5 to 6 hrs
Today’s hiking is relatively easy, through a pine lined gorge and along the Bheri River to reach Dunai.
Day 23 Dunai to Jhupal
- Elevation at Jhupal: 2,500m
- Walking distance: 2 to 3 hours
Today is the final day of the trek, with a short easy walk to Jhupal.
Day 24 Jhupal to Nepalgunj and Kathmandu
This morning take an early morning flight from Jhupal to Nepalgunj, then connect by another flight to Kathmandu.
Alternative Variations to the Upper Dolpo Trek:
There are a few treks through Upper Dolpo with bring trekkers to neighbouring districts also and highlight different features which may appeal more to one trekker than another. Here we bring you a selection of the best alternative treks which take in Upper Dolpo. Please ask us if you have any questions on these treks.
Phoksundo Lake to Rara Lake via Upper Dolpo – 25 days
Like the Upper Dolpo Circuit, this trek begins by flying into Jhupal Airport (2,500m) and following the trail to reach Phoksundo Lake, made famous in the Eric Valli film about Dolpo, and on to the equally beautiful Rara Lake in Mugu District. We follow the ancient salt route over high passes and through Tibetan-like villages to visit ancient Buddhist and Bon monasteries.
The landscape is sometime rugged and dry, sometimes lush meadows and pine forests, and always fascinating. Visit remote villages who still retain their age-old customs, and witness yak and sheep herders at work. And of course gaze at majestic mountains and into the depth of the turquoise blue waters of Phoksundo and Rara lakes. At both lakes we take a rest day to explore and enjoy the peaceful environment. Both lakes lie within national parks so the flora and fauna is as pristine as the waters are blue. From Rara Lake it is a short 3 hour walk to the airstrip at Talcha from where a flight will take you back to Nepalgunj where you transfer to a flight heading to Kathmandu.
Bonpo Sanctuary Trek – 35 days
Unlike the classic Upper Dolpo trek, the Bonpo Sanctuary Trek starts in by flying from Nepalgunj in the southern lowlands of Nepal to the town of Jumla, the administrative centre of Jumla District. From here the trek enters Dunai, the district headquarters of Dolpo District where there is the first Bon school. For those who do not know, the Bon religion pre-dates Buddhism and yet is quite similar in some ways. And yet Bon emphasises spirits and deities, unlike Buddhism which emphasises philosophy. One way to easily recognise practitioners of the Bon religion – who are known as Bonpo – is that they will walk anti-clockwise round shrines whereas Buddhists walk clockwise. Bon also distinguishes itself from Buddhism on its interpretation of ancient teachings, religious dance forms, costumes and masks used during ceremonies and the patterns of religious paintings and statues. During this fascinating trek we will visit several Bon monasteries, Gompa and the Bon school as well as passing through three different districts of Nepal. The final, and exit point, being Mustang, trekkers also have the opportunity to visit Muktinath, a much revered Hindu temple with 108 water spouts and an un-dying flame.
Dolpo to Jomsom Via Mukot – 16 days
After flying from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj in the southern lowland areas of Nepal, an early morning flight takes us to Jhupal where we begin our trek to Dunai in Dolpo. On this trek we pass through many isolate villages whose life styles have not changed for centuries. In fact, some people only speak the dialect known as Kaike and which is only spoken in a small cluster of villages. So isolated are the people in this area. You can feel something the hardship of life in this region as you cross the Mula Pass at 5,600m and follow some strenuous trails. This trek will be of much interest for those who love to learn about how other cultures live! Notice how the area feels, looks and sounds like its neighbour, Tibet. Ending in Jomsom, the administrative capital of Mustang District, also notice how much busier and more prosperous the region of Mustang is compared to Dolpo. And how many more trekkers are on the trails! From Jomsom the flight takes you to Pokhara where you transit back to Kathmandu.
Dolpo Tichurong Heritage Trek – 20 days
Starting and ending by flying into Jhupal airport (2,500m) this fascinating trek takes us into Tichurong Valley which lies between Lower Dolpo and Upper Dolpo. Ethnically, the inhabitants of this valley are Magar people and have their own endangered dialect. This valley is geographically aligned with Mt Kailash (holy to both Buddhists and Hindus), and it is from here it takes its name – Tise meaning Mt. Kailash in Tibetan. Steeped in folk lore (for example it is believed if the Puta Glacier melts the whole universe will be destroyed), this is a trek that will introduce you to both Bon and Buddhist religions as well as Hindus and Shamans. For example, Chhyadul Gompa is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the Tichurong Valley. This is an opportunity to explore a little visited valley in Dolpo and learn of its history, religion and cultural heritage. Not to mention the daily lives of the peoples, their livelihoods and local foods.
Upper Dolpo to Upper Mustang via Lo Manthang – 30 days
Here is a great trek to take in the best of Upper Dolpo and of Upper Mustang in one trip! From the lush vegetation of Phoksundo National Park and the sparkling waters of Phoksundo Lake, through pine forests and across raging rivers, with high windswept passes to negotiate and fascinating villages and Gompa (Buddhist monasteries) to a visit to the ancient royal capital of Lo Manthang, this is a delight for those who love history and anthropology as well as varied landscapes and mountain views. Add to this a visit to the famous Shey Gompa, and gazing at the fascinating Crystal Mountain, as well as a visit the royal palace of the ancient Kingdom of Lo, and you can see the appeal of this trek. It is a strenuous trek, however, in terms of both the trails and the altitude. Three nights are spent above 5,000m and the highest pass is Yeti La Pass at 5,720m which separates Upper Dolpo and Upper Mustang. The trek ends at the famous Hindu pilgrim site of Muktinath before a short hike to Jomson and onward by flight to Pokhara and Kathmandu.
Upper Dolpo to Upper Mustang via Ghami – 33 days
Similar to the Upper Dolpo to Upper Mustang via Lo Manthang Trek, the Upper Dolpo to Upper Mustang via Ghami Trek takes in the best of Dolpo and Mustang Districts. Flying to Nepalgunj from Kathmandu then on to Jhupal in Dolpo, this trek visits all the iconic places in these two regions of the country. One of the highlights has to be the gorgeous Phoksundo Lake. Here we take a day to acclimatize and explore the lake and surrounding forests before setting off along the Devil’s Trail over the Kang La Pass at 5,360m. Shey Gompa gives us an insight into the Buddhist religion which is prevalent in this area. Mani walls (stone walls with Buddhist mantras carved into them), chorten (Buddhist shrines) and prayer flags fluttering in the wind bring to mind how strong the Buddhist philosophy and lifestyle is here. We also have the chance to marvel at the Crystal Mountain, so named because of the crystals and marine fossils found in its cliffs. Passing through the valleys of Panzang and Charka the trail takes us across the Ghami La Pass to enter the once Forbidden Kingdom of Lo, or Upper Mustang. Here there is time to spare to explore the kings palace and surrounding villages at Lo-Manthang before heading to Jomson and flying to Kathmandu via Pokhara.
Lower Dolpo Circuit Trek – 15 days
On this trek you can explore the diversity of Dolpo, feel the personal achievement of crossing two high passes, and have memories to last a lifetime, all in 15 days! This is a perfect trek for those with less time but eager to see Dolpo and its beauties. Fly into the airstrip at Jhupal in Dolpo District from where the adventure starts, taking in the views of the majestic mountains on the way. The two high passes of Numa La and Baga La are to be crossed before reaching the turquoise waters of Phoksundo Lake. Here you are in the Shey-Phoksundo National Park with its varied flora and fauna – will you spot a snow leopard? Perhaps not but definitely you will meet interesting villagers from the picturesque village of Ringmo and practitioners of both the Bon and Buddhist religion. Interestingly Bon pre-dates Buddhism and although fading out is very much alive in Dolpo. You will be passing through lower valleys inhabited by Magar people and higher valleys inhabited by people know as Dolpo Pa (literally Dolpo people). The mountain scenery, spectacular waterfalls and raging rivers are other features of this trek. The trek ends back at Jhupal where a flight to Nepalgunj will connect with a flight back to Kathmandu.
For further information about these treks, or any other treks in Nepal, please contact us at Magical Nepal.