As a result of Chinese government concerns over illegal crossings of the Tibet – Nepal border, the Dolpo region of Nepal has, until recently, been one of a number of off-limit areas. Often thought of as the most magical and mysterious part of the Himalayas, this remote and isolated region now presents an intriguing opportunity for trekkers seeking a unique adventure.
To get the inside-track on Dolpo, Swoop caught-up with Shawn Forry, a man with his own unique perspective. Shawn is a trekker with a difference, having undertaken a 57 day crossing of the 1700km Nepal section of the Great Himalayan Trail in 2011 and numerous other adventures that would make your eyes water. Shawn cites Dolpo as being the most interesting and beguiling part of Nepal and has been kind enough to write us a short article, giving an insight into his experiences and a hint at the magic of this rarely visited place…
The Dolpo Experience
What do you do when you find yourself in a stare down with an 800lb yak? Its horns like crescent moons arching to the heavens. Sleek and ominous. Pierced nose, testament to a life of pain and labour? What do you do when you trace the line from its nostril along a length of hand-spun twine and notice it’s anchored to a rock, no larger than the size of a human fist? Weighing no more than your mud trodden sneaker? What do you do when you ponder over the purpose of the rock and whether it’s there to protect the yak from being stolen or whether it’s simply a thoughtful, yet woefully inadequate, means of protecting trekkers from being gouged to death?
These are not questions I asked myself much prior to my Great Himalaya Trail trek, but by the end I was confident of the answer: don’t make it angry!
My GHT trek was rich in experience and story, but of all the areas I traversed, no other place stands out more fondly than that of Upper Dolpo. I spent ten exhausting and exhilarating days exploring its wilderness, in the process climbing nine 5000m passes and going without resupply for 350km. They were by far the hardest miles I’ve endured, yet I came away with a much greater understanding of the topography of Nepal and a much more developed understanding of its people.
Dolpo is home to Nepal’s largest district and the term ‘large’ can almost universally be applied to the area. It contains Nepal’s largest National Park, Shey Phoksundo, where you can lay witness to the azure ripples of what is arguably the most alluring lake in Nepal, Lake Phoksundo. In Dolpo, you’ll find yourself nestled among towering 7500m peaks, wandering along arid valley bottoms, some 20,000 plummeting feet below. You’ll notice Dhaulagiri, the world’s 7th largest peak, a constant presence, sitting like a beacon to your south. A reminder, if you ever needed one, that you are right in the heart of the tallest mountain range on earth.
And if the mountains alone aren’t enough to lure you in, there is much to experience within the culture and people of these hills. Few other places will grant you the warm-hearted and genuine welcome the curious people of Dolpo will. Hundreds of pilgrims make the journey every year to the 11th century monastery, Shey Gompa, to make a ‘kora’ or circuit around the ‘Crystal Mountain’, Nepal’s own version of Mt Kailas. And perhaps most impressive is how the people have been able to transform their arid landscape into a cultivated reality, with terraced fields, makeshift greenhouses, hydro-powered grain mills, solar panels and yak powered plows all making for a very efficient and sustainable community. One look at the intricately detailed woodwork on the homes will tell you something about their craftsmanship, and when you realise it’s a three day walk to the nearest forest for lumber, you come to appreciate how passionate the people of Dolpo are and how proud they are to call it their home.
So, what’s the catch you say? Well, while Dolpo is still a relatively cheap trek compared to some other destinations, the permit prices are higher than other areas of Nepal. You will have to pay around $500 for 10 days and $50 for each additional day in Upper Dolpo. You can be certain though that you will not regret having paid this, and the fact that 60% of the permit fee is given back to the people of Dolpo, allows you peace of mind, knowing that your trek is providing some assistance to this special place.
As well as the cost, another consideration must be the type of trek you are looking for. Dolpo is cut-off from much of Nepal and currently has very little infrastructure. Having only recently opened to trekkers and tourism, there are few teahouses and any accommodation you find will be very basic. If you are looking for a classic tea-house trek, then Dolpo might not be for you. However, while the lack of development may put some people off, it also provides the main attraction for others. You’ll find Dolpo to be void of the crowds of Everest and Annapurna and there is a very real likelihood that you will not see another trekking party during your time there. In this sense, it provides an opportunity to experience a real sense of isolation and adventure, something akin to the Nepal trekking experience of forty or fifty years ago. And happily, the lack of crowds will also increase your chances of seeing one of the elusive and endangered Snow Leopards, a Musk Deer or a Tibetan Wolf.
If you are considering an adventure in Dolpo I would suggested giving yourself at least two weeks to allow you to fully explore the area while leaving time to acclimatize. A possible itinerary could be a loop from Dunai to the village of Dho Tarap (accessed by the dirt airstrip in Juphal). From Dho Tarap across two 5000m passes, Numa La and Baga La, which offer panoramic views of the area and entry into the quaint village of Ringmo and Lake Phoksumdo. Then make the short trek to Shey Gompa to the north, before rounding off your circuit back in Dunai.
Just be sure to watch out for those Yaks!
Shawn Forry, March 2012
If you are interested in finding out more about Shawn and his adventures, you can visit his website at www.shawnforry.com
If you’d like to have a conversation with us about Dolpo trekking, don’t hesitate to call on 01173 690196 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org