Not much was known about Dolpa in the outside world until quite recently. This mid-western district of Nepal was closed to foreigners until 1989 (certain areas still require a special permit) and the little people knew had been learned from literary and cinematic accounts like Peter Matthiessen’s book “The Snow Leopard” and Eric Valli’s epic adventure film “Himalaya” (Caravan).
To this day Dolpa receives a fraction of the visitors coming to Nepal for trekking. It remains an incredible natural and cultural experience for those longing for a bit of adventure and off-the-beaten-track exploration.
The 14-day Dolpa Circuit trek starts in the lower regions of Dolpa and meanders through lush green pastures and pine forests, to the barren high altitude lands of Upper Dolpo, near the Tibetan plateau. The trek crosses over two high passes, Numa La (5318 m) and Baga La (5190 m) making it a challenging journey. To help you out, we’ve listed 5 highlights along the Dolpa Circuit that will give you a welcome excuse to catch your breath:
Dho-Tarap Valley – one of the highest human settlement in the world
Half-way though your trek you’ll come across the two settlements named Dho and Tarap. They are nestled together in the Dho Tarap Valley at an altitude of 4080m, making them one of the highest semi-permanent villages in the world. Exploring the village life here is like stepping back in time and you can easily spend a day admiring the traditionally built houses and monasteries. Keep an eye out for carved wooden effigies adorning local buildings. They are called Dokpa, and are believed to offer protection against evil spirits.
Phoksundo Lake – the jewel of Dolpa
One of the main highlights of trekking in the Dolpa region is a visit to one of Nepal’s deepest lakes, Shey Phoksundo (146m). The lake lies at an elevation of 3620m within the Shey Phoksundo National Park, the largest national park in Nepal. With the surrounding forests and snow-capped mountains reflecting in the velvet blue waters it’s no surprise this region has been described as one of the world’s “Natural Hidden Wonders”. Unfortunately for aquaphiles though, the lake is regarded as sacred to the followers of Buddhism and Bön-po religion, so taking a dip in the lake is discouraged.
Near the outlet of Phoksundo Lake lies one of the country’s tallest waterfalls. The waterfall is named after the lake but it is also known locally by its Nepali name, Suligad waterfall (167m). Trust us, the view of the waterfall surrounded by glacier-laden mountains and pine forests will make you want to pitch your tend and stay forever.
Along the journey you will encounter practitioners of the ancient Bön religion. Bön is an spiritual tradition of Tibet which origins predate Buddhism. The religion followed its devotees to the Nepali Himalayas centuries ago and is still practiced in the isolated higher altitudes of Mustang and Dolpa. Ringmo, a hamlet just above Phoksundo Lake will give visitors a rare chance to witness its ancient practices.
The Shey Phoksundo National Park is home to a rich ecosystem with a wonderful variety of flora and wildlife including exciting creatures like the blue sheep and wild yak. If you’re very lucky you may even spot the very elusive snow leopard.
For more suggestions on trekking itineraries in the beautiful Dolpa region, head over to GHT’s Find a Trek.
(Photos by Anuj Adhikary from a recent assignment with GHT to Dolpa)