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Dho-Tarap Circuit

The connoisseur's trek.

Dolpo remains a truly isolated corner of Nepal: time has stood still here for centuries as the Tibetan inhabitants continue to live, cultivate and trade the way they have done since time immemorial. The ecosystem encompasses a wild and wonderful variety of plants and wildlife, including the blue sheep and snow leopard.

Explore this hidden land of majestic beauty with us!

Outline itinerary

We have time to really appreciate the region. The itinerary is approximate only, we simply stay where we feel like and we have a couple of days leeway. There is a variety in the length of trekking days; and this gives time to further look around and enjoy the villages and spectacular scenery. The itinerary is planned with acclimatization in mind.

Note that the domestic flights are fine weather flights and occasionally delayed, we have time built in to allow for some delays.

Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu

2 - Kathmandu

3 - fly Nepalgunj

4 - fly to Juphal, trek to Dunai 2150m

5 - trek Tarakot 2400 m

6 - trek Lahini

7 - trek Cave Camp

8 - trek Dho-Tarap 4040m

9 - rest-explore Dho-Tarap 4040m

10 - trek Numa La Pass Base Camp 4190m

11 - trek over Numa La 5190m to Baga La base camp 4450m

12 - trek over Baga La 5090m to Baga La Phedi

13 - trek Phoksumdo Lake 3600m

14 - rest-explore Phoksumdo Lake 3600m

15 - Phoksumdo Lake 3600m

16 - to Pungmo 3050m

17 - to Sipki

18 - to Juphal

19 - fly Juphal-Nepalgunj-Kathmandu

20 - Kathmandu

21 - depart

Highlights

The movie "Himalaya" was filmed here

"Seven Years in Tibet" was also partly filmed here

Dates

please ask

Cost - US$???0

Our service includes

airport transfers

hotel in Kathmandu and Nepalgunj

group transportation by private vehicle

entrance fees and permits as needed

expedition-style trek:

all meals and hot drinks on treks

Our service excludes

insurance, Nepal visa, meals in cities and towns

international flights, equipment rental, alcohol and soft drinks, laundry, tipping and other items of a personal nature

For meals and possible tips for the crew allow approx $200-250

Itinerary

We have time to really appreciate the region. The itinerary is approximate only, we simply stay where we feel like and we have a couple of days leeway. There is a variety in the length of trekking days; and this gives time to further look around and enjoy the villages and spectacular scenery. The itinerary is planned with acclimatization in mind.

Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1350m

Arrive in Kathmandu. You’ll be met at the airport by one of our local staff, so look out for a Project Himalaya sign with your name on it.

Normally we met you at the hotel and then introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu.

Thamel is a mass of energy and chaos with a myriad banners, signs, pumping music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we check your insurance details and equipment – and get to know each other over a beer.

Day 2 - Kathmandu 1350m

Today we’ll explore the sights of Kathmandu and the valley (opens in a new window) with a good local guide. We match the sightseeing itinerary to what people haven't seen before; many trekkers are already familiar with Kathmandu. In the late afternoon we can sort out any equipment that you need.

3 - fly to Nepalgunj

We fly by Twin Otter to the hub of the west, Nepalgunj. Flights are only occasionally delayed by the monsoon. The plane cruises at around 3500m and if we are above the cloud layer the vast panorama of the Himalaya is astounding. Arriving is our first step back in time: there are no taxis only cycle rickshaws and horse tongas. Nepalgunj is hot and dusty but interesting to wander around in the evening. We stay at the best hotel.

4 - fly to Juphal, trek to Dunai 2150m

Again by a 19 seat Twin Otter we fly to Juphal. Originally 27 days walk from Nepalgunj now planes and choppers skim the ridge tops then follow the Bheri river, cutting the travel time to less than an hour. Clear weather is critical: the mountains around are too high to fly over. Leaving the rough airstrip we take a second step back in time. We will take a look around the village of Juphal before heading down to the Bheri River and at the trail to Dunai, around 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours walk away.

Dunai is the district headquarters of the Dolpo Jila (state). Seven years ago it was a sleepy backwater but with the influx of civil servants it is experiencing a minor construction boom. Development is happening at a heady pace - a telephone line is expected soon. We will stay at the delightful Blue Sheep lodge.

5 - to Tarakot 2400 m

Following the Bheri River we walk up-valley. The trail is as flat as they get in Nepal, but what locals call flat and our interpretation are definitely different. Since this is our first real day of walking we may not quite make the villages of Tarakot; we camp wherever we get to.

Delving into the region's history and people's lives sometimes creates riddles. The most fascinating concerned the five villages of Tara (the star goddess, and kot means fort). They speak Kaike, a unique language spoken nowhere else in the world (they also speak some Tibetan and Nepali) and, despite looking Tibetan, insist they are Magar, a Hindu caste. As it happened Bharat (our guide) was Magar so we questioned them closely but subtly about marriage customs and the like. They were spot on.

However we were sitting beside a monk who was plainly reading Tibetan text despite being Magar. Jim Fisher, an anthropologist, who studied the people and their history in detail (resulting in the book Trans-Himalayan Traders) was told that their origins were Tibetan and Thakuri, and their language came from a Kaike-speaking goddess. Tibetans have no caste but Magar is a middle respectable caste however it still seemed strange that they had, at some time, felt the need to adopt a caste at all. The standard logical explanation is, being middle-man traders, they assumed a caste acceptable to the southern caste-conscious Hindus. Also their appearance still nagged me - they only looked superficially Tibetan, and not even of mixed stock. Days later, while talking with a learned elder I mentioned the puzzle. 'Oh, they are not Tibetan, but from a Buddhist land further north'. Suddenly it clicked - Mongolia, that is where I had seen those distinctive, snub-nosed round faces. Later we met more Tara villagers but despite gentle probing, their answers were always different - Magar and nothing else. Is the riddle solved and is history hiding something? Maybe, but the Jumli people further west also have similar features...

6 - to Lahini

The wide valley of Tarakot narrows to a rough gorge and we ascend to Khani 2950m to avoid it. Khanigau is the winter residence of the Dho-Tarap people. It is marked incorrectly on the map. The trail to Lahini is rough.

7 - Cave Camp

Although the actual distance is short today is one of the more challenging days. Seven years ago this trail was feared even by locals. Then KLDP spent considerable time and dynamite carving a trail out of the steep gorge walls and constructing new bridges. However parts of this trail may have been washed away leaving a few tricky detours. We will probably camp in a large cave.

8 - to Dho-Tarap 4040m

Initially we climb higher then the walking eases on an gently ascending trail.

9 - Dho-Tarap 4040m

A rest and exploration day. Dho and Tarap are actually two close but separate villages spread up the hillside. They are some of the highest semi-permanently inhabited villages in Nepal. Only Tibet has a couple of higher villages. The people closely resemble the Khampas of Tibet, the men with a ponytail and red tassel coiled around their head. The women sport musk deer teeth necklaces, testament to the volume of now illegal hunting here.

10 - to Numa La Pass Base Camp 4190m

Ascending the beautiful valley of upper Tarap we camp at the village of Tok-khyu, the last settlement of the Tarap valley.

11 - over the Numa La 5190m to Baga La base camp 4450m

Crossing the first 5000m pass of a trek is always tough but the reward from the top, if clear, is a stunning panorama of high peaks and rough hills. This pass has also been recorded as 5360m high. This is blue sheep and snow leopard country. We descend to camp by the Poyon Khola.

12 - over Baga La 5090m to Baga La Phedi

Another tough day but this pass isn't as high as the last.

13 - to Phoksumdo Lake 3600m

There are several trails to Ringmo. After the last two days of tougher walking this should be easier. If we haven't already met any other groups from here down to Juphal we are likely to.

14 - Phoksumdo Lake 3600m

We take a rest day here. One of the two jewels of the West, rich azure Phoksumdo (lake) is also called Tsho-wa or Tshoyman Gyalmo. Rara Lake, the centre piece of Rara Lake National Park, is the other large lake in the West. Explanations of the meaning of Phoksumdo abound one is Phuk - steep, sum - three (arms/kholas in), dÕ - lake. It never freezes although in January there is a nightly cycle of frail sheets of ice. Steep shores give the impression of great depth and from a high vantage point it is obvious that huge landslides dammed the valley although I have yet to hear a legend about this.

15 - Phoksumdo Lake 3600m

I was told that monsoon rain isn't certain here so the lamas pray to the big glaciated peak, Kang Sen Awa, visible from the Gompa - we shall see how effective their prayers are!

Ringmo villagers here only marry among themselves or with Pungmo people. Despite the limited gene bank the population has grown. In 1940s 12 family groups lived here now around there are around 70.

From my previous winter trek: although the lake-side village of Ringmo was deserted some monks had stayed in the Gompa also on the shore. A wise old man regaled us with memories (including a six month pilgrimage to Kathmandu 20 years ago, before the country had a road... and he still hasn't seen one...) and enchanted us with descriptions of the fabled lands north of here. We found some snow leopard tracks. Lower down we stayed with the Ringmo villagers in their two winter hamlets, sleeping on roofs surrounded by yak saddle bags and fluttering prayer flags under galaxies of stars and a crystal moon. Idyllic trekking.

16 - to Pungmo 3050m

Once Ringmo to Dunai took four days on an scary trail known to turn the odd trekker white. By 1990 trail improvements for trekkers reduced the group time to three days although Stan Armington's group were still alarmed by exposed segments of the track. With the roller-coaster levelled and a new tourist grade track quick walkers could now comfortably make Ringmo in 2 days.

We descend from the lake to Sumduwa (meaning three trails) which sits camouflaged in the fork with the Kagmara Khola and the Phoksumdo Khola. A National Park checkpost and an Army post sits here. We have a choice of taking a side trip to Pungmo or if we are short on time we can continue straight down the valley.

According to Pungmo locals (although I may have misunderstood) there is a lake called Tsho Pungma somewhere above the village. This is unmarked on any maps but sounds interesting.

During the monsoon traders take yaks and zopkio (male crossbreeds) to Tibet to trade corn, rice, wheat and tsampa for salt, wool and changra (high altitude goats with a particularly sweet meat). The journey takes 9 days one way.

17 - to Sipki

We follow the stream down through beautiful forest. We will camp wherever we get to.

18 - to Juphal

We bypass Dunai to head directly to Juphal. The last hill of the trek is already familiar.

19 - flight from Jhupal to Nepalgunj then to Kathmandu

With luck and good weather these flights will connect.

20 - Kathmandu

A contingency day in case either flight is delayed. Otherwise you have an extra day in Kathmandu.

21 - Farewell!

Farewell, we take you to the airport for your flight home. We hope you had a fantastic trip, the journey of a lifetime!

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