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Upper Dolpo Magic
Dunai - Phoksumdo - Shey - Saldang - Dho-Tarap - Jomsom - the connoisseur's trek
"I had never seen such powerful beauty before." Hester - artist, lawyer and housewife, Dolpo Magic 2008
This is probably the most scenic and one of the toughest treks in Nepal, Jamie's
Note that the domestic flights are fine weather flights only and occasionally delayed, we have time built in to allow for some delays.
Harvesting in West Nepal, 1996 - Jamie
Thank you for a very special trek. There were so many good things about it. The food was excellent, the organization smooth, the staff friendly and reliable, the tents comfortable and secure.....but the best was Dolpo itself. I had never seen such powerful beauty before. It struck me that in spite of your extensive experience trekking and climbing in the Himalayas, you had retained an enthusiasm and a passion for remote places. For me that made going to Dolpo with you and your group extra special.
Hester SS, Upper Dolpo Magic, 2008
The itinerary is approximate only and needs some fine-tuning. The text is a mix of my old writing, Kim Bannister's and Explore Himalaya's. Also so read Carsten Nebel's Upper Dolpo Traverse to Mustang diary, which is the exact route we are taking. He trekked the route quicker than we are planning, we will be stopping in or very near the villages en route.
There are two routes from Shey to Chharka, we will decide which route while on the trail, and will depend on aspirations, fitness and whether we have experienced any flight delays.
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.
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
An afternoon flight brings us to shabby Nepalgunj, the largest city/town in western Nepal and a jumping-off point for many flights and buses into western Nepal, set in the steamy Tarai near the border of India. We stay the night at an air-conditioned hotel, and head out back in time to explore this town seemingly right out of the 1940's.
4 - fly to Juphal, trek to Dunai 2150m
We fly to Juphal, the shortest regularly used airstrip in Nepal. 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, and trek through several villages on the way to Dunai, and easy half day's walk away. Dunai is the district headquarters of the Dolpo Jila (district).
5 - trek to Chepka 2670m
Leaving Dunai, we cross the big steel suspension bridge and turn west, following the trail past the hospital, and then it's a level walk along the bank of the Thulo Bheri to its confluence with the Suli Gaad at 2070m. We follow the trail north up the east bank of the Suli Gaad to a collection of teashops run by the wives of army personnel in Dunai. Another hour of walking takes us to Kal Rupi and then on to Raktang (2260m). We cross to the west bank and trek past numerous goths and horse pastures, over a ridge to the rough stone houses of Jyalhasa, a wintering spot for the people of Ringmo. We keep walking upstream to another bridge, cross it to the east bank, and make our way past some crude teashops and a bridge over a side stream, the Ankhe Khola, at 2460m. The trail moves up and down through grass and ferns to a trail junction. The fork is the old trail leading to the army and national park post at Ankhe, and on to the old trail that passes the villages of Rahagoan and Parela, high on the ridge above.
These three villages have a strange name connection: Parela (parela means eye-lashes), Rahagoan (raha means eyebrow) and Ankhe (ankha is eye).
The trail climbs over a ridge at 2710m then descends on a rocky path to Chepka (2670m), which is inhabited by three brothers and consists of collection of interconnected shops, rakshi stalls and lodges. We camp here or at another good spot beside a huge rock in walnut grove about 20 minutes beyond Chepka.
Alternatively we take the high route old trail around the ridges and through Rahagoan to Chepka.
6 - trek to Sumduwa / Renje 3010m
We continue on the new trail, which stays near the river, climbing over a small ridge, then crossing to the west side to avoid a large ridge and returning to the east side an hour later near a national park camping ground. Alongside the river at 2900m, the trail becomes a collection of rocks and sticks forming a dyke along the river bank. The trail makes several more ups and downs through forests of firs and larches as it continues upstream to a bridge that leads to nine houses comprising the village of Renje on the opposite side of the river at 3010m. We camp at a good camp site here or another about five minutes further on.
7 - trek Phoksumdo Lake 3600m
We follow the Suli Gaad valley, which turns eastward and becomes even steeper and narrower. We then climb over a ridge and descends to a wooden bridge then continue along the ups and downs along the valley floor to the confluence of the Suli Gaad with the Pungmo Khola. From here the trail to Phoksumdo Lake and Shey gompa follows the west bank of the river. We climb through a forest of big cedar to a good camp site and then on to Palam (3710m), a winter settlement used by the people of Ringmo village. The houses are almost buried in the sandy soil. The entrance station for Shey Phoksumdo National Park is at the south end of the village.
We continue on the route, which switchbacks steeply on a sandy trail through open country to an elevation of 3300m, then we start up another steep set of dusty switchbacks to a ridge at 3780m. From the ridge there are distant views of a spectacular 200m -high waterfall, the highest in Nepal. The trail makes a steep descent in birch forests to the upper reaches of the brilliantly clear, rushing waters of the Phoksumdo Khola. Then we climb gently to Ringmo village, a picturesque settlement of flat-roofed stone houses with lots of mud -plastered chortens and mani walls.
Just below Ringmo, we cross a bridge and follow a trail north to the ranger station at Phoksumdo Lake (3730m). We continue to the shores of the lake near the point where the Phoksumdo Khola flows out of the lake.
8 - Phoksumdo Lake 3600m
We take a rest-acclimatization 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.
A trail leads around the lake shore through juniper trees to an old gompa overlooking the lake. As well as Buddhist paintings and statues, there is also evidence of the ancient Bon-po religion within the temple and chapels.
9 - spare day
Just in case the flight was delayed we have an extra day.
10-12 - trek Shey Gompa 4390m
Now begins our trek to the fabled Shey Gompa and the nearby 'Crystal Mountain', the most sacred peak in Dolpo which Dolpo pilgrims circumambulate each summer before the yearly grain harvest. We are now entering the real Dolpo, and to enter into this mystical land we have to cross the Kang La (pass) and trek three hard days.
We take the only trail possible, first trekking along the precipitous and narrow trail to the western side of the lake, otherwise known as the 'Devil's Trail'. Cresting a 4000 meter ridge, we are treated to views of Sonam Kang. We camp the first night at Chabluk Phu, a local grazing area, before attempting the Kang La (5375m). It's a difficult pass, so we'll be up early the next morning; we are entering George Schaller's blue sheep country, so keep the binoculars ready as you pack your backpack the night before. We have views of the peaks Shey Shikkar and Kang Chunne, both just over 6000 meters, before descending steeply down to the valley floor and along the river. A red chorten marks the entrance to Shey, where we camp for the next two nights.
13 - Shey Gompa rest-exploration
The gompa itself is not large, and there are no artifacts or paintings of note inside. Although the building is said to be 800 years old, the wall paintings are relatively recent, probably done in 1970s. The statues on the altar are of Guru Rinpoche, Sakyamuni and Milarepa. The gompa also houses an ancient Tibetan scroll that describes the myth of Crystal Mountain and Shey gompa. According to the inscription, there is a holy lake in a crater among the mountains that surrounds Shey. When a pilgrim makes nine circumambulations of this lake the water turns milky. A sip of this milk and the pilgrim can see Mt Kailash in the distance. The ones, who don’t need a day of rest, can try to find this lake.
14 - trek Namgung
15 - trek Saldang / Chagoan
16 - trek Dho-Tarap
17 - Dho-Tarap rest-exploration
I have fond memories of this village, it was here we saw a scene of "Seven Years in Tibet" being filmed.
18 - Shichu
19 - Cherka La cross to Yak Kharka
20 - Charka
This is one of the remotest villages of West Nepal.
21 - trek Norbulung 4750m
Another Climb to a crest at 4380m begins this day. We then descend again to a river. We follow the right fork southward, climbing in and out of side valleys on a rough trail. The valley narrows, we then emerge into a big meadow and climb to our campsite at Norbulung (4750m).
22 - trek Sangda Phedi 5460m
We begin the day climbing to a yak pasture at Molum Sumna (4860m) and on to a crest at 5130m. We then make a long traverse across meadows to the foot of the Sangda La, then a long, steep final climb to the pass at 5460m. Switchbacks descend down to our camp site by a stream at 5100m.
23 - trek Sangda 3700m
We climb to a lower Sangda La at 4990m, then descend through loose shale towards the village of Sangda Ghunsa (4190m). We drop to the Chalung Khola, crossing it at 3750m, and then climb steeply up the opposite bank. A long high traverse leads to a cairn at 4090m, we then come to a set of steep switchbacks descends to a stream at 3580m. We do another climb to the compact settlement of Sangda, were we end a long day at 3700m.
24 - trek Dhagarjun 3290m / Phale
We climb the hill behind Sangda and spend most of the day making a high traverse, crossing nine ridges to a final crest at 4280m. We then descend into the Kali Gandaki valley, traversing under high cliffs and descending to the large village of Dhagarjun.
25 - trek Jomsom 2670m
We climb to a ridge at 3360m and make a final descent on a challenging trail of loose rocks to Jomsom at 2670m. It is possible for us to fly to Pokhara today, in the morning so this is a day in hand.
26 - fly Pokhara
We take an early flight from Jomsom to Pokhara - a fantastic way to round off the trek, flying right along the Kali Gandaki Gorge between the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges. In Pokhara we check into the hotel, get the dust of the last three weeks washed off and head out for a nice dinner.
27 - fly Kathmandu
28 - depart
Farewell, we take you to the airport for your flight home. We hope you had a fantastic trip, the journey of a lifetime!