Bali - Bal Bahadur Lopchan, star guide and organizer

 

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Pik admires Phoksundo - Jamie

Pik and Ornella cruise down to Shey (Shelri Sumdo) Gompa, down to our camp already set up.

Shimen village in the Panzang valley - Jamie

Trekkers say:

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

 

Our trek went brilliantly, crew were great, food excellent, and we were unbelievably lucky with the weather!

Clive Carlyle, Upper Dolpo to Jomsom private group

 

... A month doesn't go by (literally) where I don't think of it and Megan and I often go back to great stories from the trek. It was a privilege to be in Nepal and to be led by a top notch group of guides, sherpas etc!

John Carmellini, written 2016 about our 2005 Kanchenjunga Double Magic

Upper Dolpo

Legend has it that the ubiquitous Guru Rinpoche, who spread Tibetan Buddhism throughout the Himalaya, discovered this hidden land, a "beyul" or refuge or shangri-la, over 1700 years ago, and it has been inhabited by Tibetan yak and sheep herders, called drokpas, for over a thousand years.

Dolpo is now part of the Nepali district of Dolpa, but historically was part of the Zhangzhung Bon-po Kingdom which dominated Western Tibet for over a thousand years, later defeated by the first Tibetan dynasty, Yarlung, between the sixth and eighth centuries. Afterwards, Dolpo was governed by the Kingdom of Lo (now Lower Mustang and Upper Mustang, formerly part of Tibet) until the Gorkha Kingdom took it over during its consolidation of Nepal a century and a half ago. Since then, it has remained isolated, partly due to its remote location, and partly because the Nepal government didn't want tourists to explore it as Khampa guerrillas used Mustang and Dolpo as a base during their fight against the Chinese occupation of Tibet after 1959 until the 1970's.

The mystique of remote Inner Dolpo, still culturally Tibetan, was catapulted to cult status by Peter Matheissen's book "The Snow Leopard", David Snellgrove's "Himalayan Pilgrimage" and George Schaller's "Stones of Silence", the first historical travel accounts of the region.

Established in 1984, Shey-Phoksundo National Park is Nepal's largest national park.

For more background info and links see the Upper Dolpo Magic itinerary that Jamie leads.

Gear

It is critical to bring the right gear. Most importantly do bring sturdy trekking boots, we are trekking over rough terrain. These must be almost new (no old boots!) and should be relatively tough and strong, ie not the very lightest models. You must be prepared for some light snow, although we hope the trek is snow-free.

A snowy pass, be prepared; Kees indicates this is our ninth 5000m pass on our 2008 Dolpo trek - Jamie

Fitness

You MUST have a good level of trekking fitness. We don't set out to make the trek tough, but it will be as we are trekking across plenty of passes. Let's face it, all longer Himalayan treks are tough!

Trek style

We trek expedition style, with you carrying a day pack, and mules carry the gear and we have a kitchen crew to cook for us. So in some ways it is basically a standard camping trek, however we have our list of carefully thought out details such as better jams, tent systems that make our trek service basically the best custom service available.

For this Dolpo trek we are using local mules and horses, and are not using porters. This works well however you should be aware that we don't have the usual long cooked lunches. Instead the kitchen crew prepare a good pre-cooked lunch, eg fried rice with extras, and then carry this and serve at lunch time. This saves cooking time and is generally more convenient than the long cooked lunches.

Maps

The double-sided GHT map Dolpo & Mugu NP109 covers the trek except the last day or so, and is the best map as Jamie personally updates it. This is readily available on Amazon and from other map shops, and in Kathmandu. There are plenty of other cheaper maps available in Kathmandu, less accurate though.

To see the detailed itinerary and more photos use a laptop/desktop browser or tablet in landscape (and hit refresh).

Inspiration

For some detail and inspiration on a very similar itinerary do check out Kim's detailed itinerary part way down her old Sacred Dolpo trek page.

Coolness! Here are some photos from our classic 2008 Dolpo trek and see Jamie's Flickr for more pix.

2008 Upper Dolpo Quick

Click the photo to go to Flickr or use the arrow keys to see them here within this page.

Detailed itinerary

We visit all the main villages of Upper Dolpo and really have time to appreciate the region. Our itinerary is well planned with appropriate time for acclimatization to altitude and the multiple rest days can handle unscheduled delays, and there is a variety in the length of trekking days with some half-days to/from villages, giving time to further wander around locally and enjoy.

Although this is the itinerary we plan, we adapt the itinerary to conditions and to the trekkers along with us.

Prior to your arrival in Kathmandu we send out an email with detailed arrival instructions including the visa procedure, meeting our staff, contact details and changing money etc.

Day 0 - early arrival

We suggest arriving today to recover from long flights and have an additional day to recover from the time zone changes, which are particularly brutal if coming from North America.

Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you will be met at the airport our staff and escorted to the hotel where the leader will meet you. We book the extra nights in our hotel for you and can arrange sightseeing too.

Day 1 - arrive Kathmandu 1350m

If you want to spend the minimum amount if time in Kathmandu then you can arrive today before midday so that we can take your passport to finish the permit process. You’ll be met at the airport by our staff so look out for a sign with your name on it.

You have the rest of the day free to explore Thamel. 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. Normally, we meet at the hotel reception area at 6pm for a briefing and perhaps head our local haunt, Sam's bar, for a drink before dinner.

2 - fly Nepalgunj 165m (/permits)

We have the morning in Kathmandu for last minute shopping or some sightseeing while the office finishes the various permits needed. Checking out of the hotel before lunch, we have lunch nearby then head to the new domestic airport for our afternoon flight. Flying along the Himalaya to Nepalgunj, Nepal's western flight hub, the high mountain panoramas are breathtaking in clear weather. Sit on the right hand side of the plane if possible for the best views, which include no less than four of the 14x 8000m peaks, and a dozen other significant and stunning peaks. Coming in to land is an insight to the Tarai, a patchwork of fields and farm houses interspersed with forest as far as the eye can see.

Nepalgunj is always steamy so we stay at the best hotel with very necessary air-conditioning. Wandering around is stepping back in time, cycle rickshaws and horse tongas, the heat-slowed pace of the Tarai plains.

3 - fly Juphal 2490m, trek to narrow camp before Suligad 2280m

We are up smartly for an early morning flight by small plane to Juphal, the airstrip for Dunai, the district headquarters of the Dolpo district. Good visibility is critical for this exciting 45 minute flight, the mountains around are too high to fly over, and it is an exciting landing on the 600m airstrip.

Leaving the airport we take a another step back in time. Although many groups head to Dunai for the first night there is no need to so we avoid the bustle and instead we stay at a peaceful, relatively new campsite that is a couple of hours walk from the airstrip.

Our first three days to Phoksundo are relatively moderate trek days, a balanced introduction for our legs to the rigors of trekking. Additionally, this provides some flexibility and if the flight ot Juphal is delayed by a day, we can trek this section in a little tougher two days, if needed. It is rare for flights to be delayed longer, however if they are, we have plenty more options to cope.

The flight to Juphal is by small twin-engined planes - Jamie

4 - trek to Chepka 2675m

Leaving camp, we turn up the Suli Gad (river), it sparkling turquoise a hint of its origins. It is warm, pleasant walking amid the flowers and forest, and a great introduction to trekking here, before we get alpine.

It is a delight trekking across and beside the Phoksundo River - Jamie

Although the most direct route along the river is the easiest, there is also a high route that sees virtually no trekkers that we have previously trekked as an option. Both routes are delightful trekking, as is our camp which is near the river surrounded by pine forest.

Trekking the high route - Jamie

5 - trek to near Amchi clinic ~3100m near Sumdowa

This is another delightful day along the forested gorge passing through birch, deciduous larches, and fir trees, some with rich autumn colours. From our lunch spot, Rechi which is run by women from Ringmu, it really starts to feel that we are in Tibetan country with flat roofed houses and fields of buckwheat. Our camp is a little before the Amchi clinic and Tapriza school (supported by Marietta, a Swiss friend who spent 6 months researching, living up here years ago). This is the confluence of the Pungmo Chu, which comes from the Kagmara La, and the Suli Gad/Phoksundo Khola.

Collecting fire wood - Jamie

Bali and the crew relax for a moment over tea in a local tea shop - Jamie

6 - trek to Phoksundo Lake 3725m

The morning is a mix of forest and a short but stiff climb to view one of Nepal's most impressive waterfalls. At last we reach the oh-so-blue lake for lunch. We camp close to the lake.

One of the joys in the first week are the varied sections through forest, here en route to Phoksundo - Jamie

7 - Phoksundo Lake 3725m

Camping with tent door views of the lake, we have a day here to really appreciated the ever changing colours of this striking body of water. As well as washing and relaxing, there are plenty of day trips, to see the waterfall from another better view point, to the Bon gompa that overlooks the lake and back to explore Ringmu village.

Now that we are well above 3000m, we also take two nights here to aid with acclimatization before going higher.

That colour! - Jamie

8 - trek to Forest Camp 3725m via 4000m passes

I have to say again, the colour of Phoksundo is unreal yet there it is, a view to never tire of.

Starting on the trail around the lake, we enter Upper Dolpo proper, and what a start. The trail is wide and good, but quite exposed in parts, and is utterly spectacular, make sure your camera battery is fully charged.

In the movie Himalaya, it is this section where the yak fell off into the lake and the two stars are left standing on a ledge - hopefully, we won't have to relive this scene.

After climbing over a large ridge with those expansive views, we descend again to the lake level and have a choice of several different camps. We can stay at the end of the lake or trek an hour or so into the forest, and each camp has its features.

Phoksundo Lake and our trail around the right side (west side) - Jamie

9 - trek to Middle Camp 4288m

From here on down, this itinerary description is a work in progress.

No bridge but plenty of helping hands - Jamie

10 - trek to Shey Gompa 4375m via Shyurik La ~5,150m

We take our own route that we pioneered for trekking over the expansive Shyurik La, which is part of the kora around Crystal Mountain. The panoramas of today are one of the real highlights of the trek.

The horse team will take a slightly different route but we end up at the same place, the camp right by Shey Gompa.

Our horse team climbing up the ridge to our special Crystal Mountain pass - Jamie

11 - Shey (Shelri Sumdo) Gompa 4375m

Rest, wash clothes, explore to the other gompa, or even do a kora of Crystal Mountain.

These are the Tsakhang gompas on the Crystal Mountain kora - Jamie

12 - trek to Namgung Gompa

A yak shepherds a nak (female yak) amid the autumn colours near Namgung - Jamie

13 - trek to Saldang 3770m

Each and every day of the whole trek features incredible landscapes, and today is no exception. It is a shorter day's walkign so that you have time to explore around Saldang, the major village of the region.

Traditional chuba-clad girls of Dolpo - Jamie

14 - trek Komang (Khoma) 4060m

Again, this is a shorter day that means we can visit the gompa in Saldang or arrive at Komang in time for lunch and have a look around the friendly village in the afternoon.

Don't believe "It never rains in Dolpo" - it might be rain shadow but it can still rain! - Jamie

15 - trek to Pu Gompa ~3900m

We cross a minor pass, as indeed we do on most days of this trek, and drop down to the gorgeous village of Shimen. We can lunch here and wander around as camp is only an hour or so beyond at the gompa.

16 - trek to Tinje 4110m

Trekking in to Tinje is a surprise, a dirt road from Tibet that is only driveable by motorbikes so far but change is coming, and from Tiebt, so this village really has the feel of a real Tibetan village.

Celesta checks out a Tibetan pony - Jamie

17 - Tinje 4110m

At the delightful camp by the river, we have a rest day for washing and relaxing. Explore the valley towards Tibet with villages strung along it, or climb up to the old and important gompa.

18 - trek to Rapka 4535m

While locals ride horses between Tinje and Chharka in a day, we take two and a half days in the peaceful valley.

19 - trek to Mola La high camp

Following the wandering paths of the Panzang Valley - Jamie

20 - trek to Chharka 4110m via over Chharka La/Mola La 5030m

Chharka blending with the terrain - Jamie

21 - trek to Thasan camp

We spend the morning in Chharka and after lunch walk a few hours to our camp.

Paul and Celesta cruising along a good section of trail near Chharka - Jamie

22 - trek to High Camp ~5000m

In 2016 we noted all the various differnt high camps before the pass, and there are many. We will stay at the most convenient, clsoed to the pass so as to give ourselves the best start for tomorrow.

High camp for the Junben La - Jamie

23 - trek to Sangta Ghok via 3x passes

This is a tough, satisfying day. From the Niwas La 5120m we climb to the next pass, the Jungben La at 5550m and finally cross a third ~5400m pass before a steep descent.

24 - trek to Sangta 3710m

After a tough day yesterday, this is a "lunch camp" trek day.

Sangta village - Jamie

25 - trek to Phalyak 3175m via the Bhima Lojun La 4460m

Rounding the Bhima Lojun La with a stunning panorama of Upper Mustang - Jamie

26 - trek to Jomsom 2725m

27 - fly Jomsom-Pokhara-Kathmandu

Day 28 - depart

 

 

Additional days in Kathmandu

If you wish to stay longer, we can offer plenty of suggestions: mountain biking or rafting in the Kathmandu valley, an Everest sightseeing flight, trips to Bhaktapur or Patan, a night at Nagarkot or Dhulikhel for a bit of luxury and expansive sunrise/sunset mountain panoramas, visits to interesting temple villages such as Changu Narayan, a few days in Pokhara or a relaxing excursion to Chitwan National Park or Bardia National Park.

Namaste!