Jamie McGuinness Bali - Bal Bahadur Lopchan, star guide and organizer


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On our special route route to Shey; note the people dots in the mid-upper right corner - Jamie

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

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 ambitious itinerary

We have criss-crossed Dolpo many times with ambitious treks including pioneering the Upper Mustang to Dolpo route, the Dolpo to Mugu route, and were pipped at the post with the obscure Mu La route. In 2016 during October we trekked our above route and so for 2018, since we moved so well, we have added in the Mischa variation, a trail that has tempted me for a while. Together with Bhijer, this makes ours the ultimate Upper Dolpo itinerary...

While the itinerary is ambitious, it is realistic if the weather gods more or less cooperate (as they usually have). We have a couple of days built in that can be quickened if our fine-weather-only Juphal flight is delayed, and some flexibility in the high country if conditions turn tough with an unexpected snowfall. The ascent to altitude has a good, relatively safe profile.

There is also a day's flexibility at the end of the trek with a new road that can probably save us a day and so if the first section of the trek is on track, we may yet spend an extra day exploring in the high country.

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/Shangshung 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.


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.

My absolute favorite trekking boots are the La Sportiva's Trango TRK GTX which are lighter and more flexible than a web picture might show, and available in Kathmandu. Also see Scarpa UK's trek range to get an idea of the choices. Fabric and leather boots trekking boots work, as do all leather options. You want to balance light weight with toughness and support, and each person weighs these values differently.

A snowy pass, be prepared; Kees indicates this is our ninth 5000m pass on our 2008 trek although we have six on the current Upper Dolpo trek itinerary - Jamie


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 standard Nepal expedition style, with you carrying a day pack, while porters 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 trekking is our life and we want to be comfortable so we have our list of carefully thought out details such as the best quality jams and sauces, tent systems, filtered coffee etc, that make our trek service the best available.


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.

Dolpo trekking background

MyHimalayas.com by Carsten Nebel, has a great section on Dolpo and he has trekked with us many times.

Himalaya - the multiple award-winning movie directed by Eric Valli, is essential and delightful viewing. Based on a true story, it is documentary-like and you will recognize many of the scenes during the trek, and note that many are basically unchanged. Jamie and team met Jampa (a good personal friend) and Eric at Dho-Tarap while it was being filmed in 1996 (The making of Himalaya).

Seven Years in Tibet - although at the time filming in South America and Morocco was emphasized, parts were filmed in Dolpo by the film crew above; I only realized this when seeing the movie for teh first time and recognizing several of the exact scenes that we saw being filmed!

Book: almost all of these available in Kathmandu and via Amazon, and sections can be looked up on Google Books:

Caravans of the Himalaya by Eric Valli is a beautiful coffee-table book and part of the research for the movie

High Frontiers: Dolpo and the Changing World of Himalayan Pastoralists by Kenneth M. Bauer

Four Lamas of Dolpo & Himalayan Pilgrimage by David L. Snellgrove

The Snow Leopard (Kindle edition available) by Peter Mattheissen

Tales of the Turquoise by Corneille Jest

Stones of Silence by George Schaller - out of print however available in Kathmandu

Tibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal by Geoff Childs - although he researched in Nubri, the cultural insights are relevant to all the Nepal high country cultures.

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


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 2pm 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 Rupgad 2280m

We are up smartly for an early morning flight by small plane to Juphal, the airstrip for Dunai, the district headquarters of the Dolpa 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 short 600m airstrip.

Leaving the airport we take a another step back in time, wandering through the village of Juphal as we descend to river level. 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 at Rupgad that is a couple of hours walk from the airstrip, and close to the junction of the Thuli Bheri from Dunai and the Suli Gad, which we follow.

Dunai is the administrative headquarters, the district capital and is one of the last of the 75 districts in Nepal yet to be linked by road. That said, there is a rough jeep road from the airport to Dunai and the jeeps were helicoptered in. We mostly avoid trekking this dirt road.

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

4 - trek to Chepka 2675m

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 to 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.

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 mixed forest, and a great introduction to trekking here, before we get alpine.

Ktichen crew profiles; 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 via Rahagaon that sees virtually no trekkers that we have previously trekked as a a high energy option. Both routes are delightful, 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 pink buckwheat. Our camp is a little before the Amchi clinic and Tapriza school (supported by Marietta Kind, 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. The Kagmara La isn't suitable for mules-horses.

Collecting fire wood - Jamie

Bali and the crew relax 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, a great place for morning tea. Then after passing through the village of Ringmu, just over the rise behind, we reach the oh-so-turquoise lake for lunch and our home for tomorrow as well.

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 lake, definitely the most beautiful in Nepal, perhaps in Asia. As well as washing and relaxing, there are plenty of day trips, to see the waterfall from another better view, to the gompa and back to 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, 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 more likely, trek an hour or so into the forest. Each camp has its features.

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


No bridge but plenty of helping hands - Jamie

9 - trek to middle camp ~4300m

We leave the standard Dolpo trek trail to take our delightful, unique route around Crystal Mountain.There are two routes over to Shey Gompa and most groups take the more direct route over the Nagdalo La however we prefer a pass slightly to the north that offers wonderful panoramas and partly circles Crystal Mountain. Our middle camp perfectly balances the altitude of tonight with the length of the trek day tomorrow.

The trail itself gradually ascends into an increasingly magnificent but intimidating gorge, stunning with the autumn colours. The first possible camp at Mendok, is in delightful forest however we climb out into alpine terrain for our camp.

Also of note, is the route to a 6000m expedition peak, Shey Shikar, branches of from Mendok.

Looking back to the Kanjirowa range - Jamie

10 - trek to Shey Gompa 4375m via Shyurik La ~5150m

Despite the altitude preparation since Phoksundo, it is still a real haul over the pass; luckily the terrain is straightforward even if there isn't really a trail. The views back to the monstrous Kanjirowa range will pull a mountaineer's heart while over the pass, the layered canyons and rugged ridges are Tibetan or Ladakhi ochre, with endless grand panoramas all the way to the descent into Shey.

There are perhaps five different passes (!) in this region and our ponies and crew will take a quicker and steeper route.

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

Dropping into Shey - Jamie

11 - Shey (Shelri Sumdo) Gompa 4375m

This is the gompa made famous by Peter Mattheissen and it is still a remote and sacred area with gorgeous panoramas, and yak caravans.

There are plenty of options for today beyond resting and washing clothes. The main gompa is a must see and for the energetic, the Tsakhang Gompa is an awing experience. We have already walked a good chunk of the kora of Crystal Mountain above us, but the rest of the circumambulation features a different style of terrain.

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

12 - trek to Taro or Tata 3920m

We head off the beaten track around ridges and across a minor pass or two. We will see where we get to for tonight's camp, although since it is two shorter days to Bhijer for us, in truth, it doesn't matter too much where we camp. Last time we left Shey late in snow and camped at Dongjung on a broad ridge with expansive views, but this time we should be able to reach an empty summer village where our crew came across a snow leopard. I happened to be at the back as I was photographing Himayan weasels darting around, oh well.

Himalayan weasels are quick! - Jamie

One of the lamas we met at Shyamling Gompa - Jamie

13 - trek to Bhijer 3850m via Shyamling Gompa

When we first rounded the corner and the gompa presented itself to us, I was awestruck. The approx 800 year old Bon Shyamling Gompa is a real highlight in a trek full of highlights and a true privilege to visit.

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

Dropping into Bhijer is also a panoramic highlight, and it is a surprisingly big village for the remoteness. There is a really professional health clinic and school, run by enthusiastic locals who helped out in 2016 as two trekkers had unusual and unexpected problems and after care here were heli-evaced out. The school was also the scene of a once in a lifetime singing and dancing experience.

Getting wacky at at Bhijer school - Jamie

14 - trek to Nengla pass high camp ~4950m

This is a short day so that we can spend the morning enjoying Bhijer, which could also be harvesting and threshing their crops.

15 - trek to Karang 3860m via Nengla La 5368m

With a short morning grunt, we cross our highest pass so far, and are afforded a panorama that jsut screams Tibet, layer after endless layer of ochre hills. We descend down to Karang, a little-visited village, again with plenty of time for exploring once we have set up camp.

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

16 - trek to Mischa ~4200m

What would a trek with Jamie be, if there wasn't some exploration? While thr normal trekking route though Khomen is good, this is our own little exploration without going crazy.

Traditional chuba-clad girls of Dolpo - Jamie

17 - rest-explore Mischa ~4200m

The Tibet border isn't too far away!

18 - trek to Shimen/near Shimen ~3880m

Swinging back to more usual trails, lets see where we reach today. We may camp at the school in Shimen or perhaps a little before at a grazing area.

19 - trek to Tinkyu (Tinje) 4110m

This might be a slightly longer trek day with the reward of a rest day tomorrow.

Along the valley, the trail wanders above the river, passing the Pungen or Pu Gompa where it is also possible to camp. Chortens greet us coming into Tinkyu, and our camp by the stream, one of the best.

The imposing set of manis and kanis before Tinkyu - Jamie

20 - rest-explore Tinkyu (Tinje) 4110m

With a tinkling stream on our doorstep, washing clothes is a breeze. There are a string of villages up the valley and a couple of old gompas that we must explore. There is also the little heard of Kula Kora and a secret gompa...

Threshing the wheat harvest by hand - Jamie

21 - trek to Rapka 4535m

We start early for what will probably be a long, if scenic, day's trekking along the Panzang Valley. We want to cross anotherwise tricky stream while the ice has melted. After falling in last year, I can assure you this long day strategy is the best!

Following the wandering paths of the Panzang Valley - Jamie


Celesta checks out a trader's Tibetan pony with a carpet saddle - Jamie

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

The pass is a steady, gentle ascent as we leave the stream behind. It is the view on the other side that is surprising. Although well distance, Dhaulagiri is monstrous, and that face... It disappears as quickly as it came, and soon we approach the entrance kani of Chharka, with its hilltop fortress-like location.

Chharka is the last village of Upper Dolpo proper, and with the distance and difficulty, the risk of getting trapped by snow, all the villages along this valley have preferred to trade with neighbouring Tibet.

Chharka blending with the terrain - Jamie

23 - trek to river junctions camp

From Chharka, there are several different strategies for crossing the series of high passes. We can take two shorter days to the high camp area to cross the three passes in one hit or alternatively over two days push over the first two passes for a camp between, and some interesting camping options on the other side.

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

24 - trek to High Camp ~5000m

There are multiple high camp options, lets see what suits at the time. The camp below is the best if we camp between the passes.

Ornella wanders into our high camp for the Jungben La - Jamie

25 - trek to Sangta Ghok via 3x passes

This is a tough, satisfying day. From the Niwas La 5120m instead of descending we continue climbing over the ridge beside to the next pass, the Jungben La at 5550m and after crossing a stream, finally cross a third ~5400m ridge before a steep descent.

26 - trek to Sangta 3710m

After a tough day yesterday, this is a well deserved "lunch camp" short trek day, still spectaular though. Sangta has an interesting history which we will talk over when there.

Sangta village - Jamie

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

It is a delightful rising traverse around to the pass on the ridge, and from there arid Upper Mustang beckons. The descent is similar, a descending traverse, unusual for Nepal trekking passes, and after some canyons we pop out to terraced fields and a beautiful village, different in character from Dolpo. There is a road descending down into the valley, so it is possible to reach Jomsom today, although this is only an option if we are running late.

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

28 - trek to Jomsom 2725m

Rather than descending along the road, the direct way is up and over a small pass with a glorious panorama including the spectacular Niligiri mountains. Arriving in Jomsom is a bit of a shock, all the lodges, wifi and other trekkers.

29 - fly Jomsom-Pokhara-Kathmandu

Machhapuchre from near Pokhara - Jamie

Day 30 - depart

We recommend either an afternoon or evening departure on Day 30 as this allows for a delay out of Jomsom, although thankfully, flights are not often delayed here. The alternative road exit is also a bumpy possibility.


Tashi Delek and Namaste!