One of the most rewarding treks you will take in a lifetime to a place where there are more smiles than mountains, where the terrain separates the people from the outside world and where Tibetan Buddhists live in perfect harmony in this truly off-the-beaten-track region. Upper Dolpo is “another world” kept isolated by the Tibetan Plateau and the Dhaulagiri Range. Historical records of the Dolpo region date back to the 8th century!
You will find no better hospitality anywhere like it in Nepal. Children will rush outside to welcome you and shadow you as you enter these remote villages. There can be no warmer welcome party than the smiling faces of children!
The Upper Dolpo trek takes you into the Shey Phoksundo National Park, home to a number of endangered species, such as the elusive snow leopard, grey wolf, musk deer, blue sheep, goral, great Tibetan sheep, Himalayan Tahr, jackal, and Himalayan black bear.
The “Bon” people in this region practice a distinct form of Tibetan Buddhism that is reflected in their homes and daily lives.
The Dolpo region is divided into two parts Upper Dolpo and Lower Dolpo. The trail begins at Jufal which is reached after a short flight from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj and then fly to Jufal (2499m) in Upper Dolpo. The highest point of the trek is at Shey Gompa (Crystal Monastery), an 800-year-old Tibetan monastery and one of the most famous in all of Nepal. The trail takes you through the Annapurna, Kanjiroba, and Dhaulagiri ranges and to the crystal clear waters of Phoksundo Lake (3612m). You will see the unspoiled culturally rich Bon and Buddhist villages: Saldang, Tokyu Gaon (Yak Kharka), Dho Tarap and Tarakot and the major town of the Dolpo region - Dunai.
If you want to preview what lies ahead on your trek to Upper Dolpo, then we recommend you take a peek at these movies. Dolpo was the location for the Oscar-nominated movies "The Himalaya" and “The Caravan” and for the German documentary Dolpo Tulku. It wasn’t until 1989 that the southern part of Dolpo eventually opened up to trekkers.
Sherpa Expedition and Trekking guarantee this trek will leave you mesmerized.
The following information will give you some idea about what you need to bring for the trek. It is important you do not forget the essential items, as this will determine your comfort and safety on the trek. Equally important is that you do not burden yourself with unnecessary equipment on the trek.
(Note our company guide will carry the medicines and first aid kits during the trek. However, we recommend you bring your personal first-aid kit as well)
Western Nepal is remote, making access more difficult than other parts of Nepal. First, you have to get to Nepalgunj, on the plains, and then to Juphal in Dolpo district.
Most people fly to Nepalgunj from either Kathmandu or Pokhara. From Nepalgunj, you then fly to Juphal. (It isn’t possible to fly directly to Juphal from Kathmandu, although expensive charter flights can be arranged from Pokhara.) Most organized tours will fly from Kathmandu. Keep in mind that the airport at Juphal is no more than a tiny mountain airstrip, where bad weather can often delay flights.
Nepalgunj is also accessible by road, but it is a long trip from Kathmandu or Pokhara. Roads are improving throughout Western Nepal, but Juphal is currently several days’ walk from the nearest road-head.
Permits for Upper Dolpo are expensive and strictly enforced. You also need to purchase a permit for Lower Dolpo, which you pass through on your way to Upper Dolpo. On top of that, only 250 foreigners are permitted to enter Upper Dolpo each year.
Lower Dolpo: $10 USD per week
Upper Dolpo: $50 USD per day (10-day minimum)
There is also an Rs. 1000 entry fee to the Shey-Phoksundo National Park. As it’s mandatory to trek with a guide on an organized tour in Upper Dolpo, your tour operator will arrange all permits and these fees are generally included in the total cost of your trip.
Like much of Nepal, the best time to visit Upper Dolpo is the spring (April to May) and the fall (October to November) when temperatures are pleasant, skies are the clearest, and there is minimal chance of snow at high altitudes. Late/early snow can affect this trek in April and November, making some passes impossible to cross. Phoksundo Lake, Shey Phoksundo National Park
Trekking in Upper Dolpo is considered strenuous. There are steep ascents, three passes above 5000 m., several nights spent above 3500 m. and some long trekking days of six hours or more. The fact that this is a camping trek adds to the physical challenge and discomfort of trekking in Upper Dolpo, and rest days are recommended.
This is not a beginner’s trek or one to attempt if it’s your first time in Nepal. But it will be a worthwhile challenge for experienced trekkers and repeat visitors to Nepal alike!
Most treks in Upper Dolpo are fully-catered camping treks given accommodation and food supplies are hard to come by along the trail. (Upper Dolpo is known to have food shortages.) Some basic teahouse/lodge accommodation is available in some villages, but shouldn’t be relied upon.
It is advised to take as many food provisions when trekking in Upper Dolpo (and anywhere in Western Nepal, in general). If participating in an organized trek (essential in Upper Dolpo), your food needs will be taken care of. It is still important to be mindful of the fact that restocking provisions can be challenging for guides and porters in this region, and that resources are scarce.
Juphal to Lake Phoksundo
There are also shorter variations of the Upper Dolpo trek that you can take. One shorter variation is to trek from Juphal to Lake Phoksundo and back, which takes around eight days. Other variations connect Dolpo to Mustang and/or the Annapurna region, to the east.
The Upper Dolpo to Annapurna Traverse, via Dhorpatan Wildlife Reserve, would add about a week onto the Upper Dolpo trek. There is a three-day stretch during which you pass no settlements at all.
The Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek is another variation. Jomsom is in the Lower Mustang region of Nepal, and also has a strong Tibetan-influenced culture. It is in the rain-shadow of Mount Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, offering a different view of the Annapurna Himal.
Yet another variation is the Dolpo to Rara Traverse via Shey Gompa. It is around the same length as the regular Upper Dolpo trek, but diverges at Shey Gompa and ends at Rara Lake, in Jumla and Mugu districts. This is the largest lake in Nepal, and renowned for its abundant birdlife.
Looking out from one of the passes in Dolpo
As with other treks in Nepal, it is essential to have sturdy hiking boots, a waterproof outer layer, and other clothing that can be layered and put on/off as the weather requires. Because trekking in Upper Dolpo can only be done with a guide, you will not need to bring your own tents or other specialist equipment. However, you should check whether your tour operator provides sleeping bags.
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