Trekking in the Dolpo - September/October 2016

Some plans go better than others. We had a great trek in the Dolpo, enjoyed it immensely, but got home with the distinct feeling that it could have been even better. There are definitely lessons to be learned although I'm starting to that I'm getting to the stage in my trekking career when lessons have diminishing returns!
Phoksundo Lake

To be honest the trip started badly. I booked it early in 2015 but in the summer of that year Christine had an accident and broke two metatarsals in her foot. Jagged Globe, the company we booked it with, were great and agreed to put the whole thing off for a year and we saved our deposit.
Having such a long lead in time strangely meant that we applied less thought to it than perhaps we would have done normally and it was a bit of a shock to discover at the 11th hour that we were the only ones booked on the trip. We have been on numerous adventure travel trips booked with Exodus, Explore, KE (and a previous trip with Jagged Globe) but had never been on one where we the only two people on the trip. It just wasn't what we were expecting.
Stuck with eggs at Nepalgunj
The actual trip then started badly, no one's fault but disappointing nonetheless.  We go stuck for three nights in the dreadful Nepalgunj. Cloud in the mountains meant we couldn't fly into Juphal and the only thing we could do was wait for it to clear. Instead of hiking we spent 2 days hanging about in a hotel, hiding from the heat and mosquitoes, reading and playing cards.
In Sulighat
Once we got going the hike was excellent. From the mountain airport at Juphal we descended through the hillside village of Paranga into a deep valley and Sulighat the entry point to the Shey Phoksundo National Park. From here, and following a riverside path through a beautiful wooded valley we walked for three days before arriving at Phoksundo Lake and Ringmo, definitely one of the stunning places I've ever been to. After resting for a day we continued north following a path carved out of the cliffs on the side of the lake before entering another valley underneath towering hanging glaciers. On the third day after leaving Ringmo we crossed the Kang La pass, at 5200m the highest point on the route and descended down to Shey Gumpa, a famous monastery and with the Crystal Mountain, an important pilgrimage destination. We stayed there for a day before retracing our steps back to Juphal. Despite losing two days at the start we managed to complete all the planned trek.

The Dolpo trek provides a chance to explore part of Nepal that is more Tibetan than Nepalese. Upper Dolpo, like the Mustang, had a semi-autonomous status within Nepal and historically it's population had more in common with people living nomadically on the Tibetan plateau.
Breakfast by the lake at Phoksundo
The trek takes you through an interesting climatic and cultural transition. The first part, through Lower Dolpo and up to Ringmo, is similar to other Nepalese treks where the climate is influenced by India and the vegetation is lush. After Ringmo, into Upper Dolpo, and particularly beyond the Kang La pass the impact of the rain shadow caused by the main Himalayan ridge takes hold and vegetation disappears and a dry climate takes over.
Bringing in the harvest
In the Lower Dolpo permanent agriculture dominates the mountainsides with terraces producing a huge variety of crops.  When we were there these were either being harvested or dried for winter on the roofs of densely packed villages. In the Upper Dolpo the semi-nomadic Tibetan life prevails with the population (and their yaks) moving according to the season.

Having to cope with both types of climate adds to the trekking complexity. A few years ago we went on a wonderful August trek near Ladakh which has a dry Tibetan climate. The Upper Dolpo would have been an option in August but the Lower Dolpo, still under the influence of the monsoon, wouldn't.  Our delay this year, trying to fly into Juphal in September, was caused by a monsoon season hangover.
On the path to the north of Lake Phoksundo
Trekking in the Upper Dolpo is also expensive. Nepal operates a system of trekking permits and some parts, for security reasons as much as anything, are more expensive than others. Permits for the Upper Dolpo, like Mustang, are particularly expensive and it costs $500 per person (minimum of 2) to go there.

So what did we learn?

Firstly I'm kicking myself for not exploring the route options more. The Jagged Globe to Shey Gumpa and back is good if you're pressed for time (Jagged Globe's trip, London to London was 21 days), but for another 3 or 4 days, it's possible to do a trip which doesn't involve covering the same ground twice.
Mountains with prayer flags
Secondly being on our own wasn't an issue. It was a different sort of holiday but there were compensations - in particular, we got to meet other groups and we had a closer relationship with the crew (yes you still get a full crew even with just the two of you). I suspect that the groups on the Dolpo trips, perhaps because of the cost of the permits, are often small and indeed the standard size seemed to be two.
Yak caravaners
Thirdly, accepting that going alone or as a couple is not a problem, then I would self-organise, either through one of the UK based operators, like Jagged Globe, or directly with a Nepalese operator. The Nepalese operator's do all the heavy lifting and I've been to Nepal enough times now to find one I trust. Self-organising would give me a better chance of finding the route I want and tweaking some other aspects of the trip, particularly the dreadful western style food they insist on serving to a 'gora'.
On the pass at Kang La Phedi

Finally I wish I had read Peter Matthiessen's book the 'Snow Leopard' before I went rather than on the trip itself. He had dreadful weather, far worse than we did, and if you can cope with all that stuff about Buddism, it's a wonderful read and will fill you with enthusiasm for the trip before you set off.
Granddad with grandson sorting the bean
Although I wished I'd done some things differently it was still a great trip and has actually filled us with a longing for further adventures. Christine in particular, who had doubts about whether her permanently damaged metatarsals could stand another walk like this, has already spotted one she wants to do and paid the deposit.

For a daily account of our trip please follow the links below

Trekking in the Dolpo - Nepalgunj
Trekking in the Dolpo - Kageni
Trekking in the Dolpo - Rechi
Trekking in the Dolpo - Ringmo
Trekking the Dolpo - Rest Day in Ringmo
Trekking the Dolpo - Underneath the Kanjirowa Hima
Trekking in the Dolpo - High Camp
Trekking in the Dolpo - Shey Gumpa
Trekking in the Dolpo - Rest Day in Shey Gumpa
Trekking in the Dolpo - Back over the Kang La
Trekking the Dolpo - Back to Ringmo
Trekking in the Dolpo - south of Rechi
Trekking in the Dolpo - Dunai
Trekking in the Dolpo - back in Kathmandu


  1. John and Christine, don't keep us in suspense! What is the next trip?

    1. Hi Jeanne

      We have a tough life, one trip after another!

      The one Christine spotted and has paid the deposit on is Tajikistan next September. The next actual trip is cycling in Chile's Lake District in January.

      Best wishes