LOWER DOLPA TREK
The lower Dolpa trek circuit can be completed in as little as eight days from Juphal back to Juphal but ten to twelve days is a more reasonable allowance as bad weather can strike at any time and delay the party. Additionally, extra days will allow for some sight-seeing side trips. The circuit can be completed either clockwise or anticlockwise, depending on preference but in both cases the focal points of the trek are Phoksundo Lake and the Tarap Valley.
For an anti-clockwise trek the route leaves Juphal and follows the valley of the Barbung Khola through Dunai and Tarakot. Tarakot was the capital of the independent kingdom of Tichurong before the Gorkha invasions. The remains of the palace can be seen close to the Barbung Khola.
Just east of Tarakot the trail swings north to follow the Tarap Valley, an area steeped in religious significance with an abundance of Buddhist and Bonpo temples. The two days trek up the Tarap valley to Dho Tarap can be difficult if the trails have been washed away by one of the many waterfalls that enter the valley. The trail crosses and recloses the Tarap Khola so a local guide is invaluable to make sure that the correct trail is followed. Be sure to take your time ascending the Tarap Khola, as the altitude at Dho Tarap is over 4000 meters. Dho Tarap is an ideal place to spend a couple of days. The flat upper valley contains a number of villages mostly inhabited by people of Magar and Gurung origin although they speak and dress like the Tibetans that they share the valley with. There are a number of Buddhist and Bon temples here, all worth investigating.
From Dho Tarap, two high passes must be crosses in order to reach Ringmo and Phoksundo Lake. The crossing can be made in two days from Dho but snow on the passes can easily extend this.
The attraction around Phoksundo Lake will justify another extension to the programme. At the southern end, near Ringmo is a truly impressive waterfall, over 300 meters high, that constitutes the main outlet from the lake. The lake itself is quite large being around five kilometer wide. Glaciers entering directly into the lake feed its crystal clear waters. At this time, travel north of the lake is restricted to trekkers with an upper Dolpa permit but the lakeshore close to Ringmo can be explored. The Buddhist gompa at Ringmo, set in a forest glade, is also worthy of a visit. Ringmo is isolated by snow from October to March or April and during this time its inhabitants move down to winter villages a day's walk below Ringmo.
From Ringmo it takes another two or three days to trek back to Juphal passing through the winter villages of Sumduwa, Sepla and Hanke.
Day 01 – Arrival in Kathmandu
Upon arrival at Kathmandu International Airport transfer to your hotel in Kathmandu or Bhaktapur. Short briefing will follow concerning the necessary formalities and your trekking itinerary. Depending upon your arrival time you may spend free time visiting nearby sanctuaries or resting.
Day 02 – Sightseeing / Cultural Day in Kathmandu Valley
Half day sightseeing around UNESCO Bhaktapur / Kathmandu where your guide will escort you on a tour of Buddhist and Hindu temples and shrines reflecting ancient local traditions. There is time to explore the city’s many places of interest on your own or take a rest while trekking permits are finalised. In the evening sample a delicious traditional Nepali dinner. Overnight in Kathmandu.
Day 03 – Kathmandu to Nepalgunj
We have to fly to Nepalgunj from Kathmandu. Nepalgunj is the jumping-off place for flights and busses throughout western Nepal. Unfortunately there is no connecting flight to Jumla (the start of our trek), so we will spend the night here.
Day 04 – Nepalgunj to Jumla
An early morning plane will take us to the town of Jumla, which lies on the banks of the Tila Khola river at 2370 meter. Jumla is one of the highest rice-growing areas of the world, where the unique ‘red’-rice is grown. We will meet our trekking crew today and make the final preparations for our camping-trek.
Day 05 – Jumla to Gothi Chaur (2500m)
From Jumla our trail leads past several water-driven mills before dropping to the confluence of the Tila Khola and the Chaudhabise Khola. We cross both rivers on a cantilever bridge which looks like it is held together by giant clothes pegs. From here our trail climbs gently alongside rice terraces to the village of Dochal Ghara at 2530 meter. From here we follow the trail through a forest of maples and walnuts to a meadow. In season the wildflowers seen here include cinquefoils, terrestrial orchids, forget-me-nots, mints, buttercups, primulas, edelweiss and gentians. Beyond the meadow the trail climbs to a rocky cairn at Pattyata Lagna (2830m), and then descends into a magnificent alpine amphitheatre towards Gothi Chaur close to the stream at the bottom of the valley. At the spring here there are some 13th century Malla dynasty stone carvings. We set up camp close to the river (5 hrs).
Day 06 – Gothi Chaur to Naphukana (3080m)
We will re-enter the Tila river valley and follow this river slowly to its source. After ascending through fields of barley and buckwheat we arrive at the trail junction at Muni Sangu, a small settlement where we can see peculiar carved wooden faces, called dok-pa and are supposed to offer protection from evil spirits. These faces can be seen throughout the whole Dolpo region. We stay on the southern side of the river from here as the valley slowly becomes narrower and follow our way to Changrikot (a series of houses built into the hillside on the opposite side of the river at 2900m). The trail then finally crosses the river and climbs towards the grey stone houses of Chotra (3010m). The village has typical mani walls (walls containing stones carved with Tibetan Buddhist prayers) and a kani (arch, decorated with paintings on the inside) over the trail. A short distance from here is the Tibetan settlement of Naphukana where we will make our camp (6 hrs).
Day 07 – Naphukana to Balasa (3110m)
The trail becomes steeper today as it climbs past rocky fields to forests of oaks and birch trees strangled with Spanish moss. The climb will end at the Mauri lagna (‘honey pass’) at 3820 meter. From this pass we have good views of the snowy peaks of Gutumba (5608m) and Mataumba (5767m) to the north-east and Bhalu Himal (5460m) to the south. We will descent from here to the Bheri valley to the large Khampa settlement of Chaurikot at 3060 meter. A short time past this village there are some excellent campsites alongside the trail (5 hrs).
Day 08 – Balasa to Kaigaon (2610m)
We will continue our trek through walnut forests; the local people seldom eat the nuts but use them as a source for cooking oil. We slowly descend to the village of Rimi at 2890 meter, where the amusing faces of the dok-pa peek at us from the tops of houses. After crossing the stream we will arrive in Kaigaon, where we will find the first shop since leaving Jumla (3-4 hrs).
Day 09 -Kaigaon to Toijem (2920m)
We follow the west bank of the Bheri river and climb slowly up leaving the river deep below us. The trail stays high above the river and continues to the confluence where the Jagdula and Garpung Kholas join to form the Bheri. We then drop to the Jagdula Khola river and cross it on stones to our campsite near the army post at Toijem (5 hrs).
Day 10 – Toijem to Kagmara Phedi (4000m)
Today we follow the trail up the western side of the Garpung Khola river to about 3650 meter, after which we cross it and continue upstream on the eastern side. The valley narrows and the river becomes a series of waterfalls as the trail climbs to a moraine at 3900 meter. We will make a high camp in the boulders at Kagmara Phedi. The panoramic views of the peaks from here are sensational. Wildflowers are of the hardy alpine species, including blue poppies, buttercups, mint, gentians and puffballs. Among the birds here you may sight snow pigeons, redstarts, ravens and griffons. This is also an excellent place to spot blue sheep (6 hrs).
Day 11 – Kamarga Phedi to Lasa (4060m)
We start early to climb alongside the Kagmara Glacier to Kagmara La pass at 5115 meter. Then we descend about 900 meter along a stream into the Pungmo valley. On this side of the pass there are sweeping scree slopes and massive rock formations that contrast with the vertical uplifts and thrusts of the southern side. We descend further to Lasa, a shepherds’ camp at about 4060m (7 hrs).
Day 12 – Lasa to Sumduwa (3100m)
The trail stays high above the stream, which eventually becomes the Pungmo Khola river. The route enters birch and juniper forests, which give away to blue pines as the trail crosses the river on a wooden bridge. The route continues through barley fields to the fortress-like village of Pungmo. From here we continue our way downstream to the school at Sumduwa and descend to a camp on the banks of the Phoksumdo Khola (5 hrs).
Day 13 – Sumduwa to Phoksumdo Lake (3730m)
We will join the direct trail to Phoksumdo lake today climbing through forests of big cedars on to Palam (3710m), a winter settlement used by the people of the Ringmo village. The entrance station for the Shey Phoksumdo National Park is at the south end of the village. The route then descends on switchbacks through open country to an elevation of 3300 meter, and then starts up another set of dusty switchbacks to a ridge at 3780 meter to the highest waterfall in Nepal (200 meter high). Our route then continues on to Ringmo village, a picturesque settlement of flat-roofed stone houses with lots of mani walls. Just below Ringmo we cross a bridge and follow the trail to Phoksumdo Lake, where we camp at the national park camping grounds west of the lake (6 hrs).
Day 14 – Phoksumdo Lake
Today we rest to admire the beauty of this great lake. We visit nearby villages inhabited by Bon and Buddhist Settlers and can make a short excursion to the white Pal Sentan Thasoon Chholing Gompa, a Bon-po gompa overlooking the lake, which is said to be build 60 generations ago.
Day 15 – Phoksumdo Lake to Renje (3010m)
We back track our path to Ringmo village and continue past Palam to the Suli Gaad valley, following the stream originating from the Phoksumdo Lake. After a descent of almost 900 meters we will arrive in the small village of Renje, which consists of 9 houses on the side of the river. Here we will find a good campsite about 5 minutes from the village (5 hrs).
Day 16 – Renje to Chepka (2670m)
Our route follows several ups and downs alongside the river through forests of firs and larches as it continues downstream. The trail then becomes a collection of rocks and sticks forming a dyke along the river bank. We will set up camp beside a huge rock in a walnut grove about 20 minutes away from Chepka. (4-5 hrs).
Day 17 – Chepka to Juphal (2354m)
Today we walk to the region famous for its lotus-like plant called chuk, which is used to make vinegar and medicines. We pass through the villages of Ankhe, Rahagaon and Parela, meaning ‘eye’, ‘eyebrow’ and ‘eyelash’ respectively. We keep walking downstream following the river to Dunai. From here we ascend to Juphal climbing through wide meadows. In Juphal we will spend the night in one of its hotels where a well deserved hot shower awaits us (7 hrs).
Day 18 – Juphal to Nepalgunj
We fly to Nepalgunj today and connect with our flight back to Kathmandu next day.
Day 19 – Nepalgunj to Kathmandu
We take our return flight to Kathmandu. Overnight stay at hotel.
Day 20 – Kathmandu
Departure from Kathmandu.