Walking the walk – Dolpa Section
28 March 2012 Campsite Purpang, Saure Khola (4065 m)-Dunai (2096 m) via Jang La (4519 m) 9 ½ hrs
This may have been the most tiring day of all the 53 days I walked so far. We walked almost 24 km, crossed 2 passes and went down 2500 m! We had to climb to a first pass first, at 4346 m, after which it went down to 4294 m (which is a bit frustrating!). After a short snack break and mind preparation, we started the steep climb to Jang La (the pass), which was at 4519 m. I arrived alone, was behind most of the group and ahead of Elizabeth. But of course I wanted a picture of myself, which meant 10 min waiting in the freezing cold and strong wind. But I have my picture .
Crossing the pass, we were entering Dolpa, as the pass is the border between Rukum and Dolpa District.
The hardest part was still to come, the long, long descend to Dunai. There was quite a lot of snow, and sometimes we walked knee deep. It was the trick to pass the snow fields without sinking in to the snow, and the later it got (and the stronger the sun) the more difficult that was.
It was nice to see forest again after a couple of days in the barren mountains. However, especially in the forest, he trail was sometimes hard to find because of the snow and in fact we did lose it a couple of times. Fortunately our crew was an expert in finding it back again.
At a certain moment the trail became incredibly steep with lots of lose stones (gravel), I think I felt 3 times. Also because I was becoming quite exhausted of that whole descend. Finally, finally at 7.15 pm we arrived in Dunai. How good to find out we were staying an extra day here!! Rest for our poor knees!
We are staying in Ravindra’s house, who is the coordinator of DESERT, the local implementing NGO of the GHT Development Programme; he recently started a homestay. Beautiful room and the best of all….. a HOT SHOWER! Paradise!
29 March 2012 Dunai (2096 m)
The District Development Committee (regional authorities in Nepal) had organized a great welcome for our group. We were received with music and dance and tens of kathas (white scarf to bless somebody) after which we went in procession through the whole village. Here we received more kathas, this time from school children, very cute.
To my surprise we saw Tinle on the way! Tinle is the main character of the beautiful movie Himalaya/Caravan, directed by Eric Valli. If you haven’t seen that movie yet, go and see it! After seeing it you probably want to go to Dolpa, as the images are amazing!
After the procession, there was an official program. The audience was great, with lots of people from Upper Dolpo, from Tibetan background in their traditional dress. They go down to Dunai or Kathmandu in winter, and will go back to their villages in about a week. So if you want to meet the Upper Dolpo-pa without travelling to Upper Dolpo, end March is a good time to be in Dunai.
During the program, attention was paid not only to the GHT, but also to the upcoming Shey Festival. Tinle himself presented the brochure of the festival. Shey is in Upper Dolpo, where Tibetan Buddhism is the main religion (besides Bonpo, a predecessor of Buddhism, which is very much related to Buddhism, but with more animistic features). The Shey festival takes place once every 12 years, and this will be the 66th time, so it has a tradition of 792 years. It is a very important Buddhist festival, and will attract lots of pilgrims. Besides ceremonies, there will be mask dances and archery, yak and horse riding competitions. The festival takes place from 28th August till 2nd September. The quickest approach is flying from Kathmandu to Juphal, and then walk to Shey, which takes about 7 days. More information you find on www.sheygompa.org and you can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the evening there was an informal gathering, and I got the chance to pose with Apa Sherpa and Tinle. An honor, 2 Nepali Himalaya heroes!
30 March 2012 Dunai (2096 m)-Chhepka (2655 m) 5 hrs
We are taking a side trip from the GHT and are going northwards to Phoksundo Lake. This lake is stunningly beautiful; it would be a shame to left it aside. For this trip Netra K.C., a Nepali BBC journalist is joining us as well.
It felt like an easy day, although we did walk 17 km and climbed 1124 m. Probably the high altitude training of the last couple of days helped . Along the way we passed a big camp of people from Saldang (a village in Upper Dolpo) with their yaks (they had 60!). As the winter is too cold in Upper Dolpo, they spent the winter in Dunai or Kathmandu, and they are now ready to go back to their homes in Saldang. They are very characteristic people, in traditional Tibetan dress. We spent some time talking to them and making pictures; it is quite nice to be able to meet these people here in Lower Dolpa!
We were following the emerald green and wild flowing Phoksundo Khola (river), walking at first in a barren landscape of bold rocks, which was quite suddenly turning into a beautiful forest. At the other side of the river high rocks were towering high above us.
The GHT Development Programme has been working since 2009 in Dolpa, as Dolpa was one of the 2 pilot districts of the Programme (the other one is Humla). Within the Programme several trainings have been given, like cook and lodge management training, followed up with monitoring visits, to see if the lodge owners put in practice what they learned and to give individual guidance. I was involved in the trainings and monitoring visits, so most of the people of the guesthouses along the way I know, and it is really nice to see them again.
Besides trainings, we want to connect the lodge owners and local agents with the international market.
31 March 2012 Chhepka (2655 m)-Rigmo/Phoksundo Lake 8 hrs (3608 m)
As we are acclimatized and quite fit, we walked in one more day to Phoksundo Lake. However, especially if you are not acclimatized, it is to be recommended to stay overnight before, for example in Chunuwar, next to the Amchi Hospital (3130 m).
From Chhepka the walk went through a narrow gorge created by the Phoksundo River and on both sides steep rocks with pine trees were towering high above us. We crossed the Phoksundo River regularly on good wooden bridges. One time however, we had to cross the wild flowing river on one trunk! Fortunately they had flattened the top of the trunk, but still I found it rather scary…. Fortunately a local guy gave me a hand .
We passed an Amchi Hospital (in Chunuwar; 3130 m). An amchi is a traditional Tibetan doctor. Medicines are made from plants and sometimes also from bones of animals of the Himalaya. Elizabeth’s foot is still hurting from a fall of almost 2 weeks ago, and she got a powder that she has to mix with butter and apply 2 times daily. Besides some of the crew got medicines as well, one for gastric and one for a kind of skin affection. Seems like the hospital came out handy!
From here on the trail turned into a small sandy trail and started climbing steeply through a more desert like landscape with small bushes. It was a tough climb of about 1 ½ hours to a viewpoint to the Phoksundo waterfall (also called Suligad Waterfall) at 3683 m. With 167 m this is the highest waterfall of Nepal. After crossing a small pass at 3727 m the trail went through pine forest again to Rigmo (3629 m) the small village next to the Phoksundo Lake (3608 m).
I went straight on to the lake. I have been here twice before for the GHT Development Programme and I couldn’t wait to see the lake again, as beautiful as it is. I was quite happy to find out we were camping at the shores of the lake! Most guesthouses are closed still, as people are now returning to their homes after having spent the winter in Dunai or Kathmandu. We are using one guesthouse that is open for our meals, a perfect combination.
I was even happier to find out that we have a free day tomorrow! It is really worth to spend a full day here. Phoksundo Lake (the deepest lake of Nepal and the second largest after Rara Lake, further to the west) is such a beautiful lake! It is surrounded by bold and partly snowcapped mountains and the color is of an enchanting deep blue and emerald green close to the shore. The color keeps on changing throughout the day and you just can’t get enough looking at it.
After diner Elizabeth and I walked in the dark from the village to our tent at the lake. It was pitch dark and we found it a bit difficult to tell if we were on the right trail. Near to us jackals were hauling, which made it a bit scary! But fortunately we arrived at our tent safely and in one piece .
1 April 2012 Rigmo/Phoksundo Lake (3608 m)
How nice to wake up and see the lake! In the morning we visited the Thasung Tsoling Monastery, a Bonpo monastery at the shore of Phoksundo Lake. Rigmo is mainly inhabited by people who are followers of Bonpo. Bonpo is very much related to Buddhism, in fact Buddhism came forth out of Bonpo. Bonpo has more animistic traditions than Buddhism. Their main Buddha is Tomba Sedab Mebo, who lived a long time before Sakyamuni Buddha, and the main mantra is “Om mati muye sale du” (“Om mani padme hum” for Buddhists). For outsiders like me, the most noticeable fact is that while Buddhists circumambulate their stupa’s and mani walls in clockwise directioin, Bonpo-pa circumambulate in anti-clockwise direction. The monastery is beautifully situated at the shore of Phoksundo Lake and offers a good view to the snowcapped Kanjirowa Himal (6612 m).
In the afternoon for the 1st time since I left for this trek, I really felt I had time to relax. Normally the rest days are even busier than normal walking days, with official functions, laundry to be done, etc. Now I was lying at the side of the lake, reading a book and enjoying the views on the lake. What a lovely afternoon!
2 April 2012 Rigmo/Phoksundo Lake (3608 m)-Kageni (2228 m) 8 ½ hrs
Today was a long day again! We walked down the same way as we came from, and what we did in 1 ½ day on the way up, we now did in one day. Of course going down is quicker, but there are a lot of ups and downs on this route, so it still felt quite tiring.
To my relief, the scary one-trunk-bridge was already changed for a beautiful and safe wooden bridge. Quick work!
We had lunch in Chhepka, at 3.30 pm! Needless to say we were incredibly hungry when we arrived….Not really good for your walking performance, but what to do. It tasted great, and re-energized we continued for the last 2 hours to Kageni.
On the way we met many people from Upper-Dolpo, some by themselves, some with just a horse, and some (the richer ones) with huge yak caravans. They all have spent the winter in lower areas and are now on their way back. Many times I started a little conversation with them (Where are you going, where are you staying tonight, how long you have to travel, I can all ask ) Many complain about pain in their legs or knees, so also for the hardened ones it is not easy. I have to admit though that these are mainly the older ones. But still, I always thought that these people are so used to walking, they don’t have these kinds of problems. But they do! And no pain cream to put on their knees in the night like us spoilt tourists …
3 April 2012 Kageni (2228 m)-Liku (2405 m) 6 hrs
Today we got back on the GHT route! We went further south to Suligad and from there it went westwards again, following the Thuli Bheri Nadi. We were walking on a dirt road for a while, but so far the road is practically only used by “vehicles with one horsepower”.
We were walking in a quite desolate, barren landscape. Now and then there are some pastures for the cattle and around the villages were some bright green fields with wheat, which was a beautiful sight in this barren landscape.
The trail went high above the river and was quite narrow at some parts; with a vertical drop down to the river of about 100 m this was a bit scary sometimes. Besides, the wind was blowing in our face with an enormous power, it felt as if you could be blown away any moment! We even got a few raindrops, but nothing serious fortunately.
We lunched in Tripurakot (2027 m). Tripurakot is famous for its Hindu temple, the Tripura Sundari Devi, which is an important destination for many pelgrims. We used our lunch time here as well to charge our batteries, as we had no power after Dunai, and will probably have no power up till Jumla as well…Most villages do have solar energy, but that is just enough for the lights.
From Tripurakot we continued in about 2 hours to the small village of Liku. We could stay in a room, but we thought a wet mud floor was not very practical so we decided to pitch our tents again, which we could do in the courtyard of a school. The people in the village are very friendly though, if they would get some training about what tourists need, I am sure they would be great hosts!
The only problem is that this is a ‘free open defecation village’ (in contrast with the ‘Open Defecation Free’ villages which we passed on the way). No toilet can be found and it is hard to find a suitable spot in the village. Hardships of walking the GHT… But seriously, it is a fact that many villages still do not or hardly have any toilets, causing much inconvenience and health hazards. In many places Government and Development Organisations (such as SNV) are working to increase access to sanitation and hygiene, but a lot remains to be done. It will be a challenge to reach the goal of making the whole of Nepal ‘Open Defecation Free’ in 2017!
4 April 2012 Liku (2405 m)-Kaigaon (2642 m) 8 hrs
We were told yesterday that it was going to be a long day today and that therefore we had to leave at 7 am. We almost made it, and left at 7.25 . Only to find out that the other team, who was staying nearby, was still busy preparing. So we went ahead, for one time we were the front group .
The walk started in a beautiful pine forest, and we were surrounded by the sound of birds, which was a nice beginning of the day. At a certain moment we saw 3 huge vultures sitting, what a great sight. Soon we saw what they were aiming at, the carcass of a cow was lying in a small river. Hopefully this river is not used for drinking water….
We lunched in Ghodakhor, in a small local restaurant. But even though it was a very local place, they came up with a visitor book. To my surprise Sunil Tamang, who walked the higher GHT route last year all by himself, had left a note here. I met him a couple of months back, how nice to see his note here! If you want to read more about his trek, see http://www.suniltamang.com/.
The trail climbed up, in a more barren landscape again at first, but later again entering a beautiful forest of pine trees and trees with light green moss hanging down from the trees, which is a sign that the air is very clean here. We had to climb all the way to a pass of 3822 m, the Balangra Lagna pass. I enjoyed the climb, it was more the descend of about 1200 m that got difficult in the end, especially for my knees.
At about 5 pm we entered the village of Kaigoan. Kaigoan is a bit bigger than the other villages we have been in the last week (except Dunai of course), and it even has a small guesthouse. We are sleeping on the floor, but no problem, it is a nice and clean room and we have our mattress anyway.
Dolpa Section – Flickr Photos