Dolpa Section, The Dolpa Circuit trek
Hiking the Dolpa Circuit is an experience you’ll never forget. It gives you the opportunity to experience life in the remote highlands. You walk through a variety of landscapes, ranging from green pastures, reminding to the European Alps, to barren rocks, reminding to the Tibetan plateau. The Phoksundo Lake is of an incomparable beauty, with its deep blue and emerald colors, surrounded by steep bold rocks.
You pass some small authentic villages, inhabited by straight descendents of the Tibetans. Buddhism en Bonpo are very important for the people living in these villages and interwoven in everyday life. Bonpo religion is the oldest spiritual tradion of Tibet. It is very much related with Buddhism, but has more shamanistic and animistic influences, which gives a mythical appeal to Dolpa.
Due to its remote location, Dolpa is still an “off the beaten track destination”. Especially in spring and summer you see very few other tourists.
The Dolpa Circuit is a quite strenuous trekking, with some steep climbs. You have to cross two passes, Numa La of 5318 m and Baga La of 5190 m. These crossings involve long climbs and long descends. But the scenery on the way , the views from the passes and the encounters you will have with the Dolpa people will make it all worth it.
Leaving from Kathmandu, it’s a 14 day trip, but it could be longer or shorter, depending on the length of your walking days.
There are (basic) guesthouses in Juphal, Dunai, Lingdo, Dho Tarap, Ringmo, close to Sanduwa (next to the Amchi Hospital), Chhepka and Kageni. At the other places you have to camp (day 4-6 and 8-10 of this itinerary).
Camping and some tea-houses
Dolpa Trekking Permit
- Day 1 Flight Kathmandu-Nepalganj To get to Dolpa, generally you have to fly to Nepalgunj first. Nepalgunj is a steaming hot city in South Western Nepal, in the lowlands of Terai, close to the Indian border, which is just 8 km away. Culturally the area more resemble India than upland Nepal. Take a cycle rikshaw for a ride in town. You pass the hustle and bustle of the bazaar and see horse carts full of colorful people going to or coming from the Indian border. The Bageshowri temple is one of Nepal’s most important Hindu temples and is worth a visit as well.
- Day 2 Flight Nepalgunj-Juphal (2475 m), walk to Dunai (2140 m) 2 ½ hrs It’s just a 35 minutes flight to Juphal over steep mountain ridges with beautiful views of snowcapped mountains. Juphal airport is just a gravel airstrip amidst the mountains, which guarantees a spectacular landing. Stepping out of the plane, you enter in a completely different world. From a hot city in the plains, you arrive in a small mountain village, situated in the midst of the Himalaya, breathing in crispy cold air.From Juphal you walk down over a small path among fields with wheat and vegetables to the Thuli Bheri River, which you’ll follow after reaching it. About 45 minutes before Dunai you pass a beautiful gate chorten (stupa), which is the entrance to the VDC (Village Development Committee) Dunai. Inside the chorten you can observe some beautiful Buddhist paintings of mandala’s and important Buddhist figures.Dunai is the headquarters of Dolpa District. It’s a large village, of about 2,500 people, more or less half Hindu and half Buddhist. Up the hill, there is a Buddhist monastery, the Dolpa Kendriya Gompa, which is worth a visit. It is situated at the slope at the other site of the river, overlooking Dunai. The monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa lineage, the oldest Buddhism linege and was built in 1998. There is only one monk/lama. If he is there, he will be happy to open the monastery for you and show you around. Inside the gompa you can observe a beautiful statue of Sakyamuni Buddha (Gautama Buddha), the Kengyur (the holy scriptures of Buddhism) and big thankas (Buddhist paintings on cotton). There is a small daily puja (prayer ceremony) from 6-7 am and from 6-7 pm.A bit further away from Dunai, at the same slope, you can find the Dolpo Bon School and Hostel. Bon or Bonpo is related to Buddhism, but it is a lot older than Buddhism and goes back thousands of years. The religion was founded more than 18,000 years ago by Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwo. It is believed that Dolpa used to be the centre of the Bon kingdom, called Zhang Zhung, a big and powerful kingdom in present Western and Northwestern Tibet and surroundings, as in Dolpa you can still find a big concentration of Bonpo practioners. In the 7th Century Zhang Zhung was defeated by the Buddhist kingdom of Tibet, and Bonpo disappeared almost completely. However many Bon traditions were absorbed into Tibetan culture.Bonpo has more animistic aspects than Buddhism. For outsiders it is difficult to see the difference between Bonpo and Buddhism, but one small but important detail is that you have to cross their shrines, like mani walls (low walls with loose stones with Buddhist mantra’s carved on it) and chortens anti clockwise, while according to Buddhist custom, you pass them clockwise.Besides the normal teachings that children receive at common schools, the Bon School educates children in the Bonpo religion, Tibetan culture and Tibetan language. The school offers education to poor and orphaned children in the district from Bonpo background. As the children come from different, far away villages, there is a hostal as well. Currently there are 26 children in the school, divided into 5 different classes. Unfortunately at present the school faces a lack of funds, due to which the children receive classes in a big tent. They are hoping for new funds to build a descent school building.At regular schools, Tibetan language is not given, nor Tibetan culture and Bon religion. The school therefore helps to maintain an millennium old culture. The school and hostal make a very interesting visit which gives you a chance to learn more about Bonpo. One of the teachers will be happy to show you around and give you explanations about the Bonpo religion and culture. Besides the Hostal, there is a beautiful stupa with holds a century old footprint of an important lama. A Bonpo gompa is being built here as well.In Dunai there is a guesthouse with a campsite: The Bluesheep Inn. Besides there are a few hotels, like Hotel Ghorka Palace and Lodge and Pala Guesthouse.
- Day 3 Dunai (2140 m) to Lingdo (2391 m) 5 hrs Leaving Dunai, you soon walk in a beautiful mountain landscape, which sometimes reminds to the European Alps. Rocky slopes are dotted with pine trees, mostly blue pine. At the horizon you see the snowcapped Kang Tokal (6294 m). The path goes slightly up and down, following the Thuli Bheri River, once and a while passing a couple of houses.You cross the Buddhist village Byasgar (2427 m). After leaving Dunai, all the villages you’ll come across are inhabited by Buddhist people. The people who live in this region are Tarali’s, a Magar group.After Byasgar, the landscape gets quickly more rough and rocky. The path is sometimes carved out of the rocks, and at a few points very narrow. There are plans to make a motor able road all the way to Dho Tarap. Walking here, it seems that this is a huge challenge, and it surely will take a couple of years. But, it might be a reason not to wait too long if you want to visit Dolpa… You reach Lingdo, a small village which has one guesthouse, with a campingsite. Plus a checkpost, so have your permit at hand.
- Day 4 Lingdo (2391 m) to Laina Odar (3370 m) 6 hrs The path is gradually going up. Along the way you have a good view to some of the villages in this region, like Sarakot, which is situated high on a cliff. These are the last villages you will see till you reach Dho Tarap. You pass some mani walls (a wall with loose stones with Buddhist mantra’s carved on it) and chortens. According to Buddhist custom, you have to pass these Buddhist shrines on the left side, so clockwise. At the horizon you can see the beautiful snowcapped Kang Tokal. The landscape is impressive and sometimes very green. Sharp rocks are dotted with junipers and other pine trees. If you are lucky, you can see groups of large grey monkeys here.The trail climbs high on a slope and goes high above the Thuli Bheri River, leading to a large suspension bridge (120 meter long), high above the river as well. You reached Laisicap (2772 m). On the other side of the bridge, there is a tent-hotel, where you could stop for a dal bhat or noodle soup or fill up your stock of snacks. Tent-hotels are big Tibetan tents, set up to serve food and drinks to travelers. Besides local restaurants, they serve as a shop as well, and you can buy a variety of items here, like biscuits, juice, Lhasa beer, shampoo, etc.After Laisicap it’s a long and strenuous climb of about 3 hours to Laina Odar (3370 m). The path partly goes through forests and you are surrounded by steep cliffs full of pine trees, some of which are huge. You find yourself high above the river. Close to Laina Odar, the path goes alongside the river again. In Laina Odar there is another tent-hotel, located at the riverside. This is a good place to camp.
- Day 5 Laina Odar (3370 m) to Nawarpani (3475 m) 4 hrs After leaving Laina Odar, the trail goes up to a small pass, which takes about 45 minutes climbing to reach it. After the pass, it’s a fairly easy walk with a few small climbs. It’s a beautiful walk again, sometimes going through pine forests, with a wonderful smell. About 4 hours after leaving Laina Odar, you reach Nawarpani (3475 m), where you find another tent-hotel. You can camp here. If you are feeling well and in good shape, you could continue and walk to Sisaul (3750 m) today.
- Day 6 Nawarpani (3475 m) to Sisaul (3750 m) 3½ hrs After Nawarpani the landscape quickly gets more barren. There are only few trees. You mostly walk in the river valley with high rocks towering above you on both sides. In this barren landscape the bluesheep lives. If you look out for them you have a big chance to see big groups high on the slopes. Besides, if you are really very lucky, you might even spot a snowleopard…It’s a fairly easy walk, gradually going up. At some parts the path is beautifully carved out of the rock, so that you find yourself walking in a kind of three sided tunnel. The path climbs steeply for about half an hour to a small pass with a nice chorten (stupa). From the pass, it’s 30 minutes till Sisaul (3750 m). Here you can camp along the river, next to a tent-hotel.
- Day 7 Sisaul (3750 m) to Dho Tarap (4080 m) 4 hrs Leaving Sisaul, the trail climbs to another small pass. Shortly after the pass, the valley suddenly widens. The landscape has changed completely. It’s very dry and small bushes have taken the place of the trees from before. Gradually you will notice these bushes disappearing almost completely as well. The trail stays besides the river. At the horizon a small collection of houses is appearing in between the mountains: Dho Tarap. Getting nearer to Dho Tarap, you cross many mani walls and small chortens. It makes you realize how important Buddhism is for the people of Dolpa. Buddhism is interwoven in each and every aspect of people’s life here. Behind Dho, you can see the gompa (Buddhist monastery) of Dho, situated on a hill.The people of Dho are direct descendents of Tibetans, which you can notice easily by their faces and their dress. The women wear dark dresses with colorful aprons made from yak wool. Many women wear bracelets of big shells and some have beautiful silver and turquoise headgear. Most men have long hair, some wear a red ribbon in their hair, in the style of Tibetan Khampas. Their typical dress is a long coat, from which they let one sleeve hanging down. The people in Dho are very friendly. A Tashi Delek (good day, like the Nepali Namasté), is always welcomed with a big smile.Dho Tarap is a traditional agricultural village, surrounded by fields. Yaks are used to plough the land. Barley, buckwheat and potatoes are among the few crops that can grow in this barren landscape. But nowadays, small greenhouses enable the people to grow some green vegetables as well. Besides, people live from what the yak gives them (cheese, meat, wool) and from trade. The houses are made of stones found in the river valley and are in typical Tibetan style, with small windows and the flat roofs stocked with firewood.Close to Dho are 2 monasteries which are worth a visit. Ribo Bhumpa Gompa, right on the hill behind Dho, and Shipchaur Gompa, which is in the village Shipchok, 30 minutes walking from Dho.Ribo Bhumpa Gompa belongs to Nyingmapa Buddhism, by the local people called Chöba Buddhism. Inside you find a beautiful big statue of Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) is a very important Buddhist saint from the 7th century AD. He conquered the demons who were preventing Buddhism to get hold in Tibet and in this way made sure that Buddhism could be introduced in Tibet. You can easily recognize him, by his big eyes, little mustache and the staff with skulls he holds. Next to the gompa is a chorten with another chorten inside, which is said to hold the remains of a demon killed by Guru Rinpoche.Shipchaur Gompa in Shipchok belongs to Bonpo Buddhism. Unfortunately Shipchaur Gompa is in a rather bad shape, and in need of restoration.Dho has a big campsite close to the river, and some guesthouses (one with a campsite) where you can stay as well, among which: Angad’s Gallery and Café where you can find beautiful pictures from daily life in Dho, Caravan Hotel-Valley View Campsite and one without a name, but with a sign “hotel & shop”.
- Day 8 Dho Tarap (3944 m) to Numala Base Camp (4440 m) 3 ½ hrs As it is only a 3 ½ hours walk to Numala Base Camp, so you can use the morning to explore Dho and surroundings. Leaving Dho, you pass a beautiful gate chorten. After more or less half an hour, you arrive at the Crystal Mountain School, which is educating children from Dho and surroundings. It is sponsored by a French NGO. If you want, you can visit the school, the teachers are very pleased to show you around. From the school, it’s about half an hour to Tokyu (4209 m), a spread out village, which is said to be the highest permanent settlement in the world. The gompa is at the end of the village, and is worth a visit. It has a beautiful statue of Maitreya, the Future Buddha. From the gompa, it is a gradual climb of about 1 ½ hour over grassy land to Numala Base Camp (4440 m). It’s in the middle of nowhere, but close to the river and you find a small house for cooking here.
- Day 9 Numala Base Camp (4440 m) to Danigar (4631 m) via Numa La (Pass) (5318 m) 6 hrs A tough day lies ahead of you. It’s a good idea to start early (between 5 and 6 am), to arrive early at the pass. In the morning the weather generally is best which makes the crossing of the pass easier and safer. Besides you have more chance to have a good view of the mountain ranges from the pass, as later in the day clouds tend to cover the peaks.It’s a long and strenuous climb of about 3 hours to Numa La (la means pass) at 5318 m. The altitude makes you go slow and you get out of breath quickly. But it’s definitely worth it. On a clear day you have a stunning view from the pass on countless snowcapped mountains. Daulagiri (8167 m) is towering above them to the right. Besides, you can see the Annapurna and Manaslu Range, the Shey Shikar (6139 m), Kanjirowa (6883 m) and many, many others. In spring there can be snow on the pass, which makes the crossing a bit harder. After the pass you go down steeply for about an hour. Then the path becomes pretty level and later climbs slowly but steadily again for about an hour. As the river is going down quickly, you find yourself soon high above the river. After a couple of turns, you arrive at a meadow, which is the campsite for today, Danigar (4631 m). It’s an amazing spot close to the river (Panklanga Khola). To the south the beautiful snowcapped Norbung Kang (6085 m) is towering high above the campsite. On the other side of the river there are high pastures, which are often used by yaks to graze.
- Day 10 Danigar (4631 m) to Yak Kharka (3982 m) via Baga La (5190 m) 6 hrs Another pass to cross today, so another tough, but beautiful day lies ahead of you. Again, an early start is best. The path continues on the slope on the other side of the Panklanga Khola and climbs pretty steep, going “zig zag” over the slope. Soon you are high above the river. A good 2 hours after leaving camp you reach the high camp, which is already close to the pass. From here you have an excellent view on the Norbung Kang and the Baga La range. Pretty soon after the high camp you can observe the last stretch of the path to the pass, climbing very gradually in a half circle over the slope to Baga La (5190 m). From the pass you have a splendid view on many snowcapped mountains like Kanjirowa and Shey Shikhar. In spring there can be snow on this pass as well.After the pass, the path descends pretty steep at the beginning. This part can be icy which makes it slippery, so watch your step! You walk in a stunning scenery of huge rocks in all kind of colors with at the horizon mountains covered with snow. And then, suddenly, more or less 1 ½ hour after leaving the pass, you will see green bushes and a bit later even trees. In the distance you can observe green meadows far below you. A beautiful sight after those days without any trees. Besides, you will see a couple of beautiful waterfalls along the way. It’s rather flat and easy walking, very gradually going down, till you reach Yak Kharka (3982 m), another beautiful place to camp. You have a great view of the imposing Kanjirowa Himal (6612 m). Besides, in spring the meadows are full with flowers.
- Day 11 Yak Kharka (3982 m) to Ringmo/Phoksundo Lake (3733 m) 2 ½ hrs It’s a short hike today, and if you have the energy, you can even walk this part at the same day as crossing the Baga La.Pretty soon after leaving Yak Kharka, the path starts to climb high on the slope, and the river (Maduwa Khola) is soon far below you. The path is going up and down and stays level sometimes: that is what they call Nepali flat. The path is beautifully carved out of the rocks and leads to a small pass. After the pass, the path goes into a pine forest. If you detour from the path soon after entering the forest and go to the left to the edge of the ridge, you can see a nice waterfall. You walk through some beautiful pine forests and meadows and it’s nice to hear the birds singing. Leaving the forest, you cross a small bridge from which you climb in a couple of minutes to Ringmo.Ringmo is a charming village. People practice the Bonpo religion here. Although women are dressed similar to the women in Dho, you can notice some differences. For example, they wear checked skirts mostly over checked trousers. As the women in Dho, most cover their dress with an apron woven from yak wool in different colors. Strolling around the village, you might see women weaving. In Ringmo women make very nice woven products, like belts, bags, shawls and blankets. Most items are made from cotton, but they also sell products made from yak wool. There are a few shops where you can buy these. These shops serve as a general shop as well, and you can fill up your stocks of biscuits for the rest of the trek.Ringmo lies at the shore of the holy Phoksundo Lake. This lake is of an incomparable beauty. It has an enchanting deep blue color and is emerald green close to the shore. The water is crystal clear, with no aquatic life in it. Steep cliffs and snowcapped mountains surround the lake. The colors change a bit during the day; you just won’t get enough of simply looking at it. At the shore of the lake, there is a wonderful campsite.If you want, you can walk a part of the famous Demons Trail from the movie Himalaya (Caravan) of Eric Valli. This is a beautiful movie about the life of people in Dolpa, who bring their yaks over difficult passes bearing salt from Tibet to trade with grain from the lowlands. In the movie, this trail is used during the salt caravan and one of the yaks falls in the lake here. It’s a spectacular trail, going high above the lake. At some parts it gets very narrow due to landslides, so watch your steps.At the other shore, there is a beautiful Bonpo Monastery which you can visit. In the monastery you can observe a statue of Tonpa Shenrab Miwo, the founder of Bonpo religion, who lived thousands of years ago.Phoksundo Lake is part of the Shey Phoksundo National Park. It’s Nepal’s largest National Park, established in 1984, with an area of 3,555 km². It aims to conserve the Trans-Himalayan ecosystem and the Tibetan type of flora and fauna. In 1998, and area of 1,349 km² surrounding the park was declared as buffer zone, which is jointly managed by the park and local communities. (There is a checkpost of the park here and you have to pay 1000 NPR entrance fee, except persons from SAARC countries, who pay 100 NPR).Ringmo has a few guesthouses: Sherpa Hotel and Lodge, Trekkers Lodge, Himalaya Hotel, Shey Shikhar Hotel and Shey Phoksundo Hotel. Besides, you can camp at the shores of Phoksundo Lake.
- Day 12 Ringmo/Phoksundo Lake (3733 m) to Chhepka (2838 m) via Rechi (2940 m) 7 hrs You can walk the following stretch in two short days, or one long day. Walking time to Rechi is about 3 ½ hours (excluding breaks) and from Rechi to Chhepka is 3 ½ hours as well.The walk to Rechi goes almost entirely through beautiful pine forests, with some bushes, birches and other broad leaved trees mixed in. Leaving Ringmo, the path is rather flat at first, but soon climbs steeply up the hill. Soon you will see the river far below you. The climb takes about half an hour. At the top you have a beautiful last view of the Phoksundo Lake. Soon after the top you’ll come across Nepal’s highest waterfall, a spectacular waterfall of 167 meters high, the Phoksundo Waterfall (also called Suligad Waterfall). And then it is going down, down and more down. And then it is going down, down and down. The first 45 minutes pretty steep but after that it will be Nepali flat again.More or less one hour after the viewpoint you reach the Amchi Hospital. This is a very interesting place and worth a visit. In fact it is more a clinique, which is highly frequented by local people. An Amchi is a doctor who is educated in traditional Tibetan medicine, and always is a lama (monk) as well. Tibetan medicine has a tradition of thousands of years and uses techniques as pulse analysis and urine analysis for diagnosis. For treatment medicines made of herbs and minerals are used, together with physical therapies, like Tibetan acupuncture. In the Amchi Hospital you can see a collection of herbs and minerals used to cure people. Most Dolpa people prefer to visit the Amchi over a regular doctor when they are ill. A donation is highly welcomed to keep this tradition living.It’s about 1 ½ hour more to Rechi (2940 m). The path is Nepali flat again, so it’s an easy walk. You walk through the forest, with birds singing. The river flows rapidly just next to you and is beautiful emerald green at some places. On the other side of the river, the rocky slope goes up steeply high above you, and is dotted with pine trees. On the way you encounter local people with their mules or jhopas (crossbreed between yak and cow) loaded with stuff to sell. The village Rechi is at the other side of the river. It’s a very small village and consists of just a couple of houses and a primary school.The trail stays Nepali flat to Chhepka, following the river all the time. You notice that you are descending; not only by the increasing temperature, but also by the difference in vegetation. You’ll see bamboo again for example, and big walnut trees. After about 3 to 3 ½ hours you reach Chhepka, a small village, surrounded by fields of millet and wheat.Chhepka has three hotels, La lee gurans Hotel and Lodge, Hotel Jharana and Yak Hotel and Lodge.
- Day 13 Chhepka (2838 m) to Juphal (2475 m) 6 hrs Today it is most of the times descending, with some small climbs in between. The first part is going through the forest again, with below you the wild flowing river. After the village of Shyanta you leave the forest, and suddenly you walk through a bit dry landscape. In front of you, you can see a part of the Dhaulagiri range.You pass villages like Sangta (2520 m) and Kageni (2413 m) and reach the checkpost of the Shey Phoksundo National Park (SPNP) again. After crossing a big iron suspension bridge (the Dhim Bridge, 99 m long) you go left (west) to Juphal (if you would go right (east), you’ll arrive in Dunai again (45 minutes walking)).From the bridge, it’s about 2½ – 3 hours to Juphal. The first part goes over a large path, passing through the small village of Kalagaonda. Then you leave the main road and walk over a small path, through fields of barley and wheat, with walnut, peach and apricot trees. It’s a pretty steep climb to reach Juphal. Just before arriving, you pass the Hindu village Dangiwada. Juphal is a large village with a small bazaar where it is nice to spend some time looking around.In Juphal there is a guesthouse with a campsite: Hotel Mt Putha. Besides, there is a small guesthouse, Hotel Jharana
- Day 14 Flight Juphal-Nepalgunj-Kathmandu Early in the morning you fly to Nepalgunj. Especially the first part of the flight through the mountain valleys is spectacular. Later in the day, you fly back to Kathmandu.