Day 1: Juphal - Dunai. Juphal has the surrounding villages are a mix of Hindu and Buddhist, an interesting look into the middle hills of Nepal. After breakfast we will start to walking Dunai headquarter of Dolpo district we make a camp somewhere in town. Our leader aand other crew will spend the afternoon supplying for the trek, and you are free to explore the small village.
Day 2: Sulighat (2075 m). We start off slowly, descending steeply down to the main trail, and then hiking along a wide trail following the western bank of the clear, turquoise Thuli Bheri River; in back of us is Tripurakot Village, an important Hindu pilgrimage sight with a wonderful Kali temple perched high on a hillside. A short walk up-river brings us to another new suspension bridge leading to the small hamlet of Sulighat, where we enter the National Park. We set up camp in Sulighat, a short day to enable us to stay at good campsites further up the valley towards Phoksumdo Lake. Relax, have a cup of chai, and enjoy the afternoon.
Day 3: Chhepka (2675 m). Finally a real trekking day, and beautiful one as we hike along the famous Suli Ghad (river) through dramatic forests of pine, fir and birch through dramatic, steep canyons. The trail is hilly, sometimes high above the river and often right along the bank. We reach the three-house village of Kageni after a few hours of cliff-side walking, crossing the Suli Ghad on a small, wooden bridge to reach the campsite at Raktang. Continuing along the western bank of the river, we pass several goths (pastures) and the basic stone houses of Jyalhasa, a seasonal settlement of the Ringmo inhabitants. We climb slightly, hike through open woods, and later cross the river again at Shyanta, where the owners of small campsite and shop keep bee-hives.
Day 4: Amchi Hospital. Another wonderful day of wooded gorge trekking, one of our favorites from 2008. Leaving Chhepka, we re-cross the Suli Ghad twice, mostly staying close to the river and hiking through woods of firs and larches and through a dramatic, deep gorge, several times hiking right by the riverside on stone steps. Bird watchers will love this section; wag-tails flit from rock to rock along the riverbank, and the trees are alive with many other varieties of small birds. We soon reach the campsite and tented tea-houses of Rechi, run by Tibetans from Ringmo, where we will probably stop for lunch by the river.
The region starts to have a real Tibetan feel from now on, the locals dressed in traditional Tibetan garb, and the women adorned in their Tibetan turquoise, coral and amber necklaces. From Rechi, the trail climbs steeply to an amazing viewpoint up and down the Suli Ghad from the trail, hewn out between rock and tree-trunk. This is the confluence of the Pungmo Chu and the Suli Ghad, now known as the Phoksumdo Khola. From the west bank of the river, a trail leads northwest towards the Kagmara La (pass) and on to Jumla. Our trail to Phoksumdo Lake the next day follows the west bank of the river, and the trail on the east of the Phoksumdo River branches off to the east and leads to Dho Tarap.
Day 5: Ringmo (3725 m). A short but fantastic day of trekking, a Himalayan classic! After several cups of freshly brewed coffee to warm us up, we backtrack a few minutes to the bridge next to the school, and cross to the west of the Phoksumdo Khola, continuing past the small Amchi Hospital (an Amchi is a traditional Tibetan doctor/healer) and then up quite steeply through a forest of cedars and through the winter settlement of the Ringmo-pa, Polam. We ascend steeply for another hour, switch-backing on a spectacular, alpine trail to a ridge at about 38000 m strewn with multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags.
We continue along this high, sandy trail, descending slowly through a lovely birch forest to Phoksumdo Khola (river). We have finally reach the village of Ringmo on the opaque, deep turquoise Phoksumdo Lake. Legend tells of a demoness that caused this lake to be formed during Guru Rimpoche's conversion of Dolpo to Buddhism, a perpetual symbol of the struggle between the Bon and Buddhist religions. We camp for the night below the house in Ringmo.
Day 6: Ringmo. A rest and exploration day, finally, in this picturesque village of flat-roofed stone houses, mani walls and impressive chortens surrounded by junipers. The ancient, white-washed Thasoon Chholing Bon-po Gompa is a 20 minute walk from our campsite along the forested eastern shores of the lake, worth taking a short hike to see. And of course we sit right on the shore of the spectacular Phoksumdo Lake; remember the harrowing scene in 'Himalaya' when Thinley's yak caravan attempted the 'Devil's Trail'.
Day 7: Chabluk Phu (3625 m). A classic Himalayan trekking day; one of my top-ten mountain days anywhere! We leave our lovely campsite after breakfast, heading north along a dramatic, precipitous trail high on the western side of the lake. We cross the 'high' bridge that collapsed during the movie 'Himalaya' after a few minutes, and then ascend on a narrow, cliff-side trail. Half an hour later, we descend back down to the lake, cross a small stream and some scrubby wooded areas, and then climb up again, much higher this time. We eventually reach a crest at just over 4000 meters, worth a long rest and many photos.
We continue along this spectacular trail, staying high, as the lake opens up in different aspects in front of us, Near the northern end of the lake we make a long, gradual descent through a lovely forest of craggy Himalayan birches to reach our scenic lake-side campsite at Chabluk Phu, a local grazing area, just where the trail hits level ground.
Day 8: Ngongda La Base Camp (4625 m). Yet another incredible day of hiking, starting with a level walk through scrub and briars, now changing to muted Autumn colors. We are entering the real Dolpo, and to enter into this mystical land we have to cross the Ngongda La pass.The valley is magical as we head north, filled with an open forest of birches and rose-buds, and soon narrows. We turn east up a small following a rocky river, and after lunch near the confluence we climb through stones and boulders on a small trail, crossing the stream several times by rock-hopping or on small, wooden bridges. Finally we reach our 'high' camp.
Day 9: Shey Gompa (4375 m). Now begins our trek to the fabled Shey Gompa and neighboring 'Crystal Mountain' the most sacred peak in Dolpo which Dolpo pilgrims circumambulate, during the full moon, before the yearly grain harvest. The sacred mountain is knows as the 'Kailash' of Dolpo; the mythology behind it describes a Tibetan Buddhist lama who battles the fierce local mountain spirit on a snow-lion, perhaps the same lama who founded Shey Gompa.
We wake up early for our challenging pass crossing, heading up the rocky valley to the base of the pass, where we turn west and hike up a steep trail traversing loose slate to the crest of the Ngongda La (5375 m). What views we are treated to for our efforts! We have views of the peaks Shey Shikkar and Kang Chunne, both just over 6000 m, before descending steeply down to the wide valley floor. We are entering George Schaller's blue sheep (and snow leopard) country, so keep the binoculars ready. After stopping for lunch by the stream that we are following down the valley, we pass a long, ancient mani wall and finally spot Shey Gompa and the small village of Shey.
Day 10: Shey. The 11th-13th century, ochre Shey Gompa is a wonderful monastery, with colorful Tibetan murals and old statues inside which the gate-keeper, a lay monk, and his family The gompa was fabled to have been constructed by a Tibetan Buddhist lama, arriving on the back of a mythical snow-lion. The murals are not old, but there is a valuable scroll that describes the mythology behind sacred Crystal Mountain and Shey Gompa, including where to find the milky lake in the interior of the Crystal Mountain kora which allows the pilgrim to see Mount Kailash in the far distance.
To the left of Shey Gompa is another gompa, built into the cliff-side. You might remember the prayer-room inside from the movie 'Himalaya'. Make a 'kora' of the gompa complex and relax for the rest of the day with a book, soaking in the spectacular views from our campsite. For those wanting to explore, we'll make a pilgrimage to a sacred gompa to the west of Shey perhaps venturing even further the valley towards Phijor and Samling Gompas. But first, perched amongst the craggy, red cliffs, is the smaller but perhaps more important Tsakhang Gompa (which means red gompa, after the cliffs) of the Kagyupa sect, knows for its teachers Tilopa, Marpa and Milarepa. The gompa is filled with colorful Buddhist paintings and rare thankas.
Day 11: Namgung (4430 m). On the trail again the next few days cover some of the most culturally interesting regions of the trek, and of course the scenery is equally spectacular. We leave Shey and head east along the Sephu Khola towards the Saldang La (or Shey La), a gradual three hour hike up the valley past many ancient mani walls. A last steep climb brings us to the prayer-flag festooned summit at 5075 m. From the windy pass, we are treated to magnificent panoramic views of the peaks surrounding Dolpo, with Mustang to the east, Tibet to the north, and Kanjiroba, Kagmara and Riu Dhukta, or the Crystal Mountain, to the West.
The landscape resembles more and more the arid plateaus and canyons of neighboring Mustang as we descend through this other-worldly landscape. We descent quite steeply to a small stream, where we continue to contour around the hillsides heading towards Namgung. We'll stop for lunch at a seasonal herding settlement, and then follow our yaks to Namgung. Once around the hillsides, the ancient red and white Namgung Gompa, perched on the hill-side behind Namgung village, appears impressively below us, the older gompa built into the cliff while the newer gompa sits with the two houses of Namgung. Other ruins of ancient gompas and dwellings are built into the cliff-side near Namgung, adding to the mystique of this area.
Days 12 & 13: Saldang. A short but spectacular day along the trail towards Saldang, passing several 'doksas' en route. After a few hours of easy walking, we crest a ridge topped with prayer flags and look down on Saldang below us and the crinkle of dun-colored mountains to the north, bordering on Tibet. After much contouring, we reach 'Caravan Thinle's' house at the northern end of the village. Our spectacularly set campsite is at the far south of this large village, so we'll have at least half an hour to wander through this fascinating, scenic Tibetan village to reach it. We camp just above Saldang's gilded gompa.
Day 14: Khomasgaon (4100 m). The exploratory section of the trek begins as we head northeast from Saldang along the little-trekked route to Khomasgaon. These next few days are said to be some of the most interesting and scenic in all of Dolpo, so we look forward to a bit of adventure We start the morning heading past Saldang Gompa and Amchi (Tibetan doctor) hospital to lower Saldang, continuing along the Nagon Khola past several bustling, white-washed villages, long mani walls, painted chortens and old gompas perched high up along the mountainsides. At Chagaon, we turn left, crossing the river and heading northeast along a smaller trail. It's a good day's walk to reach Khomasgaon where we will look for a good campsite for the night.
Day 15: Shimen (3850 m). We leave Khomasgaon ('gaon' is village in Nepali) and soon cross the Gurchhu Khola, afterwards ascending to a small pass, the Shimen La, at 4260 m. From the crest of the pass, it's a short hike down to the intersection of the northern trail from Saldang, which follows the Panjyan (Panzang) Khola. We are now in the Panzang district of Dolpo, Shimen is just past this intersection, and there is supposed to be a good campsite in the grazing pastures above the village.
Day 16: Thinje (4110 m). Heading south along the Panjyan (Panzang) Khola, staying on the eastern bank, we pass two trails leading north to the border of Tibet on our left, and further along Pu Gompa in the hills to the right. Namyal (Namgyal) Gompa is another hour away also to the south of the trail, a larger gompa. From Targaon and Phalwa, another trail branches off to the north heading to the Tibetan border, signifying how important trade with Tibet is still to the Dolpo-pa. Thinje (Thinkyu), just past this intersection and before another, is a large, prominent village from where many of the villagers acting in the movie 'Himalaya' come. Tenzin Norbu, the famous 'Ngagpa' painter of Dolpo, also comes from the Panzang region.
Day 17: Thinje (Thinkyu). We have a 'rest' day to do some exploring of this remote section of Dolpo, very close to the border of Tibet. Thinle knows many people in this village, so we'll have a chance to visit some of the local houses.
Day 18: Mid-Camp. We catch the trail at the intersection of the Panzang Khola and the Sulun Khola, and head in a westerly direction from here. We stop for the night before tomorrow's pass.
Day 19: Tokyu (4225 m). Another pass day, so we're up early for the ascent of the Chhoila Pass, at 5050 m. Following the river of the same name, we emerge into the wider Jyanta Khola valley (the main trail) soon. Back on familiar trails, we just have a short walk to our wonderful chorten-side campsite at Tokyu, with a trickling stream in front of the dining tent for washing up. Tokyu village, which is in Lower Dolpo, is just a fifteen minute walk below us, at the intersection of the two rivers. You'll probably run into other trekkers between Tokyu and Dho Tarap, and can buy some basic supplies and beer at the small shops and Tibetan tents in the village.
Day 20: Dho Tarap - Changla Base Camp. It's an interesting walk from Tokyu to Dho Tarap during harvest time, with villagers in their distinctive Dolpo-striped aprons out threshing the barley with wooden threshers. We'll have a chance to visit several gompas that date from centuries past; Ripuche Gompa, Chamba Gompa, Kakar and the gompa at Dho Tarap called Ribo Bhumpa, rebuilt in 1955. Interestingly, there is a Bon chorten next to the Buddhist gompa, which is said to contain the relics of a demon killed by Guru Rimpoche. Above this gompa is another older Buddhist gompa, Mekyem Gompa.
The second stage of our exploratory begins; we head west along the trail leading eventually to Jomsom, through Ship Chok with its red gompa, and then continuing on to Dhoro (Do-Ro) and Dhoro Gompa. The broad valley narrows as we head towards the Chanla (Chharka) Pass, one of the stormy passes featured in 'Himalaya', and we set up camp somewhere in the valley before the pass, with views of snow-capped Norbu Khola gracing our campsite. We'll take six more days to reach Jomsom along a breath-taking route, with very challenging trekking days and many high passes to reach Mustang.
Day 21: Keheng Khola Camp. After a good breakfast, we hike along the Tarpi Khola and switchback up to the Chanla (Chharka) Pass. Descending quickly on a gravel path, the valley soon opens as we follow the stream past local doksas (herding settlements), yaks and herders down to the intersection of our stream with the Chaju (Keheng) Khola, where we will set up camp for the night on a flat plateau, gazing up at the Himalayan skies in the evening.
Day 22: Sumdo or Norbulung (4575 m). We cross the watershed leading south to the Bharbung Khola on a small bridge, and the head north along the Chharka Tulsi Khola. We should have fantastic views of the Dhaulagiri Massif to the east once past the Bharbung Khola intersection, so hope for make some offerings to the local Gods for good weather. After an hour or so of arid landscapes, we spot the first entrance chorten of Chharka, followed soon after by a larger chorten, barley fields and carved mani walls. Chharka is a small hamlet of closely-built, white-washed dwellings, medieval in feel, with a Bon-po monastery, Sarchhen Gompa.
We follow the Chharka Khola to the intersection of the Thansan Khola, having to cross the river on a small bridge. The campsite right after this river crossing is Sumdo, and we may set up camp for the night here, or we may continue on to a campsite called Norbulung, down the east bank of the Thansan Khola.
Day 23: Sangda Low Camp or Sangda Phedi (5100 m). After Sumdo Camp, trekking along the Thansan Khola, the valley narrows for a bit and then widens into broad plains at a three-way river junction; this is what the locals call Norbulung. We then pass through the high yak pastures of Molum Sumdo (4860 m) and continue on to a crest at 5130 m. We're trekking through a remote region of stark, Himalayan beauty, with varying hues of ochre, sable and tan, classic mountain scenery. We continue on past several river junctions and camp somewhere below the two passes we have to cross the next day. There is also supposed to be a camp at Sangda Phedi, by a stream between the two passes, so we'll play this by ear.
Day 24: Sangda (3700 m). A two-pass day if we haven't made it to Phedi, so up early to cross the 5460 m Sangda La, a long, tough pass crossing but with fantastic views from the top. We descend along a steep, gravel trail, quite difficult, to Sangda Phedi. We'll continue on, crossing the lower Sangda La, 4990 m, and then descend through loose shale. When we'll arrive at the winter grazing settlement of Sangda Gunsa (Sangdak), at the intersection of the Bheri Khola and the Kyalunpa Khola. It's another few hours, following the Kyalunpa Khola which we cross once, we reach the village of Sangda (Santa), a remote outpost of Gurung Tibetans which Carsten says are originally from Mustang.
Day 25: Dhagarjun (3280 m). From Sangda, we start climbing and spend most of the morning making a high traverse, crossing many ridges until we finally reach the 'pass' at 4280 m. From the crest, we have a magnificent vista, looking out to snow-capped peaks and down to Mustang's patch-work of trails and villages far below. Kagbeni, Jharkot, Muktinath, Thorung Peak., the Thorung La, Niligiri, Daulaghiri and the Kali Gandaki are all visible, an awe-inspiring site! From here, we descend quite steeply into the Kali Gandaki valley, reaching the fortress-like entrances to the small villages of Phalyak (Phalla) and nearby Dhagarjun, where we camp for the night.
Day 26: Jomsom (2724 m). Stick your heads out of your tents to see the sunrise on Niligiri and Daulaghiri before breakfast in our dining tent. Himalayan sunrises and sunsets remind us of why we've come all this way, We climb to a small ridge, and then head directly south towards Jomsom, the district headquarters of Mustang, back to 'civilization' on the Annapurna Circuit. We reach the long, cobbled path that connects upper and lower Jomsom, along which beautiful textiles, woven on hand looms in the traditional style, and are displayed by Mustangi women. At the Trekker's Lodge in lower Jomsom, cold beers and hot showers, both well deserved, await. We'll celebrate our wonderful journey through remote Dolpo in the evening with our fantastic crew, and hand out tips and bonuses.
Day 27: Fly Pokhara & Kathmandu. The end of an amazing trek, and an equally impressive exit as we fly by Daulaghiri and the Annapurnas range to reach Pokhara, where we transfer to a flight to Kathmandu. Back in Kathmandu. End of the tour.
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