impressions from

Upper Dolpo: High Passes to Magic Places

Turquoise lakes, cozy villages with hospitable people, high passes, fertile valleys in wind-swept desolation, sacred mountains, monasteries clinging to sheer rockfaces - Dolpo in Western Nepal offers a huge variety of fantastic sights, each of which alone is worth a visit. It is a remote area and can be one of the harder places to trek if conditions aren't perfect, but was definitely worth every minute of our 24-day trek in September 2008.

Camp in Ringmo, click to see entire galleryGetting from Kathmandu to Juphal in Western Nepal can take between two days and a week, depending on the weather. Despite the ongoing monsoon we are lucky and don't get stuck in Nepalganji, a town at the Indian border from where a small airplane takes off and lands at a ridiculously small and short piece of land on Juphal's "airport". We meet our crew there, and walk the next three days up the Suli Gad gorge towards Ringmo.

After a steep climb we see and hear Nepal's tallest waterfall, a sign that we've reached Ringmo, a picturesque village between green barley and buckwheat fields at the shore of the Phoksumdo lake. We spend a day for acclimatization, but more importantly to enjoy the beauty of the tranquil lake, to visit one of the few remaining pre-Buddhist Bonpo monasteries and to spend time in the village.

Do Tarap, click to see entire gallery On a small trail high above the lake we continue north towards Shey gompa. This monastery is an important place for locals on their yearly pilgrimage around the "Crystal Mountain". The first of almost a dozen 5'000 m passes needs to be crossed first - then the views open up and reveal the diverse and coloful landscape of Upper Dolpo.

Yaks and goats are grazing between the colorful bushes on the slopes at 5'000 m; in summer people move up to alpine pastures with their cattle.

Click to see entire gallerySaldang is one of the few places where agriculture is possible, and the golden barley is almost ready for harvest. We pass endless mani walls, chortens and houses as we follow the valley downstream. Finding the two passes to Do Tarap is as challenging as crossing them, and finally after a long day the fertile valley appears.

A wide trail takes us through the large fields. In the coming days as we cross over into the Kali Gandaki valley, trails will become smaller and passes higher and steeper.

Click to see entire galleryAfter more passes the fortress-like village of Charkha announces the most eastern village of Dolpo. Over night the weather turns bad just as we approach the critical passes into the Sangtha valley.

Our horses struggle in deep snow and must be exhausted before having even arrived at the foot of the Sangtha La - how will they (and us) make it up the steep slope and down on the other side? It's a miracle but at the end of the day, we're all in camp safe and sound. The crew did an amazing job, going back and forth to carry the loads from horses which struggled terribly even without their burden.

From a roof of one of the houses of Sangdak, we look back to the high passes which almost stopped us on our way. Ahead of us lie the red canyons of Upper Mustang, and a stunning panoramic view reveals also Muktinath, the Kali Gandaki and the high summits of the Annapurna massif in the south. What a view and ending of a tough and rewarding trek in Upper Dolpo. From Jomosom we enjoy a scenic flight to Pokhara where relax at the lake before returning to Kathmandu.

Sitting there over pizza and ice-cream, it's time to lean back, enjoy the comfort and remember the fantastic last four weeks with all the exciting and tranquil moments. Thanks once more Jamie for yet another fantastic trek from

The in-depth diary will take some time, in the meantime enjoy the Dolpo picture gallery with descriptions of our route.

Panorama view Upper Dolpo, click to see entire gallery

Route: (in-depth travelogue to follow)
  • Kathmandu - Juphal - Ringmo
  • Ringmo - Shey - Namgung
  • Namgung - Saldang - Tarap
  • Do Tarap - Charkha
  • Charkha - Sangda - Jomosom