Rara to Phoksumdo the hard way

My sister and I decided to explore upper Dolpo in the summer of 2014. Upper Dolpo is an amazing lost land tucked away between the high Himalaya and Tibetan ranges. The population of around 3000 souls that inhabit these brown rocky mountains make a living from farming, migrant labour and trade with Tibet.

To say upper Dolpo is remote is an understatement. Today still, it has no airport and it takes over a week of trekking to get here no mater what way you approach. The high passes that lock it this place completely in winter. I simply could no wait to visit this hidden land.

All routes to upper Dolpo are rather tough and we, of course, set our minds on the toughest one. We were to start around lake Rara and hike through the upper Mugu valley to reach upper Dolpo over three high and remote passes. Once in Dolpo we would take our time to discover this place and make a long circuit hike finishing at the famous Phoksumdo lake. My sister would leave the area by plane from Juphal, I on the other hand planned to leave the region on foot through the green hills of Dhorpatan.

Dolpo lies on the transition between the the Nepalese Himalaya and the Tibetan plateau. Culturally it is strongly linked with Tibet, but landscape wise it has a bit of both. The glaciated sharp peaks give it a Himalayan fee., but the barren hills make you think of Tibet.

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Season

Dolpo lies firmly in rain shadow, so summers are in contrast to most other regions in Nepal rather dry. Trekking here from June to September is therefore the most pleasant time. Trekking in May or October is  possible as well, but can see some more snow issues. Winter trekking means battling more snow and cold than you are probably prepared to.

Alternatives

There is a way easier alternative route from Mugu to Dolpo that circumvents the three high passes. For this route one needs to follow the main branch of the Mugu nadi at Tiyar. From here it is just a matter of following a large canyon eastward. This route is frequented by locals, a lot shorter and way less difficult to navigate.

Another fun route into Dolpo is from Mustang. This route takes you through the barren Tibetan country north of the Dhaulagiri range. This route is pretty popular among tourists, but will cost you 1000 dollars for the permits alone.

We ourselves started trekking in Nampa, but one could start trekking from Jumla as well. If you are pressed for time (something you should not be here) you can nowadays also take a jeep from Jumla all the way to Gamghadi, this save you about two days.

Packing list

For the pretty remote route from Mugu to Dolpo you will need to be fully self reliant without question. Only in the end of April and May you are likely to meet people here (the Nepalese come down here to search for Yasir gompa during this period).

If you are here in summer, you will actually not need much more than a sleeping back. Dolpo is sparsely populated, but in summer there are camps all around the place. We ourselves camped only once and even than it was not really necessary.

We took crampons and an ice axe with us, but these are completely pointless items in any season.

A static rope to assist in crossing rivers can proof valuable in case one of the improvised bridges is not in place.

How to get there

Getting to the starting point was due to the monsoon and nation wide protests against the new constitution a real hassle. It took us 4 days. Under normal circumstances you should however be able te reach here in about 2 days.

Whatever you do, you will need to travel via Nepalgunj. To reach here comming from Kathmandu , you can either take a night bus or morning flight. From Nepalgunj you can take the morning bus or flight to Jumla. The flight to and from Kathmandu do not connect with the Jumla flight. You will need to stay overnight. The bus from Kathmandu however nicely connects with the bus to Jumla. Due to this traveling by air is not that big of a time saver. Even though not much faster it is nevertheless way more comfortable though.

 

Day 1

It had taken four days, but we had at last arrived in Nampa. The main reason for the delay was the nation wide protests against the new constitution, but the puts in the road had not helped.

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Yet another delay.

There had been no protests anywhere near our location, but we had had to wait a long time for a police escort anyway. Moving in convoy did not go fast and on top of that we had a few small landslides that needed to be cleared before we could pas. We did not mind too much, we had all the time in the world and we were actually greatly enjoying our forever taking bus drive.

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On the road.

 

Now the bus drive was over, we waved goodbye to our fellow travelers that continued to Jumla. There we stood next to the road. My sister, me and our guide Sabin. The starting point of our hike Sinja lay however another 25 kilometers further up the side valley. Rumour had it that a bus would depart tomorrow around noon, but we did not feel like doing even more waiting. The weather was nice and we wanted to get on our way. If a vehicle would pass by we would we could always just hop on .

We hiked for about 2 hours. When the evening started to fall we arranged a home stay. There was a highly intelligent boy of around 12 years old. He spoke excellent English. I was rather impressed by his knowledge and adult attitude. Hopefully he would make it to a good university when he grew older.

Day 2

It soon became clear to us that the chance of getting a ride was rather limited, not a vehicle in sight. We hiked rapidly, we wanted to get to the ‘actual’ start of our trek. The green hilly valley was not steep, broad nor impressive in any other regard, but pleasing to the eye nevertheless.

It was pretty long today. Most of the time we hiked on the road, which forced us to take long and inefficient turns. Hiking on the road is never much fun anyway.

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Hiking along the road.

We continued through typical mountain countryside for the rest of the day till we reached Rinja. Just before we got there we saw the bus arriving, time wise it would have made no difference. Hiking had had been probably more fun though. We stayed overnight in a small hotel.

Day 3

Today would be a super short day. We had heard there was a hut at the base of Chuchemera la where we could stay overnight. In order to acclimatize we decided to stay there.

We climbed steep up from the village. After having climbed about 300 meters the terrain flattened out. A little further over the meadows lay an army camp and a bit beyond that the stone hut. The hut was manned by an older lady who ran it as some kind of hotel-restaurant.

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After the steep climb.

We ate dal bhat and hung around in the sun for the rest of the afternoon. It was a good thing I had not yet disposed of the magazine I was carrying, as there was not much else to do.

Day 3

A bunch of shepherds had stayed overnight in the hut as well. They had smoked, shouted and played loud music for most of the night. All three of us could not wait to get out of the small hut that morning.

We hiked through the forest till the foot of Chuchemera lagna. The trail was unclear, there were goat trails all over the place, but the location of the grassy Chuchemera pass right north of us was rather obvious.

We climbed the grassy slopes and made it to the pass. From the pass we could already see lake Rara east of us and the snow peaks of upper Mugu in the north. On the descent we had a nice paved trail taking us quickly down.

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The upper Mugu mountains north of us.

At lake Rara we took an (expensive) room in a beautiful and large hotel next to the lake. Unfortunately my sister fell ill and could not enjoy the lake that much.

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Rara lake from Chuchemera lagna.

Lake Rara is pretty famous and by far the most popular tourist destination in west Nepal (as far as one can speak about popular destinations in west Nepal). Truth be told, I think this is mainly due to it being together with Phewa lake, the only ‘real’ lake in Nepal. Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice lake, but not living up to it’s fame. On my map of the area stood preposterous things like ‘Blue jewel of the west’ and ‘Some say you can see the whole history of Tibet in this lake’.

Day 4

The antibiotics had done their work and my sister was on her feet again. Eating was still a bridge to far, but for the rest Roos was doing fine. It was a clear morning and as we hiked north along the lake shore, the lake was at it’s most beautiful.

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Clear morning at Rara.

It was a sharp descent to Gamghadi, the dirty capital of Mugu. We had a good lunch and already bought some of our supplies for our crossing to Mugu. We would need about 7 days worth of food we estimated, the basic stuff we would buy in Silenchaurakharka a few days further. We bought 6 kilograms of nuts and raisins making us famous in the entire town. To be sure we bought some kerosene as well.

From Gamghadi we had to keep descending all the way down to the Mugu nadi. The descent went over a dirty jeep track that since recently connected Gamghadi with Jumla. Once down the valley we continued over the jeep track down into the Mugu valley. I hoped we would soon leave the jeep track behind us and could start walking over a trail again.

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Welcome committee in Lumsa.

Our destination of that day was Lumsa. This small wooden village with it’s, may I say, rather unwashed people welcomed us with open arms. We could stay overnight and got some pretty nice dal bhat, my sister was not yet ready to eat it though. She would keep a slight dal bhat aversion for the rest of the trip. (Not handy in a country where dal bhat is 90 percent of the diet.)

Day 5

The Mugu valley is very narrow and by times even a little gorge like. Most of all however, it is long. Yesterday we had hiked a few hours here, but today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow we would hike over the valley floor to Silenchaurakharka.

Soon after we left Lumsa the road terminated making the hiking a lot more pleasant again. The trail was rather flat, keeping close to the river, cutting through rock faces if needed.

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The trail is cut right through the rock.

We made it a short day and stayed overnight in a small hotel at a suspension bridge. The river roared loud under our balcony. It would take a while for us to get a silent overnight place without a roaring river.

Day 6

Another day following the Mugu valley up. At the small monastery Tiyar a side trail went east to follow the Mugu nadi. This was the fastest way to upper Dolpo. We however stayed on the main trail and followed the smaller tributary river toward Silenchaura kharka.

Tiyar is a turning point. From here on the villages grew smaller and sparser. The people here in the upper reaches of the valley were Buddhist instead of Hindu.

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The upper Mugu valley is dominated by Buddhist structures.

In the shops on the way we could see a lot of Chinese merchandise, something that would persist through the rest of our trek. Funny enough getting supplies from China is for the upper Dolpo and Mugu region way more efficient than getting it from the rest of Nepal. The Chinese border was only a few days away, whereas it could easily take a week to get down to the terrai.

We stayed overnight with a family in the large stone house that they were still constructing. It had been hot and we enjoyed a good coke in the evening.

Day 7

We left the family and the building crew behind.

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The unfinished house in which we stayed.

Early in the afternoon we arrived in Silenchaurakharka, whicih is no more than a large house with a few small potato fields around it. There was unfortunately no folk around. We wanted to buy our basic supplies here, so that was kind of a pickle. ‘Well we can just dig up some potatoes’ Sabine joked. We looked around and deduced that someone would likely return here soon. There was a kitten inside the house and some laundry was still hanging to dry. We waited for almost two hours. I hiked up and down to a settlement 20 minutes west of Silenchaura, but it turned out to be a winter settlement and found it completely deserted. After three hours two women with two young children returned. Great, I would have hated it to hike 2 hours back to the previous settlement.

We were well taken care of, but also paid big time for it. Quite a ripoff deal.

Day 8

As we left Silenchaura we knew it would be nothing but wilderness all the way till Pho, the westernmost village in Dolpo. It would take us roundabout a week. The weather was not exactly cooperating. It was cloudy and rained a little. The first bad weather we had seen. So overall still not bad for monsoon season…

We followed a small but rather clear trail up through the forests and shrubs. It did not take long before we met the first snow patches in the gullies. Apparently this was a shaded place.

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Into the wild.

Around the tree line about 4 kilometers before Chyargo la we made camp.  We were not alone, two grazing horses kept us company. How did they get these up here?

Day 9

We took our time to acclimatize so did not cross the Chyargo pass today. Instead we slowly packed our tents hiked another 2 kilometers towards the Chyargo la and made camp again, this time around 4500 meters.

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Our camping spot.

It was a long wait, but sleeping and gazing over this magnificent landscape got me through.

Day 10

Today we could make a long day. The Chyargo la is about 5150 meters high. The first parts goes over rock filled meadows, but the last part over a steep rocky slope. We arrived on top completely out of breath. We were greeted by countless prayer flags waving in the wind.

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The prayer flags at Chyargo la.

North of us we saw the no mans land of upper Mugu. An area of about 15 by 20 kilometers tucked away behind the Kanjirowa range that is completely deserted. We would need to traverse this area till the Yala la in the east. The mountains here maybe a cry from those in central Nepal, but the remote and wild feeling of this lost land make up for it tenfold.

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View over upper Mugu.

We descended over a faint trail all the way down till the valley floor. We camped between the trees and made a nice fire. The river was not to be messed around with luckily previous camping crews had chopped down a tree to function as bridge.

Day 11

We crossed the log over the river and followed it downstream. The valley became a canyon. I was afraid the rock faces would soon push us into the river. That fear soon became reality. The trail terminated and the rock face neared the river. The people in Silenchaurakharka had told that we needed to cross a small pass to bypass the river, but my map and the photos I had seen indicated that we needed to keep following the river. I trusted in our later option and explored the area further down stream, the terrain became tougher and steeper and after 15 minutes I had to give up and return.

The others had meanwhile found an improvised bridge, which we had missed and could cross to get to the other more easily traversable side of the river. On the other side we again found a faint trail. The trail got ever smaller and we needed to cross the river over logs of wood several times.

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One of the many improvised bridges.

After a while we met a major tributary that we needed to follow upstream. The trail was now completely gone. It became an exhausting day, battling bushes and climbing up and down to bypass steep sections.  After a while the faint trail reappeared, probably due to the fact that the trail that had crossed the (hypothetical) pass had come down.

At around the tree line the going got a bit easier. Our legs were heavy and we decided to call it a day.

Day 12

We would make it a very short day to the base of Yala la. We decided not to cross the, as we could not make it all the way to Pho tomorrow anyway.

We hiked over the grassy plains east. North of us we could see some glaciated rock faces forming the border between Nepal and Tibet. In just two hours we made it to the base of the pass where we camped.

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Yala la base camp.

Our food was running low, we had only a little bit of rice left. Cashew nuts we still had a lot, but they tasted a little funny.

Day 13

We started hiking towards the gray and grim looking Yala la. The pass looks rather steep, but since the approach crosses via the flank it is actually not that bad. Only the last 50 meters up requires a little help of the hands. Once on the pass my GPS indicated an altitude of around 5450 meters.

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Yala la.

On the east side of Yala la the landscape clearly started to get more Dolpo style. Many colourful brown rock formations, with some grass patches in between. This valley formed the border line of the climate zones of Mugu and Dolpo.

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Transition from Mugu to Dolpo.

We could descend via a grassy slope to the river bellow. North of us rose up the glaciated mountain ridge that formed the Border between Nepal and Tibet. The glaciers in the sun formed a dramatic end of the valley.

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The glaciated border.

We continued down river to the base of the Nyigma Gyanzen la. The very last pass between us and Pho. The route down valley was apart from an occasional traverse of a river carved out gully very easy. It was longer than I had imagined though.At some point our guide, who had never been here before, thought that we needed to start climbing up. My GPS did not agree with that assessment. I had seen a photo of the start of the descend and was also pretty sure we had to continue further south.

Once Pho was under 10 kilometers away we set up camp. With only 10 kilometers to go we could reach there tomorrow. We had to as our food was now nearly over and done with.

In the evening it started to rain cats and dogs. Our tents leaked through and the river rose by half a meter, good thing we were on the right side of it.

Day 14

From previous reports of similar trips I had learnt that there was no water available on the climb up. As we would need to climb 12000 meters to the 5600 meter high Nyigma Gyanzen la we should probably fill our bottles. The river water had however became way to brown due to the excessive rainfall of last evening so we filled the along the way using the drupes falling down a large rock (patience was key).

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We need to climb over the Nyigma Gyanzen la to bypass these cliffs.

A bit further I recognized the place from photos I had seen on the internet. The valley south of us became a gorge, there could be no mistake, we had to start climbing up here to the pass. The pass is actually more like a ridge bypassing the steep gorge.

It was an easy climb. A climb along a small stream. The reports had all been of people trekking the other way around so the no water assumption had been wrong. By times we could make out a faint trail, but most of the time we just hiked up.

The climb consists of many stages. Each time a steeper section after which it flattens out again. The last flat section is completely gravel filled. The route here is a little vague, but there is only one reasonable gap in the mountain ridge west. A small gap of around 10 meters between the rock fingers. We climbed it and indeed found some prayer flags indicating that we were on the right track.

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We need to climb through the small gap in the rocks left.

East of we had commanding views over upper Dolpo. We could see countless peaks as far as the eye could see. This view is still one of the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. We had climbed out of the valley. We now needed to follow the ridge south bypassing the gorges after which we would descend back to Pho.

Despite the fact that it looked and felt like a pass, the actual Nyigma Gyanzen la lay a little further on the peak right south of us. It was another 150 meters up till the mountain top. From here the view was even more amazing. We stayed up here a long time trying to imprint everything we saw. The view towards the east over upper Dolpo was the most beautiful, but also the view west towards the 6200 meters high Kanjirowa was impressive. We could see the entirety of upper Dolpo from up here, if you watched closely you could see the white tips of the Dhaulagiri range, signaling the utmost western corner of Dolpo, in the far distance.

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Upper Dolpo.

As if the pass (or actually peak) was not good enough the route continued over the edge of the valley. This was ‘Lord of the Rings’ class hiking with epic views on both sides. We were blessed to have had these clear skies.

There were some ups and downs in the ridge the wore our hungry stomachs and tired legs down. We ate our last pieces of candy, we had now officially nothing left.

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Walking on the ridge.

After an hour and a half on the ridge it was time to descend. The start of the descend was clearly marked by a bunch of prayer flags. We kept altitude for a moment and than dropped straight down to the village of Pho we now could see right bellow us. It was a firm descend, but the thought of a roof and warm dal bhat made us swift.

When I got close to Pho I feared for a moment that the village would be abandoned. My fear was luckily quickly disproven.We arranged a home stay and set down by the fire. We got the best dal bhat ever with excellent yak meat. My sister was in the seventh heaven as she could make yak meat rolls using the chiapatti as a burrito. (She still was a little iffy on the dal bhat section). It took a while to get the family to let us sleep on the floor of their house. They were accustomed to large camping groups who would pitch in their yard. I was however in no mood to sleep in my tiny tent again. It rained once again heavily that night, so I was happy I did not have to.

Day 15

It was a beautiful mooring, no sign of the heave rains of that night could be seen. Our objective was to reach the base of the Yambur la right across at the other side of the valley. We could have gotten here in under 2 hours were it not that we had to descend all the way down into the canyon and ascend back up again. Oh, Nepal.

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Pho

We got lost on our way down and it took us a while to find the right trail. The way down to the river through the brown and steep rock formations made me think of of the hike down the Grand Canyon.

It was quite hot and there was no clear water around. It did not take long or I regretted not have brought more water from Pho. All the way down at the river we were at an altitude of 3400 meters. Sigh, 1400 meters up to reach Yambur la.

The first part of the climb was past the rocks of the canyon. After that we had to hike across some arid slopes. There were some abandoned shacks, but we could not locate a water source.

Just under the pass we found a very very small stream. We drank as much as we could and camped. We enjoyed the view in the evening sun from out our tent. In the distance we could see the glaciers that we had seen on our descend of the Yala la.

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The day before yesterday we were at glaciers in the far distance.

Day 16

It was clouded and we had to hike without view over the muddy rather uninteresting train to the Yambur la. The mood of Roos was accordingly. ‘Why are we going to hike a circuit across Dolpo?’ she asked ‘I think I could do just as well without’.

Later in the day the weather and our moods cleared up. The view from Yambur la is nothing special, the peak north of it has something of Disney’s thunder mountain over it, but that is about all there is to see about it.

For a while the trail levels where after it drops straight down to the village Bhijer. The green fields of this large settlement form an oasis in the arid rock dessert.

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Entering Bhijer.

There is a small hotel in Bhijer. We checked in with the police, who did not seem to care too much about our permits. We decided to split up from our guide Sabin. The rest of our trek would be a cultural one and it is not nice to have something in between you and the locals. Technically this was of course not strictly legal, but until now no one seemed to care one bit about the obligatory guide rule.

It was rather early in the day and we had all the time in the world to explore the town. The highlight was having tea in the colourful monastery. There was only one monk there, the rest had gone to Tibet for the summer. In the evening we had goat meat. It could not rival the Yak meat we had had in Pho, it tasted how I imagned leather shoes would taste like.

Day 17

We said goodbye to our guide who would take the trail to Shey gompa and cross the Nengdala la to Phoksumdo lake. We were in for the long way round and started hiking up for the Mama la.

It was an easy and short day up. No clear trail, just a lot of goat trails pointing in a general direction. We could probably easily have made it to Marang but where in no hurry.

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The goat trails up toward the Mama la.

At an abandoned hut we made camp, pitching or tent within the hut itself. We had bought some long cooking dal, which we cooked for almost an hour. It was the first day on our own. It was great and we looked forward to our independent exploration of upper Dolpo.

Day 18

The Mama la was not that far away anymore.  It was a gradual climb up the 5300 meters high pass. The view east over th rest of Dolpo was once again amazing. It did not compare to the Nyigma Gyanzen though.

The trail went down between two ridges till the ridges terminated. We were now on a plateau on about 4800 meters with the valey far below us. With the side ridges gone we had a way better view than on the pass itself. The trail bended north and kept altitude a, all the while offering great views east.

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The trail north.

At some point the trail took us down along a side valley toward the main valley way bellow. This side valley was rather densely populated. The terraced green fields and the stone houses decorated the valley.

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The villages in the Kharang side valley.

The view and the cozy villages made this an amazing day. We stayed overnight with a mother and her two kids. We got a lot to eat, but the recipe rice with potatoes is probably never going to catch on in the rest of the world.

From the roof we could enjoy the evening sun setting over the arid mountains. Glancing over these remote fields, villages, mountains and gorges made me think ‘would there be any place in the world like this?’

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A roof top meeting in our home stay.

Day 19

We left the family behind and hiked down all the way to the river below. The bottom section was, as usual in this region, more of a canyon. We could hike along the broad gravel filled river banks south.

At around Saldang we saw a tiny trail that seemed to start climbing up to the Khoma la. We crossed the river, which was just about manageable and climbed up. It was not the actual trail and we soon lost it. My GPS indicated however that a trail should not be too far away so we just kept climbing up. Indeed after a while we met with the actual trail leading up.

It was a very slow 700 meters ascend upstream. On the way we saw some blue sheep. I had seen many blue sheep in my life, but this was the first time I could make a reasonable photo of them.

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Blue sheep.

The Khoma la is not much more than the top of a hill. The village Khome lay a little lower on the east of the past. We quikcly made it down there. We could stay overnight in the school with the teachers. Staying in the school had the advantage that we could speak English with the teachers. They loved having us here and showing us around. The teachers were not from Dolpo, but were students from Kathmandu in their early twenties.

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The village of Khoma in the evening sun.

In the evening we went up with our befriended teacher to the shepherds above the village. A worthwhile excursion in the evening sun. They were just rounding up their cattle in order to protect them fro snow leopard attacks in the night. After having drunk some farm fresh milk we went down to the village again.

Day 20

In the morning we stayed to watch the school opening. Quite touching those singing children. The quality of the school frightened us. The teachers we not professionals by a long shot and all books were in English (which of course no one spoke).

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The school children in Khoma.

When we left Khoma it was already late in the day. We ascended a little where after we descended down to the village Simen. This east-west oriented valley formed the norther border of upper Dolpo. Behind the mountains here lay Tibet. This valley traded a lot with the Chinese side of the border, everything for sale here originated from China.

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Simen in the northernmost part of Dolpo.

The weather turned poor and we took shelter in the school yard. It did not take long before we were invited in with the school teachers. Our initial plan had been to hike to Tinje, but we were not in a hurry an decided to make it an lousy day.

Day 21

Today we would finished what we had started and reach Tinje. The hike went over the valley floor. There was not much impressive to see, the valley was rather narrow and the trail stayed on the valley floor. The general Dolpo landscape had however not yet lost it’s charm. The Mani walls, Yaks and rock formations on the way made it all worth while.

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The morning routine of a Dolpan lady.

Just before Tinje we came by the smaller settlement of Phalwa.At this point the valley started to broaden up. The rocks faces made place for grassy smooth hills. Tinje itself is rather big and has a lot of wheat farms around it.

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The farmlands surrounding Tinje.

A home stay was easily arranged. We stayed with a mother and her baby and child. She had a house in the village, but as it was summer she camped in a large tent outside. A funny practice that we would see a lot more in the coming days. Hanging around in the tent I thought it to be a smart move. It was way lighter and more spacious than the houses. We were well fed. Our rule of thumb became: ‘Stay with a mother to get good food, stay with the teachers to get a good conversation.’

The border with Tibet at the Marim la just four hours north of here was open for two week long and it looked like the entire population of upper Dolpo had gathered here to take advantage of it. On the other side of the river stood easily about 50 tents housing many traders with their mules and yaks. Rice, wood, clothes and what not were imported.

 

Day 22

We took our time in the morning. We got some kind of clotted fat with us that they called cheese. It was hard enough to break your teeth.

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Our host in Tinje.

We followed the valley ever further up. It was easy going and we came across numerous summer camps. The large tents, large amounts of cattle and grassy hills made me think of Mongolia. We ate some potatoes in a tent on the way.

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Our overnight camp.

A bit further ahead the trail split up. The one to the east would cross over to Mustang the one to the south would cross over to the Dho tarap valley. We took the one to the south. There were fewer summer camps here, but is was still easy to find a place to stay overnight. Dolpo has the name that camping would be a must, but thus far we had not needed the tent once.

Day 23

It was an easy hike further up valley. There is no clear trail up to the Coila la, we just hiked to there cross country following our GPS. The Coila la is with it’s its 5050 meters rather high, but due to the terrain it feels like a hill. The weather was pretty grim so all in all it was not an amazing pass. It was however a major milestone. The Coila la formed the border between upper and lower Dolpo. This was more than an administrative border. The landscape south of us was clearly transitioning into less arid and more classical Himalayan landscape.

On top of the pass we met a caravan of mules that went to the Marim la for trade.

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Traders on the Coila la.

The descent to Dho went quickly. We could stay overnight in a tea house. The tea house was heavily damaged due to the earthquake of last spring, but it was still functional. There was a guy around my age who was clearly waiting for some distraction. He showed us around the village and asked if we had his favourite song on our mp3. (Summer of 69) He also told us that his aunt stayed up in a summer camp between the Num la and Baga la. This meant that we did not need to camp tomorrow. Wow, we had completed the entire Dolpo circuit without camping once.

Day 24

In the morning we got ‘surprise porridge’, it was warm milk with flour in which you could find anything, ranging from old bread to vegetables to bones. Each time I put a spoon in I was curious what I would fish up this time.

The weather was very poor. It would be a ‘no view day’. We hiked west n order to catch the trail up. We hiked to far and probably had missed the trail somewhere. We, stubborn as we are, did not want to return and just started climbing up. I had only one GPS way point on the pass itself. This resulted in a very inefficient approach, but we made it nonetheless.

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Bad weather around Dho.

Due to the weather Num la itself had nothing to offer. We could barely make out the peak right next to us. The weather kept refusing to cooperate te rest of the day and we were happy when we arrived in the summer camp.

Day 25

It seemed like the weather had made it’s point yesterday, it was rather clear and we left early in the morning in the hope to get a good view from Baga la.

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Summer camp between Num la and Baga la.

In our hurry we missed the trail to Baga la. Once again we were to stubborn to return and just started to climb up. This was a dumb move resulting in us needing to climb over a 45 degree rock face.  It got steeper and steeper and we even used the rope a couple of times. After climbing up 300 meters the terrain flattened out and we hit a large and easy trail. If we had just hiked 1 kilometer back it would all have been soooo much easier…

We stood on the pass in no time. The weather was friendly and we could see the glaciers south of us and the granite cliffs to the west. Dolpo now lay firmly behind us. We now entered a more alpine region with classic meadows, grey peaks, glaciers and… for the first time since Mugu, trees!

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On top of Baga la.

It was a long descent through steep meadows. On the way we could see many waterfalls and impressive rock faces. All the way down we got to yet another summer camp where we could stay overnight.

Day 26

Phoksumdo was only 5 more kilometers and we could probably reach there within 3 hours.

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Lower Dolpo.

We followed the valley. Instead of descending all the way downstream we kept altitude turning north to Phoksumdo lake. It did not take long for us to get eyes on this remarkable lake. Phoksumdo is a very large leek at an altitude of 3800 meters. It is famous for its deep blue colour and for the near vertical cliffs tat rise straight up from the lake side till altitudes of well over 5000 meters.

We descended to Ringmu a small town on the lake side. For the first time in over two weeks we were back in a forest. There were a few hotels in town and we chose to stay at the one nearest to the lake. There was an army camp further up. Hopefully we would not run into any permit issues.

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Our lake side hotel.

In the evening there was a small party in our hotel. Some of the construction workers, vi lagers and the army camp came by to sing and dance. I made quite an impression with my Nepalese dancing skills. As I later said to my sister ‘Everyone can dance well, it is just a matter of finding the country that can appreciate your style…’

Day 27

The army commander had asked us to swing by in the morning to present our papers. We flashed our passports and permits and it seemed they were fine with it. Later on in the day we also bought an Shey Phoksumdo national park entry ticket. We were now officially legit.

The weather was not perfect so we postponed our intended hike alongside the lake till tomorrow. Instead we hike to the small monastery next to the lake a little outside the village.

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Cote gompa.

The rest of the day I rested in preparation of the next part of the trek. My sister would fly back from the Juphal airstrip about 2 long days south of here, but I would continue with my friend Dennis who would arrive in Juphal today.

In the evening I called Dennis, but he was still in Nepalgunj, his plane got delayed due to the monsoon weather.

Day 28

Another lazy day at the lake. We swum, washed and strolled around.

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The trail along Phoksumdo lake.

In the afternoon we hiked along the western shore of the lake towards a small pass. This trail went out to Shey gompa and was a frequented route. We only went up and down to the pass to get a nice view over the lake.

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The most beautiful lake in Nepal.

In the afternoon a large group of Czechs arrived. They were the very first tourists we had seen. I greeted them and we had a chat. They were to trek to Shey gompa and from there all the way to Jomsom in Mustang. We told them of our adventures. They were impressed, the leader of the group had always wanted to visit lake Rara and could hardly believe we had done this route solo.

In the evening I called Dennis again. Once ore his flight had been canceled. Poor Dennis, waiting in hot, dirty and damp Nepalgunj was not the most fun thing you could be doing in you holiday. Initially we had planned to meet at Phoksumdo lake. For my sister however the time was running out and we rescheduled to meet at the Juphal airstrip itself.

Day 29

Today we would try to get as close to Juphal as we could. The first part of the day was straight down. The water leaking out of Phoksumdo lake formed a waterfall here. Probably the largest waterfall of Nepal.

Once down we continued our way south through the narrow and lush valley. The trail stayed very near to the river, only once we had to climb up to bypass some steep sections. The pine forest did not even remotely resemble the mountains of upper Dolpo that we were leaving behind. The people on route were now Hindu, it all was quite an abrupt change.

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Following the Suli Gad valley to the Juphal airstrip.

When it started to get late we stayed in a small hotel along the way. I once again contacted Dennis. Nope, he was still in Nepalgunj. A canceled flight three times in a row was a new record for me.

Day 30

It was a short way to the end of the narrow valley. At the end of it lay a large army camp. We passed it. They did not ask questions. Good, as they looked a lot less pleasant than the folk we had met up in Phoksumdo.

There is a jeep track from Dunai to Juphal. Juphal was not very close so we decided to try and take a jeep there. In about half an hour we could hop on a jeep that took us to Juphal in about half an hour as well.

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Juphal airport.

The airport was situated at the very top of the town. Dennis had already arrived and was extremely happy, after four nights in Nepalgunj to finally be in the mountains. Roos bought an air ticket for the next day and we all stayed in a large hotel in town. To celebrate the end of a successful trek and the start of a new one we bought a chicken that we ate in the hotel garden.

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