Introduction to Trekking in the Dolpo
Imagine a world of barren, windswept peaks and endless blue skies, where traditional Tibetan culture thrives amongst high-altitude agricultural communities.
You’ll walk beneath the gaze of jagged peaks, visit isolated villages that have remained unchanged for centuries, and trek amongst vividly colored fields of barley and buckwheat as you venture into the westernmost reaches of Nepal.
This is the Dolpo region: a mesmerizing land of breathtaking natural beauty, where you’re more likely to encounter a horse trail crisscrossing the mountains than you are a paved road.
This bewitching alpine territory has beckoned adventurous travelers for decades and for good reason. Despite the region’s remoteness—or perhaps because of it—some of Nepal’s best treks can be found here in the Dolpo.
The region is home to both the Upper Dolpo Trek (Inner Dolpo Trek) and Lower Dolpo Trek (Outer Dolpo Trek), each of which represents an epic hiking itinerary that’s equal parts challenge and thrill. But there are a variety of hikes available in the Dolpo, with options for every type of traveler.
Especially ambitious hikers can even combine the Dolpo’s two major routes to explore this fascinating region to its fullest, while travelers short on time can enjoy a rewarding trek in just about a week.
Despite constituting about 15% of Nepal’s size, the Dolpo region has seen little in the way of modernization over the years. So while trekking in Nepal has always been synonymous with fantastic alpine scenery and vibrant culture, this is especially true of the Dolpo.
You’ll discover endless vistas of high-altitude deserts punctuated with skyscraping Himalayan summits, pastoral and agricultural villages tucked away in impossibly green valleys, and fascinating religious traditions influenced by the close proximity of the Tibetan plateau. Notably, the people of the Dolpo practice both Buddhism and the even older Bön religion, which is indigenous to this part of the Himalayas.
If you’re already been trekking in Nepal, you’ll observe distinctive nuances to the language, culture, and attire of the Dolpo people that will enrich your experience here. And when you travel with Alpine Ramble Treks, your qualified guide and trekking team will be able to offer additional insight into the rich traditions of the Dolpo. Read on to discover more about what you can expect while trekking in the Dolpo region.
How Difficult is Trekking in the Dolpo Region?
Trekking in the Dolpo is exactly as difficult as you want it to be! This is a fantastic part of Nepal where the length and challenge of your trek are limited only by your own imagination.
You can embark upon unforgettable long-term itineraries like our 24-Day Upper Dolpo Trek, but you can just as easily enjoy a rewarding six-day hike between Jumla and Dunai. If you’re really pressed for time, it’s even possible to enjoy the wonders of the Dolpo on the four-day Kagmara La Trek.
But no matter the length of your adventure, hiking in the Dolpo usually involves ascending to high altitudes. Many of our most popular treks in this region exceed 4,000 or even 5,000 meters in elevation, where you may experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as nausea, headaches, and loss of appetite.
Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to reduce the risk of contracting this condition, but the best remedy is to descend immediately from high elevations.
Due to the long distances and high altitudes, you’ll encounter during your trek in the Dolpo, we generally recommend this region to travelers with previous experience at high altitudes. The remoteness of the region also means that medical stations are few and far between—as a result, we require that trekkers in the Dolpo purchase travel insurance which covers the cost of any expenses associated with emergency evacuation.
Fortunately, the highly trained guides at Alpine Ramble Treks are fully equipped to guide you through the mountains of Dolpo.
They’ll choose the safest trekking routes, monitor your group for any signs of altitude sickness, and make any necessary adjustments to the pace or schedule of your Himalayan trek.
When you travel with Alpine Ramble Treks, you’ll be setting yourself up for the adventure of a lifetime—especially when you travel in the little-explored expanses of the Dolpo.
Weather in the Dolpo Region
Trekking in Nepal is all about the weather. In most of the country, the trekking season revolves around the summer monsoon, when torrential downpours wash out roads and trails.
But when it comes to weather in the Dolpo, your trekking plans may be a little more flexible. Because this part of Nepal exists within the rain shadow of the magnificent Dhaulagiri range, it’s sheltered from the worst of the summer rains.
If you’re trekking during the summer, your biggest challenge won’t be the condition of the trail—it will be the risk of flight cancellations on the way to the trailhead. For this reason, most travelers choose springtime or autumn for their adventure on the Upper Dolpo Trek and the region’s other hiking routes.
During spring, the ideal trekking season begins in April. In the autumn, the best months for trekking in the Dolpo are September and October, when the chance of snowfall remains relatively low. These are when temperatures are at their most comfortable and mountain views are clearest.
Of course, trekking in early spring and late autumn is also possible. You’ll enjoy crowd-free trails and especially authentic cultural experiences, although we recommend sticking to shorter hiking routes that avoid the highest elevations.
We also generally advise against trekking in the Dolpo during the winter. Because of the strong likelihood of heavy snowfall, many of the region’s most beautiful alpine passes will be closed. Some of the higher-altitude villages are also likely to be deserted, as their inhabitants descend to lower communities to escape the cold.
But if you aren’t sure which season is right for your trek in Nepal, don’t worry—the experts at Alpine Ramble Treks will help you to develop an itinerary to exceed your wildest expectations. Reach out to us today to get started!
Route and Distances in the Dolpo Region
When you’re ready to go trekking in the Dolpo, you’ll have a lot of options to consider. While the region is most famous for the epic Upper Dolpo Trek and Lower Dolpo Trek, there are many other excellent hiking itineraries here in western Nepal.
One short trek will lead you from the marketplace in Dunai to the magical Phoksundo Lake over the course of about six total days. You can also visit the lake on what’s widely considered to be the most popular trek in the Dolpo: the Dho Tarap Trek.
This short-but-challenging hike will bring you up and over multiple high-altitude mountain passes to visit secluded monasteries and villages characterized by undistilled Tibetan culture. It’s also possible to combine the Dolpo region with the remote territory of Mustang, making for a truly unforgettable overland adventure that will take you far from the beaten path.
If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry: the professionals at Alpine Ramble Treks will be happy to chat with you and plan your own Dolpo trekking adventure. For many travelers, a comprehensive tour of the Dolpo might look something like this:
Dolpo Trek Itinerary
Day One: Fly from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj
Day Two: Fly from Nepalgunj to Juphal, then trek to Dunai
Day Three: Trek from Dunai to Chhepka
Day Four: Trek from Chhepka to Jharana
Day Five: Trek from Jharana to Phoksundo Lake
Day Six: Acclimatization Day at Phoksundo Lake
Day Seven: Trek from Phoksundo Lake to Sallaghari
Day Eight: Trek from Sallaghari to Nangdala High Camp
Day Nine: Trek from Nangdala High Camp to Shey Gompa
Day 10: Explore Shey Gompa
Day 11: Trek from Shey Gompa to Namgung
Day 12: Trek from Namgung to Saldang
Day 13: Trek from Saldang to Yangze Gompa
Day 14: Trek from Yangze Gompa to Sibu
Day 15: Trek from Sibu to Jeng-la Phedi
Day 16: Trek from Jeng-la Phedi to Tokyu
Day 17: Trek from Tokyu to Dho Tarap
Day 18: Explore Dho Tarap
Day 19: Trek from Dho Tarap to Serkam
Day 20: Trek from Serkam to Shahar Tara
Day 21: Trek from Shahar Tara to Dunai
Day 22: Trek from Dunai to Juphal
Day 23: Fly from Dunai to Nepalgunj, then fly to Kathmandu
While trekking in the Dolpo, you’ll be hiking for up to six hours each day, covering impressive distances under the power of your own two feet. You may also be climbing to heights of greater than 5,000 meters in altitude, which means that even your shorter days on the trail can represent a significant challenge.
The good news is that treks in the Dolpo region are much less crowded than other treks in Nepal. As a result, our Dolpo trekking itinerary can be flexible, allowing us to adjust our pace and build additional acclimatization days into our itinerary. Read on to discover more about the unique accommodations you’ll enjoy while trekking in the Dolpo.
Accommodations in the Dolpo Region
Trekking in the Dolpo represents a uniquely thrilling wilderness adventure in the far west of Nepal’s Himalayan mountains, and the remote villages in this part of Nepal are traditionally conservative.
The region’s cultural norms have long rendered it difficult for foreign visitors to enjoy teahouse-style lodging, and the only accommodation historically available to trekkers came in the form of tents that our porters carried with them.
We’re happy to report that this is starting to change, and Alpine Ramble Treks is proud to offer Dolpo trekking itineraries that combine comfortable trekking lodges with the occasional night under canvas. Travelers can now even hike all the way to Phoksundo Lake while spending each night in cozy, family-owned teahouses.
As modernization has only slowly reached the Dolpo region, you’ll discover that trekking here is a true wilderness experience.
While mobile phone reception and a Wi-Fi signal may be available in certain villages, it’s best to adjust your expectations with the understanding that you may not have access to either during most of your trek in Nepal. For emergency purposes, a satellite phone is considered the most reliable method of communication here in Dolpo.
Likewise, you might want to consider bringing along a portable charger to power your phone, camera, and other electronic devices. But if you’re prepared for a little adventure, you’ll quickly discover that the Dolpo region rewards intrepid travelers with the experience of a lifetime—and traveling with Alpine Ramble Treks is the best way to unlock the secrets of this incredible part of the Himalayas.
Meals in the Dolpo Region
Because the Upper Dolpo Treks and other hikes in the region trace winding routes across Nepal’s most distant alpine landscapes, you may not find apple pies and pizza on the menus of your teahouses and trekking lodges.
Instead, your efforts on the trail will be fortified by a steady diet of dal bhat. Found all over the Himalayas, this popular meal consists of rice and lentils with a hearty side of spices and seasonal vegetables.
A variant of this dish unique to the Dolpo region is actually prepared with beans grown in the sprawling fields of local farmers, and you can expect to enjoy plate after plate of this tasty dish while trekking here. While dal bhat is usually a vegetarian dish, it’s also possible to find recipes prepared with chicken or goat.
Some other traditional meals here in the Dolpo also include fish curry prepared with Himalayan snow trout, boiled potatoes, and a type of roasted barley flour called tsampa.
Unlike many treks in Nepal, you’ll probably spend at least some nights under canvas while trekking in the Dolpo region.
But that doesn’t mean your mealtimes will suffer—your trekking crew will bring along fresh, packaged, and canned foods to prepare mouthwatering dishes even in the middle of the Himalayas.
And while coffee and alcohol may be available in at least some of the villages throughout the Upper and Lower Dolpo, we generally recommend avoiding caffeine and alcohol when traveling at high altitudes. Instead, be sure to drink plenty of water and tea.
Teatime is an honored tradition here in Nepal, and you’ll want to try each available variety as you trek across the Dolpo.
What Should You Pack for Your Trek in the Dolpo?
Don’t know what to pack for your trek in Nepal? The Himalayan experts at Alpine Ramble Treks have tested every combination of kits out there, and we’ll help you to understand exactly what you need to bring.
For starters, we’ll provide the basic essentials, like sleeping bags, down jackets, duffle bags, trekking poles, and walkie-talkies. But you’ll need to bring some important personal gear of your own, including weather-appropriate clothing and personal hygiene items. We’ve put together the following list to get you started.
Hiking boots: it’s important to choose durable, waterproof boots that fit well—just make sure they aren’t too heavy. You’ll be hiking for several hours each day, so you’ll want to break in your new boots and make sure they’re comfortable before arriving in Nepal.
Trekking shirts and trousers: Long sleeves are best to protect you from the strong sunlight in the mountains, especially as you reach higher altitudes. Consider lightweight, sweat-wicking clothing that will keep you warm and dry.
Hats and sunglasses: whether you’re trekking in summer or winter, you’ll need a good hat. It’ll keep you shaded during the summer and warm during the winter. Likewise, a good pair of polarized sunglasses will shield your eyes from sunlight and bright snow.
Personal toiletries and first aid: when you’re traveling with Alpine Ramble Treks, your guide will always bring critical first aid supplies in case of injury. But it never hurts to carry a small kit of your own, and you’ll need to bring any important personal medications with you, as well. Consider packing a small stash of toilet paper and any personal hygiene products you might need when you’re out in the wilderness of the Dolpo.
These are just a few of the belongings you’ll want to bring on a trek in the Dolpo. You’ll also want to bring your mobile phone, a camera, a sufficient amount of cash, and anything you need to stay entertained on a long-haul international flight. Just remember that everything you carry into the mountains needs to be carried back out—when in doubt, pack light. If you have any questions about what you’ll need for your trek, we’d be happy to provide our expert advice.
Trekking in Nepal is an unforgettable experience—no matter where your path leads. But when you join Alpine Ramble Treks on an expedition into the Dolpo region, you’re really in for a treat. Whether you choose the Upper Dolpo Trek, Lower Dolpo Trek, or any of the excellent shorter routes in Nepal’s western mountains, you’re bound on a trail for adventure.
From the region’s broad alpine deserts to its soaring mountain heights, the Dolpo is a place of spectacular natural beauty.
And thanks to the Dolpo’s unique Tibetan culture and friendly locals, you’ll feel right at home from the moment you arrive.