Upper Dolpo Trek

Trekking in Nepal’s far-western Upper Dolpo region takes you into one of the most remote areas of the Himalaya. Expeditions into Dolpo can be challenging as the tourism infrastructure is almost non-existent, and organized tours are essential. But the rewards are worth it—Tibetan Buddhist culture, some of the oldest monasteries in the country, the spectacular Lake Phoksundo, rare wildlife and a real sense of being in the wilderness.

Highlights

  • Trek through parts of Nepal that few visitors ever see
  • Keep an eye out for snow leopards in the Shey Phoksundo National Park, one of the highest animal concentration parks in the world
  • Gaze over the turquoise waters of Lake Phoksundo
  • Visit Shey Gompa, an 800 year-old monastery at the base of Crystal Mountain, immortalized in Peter Mathiessen’s “The Snow Leopard”
  • Witness the spring hunt for yarchagumba—a bizarre caterpillar fungus highly sought after for its medicinal qualities

Overview

Fast facts
Duration 8-20 days
Max. elevation 5151 m. (Kang La Pass)
Start/finish Juphal/Juphal
Difficulty Challenging
Best season Spring/Fall
Trek style Camping

Trekking in Nepal’s Dolpo region allows you to experience the grandeur of Nepal’s rugged and remote far west. Dolpo borders Tibet, where the culture and much of the landscape is reminiscent of its northern neighbour. The western part of the district is home to the She-Phoksundo National Park, which is Nepal’s largest.

As well as being remote, Western Nepal is also underdeveloped and quite poor. Tourism infrastructure in Dolpo is not what it is in much of Nepal, and it is necessary to camp and carry your own food supplies. Permits are expensive, and you cannot trek in Upper Dolpo independently.

But the deep valleys, high passes and peaks, the turquoise Lake Phoksundo, the 800 year-old Shey Monastery and some rare wildlife—including the elusive snow leopard—reward intrepid trekkers who visit here.

Dho Tarap Village
Dho Tarap Village
Tibetan women, Dho Tarap
Tibetan women during the Dho Tarap Full Moon Festival
Sunset in Dolpo
Sunset over the Himalaya in Dolpo
Shey La pass
Herding yaks over Shey La pass

Getting there & away

Western Nepal is remote, making access more difficult than other parts of Nepal. First you have to get to Nepalgunj, on the plains, and then to Juphal in Dolpo district.

Most people fly to Nepalgunj from either Kathmandu or Pokhara. From Nepalgunj, you then fly to Juphal. (It isn’t possible to fly directly to Juphal from Kathmandu, although expensive charter flights can be arranged from Pokhara.) Most organised tours will fly from Kathmandu. Keep in mind that the airport at Juphal is no more than a tiny mountain airstrip, where bad weather can often delay flights.

Nepalgunj is also accessible by road, but it is a long trip from Kathmandu or Pokhara. Roads are improving throughout Western Nepal, but Juphal is currently several days’ walk from the nearest road-head.

Permits & regulations

Permits for Upper Dolpo are expensive and strictly enforced. You also need to purchase a permit for Lower Dolpo, which you pass through on your way to Upper Dolpo. On top of that, only 250 foreigners are permitted to enter Upper Dolpo each year.

  • Lower Dolpo: $10 USD per week
  • Upper Dolpo: $50 USD per day (10-day minimum)

There is also an Rs. 1000 entry fee to the Shey-Phoksundo National Park. As it’s mandatory to trek with a guide on an organised tour in Upper Dolpo, your tour operator will arrange all permits and these fees are generally included in the total cost of your trip.

Saldang village
Saldang village in the Nankhang Valley of Dolpo

Detailed itinerary

The itinerary below is for the Upper Dolpo-Shey Gompa trek. Be sure to check out our article on domestic flights in Nepal for more information on flying to and from Nepalgunj.

Day Destination Altitude Duration
Day 01 Nepalgunj (flight from Kathmandu) 492 m 1 hr
Day 02 Juphal (by flight); trek to Dunai 2140 m 3 hrs
Day 03 Ankhe 2660 m 6 hrs
Day 04 Sulighat 3500 m 6 hrs
Day 05 Phoksundo Lake 3600 m 5 hrs
Day 06 Phoksundo Lake 3600 m Rest day
Day 07 Phoksundo Khola 3507 m 5 hrs
Day 08 Phoksundo Bhanjyang 4402 m 7 hrs
Day 09 Shey Gompa (4126 m) (via Kang-La pass) 5151 m 6 hrs
Day 10 Shey Gompa exploration 5151 m Rest day
Day 11 Namduna Gaun (4400 m) (via Saldang La) 4785 m 7 hrs
Day 12 Saldang 3903 m 5 hrs
Day 13 Yangze Gompa 3855 m 5 hrs
Day 14 Sibu 3942 m 6 hrs
Day 15 Jeng-la Phedi 4369 m 6 hrs
Day 16 Tokyu Gaon (via Jeng pass) 4369 m 5 hrs
Day 17 Dho Tarap 4090 m 5 hrs
Day 18 Dho Tarap exploration 4090 m Rest day
Day 19 Tarap Khola (Kamakharka) 3800 m 6 hrs
Day 20 Khanigaon 2550 m 5 hrs
Day 21 Tarakot 2281 m 5 hrs
Day 22 Dunai 2140 m 6 hrs
Day 23 Juphal 2502 m 3 hrs
Day 24 Fly to Nepalgunj, then Kathmandu   2 hours

Best season

Like much of Nepal, the best time to visit Upper Dolpo is the spring (April to May) and the fall (October to November) when temperatures are pleasant, skies are the clearest, and there is minimal chance of snow at high altitudes. Late/early snow can affect this trek in April and November, making some passes impossible to cross.

Phoksundo Lake In Dolpo
Phoksundo Lake, Shey Phoksundo National Park

Difficulty

Trekking in Upper Dolpo is considered strenuous. There are steep ascents, three passes above 5000 m., several nights spent above 3500 m. and some long trekking days of six hours or more. The fact that this is a camping trek adds to the physical challenge and discomfort of trekking in Upper Dolpo, and rest days are recommended.

This is not a beginner’s trek, or one to attempt if it’s your first time in Nepal. But it will be a worthwhile challenge for experienced trekkers and repeat visitors to Nepal alike!

Accommodation & meals

Most treks in Upper Dolpo are fully-catered camping treks given accommodation and food supplies are hard to come by along the trail. (Upper Dolpo is known to have food shortages.) Some basic teahouse/lodge accommodation is available in some villages, but shouldn’t be relied upon.

It is advised to take as many food provisions when trekking in Upper Dolpo (and anywhere in Western Nepal, in general). If participating in an organised trek (essential in Upper Dolpo), your food needs will be taken care of. It is still important to be mindful of the fact that restocking provisions can be challenging for guides and porters in this region, and that resources are scarce.

Variations

Juphal to Lake Phoksundo

There are also shorter variations of the Upper Dolpo trek that you can take. One shorter variation is to trek from Juphal to Lake Phoksundo and back, which takes around eight days. Other variations connect Dolpo to Mustang and/or the Annapurna region, to the east.

Upper Dolpo to Annapurna Traverse

The Upper Dolpo to Annapurna Traverse, via Dhorpatan Wildlife Reserve, would add about a week onto the Upper Dolpo trek. There is a three-day stretch during which you pass no settlements at all.

Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek

The Upper Dolpo to Jomsom trek is another variation. Jomsom is in the Lower Mustang region of Nepal, and also has a strong Tibetan-influenced culture. It is in the rain-shadow of Mount Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, offering a different view of the Annapurna Himals.

Dolpo to Rara Traverse

Yet another variation is the Dolpo to Rara Traverse via Shey Gompa. It is around the same length as the regular Upper Dolpo trek, but diverges at Shey Gompa and ends at Rara Lake, in Jumla and Mugu districts. This is the largest lake in Nepal, and renowned for its abundant bird life.

Dolpo pass
Looking out from one of the passes in Dolpo

What to bring

As with other treks in Nepal, it is essential to have sturdy hiking boots, a waterproof outer layer and other clothing that can be layered and put on/off as the weather requires. Because trekking in Upper Dolpo can only be done with a guide, you will not need to bring your own tents or other specialist equipment. However, you should check whether your tour operator provides sleeping bags.