Until recently, what little the outside world knew of Dolpa was gleaned from artistic and spiritual accounts from early visitors. Peter Matthiessen’s meditative book ‘The Snow Leopard’ and Eric Valli’s stunning movie ‘Himalaya (Caravan)’ only added to the allure of this unknown land. The region was only opened to foreigners in 1989, and receives a fraction of the visitors thronging other parts of Nepal. With more trekking agencies venturing into Inner Dolpo – allowing access beyond Phoksundo Lake to the 800-year-old Shey Gompa – a truly remarkable natural and cultural experience is there for the taking (even in the monsoon!). Look out for views of mighty Dhaulagiri (8167m), once thought to be the highest mountain in the world.

The greener, southern fringes of Dolpa, the largest district in Nepal, are distinctly Hindu. But venture north past the ring of high passes intoarid Inner Dolpo, and you will encounter not only Tibetan Buddhists, but also practitioners of the ancient Bön religion, extant in just two villages. The spirituality of Dolpa is visible everywhere – legend says Dolpa is a Beyul, one of the “hidden valleys” created by Guru Rinpoche as a refuge for those of exceptionally pure mind. Today, its northern reaches are settled by Rokpa farmers and Drokpa nomads from Tibet, who are cut off from the rest of Nepal by snow for most of the year. They live in some of the highest inhabited villages on Earth, nestling amongst mountains of stark, ascetic beauty.

In such barren terrain, the spectacle of Nepal’s deepest lake, Phoksundo, is almost beyond describing. Locals believe Phoksundo was formed when a spiteful demonness flooded a village for revealing her whereabouts to the saint Padmasambhava. The surreal sight of the lake, which hosts no aquatic life and appears to fluctuate between a turquoise and ultramarine hue – appears to substantiate the legend. If you follow in the footsteps of generations of nomads, look out for the remains of the ill-fated village below the lake’s surface.

Top Treks

Phoksundo Lake Trek – 8 days

Short return trek to the magical Phoksundo Lake. According to legend the lake was created by a spiteful female demon 800 years ago. Trekking Style: Basic teahouse/homestay

Dolpa Circuit Trek – 14 days

Experience like in the highlands of Dolpa: strenuous trek with steep climbs through changing landscape and remote Tibetan settlements. Trekking Style: Camping (basic teahouses in some villages)

Upper Dolpo Trek to Shey Gompa – 21 days

The trails in this restricted high altitude region of Dolpa leads to Shey Gompa, which is often referred to as the spiritual heart of Upper Dolpo. This is a strenuous hike involving three passes over 5,000 m and trails lingering above 4000 m for long periods of time. Trekking Style: Camping and basic teahouses in some villages.

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Fast Facts

  • The highest mountain of the region is Churen Himal with 7,381 meters
  • The majority of Dolpa lies behind the rain shadow of the Dhaulagiri Himal (range) and is high altitude desert, strongly reminiscent of Tibet
  • 3,555 km2 of Dolpa has been set aside as Shey-Phoksundo National Park. The park shelters blue sheep, Himalayan black bear, leopards, wolves and the elusive snow leopard – of which there is a trek of the same name
  • Overlooking the Phoksundo Lake is the Pal Sentan Thasoon Chholing Gompa, a Bön-po Gompa said to have been built 60 generations ago
  • Dolpa is well known for: the movie ‘Himalaya‘, the stunning, turquoise Phoksundo lake, Shey Gompa, said to be 800 years old and its desert like Tibetan scenery
  • From May 15 until June 15 it is yarchagumba season in Dolpa. During this period people all over Dolpa leave their house to collect yarchagumba, a unique combination of a fungus and a caterpillar which only grows in certain areas above 3500 meters and is in high demand in countries like Japan and Malaysia for its medicinal qualities. Even schools close during this time! Besides, many people from surrounding districts enter the village to collect this precious species. They get about US$ 1 for each yarchagumba, but it is worth far more in Japan, China and Malaysia

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