Upper Dolpo trekking–less luxury with indescribable beauty and the place to find Himalayan Viagra.

Dolpo Trekking is considered one of the hardest trails in Nepal passing mostly above 4000 meters altitude. The truth is that there is not much luxury along this trip, the trekking permit is also expensive, still, it will definitely be one of the most rewarding, memorable trekking that you can undertake in the Himalayas. Dolpo is a very special part of Nepal, partly because it lacks all the forest greenery. Instead, it stands out with an exceptionally dry, barren rocky mountain landscape, almost unrealistically blue colored lakes, and inhabitants that follow Tibetan culture. During the three-week-long trek, you can step into the monasteries of the animist and shamanistic Bon religion (the indigenous religion of Tibet) that even preceded Buddhism.

Dolpa Trekking Nepal
(One of the Most Beautiful Lake in She Phuksundo lake, Location far west of Nepal Dolpa.)

Where is Dolpo?

 Dolpo is located in northwest Nepal in Karnali province and borders the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. It is one of the seven provinces of Nepal stated in the constitution that was only adopted in 2015. While being the largest province of Nepal, making up almost one-fifth of the country, it is the most scarcely populated at the same time. Dolpo accommodates the biggest national park in the country, calledSheyphoksundo. The Phoksundo lake that just strikes you with its extremely vivid blue color, is the deepest and one of the most beautiful lakes in Nepal. This marks the starting point of the Upper Dolpo region. The province was named after the Karnali River, which has its source in the holyMansarovarlakelocated behind the Himalayan Plateau in Tibet. The Upper Dolpo region was closed for foreign visitors till the 1990s and remained one of the most untouched and secluded mountain areas. Dolpo was basically identified on the map after Peter Matthiessen’s “Snow leopard” was published that is set in Dolpo.

 

Dolpa Trekking Nepal.
(The remote area of Nepal children is very happy anytime even in the cold temperature.) Source: Flickr_BrunoRijsman

 

Why is Dolpo a unique place?

 Dolpo nestles just behind the Himalayas, which makes its climate differ from the rest of Nepal. It is one of the two places, where there is no rainy monsoon season. It is almost completely dry and the landscape resembles that of the Tibetan Plateau as opposed to the green monsoon watered mountains of the same altitude elsewhere in Nepal.

Getting to the starting point of the trek is an adventure itself. Your only choice is to take a spectacular flight along with the Himalayan range to Juphaltown, from either Nepalgunj or from Surkhet, where the three-weeks-long Dolpo trekking actually kicks off.

 

Dolpa trekking in Nepal.
(Jhuphal is the mini-city of the Dolpa region, where are a small local market, airport, and guest houses are available.) Source: Flickr_BrunoRijsman

 

 

Nepal_Dolpo_small
The small domestic airline, which is mostly flown in the mountain region of Nepal.    Source  Flickr_BrunoRijsman.

 

The first half week you hike through green forest and lush vegetation. The rest of the days you spend in the high mountain region steadily over 4000 meters. The lack of oxygen at this altitude makes it more difficult to complete as compared to other well-known treks. This trekking is much less visited and thus can’t provide much comfort with modern facilities. It also means that you may not meet anybody for 4-5 days. No wonder, Dolpo is often called “the hidden place”. You will not find nice homestays or tea houses so when you decide on heading for Dolpo, you need to organize camping via a government authorized trekking agency. In the whole of Nepal, there are only a few restricted areas where they refuse to issue a single permit and they only provide a permit for a minimum of 2 persons. Upper Dolpo is one of such places. On top of that, the permit is relatively expensive: it costs 500$ for 10 days per person and every additional day after the 10 days cost 50$ per person. It means that you can expect to spend 600-700 USD for permits.

But keep in mind that besides the expensive permit, the relatively difficult access, and less comfort, Dolpo is simply amazing, probably the most beautiful Trek in the Himalayas. There is no other place that can be compared with Dolpo and its beauty goes beyond words.

 

Dolpa Trekking
(Mountain ranges in Dolpa Nepal ) Source: Flickr_BrunoRijsman

 

What you experience during the Dolpo Trek

Along the Dolpo trek, you catch a glimpse of the Kanjirowapeak (6883m) and the world’s 7th biggest mountain, the Dhaulagiri (8167m), which means “white mountain” in Sanskrit.

 

Dolpa Trekking Nepal
(Mount Dhaulagiri (alt. 8186m) world 8000m above the higher mountain.) Source: Flickr_RolfSigmund_Dhaulagiri

The Phoksundolake at the entrance of Upper Dolpo with its turquoise color is so amazing that you can’t help but sitting and keep on watching and trying to store the view deep in your memories.

 

Lower Dolpa trekking
(In between the Namala and Bagala pass during the Lower dolpa Trekking 2019.

If you arrive in the period of May and June, you can witness the harvesting of the “Yarsagumba” (Himalayan Viagra), when most Nepali move to the Highlands for several weeks in search of the unique caterpillar.

The inhabitants of Dolpo have Tibetan roots, which makes the region culturally also interesting. People from Tibet were said to have immigrated to this part of Nepal and introduced the Bon religion even before Buddhism in the 11th century. In traditional Buddhism monks and nuns are not allowed to get married but in some parts of Dolpo and Tibet, the monks of the Bon religion can be seen. with children

 

Lower Dolpa trekking 2019 3
(Local people feeding gars for the horse in monsoon time. photo took during the Lower Dolpa trekking 2019)

 

The villages along the trail pass by many Buddhist and Bon monasteries.

The more than a thousand years old Sheygompa (monastery)at 4200 meters is one of the main attractions in Upper Dolpo. Thousands of devotees gather at the highland monastery in Shey for its famous Dragon Festival that takes place only every 12 years (in the year of the dragon), the next one in 2024! This is a great opportunity to get insight into the pre-Buddhist Bon religion and Tibetan Buddhism. Shey is located in Upper Dolpo that lacks almost every modern facility and is still one of the most isolated mountain regions in the world.

 

Lower Dolpa Trekking
600 to 700 years old Tibetan Chhorten in upper Dolpa trek. photo took  2019 during the Upper GHT trail

 

DhoTarap village is one of the highest human settlements in the world (3900m-4200m) is another highlight of the Trek. This is an important trade junction place of Dolpo. The traditional houses of DhoTarap have larger underground living space with only a small portion peeking above the ground surface. The natives of DhoTarap are very friendly and welcoming and feels like going well back in time.

Saldang village is the largest village of Upper Dolpo.

Please don’t bargain a lot when you decide to buy some homemade goods because it is costly for the locals to bring all the supplies from the city to the mountain!

 

Lower Dolpo abounds in the famous herbs, the “Mamus” locally called Chiraito. More than hundreds of varieties of valuable herbs and natural plants can be found in the high dry land, but the regions are so isolated that they cannot stay very long. The Mamustreats various diseases including malaria, skin diseases, worm infection, stomach ache, and many others. This precious plant is an important source of income, which gives a chance for local families to provide better schooling for their children.

Dolpo is also the place, where the most snow leopards are found in Nepal, 130 to 160 in the national park. Locals suffer every year serious damages since snow leopards hunt yaks that are essential for the farmers.

 

Desperate search for “Yarsagumba” in the Dolpo region – the precious treasure of the Himalaya

In the months of May and June, almost all locals pack their bags, carry everything from tents to cookers and clothes in big baskets on their back and move to the snowy altitudes in Upper Dolpo. They stay in tents for 1-2 months in the search of “Yarsagumba” (Caterpillar), which literally means “herb in the summer and insect in the winter’“.

Yarsagumba is a unique caterpillar-fungus fusion that occurs when parasitic mushroom spores infect and mummify the caterpillar larva living in the soil. The stalks of the fungus then propagate in the head, changing to brown color. The fungus later sprouts from the dead caterpillar host’s head. It has a sweet mushroom taste that can be eaten plain or powdered, mixed with milk or water.

There is an incredible demand for the”Himalayan Viagra” in China, which makes it more precious than gold. Schools literally empty during harvest season as all pupils and teachers participate in the harvest. There is no way to stop that. Even imposing a fine had no impact. So they just decided to provide a holiday for this time of the year.

Apart from agriculture, it is one of the main sources of income for locals, but it is a huge challenge at the same time. The steep and rough trails coupled with extremely cold temperatures and low oxygen levels take a death toll every year. The best quality Yarsagumba can only be found at 4500 to 5600-meter altitude and for most of them, this is the only way to sustain their livelihood for the next ten months. More than 30,000 people take the journey every year.

A harvester needs very sharp eyes to spot the Yarsa and can pick only 10-15 pieces a day. Due to exploitation this number even diminished in the last years. They sell it to traders in Kathmandu, China, and Tibet. Dolpo’s highland forest free landscape is the place where you can find the most and best quality yarsagumba in the world.

Three and a half thousand individual pieces make up a kilo and about 2500kgs are collected every year in Nepal alone. Half of that comes from Dolpa District. Harvesters can expect to earn the equivalent of 18 USD/gram, but it is sold already for 100 USD/gram in China.

 

Upper Dolpa Trekking 2019 6
James and Team pointing  the mountain from Bagala pass to the Himalayan range during the Upper Himalaya GHT 2019

 

According to the Himalayan legends yaks and goats were once taken to graze in the high pastures. Revitalized after eating Yarsagumba, they were chasing the opposite sex with a renewed vigor. Later, when people also tasted it, they gained more energy and experienced a boosted libido. Apart from that, it strengthens the lung and the kidney treats cancer and asthma. Traditional Chinese medicine makes use of that for 2000 years.

The demand For Yarsa boomed after 1993 when three Chinese athletes smashed world records at the World Athletics Championshipsallegedly due to regularly consuming Yarsa soup and turtle blood.

Since the Nepalese government lifted the ban on Yasra harvesting in 2001, the price skyrocketed. It is a crucial source of income for the inhabitants of the impoverished Himalayan Highland, but the crazy rush for Yarsa leads to

deadly disputes between gangs.

 

For a detailed itinerary please visit Nature Explore Trek’s website.