Jamie McGuinness Bali - Bal Bahadur Lopchan, star guide and organizer


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On our special route route to Shey; note the people dots in the mid-upper right corner - Jamie

Pik and Ornella cruise down to Shey (Shelri Sumdo) Gompa, down to our camp already set up - Jamie

Shimen village in the Panzang valley - Jamie

Trekkers say:

Thank you for a very special trek. There were so many good things about it. The food was excellent, the organization smooth, the staff friendly and reliable, the tents comfortable and secure.....but the best was Dolpo itself. I had never seen such powerful beauty before. It struck me that in spite of your extensive experience trekking and climbing in the Himalayas, you had retained an enthusiasm and a passion for remote places. For me that made going to Dolpo with you and your group extra special.

Hester SS, Upper Dolpo Magic

Upper Dolpo

Legend has it that the ubiquitous Guru Rinpoche, who spread Tibetan Buddhism throughout the Himalaya, discovered this hidden land, a "beyul" or refuge or shangri-la, over 1700 years ago, and it has been inhabited by Tibetan yak and sheep herders, called drokpas, for over a thousand years.

Dolpo is now part of the Nepali district of Dolpa, but historically was part of the Zhangzhung Bon-po Kingdom which dominated Western Tibet for over a thousand years, later defeated by the first Tibetan dynasty, Yarlung, between the sixth and eighth centuries. Afterwards, Dolpo was governed by the Kingdom of Lo (now Lower Mustang and Upper Mustang, formerly part of Tibet) until the Gorkha Kingdom took it over during its consolidation of Nepal a century and a half ago. Since then, it has remained isolated, partly due to its remote location, and partly because the Nepal government didn't want tourists to explore it as Khampa guerrillas used Mustang and Dolpo as a base during their fight against the Chinese occupation of Tibet after 1959 until the 1970's.

The mystique of remote Inner Dolpo, still culturally Tibetan, was catapulted to cult status by Peter Matheissen's book "The Snow Leopard", David Snellgrove's "Himalayan Pilgrimage" and George Schaller's "Stones of Silence", the first historical travel accounts of the region.

Established in 1984, Shey-Phoksundo National Park is Nepal's largest national park.


It is critical to bring the right gear. Most importantly do bring sturdy trekking boots, we are trekking over rough terrain. These must be almost new (no old boots!) and should be relatively tough and strong, ie not the very lightest models. You must be prepared for some light snow, although we hope the trek is snow-free.

See Scarpa UK's trek range to get an idea of the choices. Fabric and leather boots trekking boots work, as do all leather options. You want to balance light weight with toughness and support, and each person weighs these values differently.

This trek is particularly logistically challenging and we have a 16kg baggage limit for the porters; that does not include your day pack that you carry yourself.

A snowy pass, be prepared; Kees indicates this is our ninth 5000m pass although we have six on the current Upper Dolpo trek itinerary - Jamie


You MUST have a good level of trekking fitness. We don't set out to make the trek tough, but it will be as we are trekking across plenty of passes. Let's face it, all longer Himalayan treks are tough!

Trek style

We trek standard Nepal expedition style, with you carrying a day pack, while porters and mules carry the gear and we have a kitchen crew to cook for us. So in some ways it is basically a standard camping trek, however trekking is our life and we want to be comfortable so we have our list of carefully thought out details such as the best quality jams and sauces, tent systems, filtered coffee etc, that make our trek service the best available.


The double-sided GHT map Dolpo & Mugu NP109 covers the trek except the last day or so, and is the best map as Jamie personally updates it. This is readily available on Amazon and from other map shops, and in Kathmandu. There are plenty of other cheaper maps available in Kathmandu, less accurate though.

Dolpo trekking background

MyHimalayas.com by Carsten Nebel, has a great section on Dolpo and he has trekked with us many times.

Himalaya - the multiple award-winning movie directed by Eric Valli, is essential and delightful viewing. Based on a true story, it is documentary-like and you will recognize many of the scenes during the trek, and note that many are basically unchanged. Jamie and team met Jampa (a good personal friend) and Eric at Dho-Tarap while it was being filmed in 1996 (The making of Himalaya).

Seven Years in Tibet - although at the time filming in South America and Morocco was emphasized, parts were filmed in Dolpo by the film crew above; I only realized this when seeing the movie and recognizing several of the exact scenes that we saw being filmed!

Book: almost all of these available in Kathmandu and via Amazon, and sections can be looked up on Google Books:

Caravans of the Himalaya by Eric Valli is a beautiful coffee-table book and part of the research for the movie

High Frontiers: Dolpo and the Changing World of Himalayan Pastoralists by Kenneth M. Bauer

Four Lamas of Dolpo & Himalayan Pilgrimage by David L. Snellgrove

The Snow Leopard (Kindle edition available) by Peter Mattheissen

Tales of the Turquoise by Corneille Jest

Stones of Silence by George Schaller - out of print however available in Kathmandu

Tibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal by Geoff Childs - although he researched in Nubri, the cultural insights are relevant to all the Nepal high country cultures.

To see the detailed itinerary and more photos use a laptop/desktop browser or tablet in landscape (and hit refresh).


Coolness! Here are some photos from our classic 2008 Dolpo trek and see Jamie's Flickr for more pix.

2008 Upper Dolpo Quick

Click the photo to go to Flickr or use the arrow keys to see them here within this page.

Detailed itinerary

We visit all the main villages of Upper Dolpo and really have time to appreciate the region. Our itinerary is well planned with appropriate time for acclimatization to altitude and the multiple rest days can handle unscheduled delays, and there is a variety in the length of trekking days with some half-days to/from villages, giving time to further wander around locally and enjoy.

Although this is the itinerary we plan, we adapt the itinerary to conditions and to the trekkers along with us.

A prior to your arrival in Kathmandu we send out an email with detailed arrival instructions including the visa procedure, meeting our staff, contact details and changing money etc.

Day 0 - early arrival

We suggest arriving today to recover from long flights and have an additional day to recover from the time zone changes, which are particularly brutal if coming from North America.

Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you will be met at the airport our staff and escorted to the hotel where the leader will meet you. We book the extra nights in our hotel for you and can arrange sightseeing for tomorrow too.

Day 1 - arrive Kathmandu 1350m

If you want to spend the minimum amount if time in Kathmandu then you can arrive today before midday so that we can take your passport to finish the permit process. You’ll be met at the airport by our staff so look out for a sign with your name on it.

You have the rest of the day free to explore Thamel. Thamel is a mass of energy and chaos with a myriad banners, signs, pumping music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels and eccentrically clad backpackers. Normally, we meet at the hotel reception area at 6pm for a briefing and perhaps head to Sam's bar for a drink before dinner.

2 - fly Nepalgunj 165m (/permits)

We have the morning in Kathmandu for last minute shopping or some sightseeing while the office finishes the various permits needed. Checking out of the hotel before lunch, we have lunch nearby in Thamel then head to the chaotic domestic airport for our afternoon flight. Flying along the Himalaya to Nepalgunj, Nepal's western flight hub, the high mountain panoramas are breathtaking in clear weather. Sit on the right hand side of the plane if possible for the best views, which include no less than four of the 14x 8000m peaks, and a dozen other significant and stunning peaks. Coming in to land is an insight to the Tarai, a patchwork of fields and farm houses interspersed with forest as far as the eye can see.

Nepalgunj is always steamy so we stay at the best hotel with very necessary air-conditioning. Wandering around is stepping back in time, cycle rickshaws and horse tongas, the heat-slowed pace of the Tarai plains.

3 - fly Juphal 2490m, trek to good camp before Suligad 2280m

We are up smartly for an early morning flight by small plane to Juphal, the 2015-black topped airstrip for Dunai, the district headquarters of the Dolpo district. Good visibility is critical for this exciting 45 minute flight, the mountains around are too high to fly over, and it is an exciting landing on the 600m airstrip.

Leaving the airport we take a another step back in time. Although many groups head to Dunai for the first night there is no need to so we avoid the bustle and instead we stay at a peaceful, relatively new campsite that is a couple of hours walk from the airstrip.

4 - trek to Chepka 2675m

Although the most direct route along the river is the easiest, there is also a high route that sees virtually no trekkers that we have previously trekked as an option. Both routes are delightful trekking, as is our camp which is near the river surrounded by pine forest.

Trekking the high route - Jamie

5 - trek to Amchi clinic ~3100m near Sumdowa

This is another delightful day along the forested gorge passing through birch, deciduous larches, and fir trees, some with autumn colours. From our lunch spot, Rechi which is run by women from Ringmu, it really starts to feel taht we are in Tibetan country with flat roofed houses and fields of buckwheat. Our camp is near the Amchi clinic and Tapriza school (supported by Marietta, a Swiss friend who spent 6 months living up here years ago). This is the confluence of the Pungmo Chu, which comes from the Kagmara La, and the Suli Gad/Phoksundo Khola.

Collecting fire wood - Jamie

6 - trek to Phoksundo Lake 3725m

*I hope a picture is worth a thousand words; I am filling out the detailed itinerary notes over time!*

Trekking up the Suli Gad (river) - Jamie

7 - Phoksundo Lake 3725m

Rest, explore and acclimatize.

That colour! - Jamie

8 - trek to Forest Camp 3725m via 4000m passes

I have to say again, the colour of Phoksundo is unreal yet there it is, a view to never tire of.

Starting on the trail around the lake, we enter Upper Dolpo proper, and what a start. The trail is wide and good, and utterly spectacular, make sure your camera battery is fully charged and you have extra memory available.

In the movie Himalaya, it is this section where the yak fell off into the lake and the two stars are left standing on a ledge- hopefully, we won't have to relive this scene!

Phoksundo Lake and our trail around the right side (west side) - Jamie

9 - trek to Two Rivers Camp ~3800m

This is a "lunch camp"; we reach camp for lunch, so a partial rest day.

No bridge but plenty of helping hands - Jamie

10 - trek to High Camp ~4900m

There are two routes over to Shey and most groups take the more direct route however we prefer a pass slightly to the north that offers wonderful panoramas and partly circles Crystal Mountain. Our camp this evening is at a high camp area for the pass.

Looking back to the Kanjirowa range - Jamie

11 - trek to Shey Gompa 4375m via Shyurik La ~5150m

We have had a week or so of trekking at reasonable altitudes to prepare us for our first high pass which is on straightforward terrain. The views are sensational but from the top of the pass and all the way to Shey Gompa, where we camp.

Our horse team climbing up the ridge to our special Crystal Mountain pass - Jamie

12 - Shey (Shelri Sumdo) Gompa 4375m

Rest, wash clothes, explore to the other gompa, or even do a kora of Crystal Mountain.

These are the Tsakhang gompas on the Crystal Mountain kora - Jamie

13 - trek to Tata 3920m or Shyamling Gompa

This is particularly tough trekking, a rarely trekked route and logistically challenging. If conditions are not perfect or we had delayed flights to Juphal instead we will trek the normal route to Saldang over two days.

I am really looking forward to this section, it will be cultural and scenic.

A yak shepherds a nak (female yak) amid the autumn colours near Namgung - Jamie

14 - trek to Bhijer 3850m

Traditional chuba-clad girls of Dolpo - Jamie

15 - trek to Nengla pass high camp ~4950m

16 - trek to Saldang 3770m via Nengla La 5368m

Don't believe "It never rains in Dolpo" - it might be rain shadow but it can still rain! - Jamie

17 - Saldang 3770m

Relax and explore the gompa, village and culture.

18 - trek Komang (Khoma) 4060m

To reach the remote Upper Dolpo villages we cross a broad ridge, camping in the middle of it tonight.

19 - trek to Mendo ~3900m

20 - trek to Tinje 4110m

21 - trek to Rapka 4535m

Following the wandering paths of the Panzang Valley - Jamie

22 - trek to Mola La high camp

Celesta checks out a trader's Tibetan pony - Jamie

23 - trek to Chharka 4110m via over Chharka La/Mola La 5030m

Chharka blending with the terrain - Jamie

24 - trek to river junctions camp

We spend the morning in Chharka and after lunch walk a couple of hours to our camp.

Paul and Celesta cruising along a good section of trail near Chharka - Jamie

25 - trek to High Camp ~5000m

We turn up a wonderful, wide valley.

Ornella wanders into our high camp for the Junben La - Jamie

26 - trek to Sangta Ghok via 3x passes

This is a tough, satisfying day. From the Niwas La 5120m instead of descending we continue climbing over the ridge beside to the next pass, the Jungben La at 5550m and after crossing a stream, finally cross a third ~5400m pass before a steep descent.

27 - trek to Sangta 3710m

After a tough day yesterday, this is a "lunch camp" trek day.

Sangta village - Jamie

28 - trek to Phalyak 3175m via the Bhima Lojun La 4460m

It is a delightful rising traverse around to the pass on the ridge, and from there arid Upper Mustang beckons. The descent is similar, a descending traverse, unusual for Nepal trekking passes, and after some canyons we pop out to terraced fields and a beautiful village, different in character from Dolpo.

Rounding the Bhima Lojun La with a stunning panorama to Upper Mustang - Jamie

29 - trek to Jomsom 2725m

This is an easy day and perhaps a bit of a shock to the system as Jomsom is filled with lodges and shops.

30 - fly Jomsom-Pokhara-Kathmandu

Machhapuchre from near Pokhara - Jamie

Day 31 - depart

32 - optional departure

We recommend either an evening departure on Day 31 or allowing an extra day post-trek in Kathmandu in case of flight delays out of Jomsom. Alternatively we can arrange an overnight stay in Pokhara and an excursion to Chitwan National Park for a jungle safari to extend your trip.


Tashi Delek and Namaste!