According to legend, Dolpo is a hidden valley or a “bayul” made by Guru Rinpoche where worshipers of Buddha can run to when they experience problems or troubles in the world. It is the most popular among the hidden valleys found in the Himalayas primarily because it was supposedly the setting for the 1999 Oscar nominated film Caravan. The book The Snow Leopard, published in 1996, also contributed to the popularity of the place. The region belongs to Dolpa District, Nepal’s largest district, which lies on the western part of the country.
Tibet provides the easiest way to access the village. The ancestors of the region’s residents were migrants from Tibet who came to the region about a thousand years ago. The villages of Dolpo are situated more than 4,260 meters above sea level, which puts them alongside the highest residential areas in the world.
The entire region is surrounded by towering mountain peaks of 21,000 feet or higher that form a horseshoe-shaped semi-enclosure. On the east looms the Dhaulagiri mountain range and on the south, the Churen Himal. The district of Jumla borders the region on the west. These mountains make it difficult for outsiders to penetrate the region. This is probably the reason why it is the only place in the world where undisturbed Tibetan culture still exists.
The region is home to Nepal’s biggest national park, the Shey Phoksundo National Park, which covers 3,555 square kilometers in the Trans-Himalaya area. The national park transcends the Dolpa and Mugu districts, and its headquarters are found in Dolpa. The Shey Phoksundo National Park is characterized by diverse landscapes. It is the habitat of various interesting animals like the hard to find snow leopard, the Himalayan black bear, and blue sheep. The park is considered by many as one of the most beautiful in the world.
People visit Dolpo primarily for trekking. Since the region was opened to this activity in 1989, there have been many companies offering trekking tours in the area. Trekkers need to acquire a trekking permit, which is issued by Nepal’s Department of Immigration. They have offices in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Trekking in this place is best done between the months of May and October.
One of the most beautiful trekking destinations in the region is Phoksundo Lake, which is found 3,627 meters above sea level. It is Nepal’s deepest lake. Its calm waters are an exquisite deep blue blue set against a backdrop of steep and rugged mountain slopes. The sight becomes even more amazing when the mountain peaks are covered with immaculate white snow. A visit to Phoksundo Lake is usually included in treks to Lower Dolpo. These treks range in the difficulty of moderate to strenuous. Treks going to the upper areas are more difficult.
You can reach Dolpo by taking a one and a half hour flight from Kathmandu to the municipality of Nepalganj in Banke District. From Nepalganj, you need to travel to Juphal by foot. Sometimes flights back to Kathmandu can be cancelled or delayed so make sure that your travel dates are flexible. If you have more time, you can do a 10 to 12 day trek from Pokhara all the way to the region instead of flying in from Kathmandu.