Every time we share stories about Phoksundo Trek, Dolpo trail and Ringmo village, we can’t help going back to the memory lane when we were first awestruck by Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard. Yes, today we are talking about the same trail to Shey Phoksundo Matthiessen took some 40 years ago – the trail that has turned many of us into a mystic!
Trail to Phoksundo Lake can still be called as off the beaten path. Traversing into the remote and wilder Himalayan area towards the beautiful holy turquoise lake Phoksundo, indulging in the majestic views of Kanjirowa massif, surrounding glaciers, dense forest around the Lake, and unspoiled beauty of Western Nepal, this beautiful adventure offers everything a visitor would expect in his wildest dreams. The trek, however, is not just about the rugged wilderness, but also a blend of wonderful cultural spectrum of rich Bonpo heritage set against the most dramatic biodiversity of Shey Phoksundo National Park, Nepal’s largest National Park.
This extraordinary trek starts from Juphal, a small hill town at an altitude of 2475m. The trail descends down the motorable road and goes southeast up the valley of Thulo Bheri before winding to the village of Kalagaunda through the terraced fields and following the south bank of the Bheri River towards Dunai. The trail then follows the northern bank of the river and crosses the big suspension bridge to reach a tiny beautiful village, Sulighat, followed by Shey Phoksundo National Park check post from where it ascends along the rock-strewn route and goes further through a series of fluttering prayer flags, waterfalls, and lush greenery until it reaches Kageni. Furthermore, the trail ascends up to a winter settlement used by the people of Ringmo village through a forested path filled with big cedar and climbs up through wide meadows situated above the gorge of Phoksundo River, from where the astonishing view of high waterfall can be seen.
The route becomes easy and flat and continues through the dense forest of birch and coniferous trees until it reaches Ringmo, the settlement of flat stone houses at the foot of a big rocky cliff. As the journey moves ahead, the trail then crosses a bridge and follows the north ranger station of Phoksundo river which leads to the beautiful alpine turquoise colored freshwater lake, Phoksundo Lake at 3660m. This strikingly beautiful lake is the deepest lake of Nepal. After exploring the lake and its magnificent surrounding including Tshowa Gompa, a 900-year-old Bon monastery on a ridge above the lake, the trail retraces back to Juphal through beautiful forests, fields, and villages.
If this appeals you, maybe you should plan your next adventure to this magical land! We assure you that you will return home a happy soul.
Trip days – 11 days
Trip Grade – Moderate
Max. Altitude – 3660m
Trek Type – Teahouse
Start/End – Juphal/Juphal
Enchanting turquoise colored lake Phoksundo, the deepest lake of Nepal (145m deep)
Rich biodiversity of Shey Phoskundo National Park, Nepal’s biggest and the only trans-Himalayan region National Park (3555 sq. km.)
Unique culture of Bon-po, an ancient religion with roots in Animism and Buddhism
Rewarding views of mountains, monasteries, hamlets, waterfalls etc.
Day 01: Arrive in Kathmandu
Day 02: Fly to Nepalgunj (1 hr)
Day 03: Fly to Juphal (2475m) – 30min and trek to Dunai (2140m) – 30min
Day 04: Trek to Chhepka village (2720m) – 5/6 hrs
Day 05: Trek to Jharana Waterfall (3040m) – 4/5 hrs
Day 06: Trek to the Tibetan village of Ringmo (3640m) – 2/3hrs
Day 07: Explore sacred Phoksundo Lake and Tshowa Gompa (3611m)
Day 08: Trek to Chhepka village (2720m) – 5/6 hrs
Day 09: Trek to Juphal (2475m) – 5/6 hrs
Day 10: Fly to Nepalgunj, Fly to Kathmandu
Day 11: Depart Kathmandu
SOME HELPFUL INFO:
Shey Phoksundo trek is a wilderness trekking in remote region of Nepal. You can find tea houses in the trail but they are very basic with modest facilities. You will get twin sharing room consisting of beds with pillow and blankets. There won’t be attached bathroom with hot shower, but they will provide hot water with some extra charge.
There will be network of NCELL and NTC in lower altitude but after reaching higher altitude the network doesn’t work properly. If you want to get connected throughout your trek, we recommend you to get rental satellite phone.
You will have your meals at the teahouses. They offer nutritious and hygienic food with limited variety of dishes. Normally, they serve Nepali food (Daal Bhaat – rice, lentil and curry), noodles, pasta, chapattis, omelets, bread, porridge etc. Since, the food option is limited, it’s better to carry instant food/drink like soup, instant noodles, dry fruits and nuts, coffee, juice, herbal tea etc.
Water is important while trekking. You should probably drink 3-4 liters per day for hydration. But there is no need to worry as you will be provided enough filtered water. You can also buy bottled water in lower altitude but it’s a good idea to bring your own bottles and refill it.
Electricity and charging
Electricity and charging facility can’t be very reliable in remote areas. Some teahouses have charging facilities and you need to pay extra for it. So, having a power bank is handy.
Clothing and equipment
Shey Phoksundo trek is an adventurous trek in the Dolpo region which lies in the higher altitude. So, you need to be properly geared with warm and comfortable clothes, and support equipment. Trekking gears include hiking boots, thermals, down jacket, hiking pants, caps, wind cheater, gloves etc. Since, this is not a technical trekking, you will need some basic accessories and equipment only like trekking poles, sunglasses, torchlight, water bottles etc. All gears can be purchased or rented in Kathmandu at reasonable price. You can get both branded as well as imitation items. Even the imitation items are good to go.
As you trek in the protected area, you need to get some permits.
Shey Phoksundo National Park: Approx. $30 (Per Person)
Upper Dolpo restricted area permit: $500 (per person for 10 days )
Lower Dolpo special permit : $20 (per person per week)
Best time to travel:
The best time for traveling is Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to May). The weather is clear and you can get the best views. During Spring, the trail gets filled with rhododendron bloom and wild flowers, making it a piece of heaven. And autumn is always marked with great visibility. It’s cold during winter (December to February), but traveling is possible as the trail doesn’t go beyond 3600m. Traveling during summer and monsoon (June to August) is possible as Shey Phoksundo lies in the Trans Himalayan region meaning it receives very less rainfall and also it is less humid. But the chance of flight cancellation and delay is common during this time due to rain in the rest of the part of the country. So, be prepared with contingency days.
Trek Difficulty Level
Shey Phoksundo trek is a moderately challenging trek. The trails are well defined, making it quite easy. But there is less accessibility in the region due to its remoteness and some days are in complete wilderness. So, being prepared for the uncertainty is a good decision. The maximum altitude you gain in this trek is 3611m, which means you are less prone to high altitude harsh weather conditions, and there is very minimal chance of altitude sickness.
Ardent trekkersSamuel Palsmeier from USA and Fabrizio Nicoletti from Italy met online and decided to trek together to Nepal. They took the difficult trail to the remote kingdom of Upper Mustang and Upper Dolpo. It took them more than a month to complete their trek. After their return the two trekkers shared their extraordinary trekking experience with Explore Himalaya, the organizer of their trek.
EH; How was your trek?
Sam: I was very, very satisfied. Everything from the start to finish was arranged professionally. We had very few hiccups along the way on the trip. Trek itself was wonderful and the areas we visited were quite special. The scenery was just fabulous. All the staff as usual, was helpful, warm and genuinely hospitable. We had a great trek!
Fabrizio: Overall my opinion about the trek is very positive. The trekking agency is professional one . Basically it delivered all the services exactly as expected.
EH:Any special reason for choosing this particular trek?
Sam: Basically two trek in Nepal that I always want to do were treks to Dolpo and Mustang. When I first saw the movie “Caravan” I was very impressed with Dolpo’s dramatic landscape and wished to visit it someday. Mustang seemed interesting because of its unique Tibetan culture.
Fabrizio: The only special reason is that these are two very remote areas. It is my second time to Nepal. I like to trek on some unspoiled and not very crowded area. That is why I chose Dolpo and Mustang trek.
EH:Do you have any special memories that you want to share?
Sam: In term of the treks themselves, in Dolpo trek there are 3-4days which are very special. During this time you get to encounter such scenic and wonderful places like Phoksundo. Dho, where Bon religion is practiced is very interesting. You definitely see some different architecture over there. Mustang is much more Tibetan. I would say one of the special day was the second last day of our trek when we went through Dhakmar. The red cliffs and the sun in the afternoon in Dhakmar is just spectacular.
Fabrizio: Every day in a trek is new day, the day you can face new challenges, you can experience new things and learn new things. I would say those two treks, Mustang but also Dolpo are not just about landscapes. The local culture is equally very interesting. So, if you go for both trek or just one trek try to keep your attention high on cultural side because culturally there are lots of beautiful things apart from the mountains.
EH:How was the service of the support staff?
Sam: For Dolpa, our guide was Pemba and Babu was our local guide for Mustang. Both of these gentlemen are very friendly very positive, they were always looking after us. The services of the guide are great.
Fabrizio: As for the Dolpo trek, the staffs were very friendly. I am very satisfied about the service they provided. My opinion is very positive. In Mustang trek, I had no complains at all about the guide.
EH:Which was the most difficult part of the trek?
Sam: I mean those were certain, probably because we already were trekking for two weeks, over just few passes. This time the passes were free of snow. So there was no technical challenges, you always felt safe and it was just the matter of setting the pace of to get up down and up and down. And the places are quite spectacular. And the fact that not a lot of people were living in that area made it special too. I know every day is a challenge. There is no such thing as easy days in Himalaya. Even in short days, you would need to go lots of ups and downs but it’s a physical achievement.
Fabrizio: If we talk about Dolpa, I guess, we talk we take about that because for Mustang, I would not rate Mustang as a difficult trek as long as you have someone who can walk for 6-7hours trek. Dolpo is different trek, challenging one, sometimes at some point it can be very strenuous. So I would not say Dolpa is for everybody unless they have a good trekking experience and trekking background. Thre are 6-7 passes over 5000 metres and besides you always sleep in a tent and you are in a remote area. If that’s exactly what you are looking for, that is fine .But that is fine as long as everything is good and if you are in problem, you are in a remote area. Again, it is not like climbing the mountain or peaks of 6000 m. At the end it is just a trek, a difficult one but just a trek.
Eh;What would be your comment or advice to those who would like to do this trek?
Sam: The biggest things to understand is there are two very distinctly different places. Dolpo is definitely more for somebody looking for the physical up and down. Mustang now is easy, you can either trek or take a jeep. It is more developed. If you are looking for the cultural experience, Mustang is the place to go and if you are looking for the physically challenging, Dolpo is great. It would be great if you combine both treks for some physical challenge and cultural insights.
Fabrizio: Obviously, trekking in those two areas is not an easy task, not only for the money involved which is really not affordable for everybody also for the physical effort, for the physical exercise involved in this trek. I would say, both treks are outstanding. Dolpo is more about, is more a big trek, is more about crossing some high passes. If you do not feel that you can really end with the long trekking in remote area, I would say Mustang is easy option. The lodges are along the way. The trek is much easier than Dolpo. If you want to pick one of them, I think Mustang is easier. On the other hand, Dolpo is more challenging and it depends on what you are looking for.
SNV, a non-profit international development organisation with headquarters in the Netherlands is supporting Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoTCA), Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), and other stakeholders to implement the Great Himalaya Trail Development Programme (GHTDP) in Dolpo, Gorkha, Humla, Solukhumbu and Taplejung. The programme is expected to accelerate tourism development in these areas by providing vocational training to local communities and offering support for local businesses to stimulate job creation and income generating as well as infrastructure development and improved health services for local people through tourism sector. The Great Himalaya Trail Development Programme (GHTDP) was launched in the Solukhumbu district on 29th May, 2011 on the occasion of International Sagarmatha (Everest) Day and Solukhumbu Tourism Festival 2011.
To boost tourism in Nepalgunj, local hoteliers have announced five to fifteen percent discount on accommodation and food for tourists. Nepalgunj serves as an important transit point for pilgrimages to Kailash Mansarover in Tibet and to treks leading to Dolpo, Rara Lake, Shey Phoksundo Lake, Khaptad National Park etc.There are around 400 hotels and 100 restaurants operating in Nepalgunj.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”– Mark Twain
Thus wrote Mark Twain, noted American humorist and author, exhorting all and sundry to set off for the unknown, fearless and uninhibited.
A group of six spirited female adventurers (most of them in their 40s) from Canada and France seemed to have taken his advice to heart and sought to climb Mera Peak , Nepal’s highest trekking peak in November, at the onset of chilly winter season. Explore Himalaya had the opportunity to organize the expedition for the group. After the completion of their expedition, the ladies dropped in at our office and the group leader Lou Lamontagne, spoke at length about their trip to Mera Peak and the changes she found in Nepal since her last visit in 2005.
(Expedition members (wearing scarves) with Explore Himalaya’s staff)
Though only one member (Hélène Mineau) could reach the summit, Lou said that they were all happy with the expedition.
To quote Lou – “We would have liked to do the summit but for us not doing the summit is not a disaster. We enjoyed all the aspects of the expedition.. that’s the most important thing.”
Read about their trip in Lou’s own words :
“We were six people – five Canadians(Marie Légaré, Carole CôTÉ, Hélène Mineau, Isabelle Gagnon & Lou Lamontagne) and one French (Severine Tralli). We are a group of friends and we have done a lot of mountaineering and kayaking and outdoor stuff in the past and so we knew each other. I proposed them a trip to Nepal and they said OK. So we went on internet and tried to find a good company. Actually we found your website. We have some friends in Pokhara called 3 Sisters Adventure. They are into trekking also, but they didn’t do Solu Khumbu trekking, just the Annapurna. So we checked with them. We asked if you were a good company and they said you had a good reputation and we could trust you and we went ahead.
Our trek was excellent. It met all our expectations and we are very happy with the way we were received at the airport. We are also very happy with the expedition itself, the way the staff took care of us. We really appreciated all the small little attention, you know, like bed tea and wash water. They (Explore Himalaya’s staff) just generally made sure that our safety and security was on the agenda.
In 2005 I did the Around the Annapurna Trek (21 days), and that was wonderful also. This expedition was much, much harder. Only one member from our group summitted. I had a bad bronchitis problem in Khare just before High Camp. I knew that I couldn’t summit because I was coughing very bad and I had a fever. The other five members went up to High Camp. But four of them got sick with altitude sickness and just one summitted. But that’s okay we would have liked to do the summit but for us not doing the summit is not a disaster. We enjoyed all the aspects of the expedition. So that’s the most important thing.
When I was here in 2005, it was in the middle of People’s War. We witnessed a great military presence everywhere and the Maoists used to stop us and ask for money. We could feel the political upheaval. It was pretty serious at that time and the King was almost out of a job. But now that the Civil War is over, I find more trekkers on the trail and the hotels, tea- houses and lodges doing good business. Things are back to normal.
I would like to come back and visit Dolpo region. This trip was wonderful and we were happy with everything. This was truly a wonderful trip and I am sure we will meet again.”
(Photos Courtesy : Marie Légaré & Isabelle Gagnon)
I really enjoyed this trek, especially thanks to Explore Himalaya and their staff for making a stress free trek.