Onward to Upper Dolpo

Posted on 18 Jun 2018

A lot has changed in the last week. Ken and Vince, along with the World Expeditions crew, crossed Thorong Pass on a glorious morning with the Annapurna range looking wonderful and ahead of us was our final Nepal 8,000 metre peak, Dhaulagiri, in the distance.

We arrived in Muktinath and spent an excellent rest exploring the Hindu/Buddhist temple and monastery along with many pilgrims, mostly from India.

We met up with a new trekker joining for the Upper Dolpo section of the GHT. Tom joins us from Montana, USA and can help me translate some of the Australian language I still have trouble with.

Tom at the top of Jungben La as we cross into the Dolpo district 18,315ftTom at the top of Jungben La as we cross into the Dolpo district 18,315ft

We also said goodbye to our porter staff as at this point we’re going to utilise mules to carry most of the loads. To the incredible Nepali porters, thanks for everything!

As you’ll see from our trail image below, the environment we’re travelling through has also made a big shift from what we’ve grown accustomed to.

A couple of quick smile moments I’ve been saving up

It makes me smile when:

•    Porters mess with their friends by waiting for someone to get way out on a long swinging bridge and then start to pull it side to side to make them lose their balance.

•    Wild blue sheep way up above us in a land slide section seem to be intentionally knocking rocks loose as we pass below them. Kind of a Far Side cartoon moment.

•    You arrive at 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) after crossing one of the passes and thinking, thank goodness we’re not at high altitude anymore.

Trail images: wind, sand, and goats

We left camp at our usual 7 o’clock-ish time, hoping to avoid the worst of the afternoon wind and dust we had encountered yesterday. The morning sun was muted by the thin layer of clouds that had made the morning sunrise briefly spectacular.

We traded back and forth between the old trail and the new road as we made our way up from the Mustang valley and the braided river below. A herd of goats, with at least a couple hundred strong jangled bells, called to each other above us as they made their way toward anything green in the brown and yellow landscape. It looks like only a single herder is trailing behind and occasionally calling out commands.

This dry, dusty, almost hot terrain is new for us after over a hundred days of crossing Nepal’s high passes and lush forests. Ahead is the home compound for the goats. Low slung buildings all joined together to create a large complex of pens for the goats and living quarters for the family. The buildings are made of stones held together with brown mud for mortar. The rooftops are flat and covered with a mixture of mud and sand with stacks of firewood left to dry. All these are clues to how dry the climate is here.

From a distance, the buildings nearly blend into the brown landscape. As we approach them, a big dog left behind to protect the home barks his disapproval. We stick to the trail though and he sticks to dirt that marks his territory.

For the next several hours we make our way always higher and closer to the Dolpo valley. The blasting wind of yesterday doesn’t return and we spend most of the day following the new road to Santa. The only vehicles we encounter are a large backhoe rerouting a section of switchbacks and a tractor and trailer carrying rocks. The local people of Santa are using the road cut as a form of rock quarry to supply rocks for building a new school and water reservoir; at least someone is making good use of the road.

We can see the route ahead and have at least a couple more days of dry conditions. Given this is the monsoon season on the other side of the Himalaya range were not complaining at all about the weather. The walking is pleasant and the change of scenery welcome and interesting.

Up next

If you thought we had moved beyond the big mountains, you’re wrong. In the next couple of days we’ll pass over two 5,000 metre passes. There may not be glaciers and crevasses but the air will be just as thin and the climb to get there will be a big effort. The upper Dolpo region isn’t as heavily travelled, but the guides tell us it is one of their favourite sections of the GHT, so we’re anxious to see what’s ahead.

I’ll leave you with a Bob Marley quote the feels right for where we are right now – in a Bob Marley cafe with pastries and internet access.

“Though the road’s been rocky, it sure feels good to me.”

All the best from the GHT,
Vince, Ken, Tom, Bikash

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