The magic of Dolpo

Posted on 04 Jul 2018

From Muktinath to Kagmara pass, we've had a continuous stretch of the imagination and senses: ancient settlements living much the same lives as previous generations, monks reading prayers in a centuries-old monastery, pilgrims at the temple in Muktinath, and people who seemed genuinely happy to welcome us to their villages and homes.

That’s saying nothing of the physical landscape and environment. In less than three weeks, we crossed six 5,000 metre passes, were battered by gusty winds every afternoon, got dust in every corner of ourselves and our gear, and had amazing views of glacier capped peaks nearly every day.

That’s saying nothing about the “most beautiful lake in Nepal” Phoksumdo. Needless to say, we were impressed. I’d seen what I thought I would see in Nepal in the first stages of the GHT and will cherish those memories of looking up at the roof of the world, but I was left in more of a state of wonder by the Dolpo experience.

What a trip

There seems to be something magical here that makes you want to linger and go deeper into the places and cultures. The landscape can be harsh but at the same time inviting, which makes the people seem tough but also welcoming. Not sure that makes sense, but it’s the best I can do. Maybe the trail image below will expand on this thought a little. 

Though we're sorry to say goodbye to Tom as we walked down from Phoksumdo Lake, we're glad we had the opportunity to share the experience. I can remember sitting at the top of one of the passes with Tom and neither of us saying much, just gazing into the distance until finally I said, “This place is special.” To which he simply replied, “Yes, it is.” That was all the words we needed. All the best Tom. 

Trail images

You can see them coming up through the narrow space where the steep green hills form a funnel to the canyon below. From a distance, all you can see are their dark shapes moving, not exactly in single file, but together steadily up the mountain creating a small dust cloud as they go.

As they close in, I stop on the rocky hillside to watch the parade go by and listen to the yak bells and whistles of the owners to keep moving.

Tongues are out, and breathing is heavy, with an occasional grunt to the others. The steepness of the grade and the heavy load is a strain on even these big beasts. There are no colourful ear tassels to identify ownership as they are in other regions, but some have neck ribbons or colourful harnesses for the bags. Their coats of yak wool look like they've been combed and blown dry even as the dust swirls around them. They are graceful in their own way even as they are lumbering up this steep hill.

This is truly a caravan moving across the mountains, not just a herd heading for higher pasture. They are climbing up to the same 5,000 metres pass we have just crossed loaded with the belongings of the owners, as well as supplies for the summer and possibly some goods to trade with villagers. Their destination is a village several days away towards the green grass of higher ground. The loads are inside bags made from yak wool to protect the contents from abrasions and possible monsoon rains.

We have seen a number of smaller herds, but this was several groups moving together. There must've been close to two hundred yaks! It’s a beautiful scene that once again leaves me in awe of the landscape and history of the Dolpo region. 

Up next: Jumla

We’ve left our wonderful traverse across the Dolpo region behind and are on our way to Jumla and the final stage of the GHT. We’ve been told to expect monsoon rains as we cross over from the dry side of the Himalaya to the more southern exposure.

We’ve been lucky so far with the weather and have our fingers crossed. At this point though, we feel prepared for about anything. We’re looking forward to having another trekker join us in Jumla for our journey to the western border. We’ll make introductions in our next post in about a week. 

Still loving the trail but home is sounding awfully good now too,
Vince, Ken, Tom, Bikash

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