Contrary to the urban legend of traveling; which involves exquisite sights make up for the most alluring of destinations, there’s only so much a landscape can offer to entice our senses. But, the history of a region is what makes it worth exploring. It is the natives that help identify the land and make its specialties come alive. Dolpa region in Nepal is one such destination which encapsulates the travelers with the raw charm and rugged beauty of the region. While not much on offer except views of Northern Himalayas, the history associated with its inhabitants and prevalent culture is worth the hassle. Admiring the blunt landscapes, the travel is more of a heritage exploration.
Yarlung Dynasty was all over Tibetan speaking counties in the 8th Century which led to people fleeing across the border to Dolpa. A tug of war over territories led to Dolpa being passed on to Zhangzhung, Purang, Gungthang, and Lo dynasties before Prithvi Narayan Shah annexed and formed the Kingdom of Nepal, conquering farthest regions including the Lo Kingdom (now Mustang) and Dolpa.
The Bon civilization comes from a purely Tibetan Buddhist influence and has been prevalent in the Himalayan region near Tibet. And as Dolpo was a part some time back, the influence still lingers. Most of the northern territories prevalently observe Buddhist and Bon-Po customs with some villages known for Chhetri and Magar inhabitants.
The lifestyle of inhabitants of Dolpa has been portrayed in movies and documentaries. One of the famous French-Nepalese movies Himalaya aka The Caravan was nominated for the Oscars and this movie portrayed the lives of Himalayan traders and just how they get along. The Trans Himalayan trade route between Tibet and much of Dolpo is still an active affair. Caravans loaded with essentials are hauled by yaks to and fro. Settlements along this trade route are known to be some of the largest in Dolpo region.
Unravel the History
The journey to Dolpa begins after reaching the Juphal airport. The settlements hereon start to spread pretty sparsely as the altitude gains. Traveling through villages like Dunai, Chhepka, Samduwa, and finally to Ringmo Gaon. The history and culture of the ethnic communities and the region lie where the settlements are remotely situated and are far from the modern luxuries. So along with the toiling efforts, you can visit centuries-old monasteries of Tshowa Bon, Sandul, and Shey Gompa. These are illustration and proof of the Tibetan influence on the life of the people in these regions. The Tshowa Bon Monastery is almost 900 years old and Shey Gompa is famous for housing a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha.
Further, on to the vast landscape, the curvaceous landscapes even provoke thoughts on whether dynasties actually fought for this arid land. Although the landscape is free from the footprints and bloodshed during wars, the stories are carried along generations after generation. The high lama and monks at these monasteries pass on bits, anecdotes, and pieces of info to help the legacy of Dolpa live on.
It starts from Zhangzhung all the way to Lo dynasty. The Tibetan influence was a strong point. After Lo conquered this region, Zhangzhung customs waned. Locals started paying the Lo kingdom with harvests and manpower. Taxes were imposed and paid off in the form of arts and crafts. Famous Tibetan paintings in Thangkha and inscriptions in Mani walls were an art form.
With a constant power struggle between Lo (now Mustang region) and Jumla, Dolpa was a mere spectator for its insignificance. Lack of residents to satisfy political needs and harsh terrain made it a distant player. Maybe, this is the reason it is a remote jewel in the crown of the natural beauties of Nepal.
Perks of trekking
A permit is mandatory to trek in Dolpo region. You can start once you get your hands on it. This region, starting above 3000m mark, is home to villages at the highest altitude in the world. The architecture, what little you can observe, is an influence of the Himalayas, with stones used in making lovely sheds beautified by carved woods and festooned with prayer flags. The Monasteries are at a different level altogether with the famous Nemjung monastery carved out in the rocky face of a hill.
A milestone of the trek is entering the Shey Phoksundo National Park. It houses the Phoksundo Lake among other highlights. This lake, without any aquatic life, is the deepest in Nepal and is a personification of a perfect blue hue of the water body. The wooden trail along the western bank is bolted onto a rocky ledge and makes up a heavenly walk around this glacial pool. Phoksundo waterfall trickling by the side of this lake is another allure and considered one of the best in Nepal.
With great views of Inner Dolpo and valley, you get onto a curvaceous trail along Tarap Chu before venturing onto a stern track up the Num La Pass. The views atop are mesmerizing with Dhaulagiri as a centerpiece among other ranges. The hike down is equally harsh and once at Pelung Tang, you climb up the Baga La Pass. Consecutive climbs at 5000m mark should take a toll but for the awe-inspiring view of this remote paradise. The rugged landscape along with gompas, Phoksundo Lake, and the nomadic residents make an integral part of Phoksundo National Park. This trek beyond the Dhaulagiri Massif resembles a parallel world and the visit to Shyanta village intensifies the senses for the beauty is unparalleled.
And with a decent weather, a return journey past grooves of blossoming wild roses, jovial locals and beautiful villages of remote Himalayan tribes mark the end of this trek. The gorgeous landscape, isolated setting, and a unique culture vanish as you board a plane back to Kathmandu.
As mentioned earlier, it is not just down to the scenic delights but the people that make up for the isolated gaps on any trek. The intriguing history and tales of the ancestors that made these lands boast of the sumptuous history. Once you undertake, it is a guarantee that you will return to Dolpo. Not because you miss out on something, but to reaffirm your journey was not a dream.