After my return from India I had a few more days of preparation time before I took the plane to Jufal together with a trekking group organized by World Trekking to start the western part of my Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) through the Dolpo area to Kagbeni (Mustang). Since my departure from Nepal in June, a lot had happened in this country – among other things, a Belgian tourist travelling alone had an accident in the Langtang area in early summer, which prompted the Nepalese government to ban individual trekking in Nepal altogether – i.e. anyone who wants to move in the mountains after this incident needs a Nepalese companion, a guide at his side. Actually I was prepared for another solo trek – both in India and the few days in Pakistan I had always been travelling solo with all my luggage – unfortunately this was no longer possible.
Together with Nwang Chhu Sherpa the passage of my first part of the GHT was really adventurous. Actually I had thought that he would accompany me on this tour again – LOWA had kindly equipped him with a new pair of hiking boots as a precaution – but these five weeks in April/May might have been too much for him. He didn’t feel like it anymore, or he couldn’t – in any case I had to look for replacements for this and the following stages.
Dolpo is usually easy to pass, the only challenge is to cross a few passes and to get to know the Tibetan language and people. Suman (shoe man erased) was the name of my new companion – 24 years old, literature student and a true communication genius with excellent English and Tibetan skills. The communication was secured with it and the luggage was distributed on two backpacks – after once again self-catering was announced and food for up to 8 days had to be stowed away, about 35 kg per person remained to carry.
Dolpo is a region in the northwest of Nepal on the border to Tibet, which was completely closed to tourism until 20 years ago. If you want to enter as a foreigner today, you need a special permit, which is connected with relatively high costs (500 USD per person). As a single person you would have to pay for 2 persons, which is why we hiked together with the trekking group for two hours until shortly after the last control posts. Afterwards we could continue our way alone in another direction
There are no roads to Dolpo. If one wants to get there, one has to march northwards over several 5000m high passes in order to reach the highest permanently inhabited settlement area in Nepal with its traditional Tibetan way of life. At altitudes of up to 4,300m above sea level, the villages lie like small oases embedded in valleys along rivers whose water is used collectively for irrigating the fields.
If you stand above the tree line on one of these passes, you can see the same typical Tibetan desert-like high mountain landscape as in Ladakh. The monsoon was not yet completely over, which is why during the first 10 days rain clouds and light showers daily provided coolness and wetness. But these weather conditions were not unpleasant – if you are like me as an “old” man panting up the mountains, this freshness is a real relief.
Without exception, we had slept in the tent and fed ourselves independently with our stove. Suman, who was otherwise only used to the notorious “tea house trek” around the Annapurna massif, began to suffer from it. On his treks he usually pauses with his tourists every two hours to stop in one of these tea houses and fill his belly. He was not used to long, uninterrupted walking times as I practice them – in order not to burn him like Nwang Chhu after a short time, we agreed on an (almost) daily lunch break – if possible with good Nepalese food. After he was able to communicate well with the people, it was completely unproblematic to stop in private houses for “lunch” or to buy provisions.
The Dolpa, the people who live in this area are naturally friendly, practice agriculture and cattle breeding and try to earn some extra money through controlled tourism. Tibetan Buddhism has as much tradition as Bon Buddhism – numerous gompas, chortens and stupas along our way testify to the deep religious affiliation of the local people. Whether on foot or on horseback, passing through with the yak caravans, at school or sitting in the middle of the path, drunk with a bottle of Roxy (the name for any high-proof alcohol) – you will always meet interesting people with a smile on their face.
On the eighth day we had met our group again. A relatively difficult river had been to cross. Suman with his 160 cm height was overtaxed with it and although I had led him by the hand to the other bank, he went swimming with his rucksack. After he had changed his clothes, the group of the trail arrived by chance and invited us to camp together for the night and enjoy the dinner of an excellent trekking cook. So our daily noodle soup had to wait and we had to get back to the other side – of course my little stubble had again preferred to go deep and strong on the way back across the river. Completely drenched and deeply depressed he disappeared into the kitchen tent to wash away his grief from his tortured soul with enough Roxy. I’m not sure if it was just the “shame” he suffered from his point of view or the fear of the next morning – because then we had to cross the river for a third time. As a precaution, I had asked the horse driver of the group to take my swimming student to the other bank with one of his pack animals – but although he had agreed, he didn’t want to know about it the next morning. So I had to come up with an emergency plan – first I had to bring my luggage to the other side, then I had to get back to my companion who was stripped down to his underpants, strapped his backpack on and took him by the hand. Wading through an icy cold river 3 times in a row in the morning leaves its traces – it took me about 15 minutes until I could feel something in my legs again.
With that the first part of my Dolpo trek was finished – from Dho Tharap on we left the usual route and followed the GHT to the west, i.e. into the Mustang/Anapurna area. The second stage was culturally not as impressive as the classic Dolpo trek – but the challenge was much more exhausting.
See you soon,