Facts of Dolpo, the enigmatic land of spiritual and natural wonders
Legend says Dolpa is a Beyul, one of the “hidden valleys” explored by Guru Rinpoche as a refuge for devout Buddhists and those of exceptionally pure mind. This hidden land of Dolpa was long ago settled by farmers and nomads from Tibet and is now one of the highest inhabited places on earth, with scattered fortress-like villages and monasteries nestling amongst mountains of stark, ascetic beauty.
Though part of Nepal, much of Dolpa remains culturally and economically tied to Tibet, as the people of this desolate area are cut off to the south by snow-covered passes for much of the year. Restrictions of foreign visitors were only lifted in 1989 and Dolpa remains a living example of ancient Tibetan culture frozen in time.
The north of Dolpa is an expanse of arid mountains, caught in the rain shadow of the massive Mt. Dhaulagiri. The brilliant turquoise Phoksundo Lake seems like a miracle here. There is no aquatic life in the lake, which keeps the waters brilliantly clear and at 4.8km long, 1.8km wide and said to be 650m deep, this is a truly magnificent spectacle in such an arid landscape.
Part of Dolpa is Bön-po country, where people practice a shamanistic religion, predating Tibetan Buddhism. Although there are lots of similarities, much of Bön symbolism is the opposite of Buddhism. You should walk to the right of ancient mud chörtens, not the left. Their four-armed swastika inscriptions, symbolising eternity, are the mirror image of the Buddist’s.
Dolpa has incredible experiences to offer its visitors: authentic Tibetan culture, wild landscapes with great bio-diversity and adventure trails shared with pilgrims, traders with yaks and few other trekkers.
Dolpa or Dolpo?
Dolpo is a place within Dolpa! Dolpa is the region and Inner Dolpo is the small and remote Shangri-la in the north of the region.
|Area:||7889 sq. km|
|Altitude:||1525 m up to 7385 m|
|Population:||34821 in 6889 households|
|Religion:||Buddhists, Hindu, Bon and Shamanistic|
|Language:||Nepali, Dolpo (Tibetan with local dialects), Kaike (indigenous to the Tichurong valley of Dolpa)|
Bön is an religion originally practised in the Zhangzhung dynasty of what is now Tibet before the arrival of Buddhism. While it has similarities with Buddhism, it has strong shamanistic elements such as the belief that spirits are found in not only humans, but also plants, animals, mountains and rivers too. Since the fall of Zhangzhung dynasty, Dolpo is the only place in the world where collective settlements of Bön practitioners can be found.
Historic Gompas and Shrines
Shey Gompa is situated in Inner Dolpo. This twelfth-century monastery is the main pilgrimage place of Nygma-pa sect Buddhists. In Shey there are two more monasteries built onto caves in the cliffs, said to be older than Shey Gompa. The holy Ribu Drukda (Thundering Crystal Mountain) which towers above Shey is believed to be the younger brother of Mt. Kailash in Tibet. The main, and oldest, monastery of Bön Buddhism is Shamling Gompa where hundreds of ancient scriptures are still well preserved. There are many more interesting Buddhist and Bön gompas spread over Dolpa.
Shey Phoksundo National Park
Shey Phoksundo National Park is a sanctuary for the rare snow leopard, red panda and other endangered species. It has great bio-diversity: 286 species of flora, over 200 species of birds, 26 species of mammals and 29 species of butterflies are found in the park area. The strange, and very high-value medicinal plant, yarchagumba (Cordyceps sinensis) is found in abundance in this region. It’s a type of mushroom that grows out of the larvae of caterpillar.
Dolpa and the Great Himalaya Trail
The trails of Dolpa partly fall within the Great Himalaya Trail. The Great Himalaya Trail is one of the longest and highest walking trails in the world. Winding beneath the world’s highest peaks and visiting some of the most remote communities on earth, it passes through lush green valleys, arid high plateau, and spectacular landscapes. Nepal’s GHT has 10 sections comprising a network of upper and lower routes, each offering you something different, be it adventure and exploration, authentic cultural experiences, or simply spectacular Himalayan nature.
“I must not forget to pay homage to this grandiose nature: the summits with eternal snow, the gigantic mass of jagged rocks, the quietude of the place, all of it imposing fear and elevating the soul.” Ekai Kawaguchi, a Japanese Buddhist and first foreigner to visit Dolpa in 1890.