Is Upper Dolpo one of the most remote treks in Nepal?

Written by Roland Hunter FRGS (Mt Everest and Mt Makalu summitter)
Written by Roland Hunter FRGS (Mt Everest and Mt Makalu summitter)Managing Director & Founder, The Mountain Company

Trekking in the Upper Dolpo region in Nepal

Upper Dolpo, also called Inner Dolpo, is a very remote region of Nepal. There are other parts of Nepal for remote trekking yet Dolpo remains one of the most isolated places to visit. The lack of trekkers is due to the time, cost, and difficulty of getting there to start the trek.

The District of Dolpa is changing fast like the rest of Nepal. Over the last few years, a jeep track has been constructed through the main spine of villages in Inner Dolpo. The track goes from Mischagaon village through Chharka village and then to the base of Sangda La. As of October 2022 mules and ponies take loads over Sangda La to the road on the other side that goes all the way to Jomsom. You can read more about this in our Trip Report for Upper Dolpo (Nepal) in May 2022.

We used to walk from Chharka village out over the Sangda La. For our May 2023 group, we have changed our Upper Dolpo itinerary to cross Ghami La into Upper Mustang. In this article, I will explain the current situation with roads in Dolpa and the impact on trekking. If you considering a visit to Dolpo you should know about how this might impact your trek.

Our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek is camping style. We cross many high passes while visiting a fascinating Tibetan region of Nepal. This is still a superb place to visit for a trekking holiday in the Himalayas. Yes, it is definitely one of the most remote treks in Nepal. Yet you need to carefully select the itinerary to avoid the roads as much as possible.

I led our reconnaissance trek to Upper Dolpo with Ade Summers back in 2005. This Blog is based on first-hand knowledge and experience. Since then The Mountain Company has organised six successful treks in the region.

Sangda La on Upper Dolpo trek in Nepal
Sangda La pass on Upper Dolpo trek in Nepal

Where is Upper Dolpo in Nepal?

On a map of Nepal, you will see Dolpo located in the mid-Western region of the country. It extends north of Phoksundo Lake to the border with Tibet. To the East is Annapurna and to the West are Mugu and Jumla Districts. Upper Dolpo is in the Dolpa District and is also located in the Shey Phoksundo National Park. You can view our itinerary on Google Maps for Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT.

Inner Dolpo is in the Trans Himalaya mountain range located north of the main Himalayas. Other regions in the Trans Himalaya are Karakoram, Ladakh, and Zanskar. The two largest mountains near Dolpo are Kanjiroba (6,883m) and Dhaulagiri (8,167m). These ranges block the rain from penetrating further north. As a result, the climate in Upper Dolpo is dry with very cold winters.

There are Bönpo (shamanistic pre-Buddhist) monasteries including the important Shey Gompa. Pilgrims come to walk a religious circuit known as a kora around the nearby Crystal Mountain. The inhabitants of this region are called Dolpo-pa. In the past, the Dolpo-pa would carry salt on their yaks from Tibet and sell it in the lower regions of Nepal. This trade is portrayed in the movie “Himalaya” by Eric Valli. These days the most important trade is harvesting Yarchagompa during the Summer months. This is called caterpillar fungus and grows in grassy areas at high altitudes. Yarchagompa is sold in China as a natural medicine for a very high price. For more information on the impact in these regions read the BBC article Yarsagumba: Curse of Himalayan Annapurna region

Upper Dolpo is home to snow leopards known as the “mountain ghost”. Two of our trekking groups have seen snow leopards and most have seen evidence such as scat and pug prints. Our May 2022 were very fortunate to see a snow leopard only 100m from camp. You can see this on the YouTube video: Amateur footage of a snow leopard, filmed in Dolpo, Nepal.

How do trekking groups travel to Dolpa?

The trek starts from Juphal airport, also called Dolpa airport, in Lower Dolpo. This is near the District headquarters in the town of Dunai. The scheduled flights to Juphal leave from the city of Nepalganj in the west of Nepal. Nepalganj is at an altitude of 150m and is a very hot and humid place. We use a hotel here with a swimming pool to help you cool down!

The airstrip at Juphal is a STOL (“Short TakeOff and Landing”). Up until 2017, the runway was only grass although now it has been blacktopped. Like other STOLs in Nepal, such as Lukla, there can be delays and cancellations if there is bad weather. Planes can only operate at this airport with good visibility. Choosing the best time of year is important to reduce the risk of losing days waiting for the flight into Dolpa. In 2018, a road was built to Dunai from the south. Before then our trek crews had to walk for five days to Dunai from the road near Surkhet.

After arriving at Juphal airport it takes ten days to walk into the Upper Dolpo region. A restricted area permit is required north of Phoksundo Lake. The trekking trail from Dunai following the Suli Gad river to Phoksundo is through Lower Dolpo.

Juphal STOL airstrip in Dolpo, Nepal
Juphal STOL airstrip, this is the starting point of Upper Dolpo trek

Road construction in Inner Dolpo

As mentioned there is now a road to the town of Dunai in Lower Dolpo. At the moment the road stops at Dunai and does not go further. This means the villages of Inner Dolpo such as Dho Tarap, Shimen, Tinje, and Chharka are not connected to the south of Nepal. But there is a plan to extend the road from Dunai north to these villages. Fortunately, the proposed road will not follow the trekking trail up Suli Gad river to Phoksundo Lake. The driving route will go up Tarap Khola to the village of Dho Tarap. This is a steep-sided valley and it will take time to overcome the engineering challenges. Perhaps it will take 5 years or so?

As mentioned in the introduction, over the last few years a jeep track has been constructed from Jomsom to the base of Sangda La. On the Dolpo side of the pass, there is a road that continues through the main spine of villages in Inner Dolpo (Chharka, Tinje, Shimen, and Mischagaon). This means that supplies can be transported by jeep from Jomsom in Kali Gandali into Upper Dolpo. Mules and ponies take loads over Sangda La to connect these roads. It will probably take a year or so for the road builders to construct the road around Sangda La. Once this is done then it will be possible to drive all the way by jeep from Jomson into Upper Dolpo.

Dolpo-pa can ride their motorbikes over the passes north into Tibet on shopping trips. You will see Tibetan and Chinese products in the villages and in some places, there is even Lhasa Beer for sale. That being said, the border with China has been closed since the Covid pandemic.

Phoksundo Lake on Upper Dolpo trek in Nepal
Phoksundo Lake on Upper Dolpo trek in Nepal

Impact of roads on our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT itinerary

After our group in May 2022, we decided to change our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT itinerary. It is no longer very pleasant walking out over Sangda La given the trail now follows the new road apart from crossing Sangda La. If you are planning on walking this section I strongly suggest you reconsider your plans. Our updated itinerary for May 2023 group leaves Chharka village and follows remote valleys to cross Ghami La out to Ghami village in Upper Mustang.

In September 2022, we organised a reconnaissance trek with two of our Nepalese guides on the trail from Chharka over the Ghami La. Their feedback was very positive as these valleys are beautiful and more importantly, you are far away from any roads until arriving at Ghami village.

We follow the same trail at the start of our Upper Dolpo trek as our original itinerary because it is not affected by roads. As discussed we will follow the road on and off for five days from Mischagaon Village on Day 16 until Chharka village on Day 21. We visit the most remote places that few other trekkers go such as the remote Panzang Khola valley. Over the years, we have spent a lot of time researching the best itinerary for our Upper Dolpo trek in terms of landscape, culture, and remoteness.

The disadvantage of following Ghami La is that we enter Upper Mustang and this requires another Restricted Area Permit (“RAP”). We also need a RAP for Upper Dolpo. Both RAPs are expensive at a total of US$1,370 per person. Our opinion is that it is worth the extra cost as this is one of the best treks in Nepal. Upper Dolpo trek is on par with the Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan. The Snowman trek in Bhutan was significantly more expensive than Upper Dolpo even before the increase in Bhutan visa fee (known as SDF) introduced in July 2022. 

The new transport links are helpful for the logistics of this trek. We can now send the group equipment, food, and trek crew to Dunai by road.

Dolpo-pa on horse back on Upper Dolpo
Dolpo-pa on horse back on Upper Dolpo near Tora Sumda

Changing Nepal

Nepal is changing fast. There is an extensive program of road building throughout the country. As a trekking operator, we need to keep a close eye on these developments and adapt our itineraries. Take a look at our Blog as we have written articles about the impact of roads on Annapurna Circuit and in the Everest region.

There is no doubt that the Inner Dolpo region will change with the arrival of the road. We know there are benefits for the local communities to having a road. They will have transport to import food as well as getting sick and injured people out to hospitals. From a trekker’s perspective, the new roads will impact this region to some extent. Yet our updated Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT avoids the road for the majority of the trekking route. 

It is worth knowing about the road situation before doing any trek in Nepal so you have realistic expectations.

Mani stones in Upper Dolpo
Mani stones on trail to Namgung village in Upper Dolpo

Other remote trekking regions of Nepal

The concept of remoteness is subjective and relative to other treks. It is a word that is often overused by travel companies trying to sell a trip. We have seen treks to Gokyo lakes described as remote by companies that only sell Everest Base Camp!

At The Mountain Company, our passion is camping treks in remote parts of the Himalayas and Karakoram. Over the years we have spent time exploring these places on reconnaissance treks. There are other remote treks along The Great Himalaya Trail (GHT). Such as Section 1 of GHT in the East of Nepal from Kanchenjunga Base Camp to Makalu Base Camp. There are very few trekking groups that cross the Lumba Sumba pass. The section of trail from Hongon village to Makalu Base Camp sees only a handful of trekkers each season.

Section 2 of GHT from Makalu to Everest is also rarely done by trekkers due to the difficulties of crossing three passes over 6,000m.

The last section of GHT in Nepal Far West from Rara lake through Limi valley to Hilsa now has a road the whole way. In 2022 we launched a very remote option called Far West Nepal Exploratory GHT. This trek explores the valleys northeast of Simikot on the border with Tibet. For more information read our Blog article A Remote Trekking Option For Nepal Far West Section of The Great Himalaya Trail. Perhaps this trek is even more remote than Upper Dolpo?

Lumba Sumba pass in Kanchenjunga region of Nepal
Crossing Lumba Sumba pass in Kanchenjunga region of Nepal


Upper or Inner Dolpo is one of the most remote treks in the Nepal Himalayas. That being said, there are trails in Upper Dolpo that now follow roads. You should carefully choose the right itinerary to maximise walking on trails away from the roads. Dolpo will change even more in the future with new road-building programs in Nepal yet it will still remain an incredible place to explore. The roads are of significant benefit to the locals living in these isolated villages. Trekking can co-exist with the new roads in Nepal but it takes careful research of the latest situation and in-depth planning.  

We updated our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT itinerary for the May 2023 departure. This itinerary is "future" proof as will be away from roads apart from five days while trekking from Mischagaon village to Chharka village. You can read AITO Traveller Reviews from our previous Dolpa groups. I have copied a recent review from our May 2022 group below:

Upper Dolpo Post-Pandemic Magic Spring 2022: This was my 8th trek in 13 years with The Mountain Company and my second time in Upper Dolpo. Roland and TMC are first class. Personable, honest, speedily answer queries and very happy to hear from you, even if a minor question. Why go back? Because of the remote cultural magic; Shey Gompa with its spiritual mystery- because it is tough, stunningly beautiful, utterly rewarding and I got to spend a month with the most fascinating, diverse, friendly and like-minded travelers and crew. We soaked up this unique experience together, shared stories and we laughed. Congratulations to Roland and TMC for having the courage, foresight and skill to get this logistically tricky camping trek going again in that first post- pandemic window. No easy task and the crew were simply top notch. This was undoubtedly in my mind a complete success with the bonus of a 30 minute snow leopard sighting. I love that place- three months on those lovely memories remain vivid and linger. I’ll keep on trekking and I would even go back again.

We organise our Upper Dolpo to Jomsom GHT trek every year in May and October. Please get in touch with us if you are interested in joining one of these groups. Trek on!