Dolpo and Mustang - The Lure of Trekking Into Nepal Himalayas Most Isolated Regions

By Tomas Footloose


Twelve unique and distinct tribal groups are found in a 500 mile stretch of the Nepal Himalaya mountain range. Scholars such as Tibetologist David Snellgrave, anthropologist Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf, naturalists George Schaller and Peter Mattheissen as well as ethnologist-explorer Michel Peissel and many others have been attracted by the seclusion of ethnic cultures populating remote inaccessible valleys of the principal chain of the Himalayas, most of them hidden in the rain-shadow of the High Himalaya. Their differing ways of life, architecture and beliefs have enticed explorers ever since Nepal first opened its border to the outside world nearly sixty years ago.


The principal part of the Himalaya mountain range is framed by the Dhaulagiri massif in the west and the Kanchenjunga Himal in the east. In this vast expanse of the Himalayas lies not only the densest concentration of world's highest peaks but also the most extraordinary collection of cultures. In the 1970s I had undertaken six major journeys into the interior of the Nepal Himalayas attracted precisely by the mystique of the Himalayan most isolated areas. In one of my journeys I had walked over 2000 miles, a solitary one-man expedition that I hoped would allow me to penetrate the complexities and simplicities of tribal life far better than any team expedition, and above all reach villages never visited by a foreigner. While I did succeed to visit areas that to this day remain closed to foreign trekkers, two places, that for decades retained mystery and only a handful of lucky scientists and explorers noted above were fortunate to obtain trekking permits for, alluded me. These two remarkable territories are Dolpo and Mustang.

Though I was unable to get past king's army check posts in my day, Dolpo and Mustang are now open to any trekker willing to pay for the stiff trekking permit issued on strictly enforced bases by the Nepalese government. These cut off places attract trekkers interested in the physical challenges of high Himalayan passes as well as those more fascinated by the culture of peoples that have survived in typically inhospitable living conditions on account of harsh environment.

Dolpo trek is a strenuous journey to the far-flung Shey Monastery beyond Phoksundo Lake, the fabled region of snow leopard, the Himalayan blue sheep, and the semi-nomadic yak herders removed from the rest of the world by some of Himalayas' most difficult passes. Mustang trek leads into a barren landscape, a high altitude desert, once an independent kingdom with close ties to Tibet proper, the mysterious former Kingdom of Lo, aka Mustang.

If you might have ever toyed with the idea of being an explorer, and the adventure spirit is still within you, time is now for Dolpo and Mustang, as development promises to alter even these two world's most remote corners soon forever.


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