• Raj Kumar Basnet
  • Last Updated on Mar 12, 2023

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Though firmly a part of Nepal today, Upper Dolpo remains culturally and economically firmly tied to Tibet, the people of this desolate area are cut off from their southern neighbors by snow-covered high passes for much of the year and this is fascinating and difficult country to travel in, the land is rugged & punishing, but its natural beauty surpasses all expectations…

In a small hamlet called Simen, a week’s walk to the nearest little town, the local kids pay for their schooling with wood or dried dung from animals, & life seems as remote as the mountains the local folks live in hereabouts, & modernity is unimaginable or so would some visitors think…but hold it! Imaginations create different stories, but this one could be for real…the strong winds of change are strongly blowing through the mighty passes of this far flung corner of the world.

Just two valleys down the lovely trails of this region we walk into Dho Tarap village, & we are literally stunned to the bones; business is skyrocketing down here with satellite dishes that send out MTV music & American Raw wrestling besides prayer flags fluttering in the wind, the message is loud & clear, Upper Dolpa is opening up to the contemporary world…the striking comparisons we see between these two villages is an avenue to the future of the single most highest inhabited zones on earth, & local kids like Pasang Lama are likely going to go through some baffling experiences in the months ahead in this fascinating corner of the world.

Pasang’s parent can’t afford the 3000 rupees {US$35} that is charged for 06 months of schooling & like most of his neighbors, the local folks in Simen send their children to attend classes with wood, yak dung or millet which is weighed & accepted in place of cash. A staff at the Shree Tsering Dolma Primary School says the school doesn’t have much money over salty Tibetan tea prepared on wood-burning stoves in the school kitchen. 

Pasang’s teacher Tsheten Dorji says the students must bring 40 kgs {100 pounds} of firewood & if they can’t do that then they have to bring yak or horse dung, that’s what most of the kids do around here. Upper Dolpa, a more or less concealed region of deep jagged canyons is virtually sealed off from the rest of Nepal with high passes at an altitude of 5,200m {17,000 feet} above sea level.

The region is well noted for its towering peaks that geographically stand adjacent to the Tibetan plateau, with rough trails meandering along high cliffs where farmers & nomadic shepherds take their shaggy yak cattle for south for winter grazing. Small fields hereabouts are cultivated for barley, buckwheat, potatoes & radish but the yield is pretty low & hardly enough to sustain hungry families.

Yak, sheep & goats provide milk, butter & meat & the wool & hides of the animals make up for the clothing & boots used by the locals hereabouts; most of the folks down here speak a local dialect called the ‘Dolpi’’ & the literacy rate is near 18%. Pupils go to school only for 06 months in a year due to the tough weather conditions & in the summers spend most of their time on the ‘deadly’’ job of looking for ‘Yarchagumba’’, a wild fungus prized for its so-called aphrodisiac potentials.

Forbidden to outsiders till 1989, Upper Dolpa is ranked as one of the worst places on the planet for food security by the UN World Food Program {WFP}, due to its inaccessibility & harsh terrain. However, just a few days hike away, in Dho Tarap village, the folks are just about experiencing the pleasures & pain of the 21st century & this is beginning to show clearly…at the cozy Caravan Guest House, one among a number of hotels taking root in the ‘highest village in the world’’, Dorjee Lama, 45 years old, watches his flat screen TV in style. Lama migrated to the village at 4200m above sea level, 20 years ago to take advantage of the budding trekking scenario & ever increasing numbers of yarchagumba harvesters wading through the village.

This area now has around 250 houses but only several of them have TVs. Most folks down here don’t even have an inkling of what’s happening around the world, or even in their own country Nepal, but the winds of change are blowing strong, & things are changing now, he said. Lama continued to say a new generation is growing with simple education provided through the help of international donors & are beginning to keep in touch with the world out there. He also said he bought the television to keep up with local & international news & was able to invite friends over to watch premier league soccer & American wrestling, a great favorite hereabouts.

Upper Dolpa will get richer even faster as it opens up even more to western culture with the new ‘Great Himalayan Trail’’, one of the longest & highest trekking trails in the world, passing right through the soul of this region. SNV – a Dutch development INGO behind the creation of this long & winding trail, has begun training locals across its 1,700 KM (1050 miles) stretch on how to cater to trekkers by offering different western cuisines & building western toilets. But the tourist dollar also brings with it a different pain of its own as per Angji Namgayal Rinpoche, 44 years, a senior Tibetan lama who spent most of his life in Dho Tarap.

Rinpoche says people have started earning a little money & traditional crafts are beginning to disappear; the local folks used to paint Thangkas & even make their own shoes, but now tourists hike in with colorful clothes & hi-tech shoes & if people have money, they want to wear the same things & when there’s money, people keep wanting something, so this is not good for us. Televisions are devils & also good in a way, it’s OK to view the outside world said the monk who watches Nepali programs on his own television; but our people need to stick to their culture & only take the good examples from the world out there, not the bad ones, this holy monk of the Bonpo says.

OUTFITTER NEPAL is of the view that it’s not only Dho Tarap that is developing but most parts of the Upper Dolpo will develop much in the months ahead. We intend to assist in the development of this region in an organized way and also request our loyal guests to donate along with us for the development of education in this region & through the process of education we hope to prevent the ‘Poor-Rich’’ divide in this beautiful corner of Nepal that may give roots to something sinister that maybe lurking in this thoroughly virgin territory & spoil its untouched & unspoiled mosaic, keeping this region free of any societal evils.

Outfitter Nepal is registered and authorized trekking company for organizing trekking dolpo region with full support of Camping staff and organized way, so, inquiry us for the detail program with an itinerary, cost and the services.

Raj Kumar Basnet

Raj Kumar Basnet

Hello, Hi & Namaste Everyone !

Raj Kumar Basnet holds more than two decades of travelling experience in different regions of Nepal. He has trekked in both popular and off-the-beaten-path Nepali trekking trails which have allowed him to gain expertise in tourism. With years of field experience under his belt, he is now concentrating on sharing as much of his tourism knowledge as possible. Now, the co-owner of Outfitter Nepal, he hopes that the knowledge he’s gained over the years would deem helpful for the travellers visiting Nepal!

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