The lower reaches of Dolpo district in the rainshadow of the Dhaulagiri massif was opened to tourists by the Nepali Government in May 1989. Trekkers can now explore the areas of Tarakot, Do (Tarap Valley) and Phok-sumdo Lake. They can cross the Kagmara pass or take a more southern route into Jumla in the west. And climbers have 12 peaks of the Kanjiroba Himal range to choose from. A quick entry can be made from the STOL airstrip of Jufaal, which is perched over the Bheri river.
The northern villages of Vijer, Saldang, Tinje, Tsharka (Charka Bhot) and Mukot remain off-limits to foreigners, thus cutting off the Shey Valley, a place of great religious significance to the local Buddhist population. The high route from Phoksumdo to Mustang is also similarly inaccessible.
Dolpo became better known to the outside world through two books by David L. Snellgrove, “Himalayan Pilgrimage” and “Four Lamas of Dolpo”, which were based on Snellgrove extensive travels in the region in 1956. Through these books, a fascinated world learned of the pre-Buddhist shamanistic practices of Tibetan B’on, which is still followed in Dolpo. There are active B’on monasteries in Pungmo, Ringmo and Samling.
Much of Dolpo today falls within Nepal’s largest nature reserve, the 3,555 sq km Shey-Phoksumdo National Park, established in 1984 to protect the unique trans-Himalayan ecosystem. Apart of protecting such endangered species as the snow leopard, wolf, Himalayan fox and musk deer, the park also hosts a significant population of bharam (blue sheep), Himalayan Tahr, goral and serow. It is thought that the Tibetan sheep known as the argali is extinct from the area.
In opening up parts of Dolpo, the Nepali Government has decided to only let in organised groups carrying their own food and fuel. This is considered a necessary measure as Dolpo is poor in resources and sudden additional demands on its meager food supplies would cause dramatic inflation locally.
Given the ecological fragility of the trans-Himalaya ecosystem when compared to the areas south of the Himalaya, there is a need for additional vigilance. As regards littering and other forms of environmental degradation said to be caused by tourists elsewhere in Nepal, some have suggested that trekking agents be made responsible for any failure to keep campsites and trails clean and for allowing indiscriminate use of fuelwood. The local authorities would monitor the effectiveness of such a system, which should be instituted at the outset rather than when it is too late.
Basnet has been a trek leader for many years and visited Dolpo in July.