Phoksundo Lake Trek – 08 Days
Trekking in Dolpa is a unique experience. The trails pass through beautiful landscapes, thick pine forests and along wild rivers all the while with spectacular views of beautiful snow-capped mountains. The highlight of the trek is the mesmerizing deep-blue and emerald hues of the deepest lake in Nepal, Phoksundo Lake. This is truly one of the most beautiful natural tourist destinations in Nepal.
If time allows it’s worth spending a day or two admiring the views and exploring the lake and surrounding areas. Don’t miss Tshowa monastery on the east bank of Phoksundo Lake where worship still takes place.
On the southern bank lies the village of Ringmo where you can get a rare close look into traditional Bonpo culture. The ideal trekking season is spring and autumn. It’s recommended to check in with a local travel agency to see if lodges are open before setting off in the winter months.
Trek Facts of Phoksundo Lake Trek
|Seasons||March, April, May, September, October, November|
|Level of Difficulty||Medium|
|Permit Needed||Restricted Area Trekking Permit (Lower Dolpo Permit). Issued by the Immigration office in Kathmandu. (www.immi.gov.np). Shey-Phoksundo National Park Entry Permit. Issued by Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation in Kathmandu. Also available at the National Park entry point for a fee of NRP 3390. (Fee subject to change).|
Highlights of the trek
- Walk through the stunning landscapes of the Trans Himalayan mountains
- Admire the incomparable beauty of the holy Phoksundo Lake, with its enchanting blue and emerald colors
- Encounter authentic Tibetan Buddhism and Bonpo culture
- Sleep in authentic, small Buddhist villages
- Have encounters with villagers, who are direct descendents of the Tibetans
- Chance to see bluesheep, musk deer and monkeys
- Walk the famous Demon Trail from the movie Himalaya from Eric Vallie
- See Nepal’s highest waterfall, the Suligad Waterfall, of 167 meters high
|01||Flight from Kathmandu – Nepalgunj||Nepalgunj|
|02||Flight from Nepalgunj – Juphal (2475 m); trek to Chhepka (2838 m)||Chhepka||6-7 hrs|
|03||Chhepka (2838 m) – Chunuwar near Amchi Hospital (3130 m) 6-7 hrs||Chunuwar||6-7 hrs|
|04||Chunuwar near Amchi Hospital (3130 m) – Ringmo village at Phoksundo Lake (3641 m)||Ringmo village||3 hrs|
|05||Explore Phoksundo Lake, visit the famous Bon Gompa||Ringmo village|
|06||Ringmo village at Phoksundo Lake (3641 m) – Chhepka (2838 m)||Chhepka||7-8 hrs|
|07||Chhepka (2838 m) – Juphal (2475 m)||Juphal||6 hrs|
|08||Flight from Juphal – Nepalgunj – Kathmandu||Kathmandu|
Below you can find a day-by-day description of this route. Walking times are of course a guideline and differ from person to person. The times mentioned, are excluding breaks.
Day 1 Flight Kathmandu-Nepalgunj.
To get to Dolpa, generally you have to fly to Nepalgunj first. Nepalgunj is a steaming hot city in South Western Nepal, in the lowlands of Terai, close to the Indian border, which is just 8 km away. Culturally the area more resemble India than upland Nepal. Take a cycle rikshaw for a ride in town. You pass the hustle and bustle of the bazaar and see horse carts full of colorful people going to or coming from the Indian border. The Bageshowri temple is one of Nepal’s most important Hindu temples and is worth a visit as well.
Day 2 Flight Nepalgunj-Juphal (2475 m), walk to Chhepka (2838 m) 6 hrs
It’s just a 35 minutes flight to Juphal over steep mountain ridges with beautiful views of snowcapped mountains. Juphal airport is just a gravel airstrip amidst the mountains, which guarantees a spectacular landing. Stepping out of the plane, you enter in a completely different world. From a hot city in the plains, you arrive in a small mountain village, situated in the midst of the Himalaya, breathing in crispy cold air.
From Juphal you walk down over a small path among fields with wheat and vegetables to the Thuli Bheri River, which you’ll follow after reaching it. A big iron suspension bridge, the Dhim Bridge (99 m long) forms the entrance to the Shey Phoksundo National Park (SPNP). SPNP is Nepal’s largest National Park, established in 1984, with an area of 3,555 km². It aims to conserve the Trans-Himalayan ecosystem and the Tibetan type of flora and fauna. In 1998, and area of 1,349 km² surrounding the park was declared as buffer zone, which is jointly managed by the park and local communities. (You have to pay 1000 NPR entrance fee, except persons from SAARC countries, who pay 100 NPR). Next to the entrance is the small village of Suligat, where you could stop for a tea.
The path follows the Suli Khola River now. Behind you, you can see a part of the Dhaulagiri Range. You pass small villages along the way, like Kageni (2413 m) and Sangta (2520 m), where you could stop for a tea, lunch or stay for the night. In Sangta honey is cultivated. It’s a great place for a tea with honey! While sipping your tea, you can see the bees going in and out the beehives, made from tree trunks. Just before Sangta you enter the forest. It’s a beautiful walk, alongside the wild flowing river, which at some parts is beautiful emerald green. The path is surrounded by pine trees, like spruce, fir, juniper and cypress and passes small bamboo forests and walnut trees. At the other side of the river, the high rocky slope goes up steeply and is dotted with pine trees as well. At the end of the day you reach Chhepka, a small village, surrounded by fields of millet and wheat.
Chhepka has three hotels, La Lee Gurans Hotel and Lodge, Hotel Jharana and Yak Hotel and Lodge. Yak Hotel has a campsite as well.
Day 3 Chhepka (2838 m) to Chunuwar/Amchi Hospital (3110 m) 6 hrs
The path goes through beautiful pine forests, with some bushes, birches and other broadleaf trees mixed in as well. It’s following the river all the time and most of it is Nepali flat: sometimes going up and sometimes going down, with a couple of steeper climbs and descents. At some parts the valley gets very narrow and the impressive steep rocks are towering high above you on both sides. On the way you encounter local people with their mules or dzopas (crossbreed between yak and cow) loaded with things to sell. After about four hours you pass the village of Rechi, where there is a camping spot. At the other side of the bridge, there is a small teashop as well.
The path continues at the other side of the bridge. It’s two hours more to Chunuwar. Close to Chunuwar you can find the Amchi Hospital. This is a very interesting place and worth a visit. In fact it is more a clinic, which is well frequented by local people. An Amchi is a doctor who is educated in traditional Tibetan medicine, and always is a lama (monk) as well. Tibetan medicine has a tradition of thousands of years and uses techniques as pulse analysis and urine analysis for diagnosis. For treatment, medicines made of herbs and minerals are used, together with physical therapies, like Tibetan acupuncture. In the Amchi Hospital you can see a collection of herbs and minerals used to cure people. Most Dolpa people prefer to visit the Amchi over a regular doctor when they are ill. A donation is highly welcomed to keep this tradition living.
Next to the Amchi Hospital is a guesthouse with a campsite, Jharana Hotel
Day 4 Chunuwar/Amchi Hospital (3110 m) to Ringmo/Phoksundo Lake (3733 m) 3 hrs
It’s a short hike today to Ringmo and the Phoksundo Lake. It includes a long and sometimes steep climb of about 2 hours. Just before the top, you can see Nepal’s highest waterfall, a spectacular waterfall of 167 meters high, the Phoksundo Waterfall (also called Suligad Waterfall). From the pass you have your first view of the Phoksundo Lake. The path is going down till it gets close to the river, which you follow until you reach Ringmo.
Ringmo is a charming village. People practice the Bonpo religion here. Bonpo is related to Buddhism, but it is a lot older than Buddhism and goes back thousands of years. The religion was founded more than 18,000 years ago by Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwo. It is believed that Dolpa used to be the centre of the Bon kingdom, called Zhang Zhung, a big and powerful kingdom in present Western and Northwestern Tibet and surroundings, as in Dolpa you can still find a big concentration of Bonpo practioners. In the 7th Century Zhang Zhung was defeated by the Buddhist kingdom of Tibet, and Bonpo disappeared almost completely. However many Bon traditions were absorbed into Tibetan culture.
It has more animistic aspects than Buddhism. For outsiders it is difficult to see the difference between Bonpo and Buddhism, but one small but important detail is that you have to cross their shrines, like mani walls (low walls with loose stones with Buddhist mantra’s carved on it) and chortens anti clockwise, while according to Buddhist custom, you pass them clockwise.
The women wear dark or checked dresses with colorful aprons made from yak wool. You see fewer men in the typical dress, which is a long coat, from which they let one sleeve hanging down. Strolling around the village, you might see women weaving. In Ringmo women make very nice woven products, like belts, bags, shawls and blankets. Most items are made from cotton, but they also sell products made from yak wool. There are a few shops where you can buy these. These shops serve as a general shop as well, and you can fill up your stocks of biscuits for the rest of the trek.
Ringmo lies at the shore of the holy Phoksundo Lake. This lake is of a stunning beauty. It has an enchanting deep blue color and is emerald green close to the shore. The water is crystal clear, with no aquatic life in it. Steep cliffs and snowcapped mountains surround the lake. The colors change a bit during the day; you just won’t get enough of simply looking at it. At the shore of the lake, there is a wonderful campsite.
If you want, you can walk a part of the famous Demons Trail from the movie Himalaya (Caravan) of Eric Valli. This is a beautiful movie about the life of people in Dolpa, who bring their yaks over difficult passes bearing salt from Tibet to trade with grain from the lowlands. In the movie, this trail is used during the salt caravan and one of the yaks falls in the lake here. It’s a spectacular trail, going high above the lake. At some parts it gets very narrow due to landslides, so watch your steps.
At the other shore, there is a beautiful Bonpo Monastery which you can visit. In the monastery you can observe a statue of Tonpa Shenrab Miwo, the founder of Bonpo religion, who lived thousands of years ago. Ringmo has a few guesthouses: Sherpa Hotel and Lodge, Trekkers Lodge, Himalaya Hotel, Shey Shikhar Hotel and Shey Phoksundo Hotel. Besides, you can camp at the shores of Phoksundo Lake.
Day 5 Ringmo/Phoksundo Lake (3733 m) to Chunuwar (3110 m) 2 hrs
As the Phoksundo Lake is such a beautiful place, an extra free morning here is recommended.
In the afternoon you leave back to Chunuwar. Leaving Ringmo, the path is rather flat at first, but soon climbs steeply up the hill. Soon you will see the river far below you. The climb takes about half an hour. At the top you have a beautiful last view of the Phoksundo Lake. And then it is going down, down and more down. Pretty steep at the beginning but later Nepali flat again till you reach Chunuwar.
Day 6 Chunuwar (3110 m) to Sangta (2520 m) or Kageni (2413 m) 6-7 hrs
The path descends gradually, going almost entirely through beautiful pine forests, with some bushes, birches and other broad leaved trees mixed in. It’s about 1 ½ hours to Rechi.
After Rechi, the trail is Nepali flat, to Chhepka (3 ½ hrs) going up and down, with a couple of steeper climbs and descends, following the river all the time. You notice that you are descending; not only by the increasing temperature, but also by the difference in vegetation. You’ll see bamboo again for example, and big walnut trees. From Chhepka it’s an hour more to Sangta, and another hour to Kageni. After Sangta you leave the forest, and suddenly you walk through a bit dry landscape.
In Sangta there is one gueshouse with a campsite: Swagat Hotel.
In Kageni there is 1 guesthouse (plus a campsite will be built soon), Hima Chamakuni Hotel and 1 campsite, Raju Hotel.
Day 7 Sangta (2421 m) or Kageni (2413 m) to Dunai, 3-4 hrs or Juphal (2475 m) 4-5 hrs
It’s a pleasant walk in a rocky landscape till the checkpost of the Shey Phoksundo National Park (SPNP). After the checkpost you can choose to go left to Dunai or cross the big iron suspension bridge (the Dhim Bridge) and go west to Juphal. It’s about 45 minutes to Dunai, the headquarters of Dolpa District. It’s a large village, of about 2,500 people, more or less half Hindu and half Buddhist. Up the hill, there is a Buddhist monastery, the Dolpa Kendriya Gompa, which is worth a visit. It is situated at the slope at the other site of the river, overlooking Dunai. The monastery belongs to the Nyingmapa lineage, the oldest Buddhism linege and was built in 1998. There is only one monk/lama. If he is there, he will be happy to open the monastery for you and show you around. Inside the gompa you can observe a beautiful statue of Sakyamuni Buddha (Gautama Buddha), the Kengyur (the holy scriptures of Buddhism) and big thankas (Buddhist paintings on cotton). There is a small daily puja (prayer ceremony) from 6-7 am and from 6-7 pm.
A bit further away from Dunai, at the same slope, you can find the Dolpo Bon School and Hostel. Besides the normal teachings that children receive at common schools, the Bon School educates children in the Bonpo religion, Tibetan culture and Tibetan language. The school offers education to poor and orphaned children in the district from Bonpo background. As the children come from different, far away villages, there is a hostal as well. Currently there are 26 children in the school, divided into 5 different classes. Unfortunately at present the school faces a lack of funds, due to which the children receive classes in a big tent. They are hoping for new funds to build a descent school building.
At regular schools, Tibetan language is not given, nor Tibetan culture and Bon religion. The school therefore helps to maintain an millennium old culture. The school and hostal make a very interesting visit which gives you a chance to learn more about Bonpo. One of the teachers will be happy to show you around and give you explanations about the Bonpo religion and culture. Besides the Hostal, there is a beautiful stupa with holds a century old footprint of an important lama. A Bonpo gompa is being built here as well.
In Dunai there is a guesthouse with a campsite: The Bluesheep Inn. Besides there are a few hotels, like Hotel Ghorka Palace and Lodge and Pala Guesthouse.
From the bridge, it’s about 2½ – 3 hours to Juphal. The first part goes over a large path, passing through the small village of Kalagaonda. Then you leave the main road and walk over a small path, through fields of barley and wheat, with walnut, peach and apricot trees. It’s a pretty steep climb to reach Juphal. Juphal is a large village with a small bazaar where it is nice to spend some time looking around.
In Juphal there is a guesthouse with a campsite: Hotel Mt Putha. Besides, there is a small guesthouse, Hotel Jharana
Day 8 Flight Juphal-Nepalgunj-Kathmandu
Early in the morning you fly to Nepalgunj. Especially the first part of the flight through the mountain valleys is spectacular. Later in the day, you fly back to Kathmandu.