Trekking in Dolpa
Army Mountaineering Association Trip to Nepal 2017
The plane violently banked a steep left. Below us we could see aircraft parts, strewn all over the magnificent mountainside just before the runway appeared. A safe landing was far from guaranteed. Vomit was running through the aisle on the cramped 15 seater aircraft. This was not the most comfortable way to start a 13-day trek in the Dolpa Region but it sure was exhilarating.
Upon landing, we were greeted by crowds of locals from the nearby village. We stood in awe of the snow-topped peaks as porters ran around, collecting our bags and preparing to move from the runway to the town of Juphal. A meal awaited us in a local community centre. I had to wait for my stomach to settle before consuming the first of many portions of dal bhat (rice and lentil soup) that would follow throughout the expedition.
Dolpa is the largest district in Nepal but also one of the less famous areas. We were told that we were the only tourist group that had booked permits to trek in Dolpa through our tour agency in 2017. We were truly in a remote part of the world. During the expedition, we only saw one other western tourist.
Life is simple but tough in the isolated settlements of Nepal. The majority of the local population work the land, farming crops and managing livestock to survive the harsh weather conditions, hoping to produce a little bit of extra food to sell and exchange for other goods. They have little of the modern “necessities” we have become accustomed to in the west. Even our guide and porters had the most basic equipment. Whenever it rained or snowed, they would use a large plastic bag to protect themselves from nature’s elements. These men were as tough as they come. One of the porters was found to be suffering from trench foot but still carried on with little fuss. Luckily we had two doctors on the team to help him.
Our trek from Juphal to Kagbeni was 158 km long with a total climb 10,848 metres. Our highest point of the expedition was 5200 metres above sea level. All this sounds impressive but in reality, means very little. What was important, was the experiences we gained through the hardship, challenge and teamwork of being part of a close-knit group. The Army Mountaineering Association had brought together 12 strangers. Our only common connection being our shared love for the outdoors and that we were all serving members of the British Army, be it regular or reserve. The group was a diverse mix of personalities, trades, ages and experience.
There were moments of tension. Our Nepalese guide released the donkey handler a day earlier than was needed. With him went the 15 or so donkeys that carried much of the food, cooking equipment and heavy communal tents. This was likely a way of saving some extra money for the guide. When the guide ordered the porters to carry loads weighing 50kg+ on the final 23km long day, inevitably, a heated argument broke out.
Walking through the epic valleys, snow covered peaks and along lush flowing rivers was an experience that will stay with me forever. I have never been to a place as beautiful as Nepal. The scenery and weather can change in an instant. We would often retire for the night with clear skies and dry conditions to then wake up to a blanket of snow around our tent. Regardless of the weather, it was impossible to get bored of the view.
One of the highlights of the expedition was meeting the friendly Nepalese people. Dolpa is heavily influenced and linked to Tibetan culture. Tibetan is widely spoken and the small settlements and religious monuments are very similar to what would be found in Tibet. The people were the kindest and happiest I have ever met. By saying the greeting “Namaste!” followed by the joining of the palms in an upwards prayer motion, we were always made to feel welcome. Learning just this phrase made a huge difference to how the local people approached us. Never before have I seen people with so little, willing to give so much.
This was a fantastic expedition that involved a lot of hard work in the background. To all of those that made the Army Mountaineering Association 60th anniversary expedition possible, thank you. It was worth it.
Captain Gregory Barnes