Dolpo, situated in the north western part of Nepal bordering Tibet, is home to some of the highest human settlements on earth. Most of the villages lie between 3500-4300 meters above sea level, so the climate is harsh with temperatures dipping down to -30 to -40 degree celsius in winter. Only potatoes and barley is cultivated in terms of agriculture which makes the inhabitants resort to animal husbandry and trade to make a subsistence livelihood. In the last few decades however, income generated from yarstagunbu, a high value caterpillar fungus, has brought major social, political and economic change in the region.
People still rely on yaks and horses for transportation since there is no road connection yet to the rest of the country or across the border. Despite its geographical remoteness, civilization has not only survived in Dolpo but also thrived for centuries with its own history, culture, language, religions, music and arts. Dolpo is the local dialect which is conversant with other dialects of the high Himalayan region and written in Tibetan script. Bon and Buddhism are the two dominant religions which constitutes over three dozen monasteries in Dolpo. Locals rely on Amchi tradition as a healthcare practice which uses herbs and other medicinal plants is to treat illnesses. Dolpo is also home to many species of flora and fauna (the term “Dolpo” is associated with the abundance of natural resources).
Dho Tarap valley
Constituted under the Dolpo Buddha Rural Municipality (DBRM) of Dolpa District in the Karnali Zone of north-western Nepal, Dho Tarap valley is located at the heart of Dolpo. Approximately 1,500 people live in three village clusters in the valley: Dho (DBRM ward 1), Tokyu (DBRM ward 3) and Lang (DBRM ward 1). Dho has 120 households and is located at at an altitude of about 3,800m whereas Tokyu, with an equal number of households, lies upstream at a slightly higher altitude (4,100m). Lang is a small settlement of about 30 households located off the main trail leading to Dho from the south, about three hours walking distance from Dho. Currently, Dho Tarap is the headquarters of the Dolpo Buddha Rural Municipality.
Dho-Tarap can be reached within a travel distance of one day from nine different villages of Dolpo. To the east, a trail leads to Charka village and over to Mustang district; to the south, the trail leads to Sahartara and down to Kathmandu; to the west, one trail leads to Phoksumdo and over to Jumla district while the other trail leads to Shey Gompa, Bijer village and further west to Mugu district; and to the north, to Bentsang valley and across the Maryum la to Tibet. Breathtaking landscape, serene rivers and turquoise-colored lakes, spectacular villages, ancient monasteries, stupas and mani walls, distinct vernacular architecture, rich traditions of Bon, Buddhism and Amchi, are some of the things which make Dolpo an important place to visit in Nepal. To say that the opportunity to stay for few months in this place will be a life time experience for you will be an understatement.
Until 9th century, Dolpo was a part of Tibet. Around the 14th century, it was an independent kingdom with its own king but in the 16th and 17th century, Dolpo remained under the control of its neighboring kingdoms of Jumla and Lo at different times. Dolpo became a part of present day Nepal in the 18th century when the kingdom of Lo (Mustang) was annexed by the Gorkha kings.
Within Nepal, Dolpo forms only a microscopic minority, not only geographically, but also in linguistic and ethnic terms. The arid inhospitable land and the harsh climate often lead to adverse conditions including food crisis and poverty. Literacy is still low and basic healthcare facilities are few and far between. The recent explosion of yartsagunbu economy has led to unmanaged exploitation of natural resources and depletion of the environment.