While the rest of Nepal suffered massive landslides and floods, in the trans-Himalayan rain shadow the country’s largest and most remote district remained high and dry, in splendid isolation.
Dolpa is one of the last two among Nepal’s 75 districts that doesn’t yet have a road connection. Although a new highway from Jajarkot is under construction, for now the only access is on foot or flying to Jufal airport near the district capital of Dunai. For the rest of Nepal, the monsoon is the ‘off season’, but for Dolpa it is the peak time for trekking.
The district is tucked away behind the Dhaulagiri range and is topographically a part of the Tibetan Plateau. It has always remained cut off and secluded from the rest of Nepal because of its inaccessibility.
With the establishment of the Shey Phoksundo National Park (SPNP) in 1984, Dolpa opened up to limited tourism. As the largest and only trans-Himalayan national park in Nepal, SPNP ranks among the most spectacular and scenic destinations in the world.Eric Valli’s Oscar-nominated documentary, Caravan, gave Dolpa added publicity. It is one of those last places on Earth that is truly remote, where humans seem to be able to survive only because of their deep spiritualism.
Along with its rugged tree-less terrain, Dolpa’s jewel is Phoksundo Lake, a lapis lazuli-coloured body of water, it is Nepal’s deepest and second-largest lake. It was designated as a protected Ramsar site in 2007.
The Park consists of trans-Himalayan flora, fauna and ecosystems supporting prime habitats for rare and endangered species of plants and animals including the elusive snow leopard, musk deer and blue sheep.
The National Park contains numerous monasteries and religious sites, many of which have been renovated. Shey Gompa, the most famous one, was established in the 11th century. Thashung Gompa located near Phoksundo Lake was built 900 years ago and has played a role in conserving wildlife and preserving the proto-Buddhist Bonpo religion.
Conservation in this 1,350 sq km trans-Himalayan national park is a challenging task due to its size and remoteness. and because three VDCs Phoksundo, Vijer and Saldang are located inside the core area. Nine other VDCs are in the buffer zone. These have given rise to conservation problems such as over-exploitation of natural resources including illicit harvesting of medicinal plants and illegal hunting.
The government permitted the collection of yarsagumba inside the Park this year, aloowing thousands of people from surrounding districts to over-run the Park every spring. This year, SPNP collected over Rs 23 million in fees. Management and conservation of the precious caterpillar fungus, and waste disposal have become critical issues.
Remoteness, lack of effective park management, limited human resources and the arrival of the road may give rise to overexploitation and haphazard extraction of valuable park resources.
Trekking tourism has become popular in recent years and over 600 trekkers visited Dolpa last year on special permits, and the growing popularity of the region has brought challenges and opportunities as traditional and modern worlds come together.
The local communities struggle to make a sustainable living while preserving their ancient heritage and environment. Fortunately, there is a culture of conservation among the people of Nepal’s most pristine area.
Hum Gurung, PhD, is with the Himalayan Sustainable Future Foundation.
This article first appeared in Nepali Times, a leading newspaper of Nepal. Click here to go to the original.