The West of Nepal

The West of Nepal

Treks in the west of Nepal are quite a different proposition to treks in other parts of Nepal. This part of Nepal is far less developed with fewer facilities available for visitors. Access is also far harder, especially to areas such as Humla, Jumla and Dolpa.

All of this makes trekking here much more of an exploration, and intending trekkers must prepare for some delays and other hardships. It is also considerably more expensive to trek in the remote parts of the west. The west of Nepal is impossible to describe in a few lines.

This part of Nepal is rich in the range of flora and fauna the most particular interest and value are the medicinal herbs and plants that are found in the higher regions, representing a valuable source of income for the locals. Western Nepal, especially the Upper & Lower Dolpo region, is also known as medicine hills. In the summer many people from the surrounding villages and districts and even from Kathmandu and Tibet arrive here to collect this strange insect known as even “Himalayan Viagra”.

This medicine is a combination of insect and plant that remains inactive in winter and comes out as a plant in summer. In Nepal, it is known as “Yar-Cha Gun-Bu” which is an insect having high commercial demand as a tonic. It is found in subalpine pasturelands of Nepal including Jumla, Dolpa, Langtang, Manaslu, Kanchanjunga and Solukhumbu areas. Yar-cha gun-bu, which means plant in summer and insect in winter is found mainly on the high hills of Dolpo and collected during the spring, and early summer when the snowmelt and sprout out on the hills.

The history and anthropology of western Nepal are complex and fascinating. Much of the geographic territory, now recognized as Nepal, formerly consisted of several small hill states and petty kingdoms (minimum 46). The Jumla was one of the powerful, petty Hill States of that time. For centuries the western part of Nepal including Jumla has played a significant role in the political and cultural chapters of Nepal, notably while the Malla empires declined and split into numerous petty hill states. To develop their domain as a trading centre and to obtain Tibetan goods, the rulers of Jumla turned their attention eastward. They assumed control over Lo (Upper Mustang), from which they extracted as annual tribute. Soon after, when Jumla assumed control over Lo, the Army of Bahadur Shaha attacked Jumla and annexed both of the petty Hill States (Jumla & Lo) into Nepal in around 1800.

In our day, the entire Jumla and Dolpo region has become one of the major travel destinations. The cultural route of Jumla extends north into Tibet and west to Kumao in India. We get to cross four different atmospheres: the medium mountain with forests and pastures, the trans-Himalayan vertical desert with the oases of the villages, the high quota with tundra and cliffs and the microclimate of the Phokosundo. The entire upper Himalayan range of Dolpo, Jumla and Humla is dominated by Tibetan and keeps a significant influence on the areas by trading. Most of the villages are packed closely together, one atop another with flat roofs. The main ethnic groups of this area are Thakuris, Chhetris, Matwali Chhetris (many of them are Tibetan) and of course the Tibetans.

The most prominent group of people seen in the northernmost parts of the area, particularly in Dolpa and Mugu, are of Tibetan origin. They pasture supplementing with the trade both to the north and the south. Their religion is a mixture of Tibetan Buddhism and the ancient, pre-Buddhist, Bon religion, a largely animistic faith. Their language is based on the Tibetan dialect spoken in Kham, a province of old Tibet located many hundreds of kilometres to the east. Lower down the people are a mixture of ethnic groups, such as the Magar, Gurung, and hill people of Hindu caste origin (although all of Mongolian origin). Of particular interest are the Thakuri, the royal family’s caste. Again they are quite different in culture and language to their cousins further east and similar to Mongolian origin.

Western Nepal is remote and unknown because of its relative inaccessibility from the Capital, Kathmandu, or other major commercial cities of Nepal. Life here is complicated, and poverty is unforgettable in every way. These days various NGOs are currently working with the local people in the west to try to establish a certain level of tourism infrastructure. At present this is limited to community camping sites, porters and hotel training.

The west of Nepal also reserves two famous and beautiful National Parks. Those National Parks are SHEY PHOKSUNDO and RARA.