Dhaulagiri Circuit Trek: Camp and hike far from the beaten path

30 December, 2020 | Reccy Guide

Nepal offers adventurers the chance to hike through some of the most remote and rugged terrain in the country around Dhaulagiri Trek. During this three-week-long excursion, trekkers circle the 7th highest mountain in the world. Dhaulagiri’s stunning peak stretches to over 8,100 meters and wasn’t summited until 1960 due to lack of access.

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The trails leading to this epic mountain have since been improved, but they still challenge visitors. The narrow path surpasses heights of 5,200 meters for travelers who complete the Around Dhaulagiri trek. The circuit is thus named because it’s the only mountain in the Himalayas that lies entirely within Nepal, allowing visitors to fully circle the peak. 

View around the Dhaulagiri trek

Many similar treks in Nepal operate off the popular teahouse basis, where hikers rest in villages along the way. However, the remoteness of this adventure gives travelers the chance to camp for nearly their entire excursion. All tours must be accompanied by a certified guide group; this group provides tents, hot meals, porters, and mules. Trekkers can instead focus on the majestic Himalayan views without worrying about setting up camp along the way.

It’s common for trekkers to first arrive in Nepal at the Kathmandu international airport, although you will need to continue to Pokhara, the true gateway to the Himalayas. Either a short charter flight or a 6-hour Jeep ride will bring you to this colorful city. Although you might be tempted by the colorful prayer flags and cultural art of Pokhara, most groups drive to the Darbang before officially setting out on foot.

Village during the trek

Darbang is a small farming village with a busy market, and it serves as the starting point of many treks. After a teahouse morning meal, hiking groups set off alongside the coursing Myagdi river. You’ll keep company with the river for most of your Around Dhaulagiri trekking adventure—its source is the glacier that lies at the mountain’s base. 

Your trip through the Nepalese countryside will be vividly colorful and diverse. At first, you’ll have the opportunity to wind through large forests of bamboo, flowering rhododendron, and oak trees. Green meadows will stretch beyond them, dotted with terraced and patchwork farms.

After a week of trekking, the landscape will begin to morph and match the snow capped peaks that loom in the distance. Most groups rest and acclimate to the high altitude for one or two days at a time at various campgrounds along the way.  As trekkers slowly circle the south and southwest faces of Dhaulagiri, they are richly rewarded with a view of the gigantic ice wall called Tsaurabong. 

Further along, the ascent begins in earnest. Hiking groups enter the Hidden Valley—a glacial moraine that lies between the Dhaulagiri peaks. The official base camp is located here in the gorge. Camp and explore the giant glacier that lives in the shadow of this giant Himalayan group; be sure to bring crampons to help keep your balance on the slippery ice. Avalanches and icefalls cascade (at a safe distance) down the mountain faces that enclose the valley.

mesmerising views during the Dhaulagiri trekMesmerising views during the Dhaulagiri trek

The highest point of your trek is also reached in this area. The French and Dhampus passes exceed 5,200 meters in altitude. Although their height can be a challenge to reach, these passes provide beautiful vistas of Annapurna and other peaks in the range. Once you’ve trekked through the glacial valley and drank in the Himalayan views, your group will head toward the Mustang region. 

The Mustang region is expansive, but it’s largely made up of alpine forests that fade into arid high deserts. This area is world renowned for being the Last Forbidden Kingdom. Specifically, it was a Buddhist Kingdom that retained independence until the 1950s and barred non-native visitors until the 1990s. As such, its villages and people have retained a unique culture of their own. Relatively few travelers visit this are due to heavily monitored access and permits. As you explore this unique plateau, consider that you’re one of only thousands of people to see these sights.

On the descent, with most groups angling for Marpha village, you’ll be greeted once again by lush forests. Juniper and Burberry trees will welcome you back to civilization. The white-washing village of Marpha, encircled by apple orchards, will offer you a chance to rest before returning to the bustle of Pokhara and Kathmandu.

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