A little while back, we started a new mini series called ‘To Boldly Go’ – after much delay, here’s the next instalment! In case you’re not sure what this is all about, go check out our original post, ‘Somewhere Really Cold’. In short though, this series is about finding new places to go in extreme conditions, and we always choose one that’s slightly more adventurous than the other. This time, we’re talking about places that are rather high up. A lot of inspirational imagery comes from the skies and mountaintops. Sentiments of peace and triumph come to mind as one gazes out across the vistas below. However, not everyone wants to risk life and limb climbing Everest, yet they still don’t get quite enough satisfaction from the white cliffs of Dover. So, our solution was to search for the highest human settlements on Earth, and cherry pick the most fun ones from the top five. People live permanently in these places, meaning they’re not overtly dangerous, but they’re still a very long way from the norm, so you’re guaranteed to be impressed. Let’s get to it!

Dolpa District, Nepal

Lower Dolpo, Western Nepal Lower Dolpo, Western Nepal

Bordering both the Great Himalayas as well as Tibet, the Dolpa District is clearly in a fairly lofty position. It’s the biggest district in Nepal, but only has a population of around 37,000. A far more impressive number is the elevation of 14,000 feet for its populated region – quite the dizzying figure. A really big draw to this region is the Shey Phoksundo National Park – the only trans-Himalayan national park in Nepal, and one of the most scenic mountain parks on the planet. It covers an area of over 3,500 square miles, with most of that nestled within the Himalayan crest. This park is an important place for endangered species (such as the snow leopard, grey wolf, musk deer and blue sheep), and even contains 286 species of ethnobotanical importance. Such a place is rare to find in this day and age, as it gives the impression of what the Earth would look like without us. Phoksundo Lake Phoksundo Lake

The park contains one of the highest elevated lakes in the world, Phoksundo Lake, famous for its pristine turquoise colour, which is a result of being totally devoid of aquatic life. It’s surrounded by magnificent glaciers and has a small settlement called Ringmo on the 40,000-year-old landslide dam that created the lake. Just beyond that, at the lake’s outlet, there also just happens to reside the country’s highest waterfall. Because Buddhism and Bon are prevalent in this area, there are plenty of sites of worship dotted around the lake, as it is considered by locals to be an area of great significance. Similar sites can be found all around the wider park, with the 11th century Shey Gompa being the most well-known. Throughout the glacial valleys and ridges of the Dolpa District, there are around 22 small villages dotted around. They may be sparse, but they’re notable. As previously stated, these settlements are amongst the highest on Earth, but to the people who live there, it’s just home. Even if these ancient and remote villages themselves weren’t of any note, the people certainly would be. Continuing traditions rooted in Tibetan culture, the lifestyle and practises of these warm-hearted people are sure to broaden your personal horizons. If you’d like to trek past snow-capped peaks, lush forests, and Buddhist monasteries, this is the best place on Earth for all three. As it’s protected by the surrounding mountains, it’s also one of the more pleasant places in this part of the world to visit, as it suffers much less from monsoons in the summer. However, it’s not for first-time travellers. There’s only one road leading into the entire Dolpa District. No, that is not a typo, there is one singular road. If that didn’t seem crazy enough, there’s also only one lone vehicle that travels along this road for access into the region. Your best chance of getting here is to fly to the Juphal airstrip in Dolpa. From here, it’s a one day walk to the guard post of the national park. If you’re going to the national park (which of course you would be if you made it all the way to Dolpa), then you must abide by the rules set by the park personnel, and you are expected to be entirely self-sufficient. This place is a once in a lifetime experience and is truly breath-taking, but it’s not wise to undergo such a trip unless you’re prepared to venture out on a trek through the wilderness.

Korzok, India

Korzok Monastery, India Korzok Monastery, India

Some of the delights of the Dolpa District can still be found in easier to visit places. Of course, the sheer magnificence of mountains surrounding forests surrounding a lake cannot be fully matched, but great elements can still be discovered in other places way up high. Dolpa District is 5th on the list of highest settlements, but Korzok in India is number 3, and although it might not have the same biodiversity, it’s no less worth your time. 15,000 feet above sea level, but with only around 1,200 people living there to enjoy it, Korzok is nearing the limits of how high up humans can comfortably survive. The main focal point of Korzok is the Korzok Monastery, a 17th century Tibetan Buddhist gompa that was rebuilt in the 19th century, home to roughly 70 monks. It’s one of the oldest settlements in the world at this altitude and has a rich history of kings and merchants who wanted to claim the area as their own. In 1947 when India became a democratic country, the era of nomads ended and a village began to take shape below the monastery. There is a festival held at the monastery every year, attracting nomadic herdsmen and tourists alike. It lasts for two days during July/August, making it the best time to visit. The ceremony of “Argham” (Killing) symbolises the destruction of evil and has historical links with the assassination of King Lang-dar-ma from the 9th century. Anyone who enjoys soaking in traditional world culture will have their interest piqued by this display. Tsomoriri Lake Tsomoriri Lake

Whilst the monastery is revered by the people of Korzok, it’s not the only thing they hold in such high esteem. The lake below, Tsomoriri Lake, is considered equally sacred, and has been pledged by the community as a “Sacred Gift for a Living Planet”. Because of this perceived importance, the area was opened up for tourists, as it seemed only right that the world may share its majesty. Tsomoriri Lake is both bigger and higher up than even the Phoksundo Lake, yet it also has life in it, and the water is both brackish and sweet. The fields of the Changthang Plateau that surround the lake are claimed to be the highest cultivated land in the world and are home to the yaks whose fur and skins make up parts of the local’s homes. If you were to visit Korzok to see the grand monastery against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks and gaze up at the stars from the plains of the plateau, then you’ll have an easier time than those going to Dolpa District. You will need to head to Leh (which connects by air to multiple places in India) to receive the necessary permit, and from there it’s a matter of driving 134 miles to Korzok. While that may not sound that accessible, it’s actually quite reasonable when you consider just how high up you are, and how few people ever travel in and out. As a bonus, unlike in the Shey Phoksundo National Park, you will also be able to get accommodation. Visitors are not allowed to stay in the monastery or village, but are very welcome to their own fairly large tented accommodation on the banks of the lake, which honestly seems like a better deal. Waking up to a beautiful lake near the top of the world doesn’t sound too shabby to us!

That’s all, folks!

And thus, we must conclude another instalment of ‘To Boldy Go’… but fret not! We’ll be back again soon with more wild ideas for places to venture. Although we may live in a time where everything has already been discovered, that doesn’t mean we should allow it to dampen our instinct to explore as much as we can. There’s a lot to see and not enough time to see it all, so when it comes to choosing where to go for your next adventure – be bold!

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