Nepal, a land of breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural heritage, has always been a paradise for adventurers and trekkers from around the world. While the iconic trails like the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit are well-known, there exists a hidden gem in the northwestern part of Nepal, a place that has remained secluded for centuries – Upper Mustang.
Upper Mustang, often referred to as the “Mystical Kingdom of Lo,” is a remote region in the Himalayas that was restricted to outsiders until 1992. This region, nestled between the Tibetan plateau and the rest of Nepal, is a unique and enchanting destination for trekkers. In this blog, we will embark on a virtual journey to discover the wonders of Upper Mustang, from its rich history and culture to the rugged terrain and breathtaking landscapes.
Upper Mustang has a fascinating history that dates back to ancient times. The region was once an independent kingdom known as the Kingdom of Lo, which existed for several centuries. It was a vital trade route between Nepal and Tibet, and its culture and traditions bear significant Tibetan influence.
The area was officially opened to foreign trekkers only in 1992, which has helped preserve its unique culture and traditions. This trek offers a rare opportunity to step back in time and witness a way of life that has changed little over the centuries.
One of the most compelling aspects of the Upper Mustang trek is the chance to immerse yourself in its rich culture. The region is predominantly Buddhist, and you’ll encounter numerous ancient monasteries and chortens (Buddhist shrines) along the way.
The people of Upper Mustang, known as Lobas, are warm and welcoming, making your journey through their villages a truly unforgettable experience. You’ll have the opportunity to witness traditional ceremonies, interact with locals, and gain a deep appreciation for their way of life.
Upper Mustang is renowned for its enigmatic caves, some of which are thousands of years old. These caves are carved into the cliffs and offer a unique glimpse into the region’s history. Many of these caves contain ancient paintings and inscriptions, providing valuable insights into the culture and beliefs of the people who once inhabited them.
Before embarking on the Upper Mustang trek, it’s essential to be aware of the necessary permits and regulations. Due to its restricted status, trekkers must obtain a special permit, known as the “Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit,” which comes at an additional cost. Additionally, trekkers are required to hire a registered guide, adding to the controlled and protected nature of the trek.
The best time to undertake the Upper Mustang trek is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) seasons. These months offer stable weather and clear skies, allowing for the best views of the surrounding peaks and landscapes.
The trek typically begins in Jomsom, a bustling town in the Annapurna region, accessible by a short flight from Pokhara. From Jomsom, trekkers gradually ascend into Upper Mustang, passing through several beautiful villages along the way. Here is a sample itinerary for the Upper Mustang trek:
Day 1: Arrival in Kathmandu
– Arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, and prepare for your adventure.
Day 2: Kathmandu to Pokhara
– Take a scenic drive or a short flight to Pokhara, the gateway to the Annapurna region.
Day 3: Pokhara to Jomsom
– Fly to Jomsom, where your trek begins. Enjoy the stunning views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges during the flight.
Day 4: Jomsom to Kagbeni
– Start your trek with a relatively easy walk to Kagbeni, a picturesque village.
Day 5: Kagbeni to Chele
– Begin your ascent into Upper Mustang, passing through the checkpoint and officially entering the restricted area.
Day 6: Chele to Syanbochen
– Trek through scenic landscapes, cross several passes, and reach the village of Syanbochen.
Day 7: Syanbochen to Ghami
– Continue your journey, passing through Geling and Tsarang, and arrive at Ghami.
Day 8: Ghami to Charang
– Explore the ancient Ghami village before trekking to Charang, known for its stunning red-walled monastery.
Day 9: Charang to Lo Manthang
– Reach the capital of Upper Mustang, Lo Manthang, where you’ll have a chance to explore the royal palace and monasteries.
Day 10: Explore Lo Manthang
– Spend a day exploring the rich cultural heritage of Lo Manthang, including its monasteries and local markets.
Day 11: Lo Manthang to Drakmar
– Begin your return journey, passing through the village of Drakmar.
Day 12: Drakmar to Ghiling
– Continue your descent through the arid landscapes to Ghiling.
Day 13: Ghiling to Chhuksang
– Trek back to Chhuksang, retracing your steps.
Day 14: Chhuksang to Jomsom
– Conclude your trek with a return to Jomsom.
Day 15: Jomsom to Pokhara
– Fly back to Pokhara and relax after your challenging trek.
Day 16: Return to Kathmandu
– Travel back to Kathmandu from Pokhara.
This 16-day itinerary allows for acclimatization and a leisurely exploration of the region’s culture and landscapes.
The Upper Mustang trek is considered moderate in terms of difficulty. While it doesn’t involve high-altitude climbing, it does require trekkers to be in good physical condition due to long hours of walking and the occasional steep ascent. Proper acclimatization is essential to avoid altitude sickness.
Upper Mustang is unlike any other trekking destination in Nepal. As you journey through the region, you’ll encounter a surreal landscape characterized by barren desert-like expanses, towering red cliffs, and deep gorges. The contrast between the rugged terrain and the clear blue skies is a photographer’s dream.
One of the most striking features of the Upper Mustang region is the Kali Gandaki Gorge, the world’s deepest gorge. The trekking trail follows the riverbed, providing trekkers with breathtaking views of the gorge’s steep cliffs and the mighty Kali Gandaki River below.
Despite its arid appearance, Upper Mustang is home to a surprising variety of flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for the elusive blue sheep, known as “bharal,” as well as Himalayan marmots, eagles,
and vultures. The region’s unique vegetation includes hardy shrubs, wildflowers, and medicinal herbs.
Upper Mustang boasts a remarkable collection of ancient monasteries, some of which date back over a thousand years. These monasteries are not only places of worship but also repositories of art and culture. The wall paintings, statues, and manuscripts found in these monasteries provide valuable insights into Tibetan Buddhism.
– Located in Lo Manthang, Thubchen Gompa is one of the largest and most important monasteries in Upper Mustang. Its exquisite wall paintings are a testament to the region’s artistic and spiritual heritage.
– Jampa Gompa, also known as the “God House,” is another must-visit monastery in Lo Manthang. It is famous for its three-story construction and the sacred statue of Maitreya.
If your timing is right, you might have the chance to witness the Tiji Festival, one of Upper Mustang’s most significant cultural events. This three-day festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and involves elaborate masked dances, prayers, and rituals. It’s a captivating experience that offers a deeper understanding of the local culture and beliefs.
Packing for the Upper Mustang trek requires careful consideration. Here’s a list of essential items you should bring:
– Warm clothing: Even in the warmer months, the nights can be quite cold, so pack warm layers.
– Trekking boots: Ensure you have comfortable, well-fitted boots with good ankle support.
– Backpack: A sturdy, comfortable backpack is essential for carrying your belongings.
– Sleeping bag: Invest in a good-quality sleeping bag suitable for colder temperatures.
– Water purification: Access to clean water can be limited, so bring water purification tablets or a filter.
– Trekking poles: These can provide stability on uneven terrain and reduce the strain on your knees.
– Sun protection: Pack sunglasses, sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield yourself from the sun’s harsh rays.
Respect for local culture is of utmost importance in Upper Mustang. When visiting monasteries and interacting with locals, remember the following:
– Dress modestly: Wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees when entering religious sites.
– Ask for permission: Seek permission before taking photographs of people, especially monks.
– Remove your shoes: Always remove your shoes before entering monasteries and private homes.
– Be mindful of customs: Familiarise yourself with local customs and traditions to ensure you behave respectfully.
Altitude sickness can affect trekkers at higher elevations, so it’s crucial to take precautions:
– Acclimatize: Spend at least two days in Kagbeni to acclimatize before heading further into Upper Mustang.
– Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to combat the effects of altitude.
– Listen to your body: If you experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headaches, dizziness, or nausea, descend to a lower elevation immediately.
Trekking through Upper Mustang, the “Mystical Kingdom of Lo,” is a journey like no other. It offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and historical intrigue. As you traverse the rugged terrain, explore ancient monasteries, and interact with the warm and hospitable people of Upper Mustang, you’ll undoubtedly feel like you’ve stepped into a different world.
This remote corner of Nepal, with its unique landscapes and well-preserved traditions, is a testament to the enduring spirit of exploration and discovery. So, if you’re seeking an adventure that combines the mystical with the majestic, consider embarking on the Upper Mustang trek. It’s an experience that will stay with you long after you’ve left this enchanting corner of the Himalayas.