Exploring the Mystical Mustang: A Hidden Kingdom of Nepal
The Upper Mustang Trek is an adventure of a lifetime that takes you to the remote landscapes of the Far Northwestern Himalayan region of Nepal. This trek is a perfect blend of scenic beauty and cultural exploration, as you get to witness the hidden treasures of the semi-arid landscape, vibrant monasteries, ancient caves, and traditional villages of Buddhist and Bon culture that are rarely found in any other parts of Nepal. The trek offers an opportunity to experience the magnetic Himalayan aura, with seasonal vegetation ranging from Alpine to highland that can attract any trekkers around the world.
Upper Mustang Trekking was restricted to foreigners till 1980. After the restrictions were lifted partially in 1980, many trekkers and adventure bikers have visited this place to witness its vast treasures of beautiful landscapes, traditional villages of Buddhist and Bon culture with views of Dhaulagiri-Annapurna-Mustang Himal in the background with Damodar Himal range. The trek to Upper Mustang begins from Jomsom, a district headquarters of the Mustang region and a linearly located windy valley beyond the Annapurna ranges. People recall the trail as a historical salt trade route between Nepal and Tibet, running adjacent to the winding and beautiful Kaligandaki river gorge up to Loh-Manthang.
Upper Mustang is a unique destination that offers a great view of the Mountain desert, Old Monastery, and the great life experience of being in one of the top-rated travel destinations around the world. The Mustang region is filled with a majority of Thakali people. The temple of Muktinath, located at the lap of Thorong peak, is one of the famous religious sites in Mustang which thousands of Buddhist and Hindu people from India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Tibet visit every year. The fossilized Ammonite can be found on the beach of Kaligandaki River, which is of religious importance to Hindus. It is a place where multicultural and multilingual people are bounded together and stay together. Upper Mustang has lots of Buddhist monasteries that were built around one thousand years ago. People in Upper Mustang used to have their King who used to rule over Mustang.
The highlight of the Upper Mustang Trek is the ancient walled city of Lo Manthang, which is the capital of the Mustang region. The city is surrounded by high walls and is home to several ancient monasteries and temples. It is a unique and fascinating place to explore, and it offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the region. Along the way, you will also have the opportunity to visit several other interesting sites, such as the Ghar Gompa, which is one of the oldest monasteries in the region, and the Choser Cave, which is believed to have been used by Buddhist monks for meditation.
The Upper Mustang region is a restricted area, and a special permit is required to visit. The permit costs USD 500 per person for the first 10 days and USD 50 per person for each additional day. In addition to the permit, you will also need to be accompanied by a licensed guide at all times. This is a requirement of the permit, and it is designed to help preserve the fragile environment and cultural heritage of the region.
Accommodation on the Upper Mustang Trek is usually in basic tea houses or guesthouses. The facilities are basic but clean, and you can expect a simple but filling meal of traditional Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine. The tea houses are usually run by local families, and staying in them is a great way to support the local economy and learn more about the culture and way of life in the region.
Key Features of Upper Mustang Trekking
- Muktinath Temple - a worshipped holy site with religious importance for both Hindus and Buddhists
- Jomsom Airport - a popular starting point for Upper Mustang Treks, offering damn awesome mountain views
- Kagbeni Apple Garden - A picturesque orchard in Upper Mustang, perfect for a rest stop and locally grown apples.
- Ghar Monastery - A stunning cliff-top monastery with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes.
- Lo Manthang Royal Palace - A UNESCO World Heritage Site with intricate architecture and rich history.
- Chhosher Monastery - A natural monastery built into a mountain cliff, accessible only by a challenging trek.
- Tiji Festival - A vibrant and colorful celebration of Mustang's rich culture and traditions, held annually in June and July.
Why choose Upper Mustang Trekking?
The Upper Mustang region is religiously significant to both Buddhists and Hindus. The Kaligandaki River valley is famous for finding ammonites, also known as "Shaligram," which has a great religious significance to Hindus and is considered the holy offering to Bishnu. Muktinath, an icon of this area, is very important to both Hindus and Buddhists.
The Upper Mustang region is an ancient city with historical and cultural significance. It was used as a base camp for the Khompa revolution against the Chinese government, which was later suppressed with the help of the Nepalese Government. Lo Manthang was the central part of the ancient city, and traders from Tibet and India used the salt trading route that passes through the middle of Loh Manthang for trade. The tradition of sky burial is still practiced in the Upper region, which adds to the cultural significance of this region.
In addition to historical and cultural significance, there are many natural attractions to see in Upper Mustang. One must-visit place is Chungsi Cave, which is one of the most religiously and historically important places in the region. This natural cave lies in between many man-made caves and is believed to have been used by Guru Rinpoche for meditation around the 8th century. The Upper Mustang region also boasts many ancient monasteries and caves that are worth exploring.
All in all, Upper Mustang Trekking offers a unique experience that should not be missed. From the natural beauty of the mountain desert landscape to the cultural and religious significance of the region, this trek has something to offer for everyone.
The Cultural Richness of Mustang
Discovering the Hidden Kingdom of Lo
As you embark on the Upper Mustang trek, you'll be transported to the ancient kingdom of Lo, a place steeped in history and mystique. The walled city of Lo Manthang, with its whitewashed mud-brick houses and the magnificent Royal Palace, exudes a sense of grandeur and timelessness. Explore the narrow alleys, interact with the friendly locals, and witness the preservation of Tibetan culture that has remained intact for centuries.
Immersing in Tibetan Buddhist Traditions
Upper Mustang is deeply influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, and the trek offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in its spiritual traditions. Visit the sacred monasteries and gompas adorned with colorful prayer flags, where monks engage in prayer chants and perform religious rituals. The serenity and spirituality of these places create a truly captivating experience for trekkers.
Exploring Ancient Monasteries and Caves
Upper Mustang is renowned for its ancient monasteries and mystical caves. The famous Chhoser Cave, believed to have been carved by Guru Rinpoche, is a testament to the region's rich religious history. Delve into these hidden caves and marvel at the intricate murals, ancient artifacts, and meditative ambiance they offer. Each cave holds stories waiting to be discovered, transporting you to a time long gone.
The Natural Beauty of Upper Mustang
Marveling at the Himalayan Landscape
One of the highlights of the Upper Mustang trek is the breathtaking Himalayan landscape that unfolds before your eyes. As you traverse the rugged trails, you'll be treated to panoramic views of towering snow-capped peaks, including Nilgiri, Annapurna, and Dhaulagiri. The dramatic play of light and shadow on the majestic mountains creates a mesmerizing spectacle that will leave you in awe.
Journeying through the Rugged Terrain
Upper Mustang's terrain is rugged and diverse, adding an element of adventure to your trekking experience. You'll navigate through deep gorges, cross suspension bridges over roaring rivers, and ascend steep hills. The challenging yet rewarding nature of the trails will test your endurance and provide a sense of accomplishment as you conquer each milestone.
Encountering Unique Flora and Fauna
Despite the dry and desert-like landscape of Upper Mustang, it is home to a surprising variety of flora and fauna. As you trek through the region, you'll come across hardy plants like juniper, wild rose, and edelweiss, which have adapted to the harsh conditions. Keep an eye out for wildlife encounters as well, including the elusive snow leopard, Himalayan blue sheep, and various species of birds in the trekking region.
Best Season to do Upper Mustang Trek
The Monsoon season, from June to August, is not the preferred time to trek in most of the Himalayan region. However, Upper Mustang lies in the rain shadow, making it an ideal region to trek even during monsoon. The low rainfall makes the trail less slippery, and the weather is still manageable for trekking.
The Autumn season, from September to November, is considered the best time to trek Upper Mustang. The weather is clean and clear, and the visibility is far with less to no haze. The days are bright, and the temperature is low compared to Monsoon and Spring, making this trek more doable. Moreover, the local festivals, including the Tiji festival, fall during this season, adding more cultural value to your trek.
The Winter season, from December to February, is the least preferred time to trek Upper Mustang. The chances of heavy snowfall make it challenging to trek, and most of the local people migrate to the lower regions to avoid the cold and freezing winter. However, with proper pieces of equipment and gear, this trek can provide the adventure of another level, and the place is less crowded during this season.
The Spring season, from March to May, is the peak season to do Upper Mustang Trek. The temperature is warmer compared to Autumn, and the walking days are fine. The views are amazing because of the clear sky and clean weather. The landscapes are great and covered with snow patches, and the trekking trail is filled with lots of wildflowers. Walking along the snowy trails and exploring the unique culture of the region during this time will make your trek more memorable.
Essential Packing List for Upper Mustang Trekking
Clothing and Footwear
- Layered clothing for varying temperatures
- Waterproof and windproof jacket
- Trekking pants and shorts
- Thermal base layers
- An Insulated jacket or fleece for colder nights
- Sturdy and comfortable trekking boots
- Lightweight and breathable trekking socks
- Sun hat and sunglasses
- Gloves and a warm hat for higher altitudes
Trekking Gear and Equipment
- Backpack (with rain cover)
- Sleeping bag suitable for cold temperatures
- Trekking poles for better stability
- Headlamp with extra batteries
- Water bottles and water purification tablets
- Snacks and energy bars for sustenance
- Trekking map and compass
- A Durable and waterproof duffel bag for porters to carry your belongings
Personal Items and Medications
- Valid travel documents, including passport and permits
- Travel insurance (including coverage for high-altitude trekking)
- Personal toiletries and a quick-drying towel
- Sunscreen with high SPF
- Insect repellent
- First aid kit with necessary medications (consult with your healthcare provider)
This is not compulsory. The packing list and items can be consulted with the trekking agency before traveling.