Mustang district is a part of province no. 4 in Dhawalagiri zone of northern Nepal.The district, with jomsom as its headquarter, covers an area of 3,573 km square and has approximate population of 13,452 according to 2011 survey.
Mustang is an ancient forbidden kingdom, bordered by the Tibetan plateau and sheltered by some of world’s tallest peaks, including 8000-meter tall Mt. Annapurna and Mt. Dhaulagiri. The Upper Mustang Trek brings you into the hidden world of the old Buddhist Kingdom of Mustang, also called Lo.
Lo used to be part of the Tibetan empire and is therefore closely tied to Tibet in culture, language and geography. The Upper Mustang is an isolation from the outside world has contributed to a highly preserved Tibetan culture and unspoiled nature. Mustang lies in the rain shadow of the Dhaulagiri massif creating a ruggedly arid land surrounded by rocks in all kind of colors and impressive formations.
This barren landscape is dotted with settlements of white washed houses, barley fields and chortens festooned with prayer flags which add a splash of color to the landscape.
The trail follows the ancient salt caravan route through which the people of Mustang traded Tibetan salt for grain from the lowlands. The goal of the Upper Mustang trek is the capital of Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang.
From the pass Lo La (3950 m) you can see the walled medieval capital in the distance, the white-washed 6-meter tall wall sticking out in sharp contrast to the barren landscape.
Entering Lo Manthang through the town gate is like stepping into a different world. A world of narrow alley ways, hidden chortens, long walls of beautiful prayer wheels and herds of farming animals sauntering in from the fields in the afternoon to adjourn to their sheds inside the city.
Points of interest in Lo Manthang are the royal palace, a few beautiful monasteries like the Thugchen Gompa built in the 15th century. Or visit the amchi museum and amchi school. An amchi is a traditional Tibetan doctor.
There are 2 amchis living in Lo Mangtang, which are also the official doctors of the king. They founded a school to preserve this ancient wisdom. For an excursion outside the city you can hire Tibetan ponies for a ride to Chhoser where you can visit a small monastery and a century old cave dwelling situated high in the rocks.
The most convenient way to get to Upper Mustang is to fly from Pokhara to Jomsom and start the trek from there. The flight is an adventure in itself flying through the deepest gorge in the world, the Kali Gandaki, which runs between the Dhaulagiri and the Nilgiri mountains.
You follow the famous Kali Gandaki River upstream, partly walking in the river bed itself, to Kagbeni. From Kagbeni the restricted area of Upper Mustang starts. However, it is worthwhile to pay a visit to the famous pilgrim destination of Muktinath before heading north into Upper Mustang.
From Kagbeni the trek goes norhtwards and leads to Lo Manthang in 4 to 5 days. You cross pass after pass, which are all between 3,500 and 4,000 m. You can return partly by a different way via Dhakmar, crossing 2 passes of around 4,200 m. Close to Dhakmar you can find the oldest Tibetan monastery in the world, the Lo Gekar Monastery.
Lo Gekar Monastery was built in the 8th century by the famous Tibetan magician Guru Rinpoche. It is said that he killed a powerful demon and the blood of the demon has painted the rocks around Dhakmar bright red.
Upper Mustang is a restricted area and up till 1992 it was forbidden for foreign visitors to enter the kingdom. Nowadays foreigners are welcome to Upper Mustang for a permit fee of US$ 500 (to be arranged through a trekking agency and valid for 10 days, each additional day costs US$ 50).
These days accommodation in guesthouses is possible along the whole trek. While staying there you are welcome to sit with the owners in the kitchen. In Tibetan culture the kitchen is the center of the house and built like a kind of living room. So there is no better way to learn a bit about the daily life than spending time in the kitchen!
Trekking in Mustang is a great option during the monsoon months (June-August) as the region is in the rain shadow. However, it is best to add a day or two on each side of your itinerary for travel interruptions due to bad weather in the lowlands.
While November is still a nice time to trek in Mustang keep in mind that seasonal migration takes place at this time and many residents from Lo Manthang and surrounding areas will move down to lower altitudes for the winter months.
How do I get to the Upper Mustang?
The standard way of getting to Upper Mustang from Kathmandu is by heading to Pokhara city, then to Jomsom in Mustang district, and finally to Lo Manthang, the main settlement in Upper Mustang. Jomsom is the starting point for almost all routes heading into the Upper Mustang region.
Most people choose to fly between Pokhara and Jomsom (a 20-minute flight) to save time and to avoid the arduous bus or jeep journey by land. The official checkpoint for the restricted region is Kagbeni, just north of Jomsom.