A few months ago, I had the opportunity to make a very special trip, to the restricted Kingdom of Mustang. Although I am Basque, I have lived in Nepal for years and the love for these lands comes to me from my family, and that is because my parents know these lands well. Due to this very reason I wanted to prepare something special and unique for my mother and my aunts, to make this trip unforgettable for everyone.
My mother and I were clear that this next trekking would be in Mustang which is not a normal trekking; where you can see the great white mountains, or trails that run through meadows and rice fields.
This is a trek that takes you to another era and even seems to another planet. Since the arid and reddish landscapes will remind us of films about other universes and the preservation of their culture is worth knowing.
Nepal's wealth is cultural and religious diversity and this little corner of the Himalayas is a living example. Although we are in a country, mostly Hindu, the Mustang will remind us more of Tibet.
It is not the most popular trekking, and one of the reasons may be for the cost of the permit to enter Mustang, since to try to preserve the place the rate that the government has established is $ 500 (for 10 days, it is will charge $ 50 extra for additional day). For the Lower Mustang area it is enough to have the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit) and TIMS (Trekkers Information’s Management Service) permits, but if we go beyond Kagbeni we will have to process the Upper Mustang permit, being necessary to go also accompanied by a guide, more than logical reason if we also want to understand and enter a place with so much history.
Reaching Jomsom was already an adventure. From Kathmandu, we needed to first reach Pokhara and then Jomsom. We could make the trip by road, but Nepal is not known for the good quality of its roads and going by plane saves you two days and you will be able to make one of the most spectacular flights; the one from Pokhara to Jomsom, through the Kali Gandaki valley, the deepest in the world passing between the majestic Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas and more specifically the Nilgiri, one of the mountains that we will keep in mind throughout our journey to Lo Manthang.
After leaving Jomsom, we pass through Kagbeni, we begin to see ancient monasteries and unique features in the people who inhabit these precious lands. From here we get to Chele or Chuksang, I recommend making this first part of the trip by jeep and although what we want is to walk and get to know all the corners, in this first stage a road has been built, being very dusty and not comfortable to travel on foot.
After Chuksang we went visiting other villages like; Samar, Ghiling, Ghami or Dhakmar and after approximately 4-5 days of trekking reached Lo Manthang, the capital of the ancient kingdom. Along the way we had the opportunity to visit ancient caves, understand customs such as the sky burial (ancient tradition that continues to be practiced in Tibet and in some parts of the Mustang where the bodies of the deceased are offered to the vultures, believing that their souls will thus arrive to heaven) and also the monks told us legends explaining us as the Rinpoche Padmasambhava; Creator of ancient Tibetan Buddhism, how he fought with the devil in these lands.
After arriving at Lo Manthang we continued exploring the area further north. We were able to stay two days and in addition to having the opportunity to meet the King, who does not rule the Mustang region anymore, we were also able to visit beautiful caves such as those of Garphu in Chhoser or Surkhang; immense labyrinths dug in the reddish cliffs where the ancient civilizations lived. In addition to some of the most important monasteries, that of Namgyal, which is being rebuilt after the 2015 earthquakes, we could see how delicately the thankas are painted on their walls, representing the cycles of Buddha's life.
A road to the border of Tibet has been built in Mustang and this means that some stage of the trek may not be very pleasant, but if you go with a professional guide who knows the area well, you will have the opportunity to get to know all the history of the place and also avoid the track that the jeeps use. Since there are secondary routes, only the experienced guide will know them. We were very lucky to be accompanied by Dinesh Rai, our guide from Thamserku and I can only say that we feel immensely lucky to have gone with him, for his knowledge, his kindness and for making this trek perfect.
For the return from Lo Manthang to Jomsom we decided to return on the other side of the Kali Gandaki; touring towns like Yara, Tange and once we arrived at Chuksang we decided to go to the other valley that connects with the Annapurnas area and thus be able to visit the place of worship for hindus and buddhists; Muktinath.
Returning from Muktinath to Jomsom we could also see a Bon monastery, located in Lupra. The Bon religion is animistic and was originally from Tibetan Buddhism, even the inhabitants of this place are believers in this religion that deifies the forces of nature and practice magical rites. One of its characteristics is that to perform the koras (prayers around the stupa and praying its mantras), they perform them in the opposite direction to the rest of the Buddhists.
This way back is much more remote than the one we used to get to Lo Manthang, with some really long stages, since there are not many places to stay, but it is very worthwhile, offering views that will remain etched in our memory forever.
In short, the Mustang and more specifically the trek to Lo Manthang in the Upper Mustang area, is in addition to a wonderful trekking in a corner of the magical planet, the opportunity to get to know a culture of its own that remains intact. If you also have the opportunity to trek in celebration of the Tiji festival, it will be a trip that you will never forget.
(Article by Miren Beroz I., who was on her trip to Lo Manthang with her mother and her aunts.)