Upper Mustang Trek: The last forbidden kingdom of Nepal

15 December, 2020 | Reccy Guide

The Upper Mustang Trek offers you a chance to explore an arid desert and dip into the history of the last forbidden kingdom lying in the border of Nepal and Tibet. This trek features views unlike any other area of Nepal. It’s soaring red peaks and wind-stripped cliffs create a harsh—and beautiful—landscape.

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The Mustang region is politically and geographically associated with Nepal, but its people are ethnically and culturally tied to Tibet. Likewise, this area is most similar in climate to its northern neighbor—it is essentially the southern extension of the Tibetan Plateau. For those who are seeking to make the most of a visit to the area and want to explore a rich range of cultural diversity and history, the Upper Mustang trek is an excellent choice.

Majestic View during the Upper Mustang Trek

To begin your desert adventure, you will first need to begin in Pokhara, the gateway for many treks within Nepal. Most travelers arrive in Kathmandu at the international airport and book a subsequent charter flight to the city of Pokhara. This bustling city is richly colored and entices visitors with its local art, museums, and markets. 

You will then board a secondary flight or a private Jeep to reach Jomsom. This small village boasts a population of roughly one thousand people. It sprawls in the shadow of mountainous giants and stretches across both banks of the Kali Gandiki river, which is lined with black stones that bear religious importance to the local Hindu population.

Once departing from Jomsom, you will begin the official trek to Upper Mustang. This region of Nepal is heavily protected; in fact, non-native visitors were only welcomed to visit in 1992. Since then, only about 1,000 permits are sold each year that grant travel within the area. Each tour must also be led by a government-appointed official guide. You certainly won’t find your route crowded by other tour groups. Instead, you’ll have a chance to observe the last kingdom of Nepal.

glimpse of the upper mustang trek route

The historic Buddhist kingdom is shrouded in mystery. As travel in the area was heavily limited until the 1990s—and continues to be limited—not much is known about its origins or history. This adventure allows the most curious visitors a rare glimpse into an area of the world that few others have had the pleasure to experience. 

Trekking to the Tibetan plateau will reward you with some diverse and striking landscapes. You’ll walk on sandy river beaches, wind through colorful rhododendron forests, and traipse around apple orchards and barley fields. Further along in your trip, you’ll be embraced by massive wind-weather cliffs of red. At night, you’ll rest in local teahouses.

landscape during the upper mustang trek

Teahouses are the typical accommodation for the region. These small, delightful accommodations provide meals and lodging to travelers, and are located within small villages along the route. Each teahouse is run by a local family and they remove the need to carry camping gear along your trek. You may share meals with fellow travelers or learn more about each village’s people and culture.

Before reaching the star city of your adventure, you’ll pass through Tsarang village. Steeped in Buddhist culture, you can explore the mani (prayer) walls, stone fortress, and red gompa that are part of the local history. After a good night’s rest, you’ll head toward Lo Manthang.

breath-taking views during the upper mustang trek

Lo Manthang was the capital of the Mustang Kingdom and lies within a whitewashed, mud brick wall built around the time of the town’s founding in the early 1300s. The kingdom’s palace is located within the town limits as well. Though some walls cracked in the earthquake that shook Nepal in April of 2015, this historic structure still stands.

A dramatic mountain vista of the Himalayas, including Annapurna I, paints a backdrop for the capital. Just outside the town, there are also nearly a dozen caves that have been discovered. These caves are filled with stupas—depictions of Buddha and his followers—as well as pottery and art that predate Christian influence. Three gompas have also been extensively restored and are open to the public. 

When you’ve fully explored Lo Manthang, it will be time to return to Pokhara. The route itself is a loop, so you’ll steer slightly further east for the second leg of the trek. You’ll be backed by the snow-capped Himalayas and red-faced cliffs as you leave this mysterious kingdom.

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