Upper Mustang Trek

landscape-view-mustang

The Upper Mustang Trek, also known as the “Last Forbidden Kingdom,” is an incredible exploration of the remote Mustang region of Nepal. Upper Mustang, which is tucked away between the Tibetan plateau and the towering Himalayan ranges, offers a unique blend of nature, landscape, rich cultural heritage, a great history, ancient Buddhist monastery and Caves. Nepal’s Upper Mustang region is a significant place both ecologically and mythologically. A once-restricted area that opened to outsiders in 1992, requires a specific permit to enter the location.  

Trekkers can take in the striking diversity of the environment, wildlife, and cultural practices in the area. Savor the opportunity to explore the Himalayan desert, caves and  the last village of Nepal bordering China. The Upper Mustang Trek offers a variety of cultural and ecological features, together with breathtaking mountain views, making it one of the best walking adventures of your life.

 

Key Attractions of Upper Mustang

 

Jomsom

The gate way of Upper Mustang Trekking, Jomsom is a headquarter of Mustang district which is located at an elevation of 2800 meters that stretch over the bank of Kali Gandaki river. Jomsom is accessible via roadway and airway from Pokhara. Many trekkers fly to Jomsom from Pokhara and trek to Lo-Manthang. And many trekkers fly to Pokhara after completing the trekking.

It used to be a part of Trans Himalayas salt trading route in the past. Since Jomsom is the complete rain shadow of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna range occurring rare rainfall.

There are Buddhist monasteries and museums in Jomsom. You can find ATM machines, coffee shops, department stores for shopping and etc. It is worthwhile to explore the Himalayan markets and have a stroll through Jomsom. 

 

Kagbeni Village

kagbeni-village-view

Kagbeni is one of the oldest villages in the Himalayas, situated in the Kali Gandaki River Valley. With its densely populated mud and brick homes, narrow lanes, and towering chhortens, it’s an intriguing mediaeval village. The main attractions of Kagbeni village are the views of the Nilgiri peak, the Kaligandaki Valley, the local dwellings and people, the red monastery, and the apple farming.

Muktinath Temple

Muktinath-Temple-Nepal

Muktinath Temple (3800m) is a sacred site for Buddhists and Hindus. Hindus hold that this is where Lord Bishnu found redemption from the curse of Brinda. For those who are spiritual in South Asia, Muktinath holds immense significance. “Mukti” signifies salvation, Nirvana, and “Nath” denotes God of Master. Muktinath Temple is surrounded by 108 stone holy taps with bull faces trough which sacred water is poured where devotees take sacred bath.

Kaligandaki Gorge

Kaligandaki gorge is the known to be the deepest gorge in the word which is approximately 6000 m deep from its rim to the riverbed. The other name for Kaligandaki Gorge is Andha Galchi. The Kali Gandaki Gorge is formed by the Kaligandaki river which flows through the Himalayas and into the Ganges River in India, surrounded by the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna Range.

Jhong Cave in Chhoser

Jhong-cave

It is one of the most amazing caves in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Jhong Cave in Chhoser, Upper Mustang, Nepal, stands out as a remarkable cavern, drawing the attention of archaeologists globally. The mysteries concealed within the Sky Caves of Nepal have become a focal point for researchers. Upper Mustang exemplifies a unique cave civilization, boasting numerous intricately constructed, multi-storied caves dotting its hills. Renowned for its intriguing historical significance, this cave is conveniently accessible with a two-hour walk from Lo Manthang, Nepal. Travelers often opt for horseback or jeep rides to explore the captivating Chhoser region.

Luri Gompa (Gumba)

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Luri Gumba, a captivating and historic Buddhist monastery nestled in Nepal’s Upper Mustang region, attracts both adventure enthusiasts and spiritual seekers through its trekking experience. The monastery’s architectural marvel unfolds as it is intricately carved into the sandstone cliffs.

Comprising a network of interconnected caves, chortens, and prayer flags, the entire complex showcases an awe-inspiring blend of spirituality and artistry. The caves themselves are adorned with murals illustrating the life and teachings of Buddha. Embarking on the Luri Gumba trek in Mustang offers a splendid opportunity to uncover the concealed wonders of Upper Mustang. This sacred site serves as a pilgrimage for those in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and adventure, standing as a significant historical and cultural heritage in the Mustang region of Nepal.

Damodar Kunda

mustang-damodar-kunda

Damodar Kunda, situated in the upper Mustang region of Nepal, stands as a sacred lake with deep-rooted spiritual significance. Pilgrims believe that visiting this Himalayan lake grants liberation to departed souls. The sacred waters of Damodar Kunda are thought to possess purifying qualities, capable of cleansing one’s sins through a ritualistic dip. The optimal time to explore this divine site is from late March to early November, when the weather is dry and the skies are clear, offering a mesmerizing reflection of the surrounding mountains in the crystal-clear lake.

The destination is a unique amalgamation of spirituality and natural beauty, providing a must-visit experience for those seeking a profound understanding of Nepal’s cultural and religious traditions. The Mustang Damodar Kunda trek initiates from Jomsom after Muktinath Darshan, following the upper Mustang trekking route to reach the sacred Damodar Kunda. It’s essential to obtain a restricted area permit for all travelers venturing into this revered area.
Damodar Kunda serves a route for reaching the Nar and Phu villages, with the trek encompassing the Saribung Pass. This route not only unveils the picturesque landscapes of the area but also facilitates a cultural immersion by connecting with the distinct traditions and ways of life in Nar and Phu. 

Lo Manthang: 

Lo_Manthang

The cultural heart, Lo Manthang is the capital of Upper Mustang region. The city is encircled by substantial mud-brick walls dating back to the 14th century, fitting its name, which means “walled city” in Tibetan language. The town has revered customs, monasteries, and temples that are all part of the Tibetan Buddhist culture. The mythological power of the city is palpable to visitors. The city is spiritual because of the monasteries and historic homes. This old walled city, encompassed by beautiful scenes, gives a brief look into the rich history and architecture of the locale. The Royal Palace, Thubchen Monastery, and Jampa Lhakhang are some of the key attractions in Lo Manthang.

The Tiji Festival

Tiji Festival

The Tiji Festival is a revered annual occasion that unfolds in the may which is celebrated for three days in the ancient realm of Lo Monthang, Upper Mustang. This festival symbolizes the triumph of Dorjee Sonnu, the incarnation of Lord Buddha, over the threatening demon, Man Tam Ru, known for wreaking ruin on the arrive. Tiji, which means “Prayer for World Peace” and is derived from the word “Tempa Chirim”, captivates audiences with colorful ritual dances carried out by monks from the Choedhe Monastery. The three-day celebration elaborates portrayals of historical legends, from the expulsion of Ma Tam Ru Ta to the birth of Dorjee Sonnu.

Scenic Wonders

The Upper Mustang Trek offers mesmerizing panoramas at every twist and turn. Admire the majestic peaks of the Annapurna, Nilgiri Himal, and Dhaulagiri ranges while navigating through challenging trails, deep canyons of the Kaligandaki river, and windswept valleys. The diverse landscapes, ranging from barren desert-like plains to verdant oases, present a captivating visual spectacle that will undoubtedly inspire awe.

Despite its seemingly desolate appearance, Upper Mustang showcases unexpected natural beauty. Traverse the Kali Gandaki River Gorge, renowned as the world’s deepest gorge, and witness the captivating erosion patterns sculpted by the forces of wind and water. Encounter distinctive rock formations, concealed caves, and ancient fossils, unveiling the geological marvels that characterize this remarkable region.

Cultural Immersion 

The cultural tapestry of the Mustang region is woven with the rich heritage of the Thakali and Tibetan Gurung communities, deeply rooted in the influences of Tibetan Buddhism. Throughout the trek, you’ll come across time-honored monasteries, Chortens, and caves embellished with elaborate murals and religious artifacts. Engage with the friendly and hospitable local inhabitants, who have safeguarded their distinctive customs and lifestyles for generations. Immerse yourself in the vibrant Tibetan-influenced culture, observing traditional ceremonies and enjoying the warm hospitality of the locals, providing valuable insights into their way of life.

Brief Itinerary on Upper Mustang Trek 2024

Day 1: Kathmandu to Pokhara (6-7 hours drive)

The journey entails a duration of 6-7 hours, subject to potential variations based on the ongoing road expansion efforts at various locations, influencing road conditions. En route, one will traverse verdant hills, meander through forested trails, and traverse picturesque countryside. As the route unfolds, travelers will encounter the scenic Trishuli River, providing the opportunity to observe captivating rafting scenes; an enticing prospect for a potential future excursion. Additionally, glimpses of majestic mountains further enhance the scenic allure of the expedition.

Day 2: Fly to Jomsom; trek to Kagbeni

Jomsom: 2720 m (around 25 minutes flight)

Kagbeni: 2810 m 3-4 hrs walk

Embark on a brief and picturesque mountain flight from Pokhara to Jomsom, where you can marvel at the breathtaking Himalayan mountain range, encompassing iconic peaks such as the Annapurna massif, Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre (Fishtail), and other sublime Himalayan summits.

Upon arrival in Jomsom, initiate the necessary procedures by obtaining a trek permit and completing essential paperwork. Subsequently, commence your journey towards Kagbeni, an enchanting village settlement renowned for its remarkable landmarks, notably the Kag Choden monastery. Serving as the gateway to Mustang, Kagbeni is situated approximately 3 hours away from Jomsom.

Day 3: Kagbeni to Chele 

Chele – 3760 m 5-6 hours walk

Passing through rugged terrains alongside the Kali Gandaki riverbank, one will see mules carrying loads through rugged paths. The journey presents opportunities to witness caves and kang Monastery. Tangbe Village boasts numerous chortens and houses adorned with white paint on stone-paved surfaces. Continuing along a ridge we will arrive at the village of Chele. Accommodation options include lodges or tea houses for an overnight stay.

Day 4:  Chele to Syangbochen

Syangbochen – 4150 m  6-7 hrs walk

This hike will be a bit tougher as we navigate the Taklam La pass (3624m) and the Darjori La Pass (3735m). Despite the increased difficulty, we are treated to splendid views of Tilicho, Yaskawa Kang, and Damodar Danda, passing by Ramchung Cave. The path leads us down to Samar Village, followed by a walk along a ridge and a descent down another steep trail to reach Syangbochen.

Day 5: Syangbochen to Ghami

Ghami – 3540 m 5-6 hrs walk

Begin your trek from Syangboche, navigating through picturesque terrains. The uphill climb offers majestic views of mountains and the Kali Gandaki gorge. Traverse various routes before descending, encountering the notable Yamada La pass (3,850m) and the Nyi Pass (4,010m). Descend to Ghami, one of the biggest in the Lo region, a beautifully situated village surrounded by fields, where you will spend the night.

Day 6: Ghami to Charang(Tsarang)

Charang – 3700m 6-7 hrs walk

Today’s trek commences with a challenging path, navigating through uneven and occasionally slippery terrain as we descend to a suspension bridge over the Ghami Khola. The journey involves crossing the Charang La Pass (3,870m). Along this path is a remarkable 250-meter-long prayer wall, serving as a prominent highlight of the trek. Upon reaching the pass, descend through the scenic village of Charang, offering charming mountain views from all directions, including snow-capped peaks. A notable stop awaits at the summit of the Tsarang Chu Canyon, featuring a substantial settlement with a medieval fort and a red Gompa to the east.

Day 7: Charang to Lo Manthang

Lo Manthang – 3810 m  3-4 hrs walk

Follow the trail that guides you towards Lo Manthang, one of the key attractions. Ascend to a modest pass known as Lo Pass, situated at an elevation of 3950 meters, offering a glimpse of the walled capital of Lo Manthang. These remote trails traverse pleasant viewpoints, presenting magnificent panoramas of the surrounding area, with prominent peaks such as Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, and other Himalayan mountains gracing the region.

Day 8: Day Trip to Chhoser Cave

An alternative adventure involves a short trek to the enigmatic Jhong Caves, also known as Sky Caves, situated in the Chhoser region of Upper Mustang. These remarkable five-story high caves, carved into cliff faces, are shrouded in mystery, with their origins and purpose still confounding researchers. The day involves exploration of several of these caves, accompanied by a packed lunch to savor the cave ambiance, lunar-like landscape, and mountain vistas and concludes with a return to Lo Manthang for an overnight stay.

Day 9: Lo Manthang to Dhakmar

Dhakmar – 3850 m 6-7 hrs walk

Today’s trek is a bit longer, but there are many interesting things to see on the way! In Gyakar Village, there’s the ancient Ghar Gompa with amazing rock paintings, and it’s a tradition to make a wish here. We’ll have time to explore the gompa before continuing to Dhakmar. Starting from Lo-Manthang on the upper highland trail, we’ll pass through the Dhi Pass at 4100 meters and reach Dhakmar.

Day 10: Dhakmar to Ghiling

Ghiling – 3100 m 6 hrs walk

We begin our trek early in the morning to tackle the strong winds in this region. We go down through a dry area and fields to reach Ghiling village. Even though it’s a bit tiring because of the strong winds, we get to see amazing views of Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri.

Day 11: Ghiling to Chhuksang

Chhuksang – 2980 m 5-6 hrs walk

Proceeding with our trek, we advance towards the Chhuksang village, navigating across rough mountains and hills and passing through small villages along the way.

Day 12: Chhuksang to Jomsom

Jomsom – 2720 m 5 hrs walk

Today marks our farewell to Upper Mustang as we move into Lower Mustang. Along the way, we enjoy beautiful views of the Kali Gandaki Valley and Kagbeni Village. Later, we will head to Jomsom. It’s important to note that our trek reconnects with the Annapurna Circuit Trek as we go from Kagbeni to Jomsom.

Day 13: Jomsom to Pokhara (Flight)

Following a brief 15-20 minute flight from Jomsom to Pokhara, the remainder of the day will be dedicated to exploring and unwinding in the city. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the lively nightlife.

Day 14: Pokhara to Kathmandu (Drive)

Embark on a picturesque journey to Kathmandu, relishing the landscapes along the Trishuli River. Upon reaching Kathmandu, you can then proceed to your intended destination.

Upper Mustang Trek Map

upper-mustang-trek-map

Food and Accommodation

Accommodations in Upper Mustang, though somewhat pricey, are comfortable and basic. Travelers can choose between teahouses or guesthouses, both offering clean and cozy rooms with essential amenities like beds, blankets, and pillows. These establishments offer basic amenities such as hot showers, internet access, and private rooms with attached or shared bathrooms. The trek also provides a diverse and delicious culinary experience, featuring a mix of Nepali, Tibetan, and Indian dishes served in numerous teahouses and guesthouses along the way. These lodgings contribute to the overall enjoyment of the trek, ensuring a restful and satisfying journey for travelers in the Upper Mustang region. 

Permits and regulations for Upper Mustang Trek

Trekkers must meet specific conditions in order to undertake the Upper Mustang Trek, unlike other trekking destinations in Nepal. Trekking alone is not permitted. There must be a minimum of two trekkers in a group for the trekkers to engage in the activity. The trekking agency must oversee the trekking. Drifting is not permitted in the vicinity. 

Before embarking on your voyage to Upper Mustang, whether by road, trek, or flight, it is essential to obtain two permits:

  • Annapurna Conservation Area Project Permit (ACAP): This permit is obtainable from the Nepal Tourism Board situated at Bhrikuti Mandap in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
  • Trekker’s Information Management System Permit (TIMS): You can secure this permit from TAAN, which has offices at Saatghumti, Thamel and Mali Gaun in Kathmandu, or in Pokhara.

Best season for Upper Mustang Trek

Exploring Mustang’s distinctive landscapes is feasible year-round. The ideal time to journey to Mustang, Nepal, varies based on your preferences. Each of the four seasons in Mustang presents specific advantages, showcasing a distinct terrain, natural environment, and trekking encounter, thereby offering a unique aesthetic appeal.

Spring Season (March to May):

  • Optimal Weather: The weather during spring is the most pleasant, with warm temperatures and clear visibility.
  • Scenic Views: The clear weather allows for breathtaking views of high mountains and landscapes.
  • Tiji Festival (May): May is a special month with the Tiji Festival, a cultural celebration lasting three days. It attracts tourists from around the world who visit Lo-Manthang to participate in the festivities with the locals.
  • Popular Tourist Season: Spring is considered the best time for trekking and tours in Upper Mustang due to favorable weather conditions.

Monsoon Season (June to August):

  • Unaffected by Rain: Upper Mustang is described as a rain-shadow area situated behind the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massif of the Himalaya. This geographical feature means that the region receives significantly less rainfall compared to other areas during the monsoon season.
  • Great Views: Despite being the monsoon season, Upper Mustang still offers great views during these months.
  • Yartung Festival (August): In August, visitors have the opportunity to observe the Yartung Festival in Lo-Manthang. This festival features archery, songs, dances, and horse riding, adding a cultural dimension to the summer experience in Upper Mustang.

Autumn Season (September to November):

  • Perfect Visibility: The autumn season offers ideal visibility and weather conditions for trekking in Upper Mustang.
  • Post-Monsoon Freshness: After the monsoon season, travelers can enjoy fresh air, lush greenery, clear skies, and stunning scenery in the region.
  • Comfortable Temperature: The temperatures during autumn are considered perfect for exploring the Himalayas, providing comfortable conditions for hiking and tours.
  • High Tourist Activity: Autumn is a popular time for tourism in Nepal, attracting many tourists from around the world. The region can be busier compared to other seasons.

Winter Season (December to February):

It is not a suitable time to visit Upper Mustang due to extreme weather conditions and heavy snowfall during winter season. Even locals leave the area during winter and return when it gets warmer. Those who want solitude can prefer trekking in this season for which special permits are required.

Conclusion

The best time to visit Upper Mustang is from late March to early December. Spring and autumn are optimal for trekking and cultural exploration, offering pleasant weather and clear skies. Monsoon season is suitable as Upper Mustang is in a rain-shadow area. Winter is not advisable due to extreme conditions.

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