To trek in Upper Mustang is a rare privilege. Here you will experience a way of life of true mountain people, who for hundreds of years, had very little contact with the rest of Nepal and retained their rich cultural heritage. Until recent times their king was officially recognized by the Government of Nepal.
In many ways, a trek into Upper Mustang is similar to trekking in Tibet, as geographically it is a part of the Tibetan plateau. The district of Mustang was, until 1950, a separate kingdom within the boundaries of Nepal. The last king, the Raja of Mustang, still has his home in the ancient capital known as Lo Manthang.
Upper Mustang was opened to non-Nepali trekkers only some fifteen years ago and even today, access is still highly restricted. To enter Upper Mustang, that is to travel further north of Kagbeni, trekkers need a special trekking permit and must be accompanied by a government appointed official.
Upper Mustang, being in the Himalayan rain shadow, is one of the regions in the country suitable for trekking even during the monsoons. During this time, the upper Kali Gandaki valley is still quite dry with only occasional rainfall.
The Mustang trek is not particularly difficult, the highest point reached being only 3,800 meters, but the conditions at times can be arduous. Mustang is cold in winter and is always windy and dusty through the year. Winter treks are best avoided due to harsh weather.
There are few accommodation facilities available above Kagbeni, so groups must be fully self-sufficient, especially in fuel. While porters are available in Jomsom it is preferable to use mules to carry the loads up to Mustang. These pack animals are available locally and are more economical, and certainly more environmentally friendly than porters.
Lo Manthang, the old capital, is reached in four days and at least one extra day should be spent here to soak in the sights and sounds of this unique walled settlement. Ponies are available for hire if you so desire. The return trip can either follow the same route as the one you took to enter or take an alternative route along the eastern bank of the Kali Gandaki.
Culture and Festivals in Upper Mustang
Upper Mustang is well known for its numerous monasteries, caves and stunning palaces. Lo Mangthang has two of the most famous monasteries in Upper Mustang, Thubchen and Jampa, believed to have been built in the 15th century. Luri Gompa, another famous monastery in the region, is thought to be even older. Luri Gompa is a cave monastery – a unique attraction in Upper Mustang. Over 10,000 caves are estimated to exist in Upper Mustang, some estimated to be over 2,000 years old. Many of the caves have been used – and are still in use today – as meditation chambers or small monastaries. Others have historically served as storage spaces, military lookouts, and shelters in times of war. Still others are complete mysteries, and archaeologists come to Upper Mustang to investigate the caves and try and discover their purpose and their previous inhabitants. Many caves are somehow dug hundreds of feet off the ground into loose, crumbly rock – and the mystery is what keeps bringing National Geographic archaeological missions to the region.
One of the biggest festivals celebrated in the region is Tiji, held in the spring often in early May. The festival celebrates the victory of one of the incarnations of Lord Buddha, Dhorji Sonam over a demon, and takes place over a few days with dancing and various religious rituals in the center of Lo Manthang. Tiji is very popular with tourists for its colorful displays, dancing, and elaborate costumes. Yarthum is another important festival in the region, celebrated in August/September as summer ends. Also known as the horse festival, yarthum takes place over about three days with various sporting events on horseback, feasting, and dancing. Lo Manthang’s yarthum is the most famous of the region, but in recent years other villages have started to host their own Yarthum festivals – namely Ghami.
Best time to Go Upper Mustang
The spring (April-May) and fall (late September-early November) are the most popular times to go visit Upper Mustang. During the spring many foreign visitors like to go and experience springtime festivals in the region, while the fall is the most popular trekking season for all of Nepal because after monsoon the climate is dry and the temperatures are very comfortable. The summer is a less-known but ideal alternative time to visit Upper Mustang. Because the region is surrounded by mountains to the south that block many storms, Upper Mustang is said to lie in a “rain shadow” and is therefore dry for most of the year. Although it does see the occasional rains and storms, these are by no means as frequent or long-lasting as in the rest of Nepal, and actually make for a special visit to the region by turning a few normally dry and brown areas bright green. Mid November is another possible though lesser-known season when travelers can visit Upper Mustang, although the harsh cold and winds mean travelers must be well prepared to keep warm. Later in the month and during the winter much of the region empties out as Lobas migrate south to other parts of Nepal and India for the winter, so travelers are not advised to go to Upper Mustang during the winter.
Here are some of the Trekking accessories that you require for the easy and convenient journey-
In general you will need four sleeping bags (we could provide you one for the trek), a duffel or a trekking bag of 70-80 liters (we can provide one), down jacket (this too we can provide one if needed for the trek) and a normal travel bag of 25-30 liters.
For clothing, you will require the following-
Upper body- For this-shirts, waterproof jacket, fleece jacket or pullover, water proof jacketare needed. Wind proof jacket are optional but preferred. For T-shirts, baggy cotton T-shirts are the best especially for warm days in lower altitudes. Moreover, we recommend synthetic T-shirts as they quickly absorb the moisture. Then, for the waterproof jacket, we recommend you to have nylon which is light.
Lower body- For this, you need hiking shorts, trekking pants, soft shell and hard shell pants, cotton pants or jeans. For hiking shorts, buy the fabric which dries quickly. For trekking pants, go for the ones which have zipper in the middle of the knees so that you can take off the bottom part when necessary. Forsoft shell pants, buy a synthetic fiber. Then, for hard shell, buy a waterproof one. Full zipper from top to bottom is preferred for both soft and hard shell pants. For extra wearable, have a pair of jeans or cotton pants.
Inner wears- Regarding inner wears, you need lightweight underwear which is preferably made up of synthetic. For women, own synthetic sports bras. You could also have swimsuit if you would like to.
Footwear- For this, you need a trekking boot, gaiters and sandals. For Trekking boots, get a hard sole lug-cleated boots for good performance for every kind of landscape. We then recommend you to have a pair as it helps keep your feet dry quickly and keeping dust, rocks and snow out of your shoes. We also suggest you to have a pair of sandals as it helps while you are in the lodge. Then, for socks, you require 4 pairs of synthetic and 3 pairs of woolen socks.
Hand wears- The hand essentials are gloves, mittens and hand warmers. For warm weather, buy synthetic or thin woolen gloves. For cold weather, buy a woolen or fleece gloves. While for mittens, Gore-Tex mittens are the best. Regarding hand warmers, it’s completely your choice whether you want to have or not.
Face protection- For protecting the face against the snowfalls, heavy wind, direct sun, etc. we recommend you to have a cap or a hat, a synthetic woolen hat, a lightweightedbalaclava, glacier glasses having 100% UV protected lens with side shields and hard-sided storage, headlamp, ear muffs, neck warmer, etc. Ear muffs and neck warmers are not necessary but are up to your choice.
First Aid Kit– Though the trekking guides will be carrying a first aid kit box, we suggest you to have one as well. So, for this, you will need to have basic emergency equipment. You can discuss with us regarding what all to take along with you.
Personal care- The personal care products that you will require while trekking are tooth brush, tooth paste (biodegradable is preferred), towel, soap, hand wash, sanitizers, wet wipes, deodorants, crèmes, etc. along with your other needs.
Miscellaneous but important- These include valid passport, passport size photos, airline ticket (and its copy), luggage locks, thick garbage bags, water bottle, small bag for travel documents, passport, wallet/purse, etc., pocket knife, sunscreen lotion (SPF 40 recommended) and lip balm of at least SPF 20.
Extras- The extras include trekking poles, snacks, books, games, chargers, binoculars, batteries, camera, guide book, extra glasses (if you wear), notebook/pen, sleeping bag liner, hydration bladder with drinking tube, pee bottle for men and pee funnel for women, thermos, etc.
Note- Tight fitting clothes especially made out of fabrics like lycra, especially to women can be offensive to the local villagers. So, make sure that you pack something to wear on top of them if you want to pack them.
UPPER MUSTANG TREK ITINERARY
Day 1 1400m n/a Arrive into Kathmandu. You will be met by our staff at the airport and transfer to the hotel. Depending on your arrival time you can relax or explore Kathmandu.
Day 2 1400m n/a Rest, briefing, see Kathmandu and gain permit
Day 3 970m n/a Flight to Pokhara and overnight at hotel. Afternoon to explore Pokhara
Day 4 2700m - 3250m 7hrs Spectacular morning flight to Jomsom and trek to Kagbeni along the bank of the Kali Gandaki river, through the small settlement of Eklo Bhatti (2740m) and across a number of bridges over tributaries to reach our lunch spot at Kagbeni (2810m), from here there are excellent views north to the Kingdom of Mustang. It's quite a long day but easy and flat. After lunch we trek on to Chuksang and the days trek will take about 7 hours in total. During the day we’ll walk following the Kaligandaki river and pass through Kagbeni, Yekle Batti and Tangbe villages. The views are very beautiful, stunning in fact, throughout the trek and in particular this first day. Jomsom is at 2780m and Chuksang is 3250m.
Day 5 3250m - 3800m 7 hrs Today we’ll cross the Kaligandagi river and climb up to Chele village and continue onto Samar village, where we’ll enjoy a relaxed lunch. Afterwards we drop down for about 30 minutes before starting our climb up (about 2 hours) to reach our destination of Syangboche village which is at 3800m. This day is a bit tougher and we’ll walk for around 6-7 hours.
Day 6 3800m - 3570m 4-5 hrs After a couple of longer days today is a shorter day coming in around 4 – 5hrs walk. We start down towards Geling for about 1:30 hours then climb up for about another 2 hours to our lunch spot which is then follows another 1 – 1.5hrs to Charang (Tsarang) at 3570m.
Day 7 3570m - 3950m - 3840m 4-5 hrs Our fourth trek day is again quite easy and straightforward. We trek up to 3750m high and followed by a drop down again of about 125 m which is then followed by mostly flat terrain. We then go over a small pass (3950m) called Lo pass, from where we have views of the walled capital of Lo Manthang (3840m) and it's a short descent to reach this fascinating city and start exploring. The days is about 4-5 hours in total and we should reach our destination by lunch time.
Day 8 3840m 6 hrs Today we explore the area and hire horses and go to Namgyal village where we enjoy the views, visit the monastery and the Milarepa Caves, which is fascinating and shrouded in myth. Travel time is around 2 hours going up and 1 hour back.
Day 9 3950m - 3470m 5-6 hrs Todays trek starts with about 2.5hrs climb and then a drop again to reach Ghar Gompa (3920m). After a visit to the Gompa we then climb up again for around 2 hours to Dakmar (3820m) for lunch and then on to Ghami (3470m). Today is little harder and finishes at 3200m.
Day 10 3470m - 3050m The following days route rejoins the familiar trail to Jomsom, which left on the 9th trek day. Today we cover Ghami to Chele
Day 11 3840m - 2810m Chele to Kagbeni
Day 12 2810m - 2700m Kagbeni to Jomsom
Day 13 970m Flight back to Pokhara, hotel
Day 4 1400m Flight back to Kathmandu, hotel
Day 15 Depart for home / onward travel or additional trek