The hidden kingdom of Mustang is the last vestiges of medieval Tibet that fantasizes everyone. The almost rectangular piece of land surrounded by Tibet on three sides has access from Nepalese Himalaya on one side. Being in the corridor of the trans-Himalayan trading route, Mustang had the best art and culture of the medieval Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau. While Tibet was ravaged by the Cultural Revolution, Mustang remained forbidden until 1990es as it was politically in Nepal.
There is a lot to experience and visit in Mustang. But the highlights listed in this article are what features Mustang in the book, ‘1000 places to visit before you die.’
Kali Gandaki River has cut the Himalayas deep, making it the second deepest gorge in the world. Wedged between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, a drive through Kali Gandaki valley is a panoramic thrill. The scenery changes from lush green sub-tropics to alpine and the arid trans-Himalayan region within a day. Easy side hikes will unravel pristine lakes, waterfalls and view of icefalls.
Don't just drive past the lower Mustang. At the base of Nilgiri Himal, Lower Mustang has a lot to offer. Pristine lakes, up close view of the Himalayas, earliest Bon and Buddhist monasteries, apple orchards and the rich Thakali culture makes lower Mustang a favoured land.
Thakalis were involved in trans-Himalayan trade and hospitality service for over 1,000 years. With the arrival of trekkers they converted their wonderfully clean homes into lodges. They are now known as the most gracious and successful inn-keeprs in Nepal.
Thakalis migrated from the Tibetan plateau before Buddhism went there. For that reason, the Lower Mustang has the significant numbers of pre-Buddhist Bon followers and their monastery intact. There are also Nyingma Buddhist monasteries and temples older than those of Tibet.
About 10,000 man made caves known as Mustang caves also known as the sky caves of Nepal are still an archaeological mystery. The complex group of interconnected caves are perched high up on the cliffs cleaved by the Kali Gandaki River. Recent excavations have found human remains dating back to 3000 years in some caves. The other caves have frescos and religious objects from around the 12th century. Some of them were also used as residences during invasion or winter. Most of the cave complexes are at least 155 ft above the ground and are inaccessible.
It is believed that the Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) was in the Mustang valley before he went to Tibet. The presence of monasteries and artifacts older than the Samye monastery (first monastery of Tibet) proves Mustang as the land with ancient practices from Tibet. The 8th century Lo Ghyakar Gompa, Ranchung Chungsi cave and the chhairo Gompa (Tashi Shagagh Jyochen Chhoyokhor monastery) are the oldest Nyingma monasteries in Mustang. Beside that there is also a Bon monastery at Thini and Lubra villages dating back to at least the 12th century. In the citadel of the Himalayas, Mustang nourished the earliest religious practices of Tibet unchanged with time.
Hidden in the citadel of mountains, the earthen walled capital of Mustang is the best preserved medieval city in the world. Lomanthang was known as the 'southern land of aspiration' in the medieval Tibet. The only existing Himalayan settlement with a fortification wall made out of the rammed earth is listed in tentative UNESCO heritage site. The 8 m tall wall with 1.5 m width at the base shelters the palace, three monasteries and about 180 residential houses. There are several rows of Mane walls and Chhortens within the settlement and along the circumambulatory path directly outside the wall. The city is at least 500 years old which changed very little with time.
There are few of the last nomadic yak herders living in the plateaus of Mustang. Before the 1950's when borders didn't divide locals, they used to roam around freely into Tibet and back to the low land of Mustang. However the grazings are limited for those nomads left on the Nepal side after the Cultural revolution. Accordingly many of them left the nomadic life and moved to the cities. Having no permanent address, they are neither Tibetan nor Nepales.
The yaks give them everything they need from food to shelter and clothes. Raring Yaks is hard as they have to work from dawn to dusk herding them, collecting dung which is used as fuel, milking and shearing and moving to the proper grazing with season at the altitude above 4,000 m.
The Ban imposed by the Chinese from buying Nepalese Yaks and the snow blizzard jeopardized their livelihood in recent years.
A visit to a nomad camp is also the best way of enjoying the landscape of Mustang and experiencing a less touristy part of it.
With the presence of rare herbs and the Buddhist philosophy of healing, the Himalayan region also had a complex system of healing practices. The Himalayan healers known as Amchis were trained by the monasteries for the remote villages. The Amchi tradition provided the much needed healthcare to the Himalayan region for over two millennia.
Mustang being the most intact Tibetan bastion, also had well established Amchi traditions. The younger generation of Amchi family from Lo Manthang have started the Lo-Kunphen Mentsee Khang school which is the only government recognized Tibetan medicine institute.
The school provides much needed education to poor kids keeping the Amchi tradition alive. Since there are not many people who can translate the sophisticated scriptures, all kids get standard Nepalese education until the age of 14. Then after the kids get the options of a vocational training course in Amchi medicine.
Enjoy the untouched culture and heritage of two Himalayan countries, this May. May is end of Spring touring season for the Himalayas. But the varying altitude makes May the best time to do this tour of Nepal and Bhutan.
May is best time for Everest trek as the trekking starts with flight to Lukla at 2,800 m. May temperature for Everest trek is comfortable and the sky remains clear. Everest trek could be organized from 5 days to 12 based on luxury lodges and decent lodges.
Everest cultural trek > Starting USD 1,480