Upper Mustang trekking

Upper Mustang Trekking is an off beaten path which is sparsely explored. Shuttered by the walls of Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Nigliri on the north, Upper Mustang presents you with a lost culture of the forbidden lands of the past.

Upper Mustang covers the northern two-thirds of Mustang District of Dhaulagiri Zone in Nepal. It was known (and is still known so for the people there) as the Kingdom of Lo.Upper Mustang lost its official monarchial recognition with the new reforms in the Government of Nepal in 2008.However, the last monarch, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista (born c.1933), is still revered by the citizenry as their king (raja or gyelpo). This is the reason Upper Mustang has been termed as the “Last Lost Kingdom of Nepal”. Until 1992, this lost world was restricted to foreigners which earned Upper Mustang the term ‘Forbidden Kingdom’.

This history of Upper Mustang made it one of the most popular trekking routes of Nepal. The territory of Upper Mustang has been dated to be isolated from the 14th century- the time when this walled city was found and build by the warrior Ame Pal in 1380. The current unofficial King traces his lineage back to that time period and the founders. Such isolation from foreign world rendered it possible for this place to retain its culture and heritage. Till this date, we can observe this traditional Buddhist Kingdom the way it probably was all the back when it was founded in the 14th century.

The local residents of Upper Mustang are called Lobas. The language, tradition, customs and heritage is very much similar with the neighboring land of Tibet.And with centuries of seclusion from alien influence, what visitors observe is a real treat. The land untouched by the modern realms has made the experiences surreal for the visitors.

Upper Mustang trekking offers a visual treat with its fringes of snowy peaks. The barren treeless semi-arid terrain receives very less rainfall because it is the high desert rain shadow of Himalayas. Low precipitation has made this region dry and parched, similar to the bordering Tibetan Plateau. The walled medieval capital of Upper Mustang is named Lo Manthang. Stepping through the town gate into the capital offers a vista of narrow alley ways, long walls of beautiful prayer wheels, and herds of farming animals in the ‘Lost Kingdom’.

The architectural extravagance in Lo Manthang is offered by the four storeyed royal palace, beautiful monasteries like the ThugchenGompa built in the 15th century, or the city wall itself. The amchi museum and amchi school is a must visit to further comprehend the heritage and its passing from generation to generation of this lost kingdom. An excursion can be made to a small monastery and a century old cave dwelling situated high in the rocks.

More or less two weeks of this ultimate trek route promises to be an adventure in its own separate rights.

And being in the rain shadows of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges, Upper Mustang is favorable even during the rainy seasons of Nepal (July to August).

Trip Highlights

  1. Rich Tibetan-influenced culture and tradition.
  2. Semi-arid desert with deep ravines and rock shelves, fringed with snowy peaks.
  3. Close view of Annapurna, Nilgiri, and Dhaulagiri
  4. Amchi museum and Amchi school
  5. Tread on the 14th century Buddhist Kingdom which is almost as intact as it was centuries ago.
  6. Four storyedChhoser Cave with 50 + private room and community kitchen
  7. Old monasteries built in 13 century

Mustang Trek Permits

  • A minimum of two trekkers accompanied by a Nepali guide with a valid license issued by Nepal Government is required for a permit. Independent trek is restricted.
  • Upper Mustang Trek Permit cost USD 500.00 per person for first 10 days and then and extra USD 50.00 each extra day per person are required.
  • ACAP(Annapurna Conservation Area Project) Permit is also required that cost NPR. 2000.00 per person (approx. USD 20). For SAARC nationals, ACAP permit costs Nrs.200 (about US $2)
  • No TIMS Card is required for this trek.

When is the best time for the trek?

Upper Mustang is a rain shadow area and monsoon is hardly an issue to trek here. Ideally, the best season is from mid-February to end of November. December and January are to be avoided due to extreme low temperatures and heavy snowfalls.

Moreover, the Tiji festival of the monsoon season is highly recommended. The festival is bound to be one of the most memorable experiences in a trek of the Upper Mustang.

Pre-monsoon/ spring (March to May) and post- monsoon/ autumn (October to November) are considered the best time to visit and trek majority places in Nepal. But Upper Mustang, unlike many other destinations of Nepal, is the best during monsoon because of the Tiji festival.

Safety

Upper Mustang trek is no doubt fun, and the best part is, it is suitable for all age groups. The trek includes reaching an alleviation of almost 3900m. Though altitude sickness is not common in alleviations under 4000m, it is always beneficial to know about this condition. The medical term is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

Altitude sickness, or AMS, is a pathological effect that occurs in altitudes above 1500-2000m. It is caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude. This may happen to anyone. AMS is serious enough to be fatal if not taken seriously; but a little care from the trekkers is enough to tackle this problem.

  • What are the symptoms of AMS?

The common symptoms of AMS are: breathing difficulty, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, swelling of body parts, nosebleed, drowsiness, and insomnia.

  • How to avoid AMS?

When symptoms of altitude sickness are observed, immediate actions must be taken. Anti-altitude sickness pills (Diamox or Acetylzolamide) must be carried in the first aid kit and consumed when symptoms are observed. The best approach would be to head down to lower altitudes.

Prior experience in trekking is not mandatory, but trekkers are advised to follow a routine (like walks or jogs) for a couple of months beforehand to increase one’s stamina in the high altitudes and battle with shortness of breath (which is almost certain in those altitudes).

Heavy medication is to be avoided; especially sleeping pills are to be avoided because they are known to be respiratory depressant which will be an added problem in high altitudes.

Required equipment’s and first aid, accompanied by a guide should be enough for a safe trek in Upper Mustang.

It is always advisable to carry water purifying tablets in first aid kit. Mineral water bottles are not always available in the remote areas of Nepal. Most places may require consumption of water directly from the natural source. And if you are extra careful about the liquid that you drink, a water purification device can always come handy.

Personal hygiene is always essential, but during treks, it must be of utmost importance. An upset stomach or an infection is not something you want in a trek in Nepal.

  • Tips for personal hygiene

  • Always carry a hand sanitizer and use it before meals, after using toilets, and after shaking hands with other people.
  • Shower regularly and keep nails and hair clean
  • Purify waters
  • Reduce contact with potentially germ-y communal places (like take care while using communal toilets and transport stations)
  • Keep a clean handkerchief with you as far as possible
  • Do not eat ice or snow from the altitudes.

Trekking Gears or Trekking Equipment Required

A doctor won’t do any good without his equipments, just like that; trekking requires equipment and gears that are not only sufficient, but necessary too.

  1. Important documents
  2. Trekking shoes, pole, raincoat, rucksack and waterproof rucksack covers.
  3. First aid kit
  4. Cash (Nepali Rupees)
  5. Toiletries kit
  6. Clothing: half sleeved and full sleeved T-shirts, hiking shorts, thermals, fleece wears.
  7. Books, playing cards, etc. for entertainment.
  8. Down jacket and wind breaker

You can bring supplies, gears and equipment from home or you can buy it in different places before starting the actual trek. This article may prove to be helpful in deciding where to buy the required stuffs.

Tiji Festival

The Tenji/Tiji (commonly pronounced “Teeji”) festival is an annual event indigenous to the unofficial capital of Upper Mustang, Lo Manthang. Tenji festival is the abbreviated from of Tempachhirim which translates to “prayer for world peace”. It is celebrated for three days.

This festival commemorates the victory of Buddha’s incarnation DhorjiSonam over a demon called ‘Ma Tam Ru Ta’. The dance performed by the monks of Lo ManthangchhyodeGumba during these three days festival enact the harassment of the said demon, the birth of Dhorjisonam (the demon’s son) and attempt by Dhorjisonam to return the demon to the Buddha realm. The monks perform a dance called” TsaChham “on the first day of the Tenji and “NgaChham”on the second day.

On the third day, a ceremony called “RhaChham” is performed. For this ceremony, one monk has to stay in the seclusion for three months of winter preparing for the role of Dhorjisonam for RhaChham. The monk in the role of Dhorjisonam throws an effigy and Tsampaa representation of Ma Tam Ru Ta, the demon. It is believed that the village is purified of the evil spirits at this time by this ceremony.

The Tiji Festival for tourists means enjoying all the dances and celebrations that take place, including horse racing and a giant tug-of-war, Tibetan women in their traditional clothing and colorful jewelry, monks in their robes and dancers in elaborate costumes. This is a festival that is hardly known to outsiders and those who have experienced describe attending the experience to be surreal.

Itinerary

DayActivity
1Fly or Drive from Kathmandu to Pokhara
2Fly to Jomsom (2740m)
3Trek to Kagbeni (2844m) or Chuksang (2900m)
4Trek to Samar (3150m) or Geling (3510m)
5Trek to Ghami (3460m)
6Trek to Charang (3560)
7Trek to Lo Manthang (3840m)
8Explore the Choser village and the capital, Lo Manthang
9Trek back to Ghami (3490m)
10Trek back from Ghami to Chuksang (2900m)
11Trek from Chuksang to Muktinath (3795m)
12Trek to Jomsom
13Explore Jomsom and Fly back to Pokhara
14Drive or Fly back to Kathmandu

 

Food and Accommodation

Several teahouses can be found even in the higher points in the Upper Mustang trek so there is no need to carry tents. The lodging services are clean and of basic standard. The limited number of teahouses is compensated with the friendly staffs (mostly with good English) and the exquisite local dishes served in the teahouses.

The recent road connection to the capital, Lo Manthang has brought considerable drop in the price of the food available.  Variety of the eastern as well as western style dishes is available in the tea houses of Upper Mustang and surrounding villages.

If you are planning to eat and stay in the same place, it will be economic for you rather than eating in one and staying in the other. This is because the major business of the service providers in these places comes from the food consumed by tourists rather than the accommodation provided. So, like most of the trekking destinations in Nepal, Upper Mustang also features a cheaper accommodation in comparison to food.

However, during the Tiji festival, it is recommended to book accommodation in advance or carry a tent because of the high inflow of visitors to observe the festival.

Accommodations costs ranges from $3 to $6 in the trekking route. And the cost of a single meal is also around the same range.

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