A Place Called Mustang


(A solo motor biking trip to the Northern part of Nepal)

Photo of Mustang, Nepal by Santanu Ray

My obsession with nature always provoked me to Visit different places, meet different people, and witness different cultures to build a story of my own. Being a 10 to 5 employee, I always wanted to break free the bindings and jump into the ocean of the unknown.

Mustang was a dream. A dream I dreamt for many years. With the strong current of its rivers, chilling wind to freeze one into ice, challenging roads to break one’s bones, its sky, full of stars, mountains full of colors, streams with rippling sounds, faces with curiosities, barren fields with open arms embraced me again and again.

I started my journey from Siliguri, a town near Indo-Nepal border. I crossed river Mechi and entered Nepal at a place called Kakarvita. After riding almost 450 kms I reached Hetauda and stayed there. The next morning, I started my journey towards Pokhara. After crossing a place called Narayanghat I entered a stretch of road which was awfully bad. The thick layer of dust made it impossible to see properly. I had stop after every kilometer and had to wash the visor of my helmet. At Mungling I breathed relieved and turned towards Pokhara. The road till Pokhara was a buttery one.

Photo of Pokhara, Nepal by Santanu Ray

I reached Pokhara in the evening and straight went to Phewa Lake. The pristine beauty of Phewa took all my hardships away and filled my heart with a new hope and energy. The next morning, I made my permit from Pokhara immigration and took the road for 101 kms to Beni. After fueled my bike at Beni, the last service station I moved towards Tatopani, my destination for that day. Tatopani was around 40 kms from Beni. I enjoyed the metaled road till Beni .But after crossing Beni the road I faced ,to be honest there were no roads. It was completely gluey, muddy, and full of boulders and above all too slippery. But after a couple of kilometers I started enjoying it. I was literally boosting up my bike.It was really hard to ride on that but I was somewhere prepared for that. But the road was getting worse with every kilometer. Over that all those suggestions and warnings of my friends, relatives, and well-wishers were hovering over my mind of not going there alone, and that was also on a bike. I keep on asking the locals about the direction as there were no milestones or signboards. I entered a canopy and suddenly the road opened in a riverbed, locally known as khola. There I came to know that the khola was over flooded for few days which made it impossible to cross. I could see small buses were stuck in the river and the passengers were waiting on both the sides. Fortunately I met prem and Ravi who helped me crossing the river.

Photo of Jomsom, Nepal by Santanu Ray

Not only us but we took help from some of the local boys to fight the current. First, we made their Enfield cross the river and there I could see that it floated almost half of the river. I was literally shaken up thinking about mine which was much lighter and then came my turn. While I was trying to boost up my mind prem uttered, ‘yeah halka hain, isko bahakein leh jayengey’. I couldn’t breathe. Didn’t even get the chance to think twice I jumped into the river and somehow, we managed to cross it.

Photo of A Place Called Mustang by Santanu Ray

But the danger didn’t end there. Rather increased with the increasing elevation. Still with all its danger the road surprised me with every bend. Again, there were patches which were really difficult to cross. In fact it becomes difficult to find the right lane to take to get out of it. Because of the soft muddy layer one cannot measure the depth of the ditches and resulted in getting stuck into it.Again our togetherness helped us fight the difficulties and overcoming those.

Photo of A Place Called Mustang by Santanu Ray

I was going beside the gorge carved by the Kali Gandaki River, which originates in the Tibetan plateau to eventually flow into the Ganges in India. Between Tatopani and Lete, there is a dramatic change of scenery. Pine forests crowd in on the road and the villages are quite different in appearance. The stony design of the houses is unique to this area. The houses are so designed to protect the inhabitants from the strong winds that blow up the valley every day from the late morning onwards. Stony houses with mountains in the background took my breath away. I could see Dhaulagiri and other peaks right in front of my eyes.

Photo of Lete, Nepal by Santanu Ray

We took a break over there, the maid of that house was drying beef pieces in the sun as winter was approaching. They stock food before the winter as it becomes hard for them to go out in the minus temperature. At Lete I discovered that my self-starter stopped working. And the nearest shop where I could fix that was at Jomsom which was 36 kms away. Though I couldn't fix the problem as they were without the necessary part. So I had to kick start my bike throughout Mustang.

The road after Letey turned out to be better. After a couple of kilometers There was a stretch where the water flows through stony road, and there was a ditch at the end of it which can't be seen because of the water and as my front wheel got stuck into that I fell off my bike. It was really scary. A fall is a fall,it certainly takes all your confidence. But the serenity and the toughness of the road will definitely help you regain it back.

I was free, and the freedom of the nature made me realize it.it felt like the nature was embracing me with all its seducing power.

Photo of Mustang, Nepal by Santanu Ray

On the way to Jomsom I came to know about a lake called Dhumba Lake,Dhumba is a sacred Buddhist lake and it is at a distance of 6 kms from Jomsom. To reach Dhumba I took the road to Thini village at a distance of 5.5 kilometers and then towards Dhumba village. The lake is around 500 mtrs from Dhumba village. The lakeside is perfect for spending afternoon amongst picturesque snow-clad peaks and spectacular views of the valley. A calm and pleasant place to relax, it is a worthy stopover.

I stayed at Jomsom. Jomsom is the headquarter of Mustang district. Located at an altitude of 2700 meters is a famous tourist destination and attracts tourists from all over the globe. The village with its stony thin lanes, curious faces, travelers all around took me to a different world, a world of explorers. My destination was Muktinath. The road after Jomsom goes through the riverbed of Kali Gandaki. While moving towards Muktinath I see trekkers were coming down after completing the famous Annapurna circuit trek. On my way I saw a hanging bridge, and somewhere I dug the instinct of crossing it. Though it seemed easy enough but after reaching the mid of it, the swing and the wind will definitely stop your flow.

Photo of Muktinath, Nepal by Santanu Ray

I reached Muktinath at around 11 in the morning. Muktinath is a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists located in Muktinath Valley at an altitude of 3,710 meters at the foot of the Thorong La mountain pass (part of the Himalayas) in Mustang, Nepal. The site is close to the village of Ranipauwa, which is sometimes mistakenly called Muktinath. Within Hinduism, it is called Mukti Kshetra, which literally means the "place of liberation or moksha". This temple is considered to be106th among the available 108 Divya Desam. I wanted to stay somewhere which was more remote and out of the touch of outsiders. So, the café owner referred me of Jharkot, about 7 kms from Muktinath. The village has only a place to stay and the small rooms of that hut were made for the trekkers.

I started moving towards Jharkot. Jharkot turned out to be another surprise for me with its serenity and silence.

Photo of Jharkot, Nepal by Santanu Ray

I reached the hut through stony lanes asking locals for the direction. While checking into my room I could hear the chanting of a female monk. I took my camera and followed the voice; I reached a small monastery where the lady monk was chanting mantras as that was the birthday of Guru Padmasamvaba.

Photo of Jharkot, Nepal by Santanu Ray

I could not help myself but to seat there and listened to the prayer. The panoramic view along with the beauty of the nature turned the whole environment into something pristine. The old built houses, the people with their ancient cultural touch and the soothing preaching will definitely take you to some fairy land of old folklore.

The next day I prepared to visit another village called Jhong. But on my way to Jhong I faced the same problem of getting the right road. I met an old lady on my way who showed me all the ways of mustang except the road to Jhong.

Photo of Jhong, Nepal by Santanu Ray

So, I start moving towards the direction which was given by my hotel owner. On the way I met the lady monk whom I met the day before and she showed me the way to Jhong. The more I was getting into Mustang the outlook of the villages was changing dramatically. Jhong is a small Tibetan village having an old build monastery. But the road to the monastery was real tough and risky. There I met an old monk who told me about the monastery and how the old one was ruined during the earthquake of 2015. I spent almost an hour there with the stories of the monk and started towards Kakbeni. It was getting dark and the chilling wind was blowing faster. But I was lost, lost in the beauty somewhere.

Photo of Jhong, Nepal by Santanu Ray

On my way back from Kakbeni I entered a small restaurant which was run by Lakshmi didi, who was too curious about my journey and insisted me to have the lunch with them. I had a great time there listening to her stories of how she helps the women of Mustang to be self-dependent. How the nomadic people live their life in those harsh weather. How they cope up with all the difficulties just to stay in the lap of their deity, the mountains.

Every time I close my eyes it opens up in the vast beauty of Mustang. It certainly creates a hollow in my chest, I see the curves I past, the bends I turn, the edges I faced, the faces I met, the eyes that looked into my heart, the stones, the hills, the mountains, I looked open mouth. The blue river that flowed with me, the starry sky I talked to every night, the wind that brings back the smell again and again. The barren that filled my heart with joy, I can’t sleep.It calls me again and again. I know that:

I never will be able to bring it back

But I ever will be able to dream it back.”

Photo of Mustang, Nepal by Santanu Ray

A small trailer of the documentary I have made on Mustang.