Trek to the Last Forbidden Kingdom is the best thing to do in Nepal

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Upper Mustang Trek

Photo of Trek to the Last Forbidden Kingdom is the best thing to do in Nepal by Amrita & Agni

Would you like to visit the “Last Forbidden Kingdom” or the hidden world of Tibetan Buddism? Or trek through the ancient route that the salt caravans used to take? I am not talking of Tibet here, but the hidden world of the Buddhist kingdom Mustang, also known as Lo. Mustang, though located in the remote trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, it used to be a part of the Tibetan empire and thus has close connection with the Tibetan culture, language and landscape.

The Upper Mustang Trek is one of the most premier treks of Nepal. The trail follows the ancient salt caravan route through which the people of Mustang traded Tibetan salt for grains from the lower plains. The trek offers a 14 days adventure in the spectacularly beautiful semi-arid region with deep ravines and snow-clad mountains around. Mustang has a complex and interesting history that are shrouded in myths and mysteries. It is said that the revered Tibetan poet Milarepa had visited Lo. 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.

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Lo Manthang, Capital of Upper Mustang | Source: Wikimedia

The Upper Mustang was out of bounds for non-Nepali trekkers till 1992 and even today the entry is highly restricted. To enter Upper Mustang, that is to travel further north from Kagbeni, trekkers need special trekking permit and must be accompanied by a government appointed officer. The permit costs USD 500 for 10 days and for each additional day, it is USD 50 per day.

Tucked and isolated from the outside world, the region has a highly preserved Tibetan culture. The entire region has unspoilt nature with the landscape unlike any other places in Nepal. As I said earlier, the place is more like Tibetan plateau with endless expanse of brown and grey rolling hills, loose rocks and clear blue skies. Upper Mustang lies in the Himalayan rain shadow region, thus monsoons are also dry. Villages are miles apart with barley fields and small chortens festooned with prayer flags here and there. The trek is one of the most expensive treks of Nepal because of the high permit value, but the place is definitely worth every penny. Not just the arid but beautiful landscape, you are also going to fall in love with the simple people and their well-preserved culture too.

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Detailed Itinerary:

Day 1

Day 1: Kathmandu – Pokhara

The drive to Pokhara would take about 6 hours. Pokhara is one of the biggest cities of Nepal and definitely a beautiful one.

Day 2

Day 2: Pokhara to Jomson (flight), then trek to Kagbeni (4 - 5 hours)

Take the morning flight to Jomson, the district headquarters of Mustang, through the world’s deepest Kali Gandaki Gorge. The 20 minutes flight is an experience in itself. You will get glorious view of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges and a great view of the Kali Gandaki river which dates back to 80 million old flowing from Tibetan Plateau. After reaching Jomson, it is an easy hike to Kagbeni.

Jomson | Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Pokhara, Nepal by Amrita & Agni
Day 3

Day 3: Trek to Chele (6 – 7 hours)

Further Kagbeni, you will be entering the restricted area of Upper Mustang. The area is said to be the desert of Nepal with barren and arid surroundings. The green villages appear in the middle like mirages. After 6-7 hours of trek, you will reach Chele, a small beautiful settlement from where you can get a stunning view of the valley.

Chortens | Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Kagbeni, Nepal by Amrita & Agni
Day 4

Day 4: Trek to Syangboche (5-6 hours)

The initial walk is steep through undulating trails through the deep canyons with its unusual colour. The landscape is totally amazing. You will also get a panoramic view of the of Nilgiri, Annapurna, Tilicho Peak, and Yakawa Kang ranges. Syangboche is small settlement deep into the valley.

Source: Flickr

Photo of Syangboche Marg, Khumjung, Nepal by Amrita & Agni
Day 5

Day 5: Trek to Tsarang (7 - 8 hours)

From Syangboche, there is a climb to a small pass at 12467 feet with stunning views of the valley, mountains and the eroded canyons. There are short climbs along with beautiful scenery that makes the walk a bit easier.

Finally take the trail towards Tsarang or the land of chortens. This trail marks the history and legend of the Indian saint Guru Padmasambhava (750-810 AD), the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Here you will see the long Mani wall of Mustang. After you reach Tsarang, visit the ancient monastery there.

Tsarang Monastery | Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Tsarang, Charang, Nepal by Amrita & Agni
Day 6

Day 6: Trek to Lo Manthang (4-5 hours)

After you start from Tsarang and hike for about hour and a halp, you will come across a magnificent solitary chorten in the middle of the road. Walk past it and after some hours of trek, you will come across a single entrance to the walled city of LO. The king, “Lo Gyelbu”, named Jigme Palbar Bista, still resides at his four-storied palace inside the walled city of Lo Manthang.

The Royal Palace in Lo Manthang | Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Lo Manthang, Nepal by Amrita & Agni
Day 7

Day 7: Day hike to Nyphu and Garphu monasteries/caves and villages in the north of Lo Manthang.

Lo Manthang is the capital of Mustang and have about 150 houses. There are some very beautiful ancient monasteries that you can explore. Visit the Nyphu Cave monastery and the Garphu Monastery.

Nyphu Monastery | Source: Flickr

Photo of Nyphu Gumba, Chhoser, Nepal by Amrita & Agni
Day 8

Day 8: Lo Manthang – Dhakmar via Ghar Gumba (Loghekar Monastery) (6 hours)

The highlight of this is the visit to world’s oldest Tibetan monastery Ghar Gompa built around 7th century by the Guru Padmasambhava. The landscape is exceptional and the view of the mountains are stunning. Dhankar is also a great site for camping.

Inside the walled city of Lo Manthang | Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Dhakmar, Nepal by Amrita & Agni
Day 9

Day 9: Dhakmar – Syanboche (6 hours)

Trace back your steps to Syanboche. This time you will get the opportunity to have a look at the views that you had missed while coming.

Day 10

Day 10: Trek to Chusang (5-6 hours)

Trace back your steps towards south. This day you will visit the Chungsi Cave Monastery which is one of the most attractive among all cave monastery of Mustang. It is believed that this is the place where Guru Padmasambava meditated with a vision to bring Buddhism in Tibet. But the ascent to the cave is steep. Chusang is another beautiful mountain village where you will stay for the night.

Day 11

Day 11: Trek to Jomsom via Kagbeni (7-8 hours)

It is a downhill trek to Kagbeni with a great view of Nilgiri and a wide stretch of Kali Gandaki. You will exit from the restricted area of Mustang and enter Kagbeni. Then trek down further to Jomson.

A Mustang Village | Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Jomsom, Nepal by Amrita & Agni
Day 12

Day 12: Jomsom – Pokhara

Take a flight back to Pokhara. The rest of the day you can either relax or explore Pokhara.

Day 13

Day 13: Pokhara - Kathmandu

Get back to Kathmandu from Pokhara.

Photo of Kathmandu, Nepal by Amrita & Agni

Best Time

Upper Mustang is best visited between February and November. As it is located in the rain shadow part of the Himalaya, you can still visit it during the months of June – August.

Permit

As I have mentioned above, an expensive permit is required to trek Upper Mustang. For the restricted area, you have to pay USD 500 per person. By Nepali law, you are also required to be accompanied by a guide and/or porter.

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