The Upper Mustang in the Himalayas of Nepal is one of the ideal destinations within Nepal, requiring a special permit to travel, being the restricted region for visiting. Being a restricted area and separate kingdom makes it one of the preserved regions in Nepal, with a majority of the people here still speaking traditional Tibetan languages. So, this region has preserved Tibetan culture from the outside world. Upper Mustang was a separate kingdom until 1950 within the boundaries of Nepal. The last king of this place still has a separate house here and still lives in the ancient capital, Lo Manthang. The kings of this place used to call it part of the Tibetan empire. Upper Mustang is so called The Last Forbidden Kingdom. According to the source, it is said that the place has mainly four casts, the royal caste, the blacksmiths, the butchers and the millers.
Trekking in Upper Mustang provides one of the most beautiful experiences through the mountains, beautiful villages, valleys and hidden world of the old Buddhist Kingdom of Mustang, the unspoiled Tibetan culture. As it is geographically part of the Tibetan plateau, the trek gives you the experience of Tibetan trekking experience. Trekking to the Upper Mustang will provide you with knowledge of the lifestyles of the mountainous Nepali people who had minimal contact with the rest of Nepal for hundreds of years, which is a rare privilege. The more you go up, the fewer accommodation facilities you get above Kagbeni, so get your stuff full and sufficient. Mules are far better for carrying your stuff and loads economically than porters, as it is available locally from Jomsom. Trekking through Upper Mustang during monsoon is an excellent option as the location lies in the rain shadow of the Himalayas. The glory and beauty of Upper Mustang have attracted many tourists as the number of recent tourists has increased dramatically. The Upper Mustang trek is not as difficult as the maximum altitude we reach is around 4000 meters only.
Why should you visit Upper Mustang?
Lo Manthang is the main attraction of the entire Upper Mustang trek located at the northern end of the Mustang district between the Tibet Autonomous Region in the North and the Dalome rural municipality of the Mustang District in the South. Lo Manthang was the ancient capital of the Upper Mustang and The Kingdom of Lo, also known as ‘The Last Forbidden Kingdom.’ Lo Manthang has a lot to offer, exploring the sites like the whitewashed mud-brick walls, gompas and King's Palace. Jampa Lhakhang (the oldest temple known as "God house"), Tubchen Gompa, a massive Red hall, Chodey Gompa and Choprang Gompa. The gompas which exist here are significant monasteries of this region. Lo Manthang has one of the unspoiled and oldest Buddhist cultural values attached to it.
Tiji festival is one of the unique festivals of Nepal celebrated in the Upper Mustang of Nepal. According to the ancient Mythology of this region, the festival is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil. It is believed that once a demon spreading diseases and destroying the area was defeated by Dorje Jono. From that moment on, it was celebrated as a Tiji festival with prayer chants and dances with colorful customs. The festival is also practiced by Tibetan people, where Buddhist masters Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra and Shilamnju of Nepal went to Tibet to introduce the Buddhism practice in the eighth century. The festival is celebrated annually in this region for 3 days in the courtyard of the Royal Palace in May.
Muktinath Temple is among one of the most famous religious temples of Nepal, located at an elevation of 3800 meters. The Temple is a Holy spot for Hindus and Buddhists. The Hindu believes that Lord Vishnu got salvation from the curse of Brinda here. Muktinath is made of two words, “Mukti” meaning salvation or Nirvana and “Nath” meaning Master of God. Muktinath holds great significance for spiritual people in south Asia, making it one of the most famous Touristic areas of this region. 108 stone holy taps surround the pagoda-style temple at the height of seven feet. According to religious people, it is believed that by passing through all 108 taps or waterspouts (Holy showers), a person's sins are forgiven by the god of Muktinath.
Tibetan art and architecture
Tibetan art and architecture have been almost entirely religious. Tibetan art uses figuration, depicting people like beings and recognizable creatures, which is unique and different from western art. Western art uses illustration to show its religious narrative, but Tibetan Buddhism devises an art that goes beyond description. On the other hand, Tibetan architecture has its own uniqueness and beauty. Through the valley of Lo Manthang, you can witness and explore some of the oldest and most beautiful arts and architecture.
The Jampa Gompa/Monastery is the oldest Sakya Monastery inside the Walled City of Lo Manthang. It was built in the early 14th century during the reign of the famous King Angon Sangpo. The three-storeyed Jampa Gompa exemplifies Lo Manthang's rich arts and architectural traditions. The walls of Jampa Gompa are made from mud. The uniqueness of Jampa Gompa is demonstrated in the 108 ancient mandalas of various sizes painted in gold and silver with turquoise, coral and gemstones. The depictions are of stories from the life of Buddha Shakyamuni and lesser gods on the ground floor of Gompa. In contrast, the mandalas are of Bodhisattvas and themes from the Mahayana tradition on top. The second floor contains mandalas of the most sacred Vajrayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
The weather of Upper Mustang
Upper Mustang region has four distinct seasons in a year. Spring, monsoon, winter and autumn, like in other parts of the country, have different weather and temperature throughout the year. Spring is the ideal time to hike and trek along the Trans-Himalayan Region and the ancient trading route to Tibet. The day temperature rises from 16 to 22°C while drops from -6 to -2°C at night.
The region faces no rainfall during monsoon as you will enjoy the dry weather and moderate climate during this time. The highest temperature during this time is around 11°C. The average daytime temperature ranges from 13°C to 20°C while the temperature drops down from -3°C to 0°C at night.
Autumn is one of the best recommended months to travel to Upper Mustang. During this time, you will experience a great view of the Himalayas and sight of the Tibetan Plateau. The strong winds from the north dominate the entire valley during the afternoon. So, always bring your windproof gear during this time. Generally, temperature range from 12 to 20°C at day and drops from -8 to -4°C at night.
January is the coldest month of the year at an average of 5°C in the day and -25 to -20°C at night. This place starts freezing after the sun gets down. The residents of Upper Mustang leave the capital to avoid the freezing temperature and snow during this season and travel to Pokhara or Kathmandu.
Permit and Regulation
It is the most important thing to know before your trek to Upper Mustang as it requires a trekking permit. It is considered one of the most expensive trekking permits in Nepal. Being a restricted trekking area, you must pay USD 500 per person. Like in other restricted areas, individual trekkers are not allowed in this area. It means you must find a reliable and experienced local trekking agency based in Nepal to process the permit and make the necessary arrangements. By the law of the Nepal government, you are also required to be accompanied by a guide or porter. You see several checkpoints during your trek in the region, so these things are required to trek in this area.
Being in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, the perfect time to explore this dry region is during the summer months, but winters are harsh with the snow and temperature below freezing point. The rest of the months, except for late December to the beginning of March, are recommended for the trek. The most recommended month for a journey to Upper Mustang is May, as the Tiji festival is observed in this month. The autumn (October to November) is the time with the bluest skies and the clearest mountain views but windy afternoons. The general temperatures range from 12 to 20 degrees Celsius. The trails disappear under snow during winter as heavy-duty winter gear is required after November. Between December and January, even the residents of Lo Manthang leave the capital to avoid freezing temperatures and snow.