Doing a Mustang trek has been part of my travel bucket list since 2015. In fact, during the 17-day Annapurna Circuit trek, I passed through Kagbeni, a beautiful medieval town. This beautiful Nepalese village, located at an altitude of 2700 meters, is not only home to a beautiful monastery but is also the gateway to Upper Mustang. When I visited Kagbeni, therefore, I told myself that sooner or later I would like to learn more about this little-explored territory.
In fact, until 1992 it was impossible to make a trek in Mustang. This Nepalese area, characterized by a much lower population density than the average Nepal, did not allow foreigners a tourist visit. Mustang, being on the border with Tibet, did not want to open its doors to foreigners. Until 1992, in fact, only the lower part of Mustang (the part joining Jomsom to Kagbeni) could be visited, while Upper Mustang was forbidden. The Lo people, after whom the kingdom of the same name was named, in fact wanted to defend their traditions and not open up to the foreign world. Mustang was officially a subkingdom until 2008, when the Shah dynasty was abolished.
The base for reaching Mustang is Pokhara, from where planes leave for Jomsom. Pokhara is a wonderful town and definitely deserves a tour, like the one proposed by Civitatis!
My trek in Mustang began with a twenty-minute flight from Pokhara to Jomsom. Even now, it is not easy to get a visa for Mustang. Indeed, one must contract a guide, pay a $500 entry fee (which allows one to visit Upper Mustang for 10 days, and each extra day costs an additional 50 euros) and find a person with whom to share the entry permit. It made my job easier. the agency in Kathmandu Nepal Social: I got on very well with them, as they got my permit on time and their guidance was great!
From Jomsom I walked for two and a half hours to Kagbeni. (10 km, 250 meters elevation gain). I had already walked this part during the Annapurna Circuit and knew it would be boring. On the other hand, visiting Kagbeni and its 15th century monastery again was a very pleasant feeling! Also, having a beer from the typical Yak Donalds is always a must!
The next day I officially entered Upper Mustang. From Kagbeni to Chele (14 kilometers, 600 meters of elevation gain) I began to admire the typical Mustang landscape: a high-altitude desert, often characterized by some canyons! All the way to Chussung you can see the Gandhaki River, one of the largest rivers in Nepal: it even rises at 6200 meters, on the Tibetan border!
At Chele begins a long climb that leads up to Samar. I often walked along the main road, which connects Lo Mantang to Jomsom. This road was improved after the 2015 earthquake: in fact, many villages in Upper Mustang had found themselves totally left to their own devices after the terrible earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale. Along the way I found a French couple riding their bikes along Upper Mustang. Although it is a main road, the gradients from Chele to Samar are very steep: often the couple’s husband would leave his bike, go back and pedal again with his wife’s bike, who was walking in the meantime…pedal stories, hard to understand for those who do not like bikes!
Once we reached Syame my guide and I took a detour. To reach Syangboche, in fact, we passed through Chungsi Cave. Located in a beautiful canyon, this monastery is highly revered by Buddhists, as tradition says Master Guru Rinpoche lived here in the eighth century. The stage from Chele to Syangboche is therefore tough:15 km, 1350 meters of elevation gain and arrival at an altitude of 3800 meters!
From Syangboche you walk back along the main road. Mustang always offers a desert landscape: there are often a kind of black dunes, forming a postcard landscape with snow-capped mountains in the background. From Syangboche I first passed through Ghame and eventually arrived in Tsarang (21 km and 900 meters of elevation gain): here I had the chance to learn about a very beautiful medieval monastery!
In Tsarang I met Tea and Tomas: the Croatian and the Argentine would be trekking companions for the rest of Mustang! From Tsarang we continued to follow the main road to Lo Mantang, the capital of Mustang: this part of the trek (14 km and 550 meters elevation gain) was a bit monotonous, but the Lo La Pass at an elevation of 4,000 meters was a real treat! In fact, heralded by classic Nepalese flags, the pass provides a view of the top of Mustang: Lo Mantang towers in an isolated position, with the Tibetan border only 20 kilometers away! The Kora La Pass, which divides Mustang and Tibet, is currently closed.
Tea, Tomas and I stayed three nights in Lo Mantang. We took advantage of the first day to see Chhoser, reached by jeep: here we visited the monasteries Lo Garyu, Lo Nyifu and the very special Jhong Caves, real rooms in stone! Returning to Lo Mantang we passed by Namgyal Monastery-the views from here are outstanding!
The second day was devoted to visiting Lo Mantang: there are three magnificent monasteries (all dating from the 13th to 15th centuries) to visit (Chode Gonpa, Jampa Gonpa and Thupchen Gonpa). In addition, there is a view from the top of Lo Mantang from the so-called Lo Mantang Tower. Finally, in the town of Lo Mantang, you can see the royal palace: walking through the streets of this capital city, which boasts only two thousand inhabitants, leaves a unique feeling!
We left Lo Mantang using a different route than on the outward journey. In fact, we passed through Cho – Ku La, a pass at 4298 meters, which took us up to Ghori Gompa, another splendid monastery! The day’s sights, however, were not yet over: in fact, we passed through Dhakmar, a village famous for its landscape characterized by magnificent red canyons! This stage from Lo Mantang to Ghami was therefore quite tough,with its 21 km and almost 1,000 meters of elevation gain.
From Ghami we reached Chussung in two stages. The first one allowed us to return to Samar (20 km and 1,000 meters of elevation gain, this time without passing through Chungsi Cave): the sunset at the end of the day was wonderful! The second (short, almost all downhill:10 km and 200 meters of elevation gain) allowed us to reach Chussung via Ghyakar: along this stretch we walked through marijuana plantations, the smell of which was definitely strong despite the fact that it had burned by now.
In Chussung I met another group of Italian travelers, with whom we shared the last leg in Mustang. There are two methods of getting out of Mustang: the first is to follow the outward route, exiting through Kagbeni, while the second goes through Tetang village and Gyo La Pass (4000 meters), exiting through Muktinath. The Italians and I chose the second option: the views from the Gyo La Pass are wonderful, as you can see the Daulaghiri (one of the 14 8000s) up close!
Some sections of this trail are a bit exposed-nothing technically difficult, but those who suffer from vertigo might find themselves in a bit of a critical situation!
Once in Muktinath, I said goodbye to the group of Italians and continued on to Phedi, trying to facilitate the next day of trekking that would take me back to Thorong La Pass (5416 meters). I thus completed the Mustang trek with a 19 km long trekking day, with 1700 meters of elevation gain: stopping at Muktinath saves four kilometers and 400 meters of elevation gain.