Nestled deep inside the deserted lands of mighty Himalayas lies a small region completely isolated from the rest of din of the world. Mustang or Mun tan in Tibetan still remains elusive from the lists of travellers, a province politically in Nepal but cut off from its home state in terms of its culture, climate and geography. Although the geography remains same with empty cold desert lands with occasional areas of population, Mustang had been cut off from rest of the world for a very long period, much later in 1992 a bit of tourism flourished and recently from being “nobody’s been there” to progressing towards “last chance to see” , a haven for a backpacker willing to tread the off beaten path. Recent developments in the region suggest of more tourism oriented developments for showcasing the rich preserved lifestyle, terrain and culture of the locals.
Aptly termed as ‘Little Tibet” or the “forbidden kingdom” thanks to its rugged terrain and a hard lifestyle which keeps unwary visitors at bay, the situation is much changed now due to more tourist development centers and an impression of a ‘secluded spot’ on the world map. Both of which attract many a curious wanderer. Tightly sealed from the world before man’s thirst for new ‘places to visit’ quest began ,the kingdom preserved a civilization which hardly saw any development on the technological and sociological fronts . A staunch bearer of Buddhist architecture , Mustang still has centuries old monasteries which retain ancient artifacts and relics. Possibly a connection existed with Indian culture as cave murals were found depicting movement of Caravans across the rugged paths. A must stop place for history lovers. Since along paved roads and a helipad have started providing easy accessibility but the best adventure remains in scaling this rugged terrain on a trek.
Many a comparisons have been made of Mustang with the Grand Canyon due to its enormous number of man made caves which make even the Grand canyon diminutive to Mustang. Thousands of caves are dug out more popularly known as ‘holes’ in this region, no particular reference has been found out for their existence as no steps or ropes were ever found. These caves often dug out on the face of the rocks seem to be like a grand chorus of neighborhoods combined together.
The climate here witnesses harsh winds which ply the arid lands with traces of rainfall fuelling the scant flora and fauna of the region. Weathered rocks and eroded dry lands are stratified with colorful rock formations and dents offering a worthy trek for the adrenaline hiker. Legends point out towards the great founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche), who before building Samye (the oldest monastery in Tibet) came to Mustang to stand guard against and do battle with the evil powers out to destroy Buddhism. To this date the temple stands becoming an important part of this land of mysteries. To date Mustang remains quintessentially Tibetan in geography and landscape , the peaks remain snow capped throughout the year while the face of the mountains changes from vibrant hues of orange and red during seasons.
A visit to Mustang surely takes one a step back into time, largely unaffected by the overwhelming din in our lives. The pure mountain air fuels vigor and passion added to that is the presence in a region untouched by modern civilizations making it a rich extravaganza of sorts. A feast for the eyes as one traverses down the beaten paths towards sporadic fields of Barley, Wheat and Maize richly canvassed in hues of red, green and yellow with a picturesque backdrop of sun bathed mountains and occasional pockets of human habitats. The town folk here are local Buddhist monks and farmers with an ever welcoming grin on their brown faces. Curious kids cling onto tourists as one makes way through villages, women folk are always dressed in colorful woven blouses accessorized with beads and necklaces. Its hard to digest the fact that these people live in so much harmony with mother nature , almost everything here is devoid of human touch. The region has its own culture and festivals are mostly family affairs as a small community of ‘tibetans’ they like to preserve their rich heritage. However a visit during festivals is always an added benefit to closely witness their rituals.
The exclusivity of the region is regulated by the local government who levy taxes in the upper spectrum for travellers ensuring the area remains elusive and preserved. This prevents any outside influence to this fragile environment as a journey here sets one back by close to 400 years. Tourism is regulated by the government and the locals who vehemently oppose anything ‘modern ‘ in nature in believe in remaining aloof to developments in other parts of world. There definitely exists a certain aristocracy about the place as very few are privy to visits here courtesy the laws , yet it continuously features in ‘must see’ places on popular guidebooks
Mustang offers travellers a solace with its natural aspect to life, from lofty mountains to deep caves scattered all over the valley. The bright fauna tended by its non-polluted air and clear water from its rivers. Simple townsfolk who strive to preserve their traditions and in the process keep the region free from manmade development and advances. Compelling mankind to search within for the answers.