Mustang, in Nepal was a land of aristocracy, the former kingdom of Lo. The district is like a little Tibet in Nepal as the language and culture of the area is still predominantly Tibetan. The district is divided into two fractions, two-thirds of it is called Upper Mustang and one-third of it in the southern region of it is referred to as Thak. The people of Thak have a hybrid culture comprised of both Tibetan and Nepalese elements. They even have their own culture. So we can say that though Mustang is politically a part of Nepal but geographically and culturally it still belongs to Tibet.
Mustang was at its zenith of prosperity during the 15th century when it was used as a trade route between Tibet and Nepal for the trade of salt. Mustang used to be an independent kingdom with ties to Tibet and other neighbouring areas. The strategic location of the kingdom gave it control over the trade all over the Himalayas. Nepal brought the kingdom under its control by the end of 18th century. The district lies to north of the Annapurnas and was not permissible territory for travellers to explore until the early 90’s. However at present life in Mustang have its foundations in tourism, trade and animal husbandry.
The population in the district is sparse, a mere 15000. The inhabitants of the area are primarily Thakalis or Gurungs or in other words can be referred to as just Tibetans. The people have made their home near the Kali Gandaki River as it is a fertile plain and is hence good for agriculture. Winters are harsh forcing the people to come down the hills.
The district of Mustang is often referred to as the forbidden kingdom as it was not allowed to tourists until 1992 and even now tourism to the area is regulated. Foreigners have to acquire a permit to enter the district and it costs US$50 each season per person. Trekking is what attracts most tourists to Mustang. The alienation from the cacophony prevalent in cities, devoid of honking, to travel on foot and discover the pleasures this pristine land has to offer.
The district is studded with distinct white-painted villages, monasteries, inns and is the focal point of cross-border trading which sets it apart from the rest of the Nepal. The landscape of the area consists of eroded stretches and conglomerate cliffs. The earth here is coloured by pigments of yellowed, red, blue and brown and like a backdrop on a canvas are the Annapurnas and Dhaulagiri mountains.
Here is what Mustang offers to tourists:
- The adrenaline rush of trekking on bare mountains. Mustang is one of the most popular trekking destinations in the world. A large number of trekkers visit Mustang area to explore ancient monasteries and caves in an ancient land. One of the most fascinating features of Mustang is the cliff-dwellings. There are literally thousands of them; some of them seem entirely inaccessible.
- A walk-out to the Muktinath through the east side of the Kali Gandaki River. The Muktinath temple is a place of worship for both Hindus and Buddhists. It is located in the Muktinath valley at the foot of Thorong La mountain pass. The Hindus refer to the place as ‘Muktikshetra,’ the land for salvation. The Buddhists call it Chumig Gyatsa which means Hundred Waters in Tibetan. It houses the Saligrama sila which is considered to be the naturally available form of the “The God Head.” The best time to visit the temple is March to June as it is dangerous in other seasons.
- Enjoy the humbling views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains.
- To gaze at the walled city of Lo Manthang. Lo Manthang was the capital of the kingdom of Lo from the day of the kingdom’s foundation. Many of the structures constructed at that time have stood the test of time. The village is noted for its uniformly white-washed houses. However the most majestic structure is the nice-cornered, five-storeyed Royal palace which was built around the time of 1400. There are four important temples namely Jhampa Lakhang, the oldest temple built around the 1500.
- Visit Marpha village which is just south of Jomsom. It offers a calm and serene place to rest and recover from the tensions eating away at you. Marpha is the centre of apple and apricot industry in Mustang. There is plenty of food and drinks to be savoured in Mustang. If you enjoy making long walk and working up your calf muscles then you can go up the trail to Dhampus Pass, the Hidden Valley and if you go further south you might get to the Dhaulagiri icefall.
- Make a stop at Kagbeni village while going up to Muktinath. You can enjoy some short hikes and the scenery guarantees a lot of brilliant Kodak moments. If you don’t mind plagiarism then you can stuff yourself at their local version of seven-eleven and McDonalds.
- Discover fossils. Fossils are clearly visible on some of the rocks along the Kali Gandaki trail.
Mustang, the Forbidden Land is a picturesque destination and is a relief from the claustrophobic commercialization all around us.