The former kingdom of Upper Mustang Region is not your typical Himalayan trekking experience. The piece of land that is the Upper Mustang region protrudes into the Tibetan Plateau and lies along the Kali Gandaki River. In terms of outside influence of culture and environment, the region is one of the most preserved places in the world. Up to 1992, Upper Mustang Trek was a restricted, demilitarized zone and trekkers were not allowed to enter until then. In fact, Upper Mustang Region Trek is still considered a restricted area, which requires a permit of $500 to enter. This is a testament to how protected and unspoiled this region is.
The roughly 7,000 residents of the region call themselves Lobas. Most practice a form of Tibetan Buddhism and rely on trade with Tibet as a main source of livelihood. Because Mustang lies in a rain shadow, people have been able to build their homes and temples into cliffs, or using mud and stone as the foundation. Upper Mustang Region Trek is possible all-year-around, as the monsoon does not affect the trails (though it may affect the process of reaching Mustang).
Upper Mustang Region Treks begin either by driving from Pokhara or taking a flight from Pokhara to Jomsom. Lo-Manthang is the ultimate destination of the Upper Mustang Trek, while Muktinath is the destination of other Mustang treks. Lo Manthang is the walled capital city of the former Lo Kingdom, surrounded by rolling red hills and jagged cliffs. The city has ancient temples, museums, monasteries and much more. It is recommended to spend an extra day here just to wander around. Muktinath is a beautiful temple, nestled right beneath the Himalayas. Pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters here in hopes of attaining moksha (liberation).
If you can come during the Tiji festival, do! It is a brilliant three-day celebration in Lo-Manthang to pray for peace to prevail on Earth. The festival is celebrated to mark the victory of Buddha’s incarnation over the demon that had been wreaking havoc in the region during ancient times. During the festival, Buddhist monks in the monastery perform an entertaining dance ceremony.
Though it is a barren, desolate and, Upper Mustang Region is full of character. It has desert caves and red hills, with pockets of lush, green oases. Also, the Annapurna massif and other peaks can be seen during the treks. Come explore this undisturbed land, surrounded by caves, unique rock formations, and choppy Himalayan peaks.