Majestic Mustang – Land Beyond the Himalayas
Manang and Mustang are two districts of Nepal that lie on the other side of the mountains, and hence, both districts are known as the land beyond the Himalayas.
“Mustang is one of the few places in the Himalayan region that has been able to retain its traditional Tibetan culture unmolested...authentic Tibetan culture now survives only in exile and a few places like Mustang, which have had long historical and cultural ties with Tibet.” -The Dalai Lama
Mustang lies on the northern part of the Annapurna Region, near the Tibetan border. Once an isolated and independent Tibetan Kingdom, Mustang is a true paradise. Mustang has long preserved the Tibetan culture and tradition and has retained its very rugged and mystical history. Mustang is segregated as Lower and Upper Mustang. Lower Mustang is one of the most popular travel destinations in the country attracting thousands of tourists, both national and international, annually.
However, Upper Mustang is not easily accessible. International tourists have to pay the permit fee, which is US $500 for 10 days, and additional days cost $50 per day. Nepali tourists do not have to pay this entrance or the permit fee. Also known as the last forbidden kingdom, Upper Mustang provides the experience of an age-old Tibetan culture and tradition that has been isolated, preserved, and untouched ever since.
Unlike most trekking and travelling destinations in Nepal, Lower Mustang, the mystical and magical kingdom of Lo, can be travelled at any time of the year. The region itself is a rain shadow area, meaning that the area experiences very little rainfall or no monsoon at all. However, there are certain things to take care of if you’re planning a trip to Mustang trip during the monsoon season because the transport connections to the region are a lot trickier during this season due to wet roads, mud, and landslides.
How to Get There
A local vehicle, either bus or micro, is available from Kathmandu to Beni, which is about 300 km ride from the capital. You can even stay at Pokhara on the first day and leave for Jomsom the next day. The local bus for Jomsom leaves at a specific time from Beni, so it is recommended to drive till Beni so that you won’t be late to catch the bus in time, plus it is budget friendly as well given how expensive Pokhara is.
Lower Mustang is also accessible via air. The flight is available from Pokhara to Jomsom (the headquarter of Mustang). As Pokhara gets the highest rainfall in the country during the monsoon season, flight schedules are affected, which in turn may delay the trip to Mustang. So, make sure to plan ahead of time and also have several buffer days in between the trip if you are planning to visit during the monsoon season.
If you're a travel enthusiast and love hiking, I recommend trekking from Lete to Jomsom. Experience nature and the beautiful scenery along the way, which will enrich your Mustang trip even more.
Along most of the trekking routes in Nepal, budget friendly teahouses are popular. Mustang is no exception. Apart from these tea houses, Mustang also offers some comfortable stay options, which are available in Jomsom and Kagbeni.
The cost of stay might vary from NRs 300 to NRs 1000 depending on where you decide to stay – teahouses or the comfy hotel rooms.
The whole Mustang trip might cost somewhere around NRs 12000.
Places to Visit in Lower Mustang
The holy temple of Muktinath lies at an altitude of 3800m above sea level. Muktinath holds significance in both Hinduism and Buddhism.
For Hindus, it is the Moksh Kshetra, meaning the place of liberation. Tibetan Buddhists revere the temple because it is an important place of Dakinis, goddesses known as sky dancers. Muktinath is also one of the 24 tantric places.
It is believed that showering in the 108 holy taps and diving in the water pool will wash away all the sins.
Kagbeni is the gateway to reach Upper Mustang, the starting point. This peculiar town lies at the bottom of the Muktinath Valley along the shore of Kaligandaki River. A small stream divides the two distinct parts of Kagbeni. On one side there are new settlements, whereas on the other side is the old town preserving the essence of the vintage Kagbeni.
One of the major landmarks here is the red monastery built at the conjunction of the two rivers. This signifies the holy place in Buddhism.
A sacred Buddhist lake about 5.5 km away from Jomsom, Dhumba Lake is a clearwater lake with mesmerizing beauty. Legend has it that the lake once, mysteriously, turned red on its own. After performing religious ceremonies and rituals from the Tibetan Buddhists, the lake finally changed to its natural color. The lake is considered sacred ever since.
Travel Fact: Upper Mustang was not accessible for international tourists until 1992. Jomsom airport also came into existence in the same year and has been providing the service ever since.
Mustang Trip Plan
Day 1: Kathmandu to Beni (Kathmandu to Pokhara only if one wants to relax and chill in the comfy hotels and pubs before the trip gets a whole lot bumpier towards Jomsom)
Day 2: Beni to Jomsom to Dhumba Lake to Jomsom
Day 3: Jomsom to Muktinath and Kagbeni to Jomsom
Day 4: Jomsom to Pokhara and spend the evening on the shore of Phewa Lake with some soothing music coming from the pubs and bars around the lake
Day 5: Pokhara to Kathmandu