Mustang, a remote district of Nepal, is one of those places where time has stood still. Things are rapidly changing however. It is time to go to Mustang now.
Mustang: the Forbidden Kingdom
Off limits for foreigners till 1992, the Kingdom of Mustang is one of the only places in the Himalayas where authentic Tibetan Buddhism can still be experienced in its most colourful way. Due to its strategic location, near the border with Tibet, the Nepali government had a very strict policy for entering Mustang where only escorted trekking groups were allowed to enter. A high permit of about 500 USD for 10 days was another barrier for many travellers.
Although the permit still exists, it is now much easier to travel and trek to Mustang, and there are other options than a rough camping trek to the capital of Lo Manthang.
Roadbuilding and lodges in Mustang
As in many parts of the Himalayas road construction has been going on in Mustang for the last decades. An adventurous jeeptrack winds it way over high passes and along deep gorges from Jomsom to Lo Manthang. Hardliners cover the distance in one or two days, but why hurry if there is so much natural beauty to experience ?
Apart from the road, new lodges are being built in several villages along the trail. Staying with local families who had a couple of rooms to rent was possible before, but nowadays more comfortable lodges (to Mustang standards !) are coming up. Don’t expect it to be fancy, but a good bed in a clean accommodation is available. Some of them (but not all) have rooms with ensuite facilities. All are charming, providing a warm Mustang welcome and unbeatable views. Expectations are that in the coming years more upmarket hotels will turn up.
The traditional way to reach Lo Manthang is to go trekking. Most people spent about 10 days in Mustang to trek from Kagbeni to Lo Manthang and back. There are some slight variations on the trail to avoid coming back completely the same way. If you have more time you can add some extra days to explore the rock monastery of Luri Gompa. The trek in Mustang can be done in a camping formula, though lodges are available along the trail.
The Mustang trek is considered one of the most rewarding treks in Nepal in terms of mountain scenery and ethnic authenticity. The barren landscape is constantly changing and some whitecapped peaks like Nilgiri accompany you on the trail. Regularly you pass through villages where time has stood still and where you can visit small buddhist monasteries.
Those with less time might find the option of taking a jeepride to Lo Manthang attractive. Be prepared for one of the most impressive jeepdrives in the Himalayas over high passes and along hair raising ‘roads’. However, it saves you some days and can be a good alternative if you’re not ‘into trekking’.
Another option that is becoming populair is mountainbiking in Mustang. Quite an adventure, but accessible due to the roadbuilding project.
A very recent trend is to travel by helicopter. Helicopters can be chartered on a private basis from Kathmandu or Pokhara, dropping you near Lo Manthang for a short stay. Travellers who go for the helicopter tours mostly combine this with a visit to Annapurna Base Camp or other sights in the Annapurna area.
- Best period to travel is from May to October, depending on how harsh winter is. In spring their still might be snow on the passes. Mustang is one of the few summer destinations in Nepal. In spring you can witness the Tiji or Tenchi festival in Lo Manthang.
- Getting to Kagbeni (the gateway to Mustang) is easy by taking a 20 minute flight from Pokhara to Jomsom. From Jomsom it only takes a couple of hours walking to reach Kagbeni. If flights are not operating (which happens quite often) you can take a jeep from Pokhara up to Jomsom – Kagbeni (about 10 hours drive). Chartering a helicopter might be another option and can be quite affordable if you get 5-6 people together.
- Permits: permits are still necessary and cost 500 USD for 10 days (+50 USD per extra day). You will also need a TIMS-card. Permits can be arranged easily through our trekking agency.
We organise tailormade trips to Mustang. Have a look a our sample trekking itinerary.