Sky Caves & the Last Nomads of Upper Mustang Trek - Nepal

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'Mustang is a centre of the sky, the middle of the earth … the head of all rivers where horses grow swift.'
- Sienna Craig, 'Horses Like Lightening'

Our Kamzang Journeys trek into remote Upper Mustang is one of this breathtakingly beautiful region's most interesting and far-flung treks, following old salt-trade caravan trails into Mustang's most remote regions. No other company camps with the nomads, and we also go to little visited regions and Buddhist 'sky caves' of Upper Mustang which we've explored over the past few years.
And a 17-day Upper Mustang permit!

Situated in the rain shadow of the Dhaulagiri range, the Buddhist kingdom of Mustang is one of Nepal's most diverse and spectacularly beautiful regions. Sculpted canyons and fantastic rock formations, traditional, white-washed Tibetan-style villages, crumbling fortresses, royal palaces, unexplored cave complexes, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and Himalayan snow-peaks characterize this spectacular region, a thumb sticking up into the Tibetan plateau.

Trekking Mustang's most remote routes, we venture deep into the realm of the last nomads of Mustang (and perhaps Nepal), still living their traditional migratory lifestyle on the high plateaus bordering Tibet. We'll trek along the eastern, winter route from the mythical walled city of Lo Manthang and explore the forgotten 'sky-caves' (some we're some of the only Westerners to visit) as well as the renown Luri Gompa and Tashi Kabum, filled with some of the most exquisite murals of the Tibetan Buddhist world and dating back to ancient times.

We camp at some of Mustang's most far-flung villages such as Dhe, Ghara, Yara and Tangge, enjoying a distinctive cup of salt-butter tea and bartering for locally-woven textiles with the villagers.

Upper Mustang and its walled capital, Lo Manthang, is a remote and starkly beautiful region, home to Tibetan Buddhism as well as the remnants of the more mystical Bon religion which pre-dates Buddhism. Mustang was first explored by a handful of intrepid Himalayan travelers and pilgrims in in the 50s and 60s, and we continue in their spirit of exploration. We journey along some of the least known routes to the more isolated villages in this sun-drenched region, often following the rocky Kali Gandaki river-bed, other times trekking on spectacular trails high above it, and descending through marvelously sculpted and multi-hued gorges.

+ Sadly, the King of Mustang Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista passes away in December 2016 +

Don't miss this journey!

Trip

Day 1 - Sunday, 19 March 2017 - Arrive Kathmandu
Day 2 - Kathmandu
Day 3 - Fly Pokhara
Day 4 - Fly Jomsom. Trek Kagbeni
Day 5 - Trek Chhungar
Day 6 - Trek Tetang (cross Gyu La 4080m)
Day 7 - Trek Paha
Day 8 - Trek Tangge (cross Paha Tangge La 4185m)
Day 9 - Trek Dhe (cross Dhe La 4245m)
Day 10 - Trek Yara
Day 11 - Trek Ghara (visit Luri Gompa)
Day 12 - Trek Chodzong Gompa Camp (cross Ghara La 4380m)
Day 13 - Trek Northern Mesa Camp
Day 14 - Trek Sam Dzong - Exploratory
Day 15 - Trek Lo Manthang
Day 16 - Lo Manthang
Day 17 - Lo Manthang (option Rinchin Ling or Konchok Ling Caves)
Day 18 - Trek Nomads Camp
Day 19 - Trek Tsarang (via Lo Gekar)
Day 20 - Trek Geling (cross Ghemi La 3520m + Nyi La 4010m)
Day 21 - Trek Chhusang (cross Syangboche La 3825m)
Day 22 - Drive Jomsom
Day 23 - Fly Pokhara + Kathmandu
Day 24 - Kathmandu
Day 25 - Wednesday, 12 April 2017 - Depart

Chitwan Wildlife Sanctuary Extension
Day 23 - Fly Pokhara. Drive Chitwan Maruni Sanctuary Lodge
Day 24 - Chitwan Wildlife Safari
Day 25 - Chitwan Wildlife Safari
Day 26 - Fly Kathmandu
Day 27 - Monday, 11 April 2016 - Depart

Chitwan National Park | Maruni Sanctuary Lodge
Chitwan + Tharu Villages Wildlife Safari

Add Ons
Kathmandu World Heritage Sightseeing Tour | Pashupatinath, Boudhanath + Swayambunath (+$75)
Kathmandu Durbar Square Walking Tour | Durbar Square (+$50)
Bhaktapur Heritage Sightseeing Tour (+$100)
Patan Heritage Sightseeing Tour (+$50)
Extra Trek Day Gandruk (+105)
Extra Day Chitwan (+$125)
Everest Sightseeing Flight (+$250)
Extension Shivapuri Heights Cottage (+75 Night Depending on Room)
Cycling Trip in Kathmandu Valley (+Trip Price)

Nepal Modules
Nepal & Kathmandu Modules | Customize Your Trip!

NOTE
Make sure you have good travel + travel medical insurance for your own protection!

Highlights+Reviews

Trip Advisor Reviews

Client Comments
I have done numerous treks in the Himalayan region over the last 25 years, and I would rate Kamzang Journeys at the top of my list for trekking companies. Excellent service, attention to detail, great food, good equipment, friendly and competent staff. We had far more snow than normal on our March-April trek, and alternate plans were made while sticking as much as possible to the original itinerary. The crew went above and beyond to help us get where we wanted to go. Pay attention to the trip description. They travel to out of the way places and take the more difficult route - on purpose!
- Kate C (USA), Sky Caves & Last Nomads of Mustang Trek 2015

I must say that on reflection there was a lot more that I got out this trek than I initially realized. We faced many challenges due to unseasonal weather but Kim and Lhakpa always found a way to get us where we needed to be. Kamzang Journeys provides a unique experience that is backed by professionals who go out of their way to make the trek as exciting and enjoyable as possible. Would really recommend Kamzang Journeys to anyone who is looking for a great Himalayan experience!
- Greg W (Australia), Sky Caves & Last Nomads of Mustang Trek 2015

Thanks again for the absolutely spectacular trip, and hopefully we won't delay nearly as long next time in making our way back to Nepal!
- Anne P (Canada), GHT | Nar Phu to Upper Mustang Trek 2014

Mustang is a must with Kim! In 2013 I was lucky enough to trek with Kim through the upper mustang region of Nepal. This was my second trip to Nepal but my first with Kamzang Journeys. Kim and her talented crew created a welcoming and safe environment to explore the upper mustang region including the highlight of visiting the last nomads in Nepal. Kim's organisational skills and connections in the region insured any unforeseen circumstances were dealt with humour and a minimum of fuss. I will never forget this experience and look forward to many years of trekking with Kim and Kamzang Journeys. Kim, Thanks to you & Lhakpa for the fantastic adventure you gave us! You kept us safe and gave us memories that will stay with us forever. I had so much fun and so many laughs, a Kamzang adventure!
- Sue W (Australia), GHT | Nar Phu to Upper Mustang Trek 2013

I did the Upper Mustang Trek in 2011 and the Upper Dolpo to Mustang Trek in 2012 with Kim and her outstanding crew, and am going back again this coming April. 
Kim is truly professional, reliable, safe and very organized. Kim and Lhakpa's knowledge of these remote countries make you feel so relaxed that you just enjoy the scenery everyday. They also know the people in the different villages we go through. At camp the food is excellent, clean and gear is top. 
It is an incredible experience!
 - Nan (France), Sky Caves & the Last Nomads of Mustang Trek 2011, Sacred Upper Dolpo to Mustang Trek 2012

Thank you for making this trip one of the most memorable ones in my lifetime. You have been a friend when I needed one, a leader when the group needed one, an impeccable organizer and a great conversationalist. I marvel at your unlimited energy.
- Shivan M (USA, India), Sky Caves & Last Nomads of Mustang Trek 2011

Read More Testimonials
Trekker's Comments

Trek Highlights

  • 17-day Upper Mustang Permit
  • A unique insight into 'Old Tibet'
  • Lo Manthang, Mustang's ancient walled city
  • The most far-flung of Mustang's medieval & colorful villages
  • Camping with Tibetan nomads & their yaks and sheep in their high plateau camps
  • 'Sky-cave' monasteries with exquisite murals
  • Luri Gompa & Tashi Kabum
  • Fortresses, palaces & cave hermitages
  • Tibetan Buddhist monasteries
  • Incredible sculpted valleys and wild rock formations
  • Some of the best Himalayan panoramas in Nepal (including Annapurna l nearly every day)
  • The Kali Gandaki gorge & fossil collecting
  • Our hidden, sacred Upper Mustang!

Kim Bannister Photo Gallery | Trip + Trek Photos
Kim Bannister Photography

Kamzang Journeys | Country + Regional Photos
Kamzang Journeys Photos

Kamzang Journeys Group Photos
Group Photos

Himalayan Photos
Himalayan Wildlife Photos

Himalayan Bird Photos

Himalayan Flower Photos

Market + Street Food Photos
Asian Markets + Street Food

Travel Reading | Enhance Your Trip!
Travel Books

Articles + Videos on Mustang

Myths & Mountains in Nepal | New York Times

Last King of Mustang Dies at 86 - My Republica

Last King of Remote Buddhist Kingdom Dies in Nepal - Indian Express

Before They Pass Away (Photos) | Jimmy Nelson

Sky Caves of Nepal | National Geographic

Cave People of the Himalaya | PBS

Mustang: Lives & Landscape of the Lost Tibetan Kingdom (photo essay) | Global Oneness Project

New Death Ritual Found in Himalaya | National Geographc

Mustang, a Kingdom on the Edge | Al Jazeera

Mustang, a Kingdom on the Edge (YouTube) | Al Jazeera

The Ancient Mysteries of Mustang's Caves | BBC

Himalayan Art | Mustang Cave Art

Nepal Diary: A Gift of Sight Expedition

Buddhists, Reconstructing Sacred Tibetan Murals, Wield Their Brushes in Nepal | New York Times

Earth Door Sky Door - Paintings of Mustang by Robert Powell | Asian Art

Modernizing Mustang

A Fortress in the Sky: The Last Forbidden Kingdom of Tibetan Culture (Photo Essay) | Washington Post

Foreign Correspondent: The Road | ABC

Himalayan Healers | Nepali Times

Mustang, the Kingdom of Lo (exerpts from Kamzang Journeys)

Documentaries + Movies on Mustang
Secrets of Shangri La: Quest for Sacred Caves | National Geographic | Leisl Clark (Director)
YouTube Download
YouTube Preview

Mustang: Hidden World Beyond the Himalaya | Ghang-Tuk Tsokpa Film (available in Kathmandu)
YouTube Preview

Date+Price

2017 Dates
19 March - 12 April
25 Days

2017 Trek Price
$4680

+ Single Upgrade Hotel Rooms - $165
+ Single Upgrade Pokhara, Jomsom + Kagbeni Hotel Rooms Only - $65
+ Single Upgrade Luxury Hotel Rooms - $495
+ NO Single Supplement for Trek (Single Tents!)

Chitwan Extension
$500

Includes

  • Western + Sherpa Guide | Kim + Lhakpa Sherpa
  • Upper Mustang Permit
  • Annapurna Conservation Area Permit
  • Kathmandu Guest House
  • Hotels En Route to Trek
  • Group Transportation by Private Vehicle
  • Airport Transfers
  • Domestic Flights + Departure Taxes
  • NO Single Supplement on Trek
  • Kamzang Journeys Trekking
    Marmot (or similar) tents, 'gourmet' food with seasonal, fresh produce, French-press coffee, chai, Kashmiri + herbal teas, Katadyn filtered drinking water, warm washing water, library, 'lounge' with colorful Indian rugs, camp chairs, blankets, occasional tent music in evenings, oxygen & PAC bag (when needed), full medical kit, horses, yaks or porters, Western, Sherpa & local guides (when needed), our 5-star Kamzang staff + the signature yellow Kamzang dining tent. NO single supplement for single tents on trek!

Safety & Health Precautions

  • Thuraya Satellite Phone
  • InReach Satellite Messaging System (Free Texts on Trek)
  • Updated Route Published on InReach Site
  • Helicopter Evacuation Services (excluding cost of evacuation)
  • Oxygen Saturation Monitoring System
  • PAC Bag (Portable Oxygen Chamber)
  • Full Medical Kit + Stretcher
  • Kayadyn Filtered Drinking Water
  • Safe, sanitary, delicious & plentiful food + drinks

Excludes

  • International Flights
  • Travel Medical + Travel Insurance (both required)
  • Nepal Visa
  • Helicopter Evacuation
  • Meals (while not on trek)
  • Monastery Donations
  • Equipment Rental
  • Alcohol, Sodas & Packaged Drinks
  • Laundry
  • Tips

Tips & Extra Cash
Allow approx $250 for meals (while not on trek), drinks (on trek) and tips. We recommend at least $200 per trekker thrown into the tips pool for the crew.

Contact+Details

Trekker's Comments
Travel Books

Kamzang Journeys Contact
Kim Bannister
kim@kamzang.com
Mobile: +(977) 9803414745
On-Trek Satellite Phone: +88216 21277980 (Nepal)
On-Trek Satellite Phone: +88216 21274092 (Tibet & India)

Kathmandu Contact
Khumbu Adventures
hiking.guide@gmail.com
Office: +(977) 01 4488352
Lhakpa Dorji Sherpa Mobile: +(977) 9841 235461, 9813 371542
Doma Sherpa Mobile: +(977) 9841 510833, 9803 675361

InReach Explorer
We have a MapShare page that works for sending emails to our InReach messaging device. Give this link to people who want to follow us and have them send us a message so we have their email in the system. We can email them back directly Please tell people not to expect updates every day. There is a ‘message’ button on the top left, and the message sender needs to put their EMAIL address instead of phone number to get a response. Messages are free, enjoy.

Follow Us on Facebook
Kamzang Journeys Facebook
I will post InReach updates to our Kamzang Journeys Facebook page if friends & family want to follow our progress.

Satellite Phone
We carry a satellite phone with us for emergencies. Send us a free message at the online Thuraya link below. We can call you back or email you back. If you want a return call or email include your contact info. You can send this in two SMSs if needed.
Kim Satellite: +88216 (21277980)
Lhakpa Satellite: +88216 (87710076)
Thuraya

Arrival Hotel
Kathmandu Guest House

Pokhara Hotel
Lake View Resort
Single Upgrade - $40
Single or Double Upgrade AC Cottage - $65

Kathmandu Guest House Single or Double Upgrades | 4 Nights
Garden Single - $100
Deluxe Single or Double - $400

Kathmandu Guest House Extra Nights
Includes breakfast + 25% taxes
Book with Kamzang Journeys + save on room rates

Kathmandu Guest House | Room Prices
Standard Single - $80
Standard Double - $100
Garden Single - $120
Garden Double - $140
Deluxe Single - $200
Deluxe Double - $220

Kamzang Journeys | Room Prices
Standard Single - $55
Standard Double - $75
Garden Single - $80
Garden Double - $100
Deluxe Single - $160
Deluxe Double - $180

Extra Days in Kathmandu | Customize your Journey!
We have plenty of great suggestions for extra days, or weeks, in Nepal! See our Nepal & Kathmandu Modules | Customize Your Trip! to put together the perfect journey.

Mountain biking, rafting, vespa tours or yoga retreats around the Kathmandu valley or Pokhara, trips to Bhaktapur or Patan (Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities), a visit to the Newari temple of Changu Narayan and a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for sublime Himalayan panoramas, an Everest sightseeing flight, a luxurious stay at Temple Tree Resort & Spa, paragliding, hiking or zip-lining in Pokhara, a spa & wellness getaway at Dwarikas Resort in Dhulikhel, a relaxing excursion to Chitwan National Park Wildlife Safari & Tharu Villages (staying at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge) or Bardia National Park, a weekend of adventure, sauna and pampering at The Last Resort or five-star treatment in historic Dwarika's in Kathmandu.

Kamzang Journeys can customize any of these excursions for you, just inquire!

Kathmandu
Kathmandu Happenings

Photo Gallery | Trip + Trek Photos
Kim Bannister Photography

Visas
You can get your Nepal visa either at the airport (or any land border) when you arrive in Nepal, or before you leave home.
Nepal Visa

Health Information
Nepal Health Information
CDC

We also recommend bringing probiotics with you to help prevent infections while on trek. Doctor's recommendation!

Travel Medical Insurance
Required for your own safely. We carry a copy of your insurance with all contact, personal and policy information with us on the trek and our office in Kathmandu keeps a copy. Note that we almost always trek over 4000 meters (13,000+ feet) and that we don't do any technical climbing with ropes, ice axes or crampons.

Global Rescue
We recommend that our trekkers also sign up for Global Rescue, which is rescue services only, as a supplement to your travel medical insurance.
Book package through Wicis-Sports via Carlota Fenes (carlota@wicis-media.com)

Wicis-Sports Wearable Tech | Sports Package
Live personal heath stats via a wearable chest strap heart rate monitor.
Track your vitals (heart rate, temperature, oxygen saturation), the weather, GPS locations, altitude, speed, bearing and stream LIVE via a Thuraya satellite hot spot. Partners: OCENS (weather), Global Rescue, Aspect Solar.

"Thuraya Telecom + WiCis Sports offer connectivity to Himalayan treks + expeditions"

"Founded in 2011 by Harvard and Stanford anesthesiologist Dr. Leo Montejo and located in the Lake Tahoe area, the company’s goal is to promote the use of mHealth and tracking devices to make adventure sports safer and engage their followers with real time data that is either private or also available to social medial platforms."

Book package through Wicis-Sports via Carlota Fenes (carlota@wicis-media.com)

Medical
We have a full medical kit with us including Diamox (for acclimatizing), antibiotics, inhalers, bandages, re-hydration, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs etc. but please bring a supply of all prescription and personal medications. Kim has First Aid, CPR and Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certifications as well as many years of experience with altitude in the Himalaya but is NOT a qualified medic or doctor, so please have a check-up before leaving home, and inform us of any medical issues. This is for YOUR OWN safety.

DO bring all prescription medications and good rehydration/electrolytes. We advise bringing your own Diamox, Ciprofloxin, Azithromyacin & Augmentin. We have all of these with us but the Western versions are always better than the Indian equivalents.

PAC Bag + Oxygen
We carry a Portable Oxygen Chamber, or Gammow Bag, with us on many treks. There is no charge for use of the PAC bag but oxygen is $300 per canister (cost price, pass on to insurance company).

Notes on Itinerary
Although we try to follow the itinerary below, it is ONLY a guideline based on years of experience trekking in the Himalaya. At times local trail, river or weather conditions may make a deviation necessary; rivers may be impassible, snow blocks passes, and landslides wipe out trails. The trekking itinerary and campsites may also vary slightly depending on the group's acclimatization rate or sickness.

The Himalaya are our passion, and we take trekking seriously. Although everyone is here on vacation, please come with a dollop of patience and compassion added to your sense of adventure ...

Arrival Kathmandu

Arrival
You will be met at the airport by the Kathmandu Guest House van or our Kamzang Journeys driver. Look for a sign with your name on it AND the Kathmandu Guest House sign. You will be driven to the Kathmandu Guest House (or the hotel of your choice) where your rooms have been booked for you. Kim will meet you at the Kathmandu Guest House to go over details and get you settled into Kathmandu.

Arrival Hotel
Kathmandu Guest House

Visas
You can get your Nepal visa either at the airport (or any land border) when you arrive in Nepal, or before you leave home.
Nepal Visa

Temperatures + Clothing
Kathmandu during trekking season, in the spring and autumn, is usually warm (t-shirt, sandals, light pants or skirts) during the day, and gets chilly (light fleece or windproof top) in the afternoon. Nights can be cold enough for a sweater or light jacket, or warm enough for t-shirts. Summer is hotter and wetter; you’ll need a rain jacket and umbrella. The winter months (November – March) are chilly in the mornings and evenings, cold enough that you might start the day in a down jacket, but often warms up enough to wear a t-shirt by mid-day. Nights get cold enough for a down jacket if you’re sitting outside in the spring and autumn, and much colder in the winter when you won’t leave the hotel without your down jacket. It never snows in Kathmandu, leave your snow boots behind. Keens or lightweight sandals great for wandering around Kathmandu, and for trekking in lower altitudes.

Trekking is a mixed bag of temperatures. LAYERS are the key as hot can change quickly to freezing crossing the passes and snowfalls are common. We often have some rain below 3000 meters in the spring and early autumn, and it can rain hard in the summer. Have a wide range of layer-able trekking clothes for summer to winter temperatures. Keep a lightweight down jacket or synthetic jacket with you at all times, available inexpensively in Kathmandu. A lightweight rain poncho and umbrella for trekking recommended spring and summer. Be prepared! See our GEAR LIST for full details on gear, shoes, clothing, electronics and meds for the trek.

There are lots of real gear shops (North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Sherpa Gear) and of course many fake ones in Kathmandu, so if you don't think you have the right gear starting the trip it will be easy to pick-up stuff once in Kathmandu. We have sleeping bags, duffel bags down jackets to rent.

Dress conservatively in Kathmandu and on the trail as a rule. Shorts are okay if they aren't too short, mini skirts aren’t recommended. Sleeveless t-shirts are absolutely fine, but perhaps avoid tank-tops on the trail. Super tight doesn't go over so well with the village elders. Many of the younger generation in Nepal wear modern Indian or Western-influenced clothes, but remember that you haven't signed up for a beach or surf vacation. Use your good judgment, be an ambassador for western tourists! Please ask Kim or your guide if unsure about appropriate clothing.

Duffel Bags
We have North Face style duffel bags with Kamzang Journeys logos for sale (XL, orange). They are (mostly) waterproof, mid to lightweight (lighter than North Face) and good quality. Price 4000 NRP (about $40)

Cultural Issues
Nepalis are very open and welcoming, but there are a few issues you should be aware of to make your stay in Nepal more fulfilling. Use your right hand to pass things, shake hands or do most anything. Left hands are somewhat taboo. Nepali's often place their left hand on the right forearm when passing things to others, a sign of respect. Best not to pat kids on heads, or point feet ahead of you at monasteries. Don't walk over someone's legs or feet, but put your hand down in front of you to signal them to pull their legs to the side. Take off shoes and hats when going into Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, don't use flashes inside monasteries or temples in general, be respectful of a puja (prayer ceremony) if attending one. You can talk, all religious are very tolerant, but be aware of your level of voice.

Nepalis don't anger quickly, so try not to raise your voice if exasperated or angry as it only will make a situation worse. Do bargain at shops, with taxis and rickshaws, but don't fleece them. They are poor and making a living, generally.

Give small donations on the streets if you choose, but try not to encourage begging too much. Be aware of who you are giving money to, and please only give small amounts. If you do want to donate to a cause, ask about our Kamzang Fund or other responsible organizations.

Pampering Yourself in Kathmandu
We’re happy to book your rooms before or after the trek (or upgrade during the trek) at other boutique or luxury hotels in Kathmandu. We recommend Dwarika’s, Shangri-La, Yak & Yeti or Hyatt. We can also direct you to wonderful spa & massage centers in Kathmandu.

Tips for Staff
We recommend at least $200 per person to go into the tip pool for the staff. Please bring Nepali Rupees (NRP) with you on the trek for the tips. It’s nice to buy the staff drinks on the last night. Or any other night that you feel like getting them a bottle of Kukure Rum!

Tips in General
Tips are always appreciated but they don’t need to be extravagant. 100 NRP to carry bags to/from your room is fine. The women who clean your room will be happy with 100-200 NRP when you leave, and 100 NRP is good for drivers to/from the airport. Round up taxi fares. A larger tip would be expected for a daytrip in a car, perhaps 500 NRP. 10% is included in most restaurant and hotel bills in Nepal, and if it’s not included it’s still expected. Check your bills, and still round up at restaurants. Feel free to give out small change to the beggars in the streets (5, 10, 20 NRP) but try not to give it out to the street kids who use it for glue to sniff.

Cash + ATMs
You’ll want some cash with you on the trek for drinks, snacks, beer, sodas, etc. There are often  chances to during the trek, and usually local crafts to buy en route. (You’ll want your tip money in NRP as well). There are ATMs in KTM but they don’t dispense large amounts of cash (usually 10-20,000 NRP) so you’ll be best with currency or TCs to change.

International Medical Center Kathmandu
CIWEC

Kathmandu + Kathmandu Valley Information
Our personalized 'Insider' list of things to do, places to go, what to visit, the most happening restaurants + the best hotels in Kathmandu and the beautiful Kathmandu Valley.
Happenings in Kathmandu

Gear List

Travel Photography Gear Guide
The Complete Guide to Gear for the Landscape Photographer

Gear List
This is a guideline, not a bible, for the gear you will need on the trek. Ask if you have questions! One 15 kg (33 lbs) maximum weight limit for the duffel bag for flights. 20 kg (50 lbs) weight limit for treks.

  • Duffel Bag
  • Day Pack (35-45 L)
  • Sleeping Bag (-20F/-30C recommended)
  • Down Jacket
  • Trekking Boots
  • Air Mattress
  • Crocs (evenings & washing) 

  • Hiking Sandals | Running Shoes (REQUIRED for river crossings)
  • Trekking Pants (2-3)
  • T-Shirts (3)
  • Long-sleeve Trekking Shirts (2-3)
  • Trekking Jacket
  • Gortex (or similar) Jacket & Pants
  • Fleece or Thermal Top (evenings)
  • Fleece or Thermal Bottoms (evenings)
  • Lightweight Long Underwear (to sleep in or layer under clothes)
  • Socks (5)
  • Gloves
  • Wool Hat
  • Baseball Cap or Wide-brimmed Hat
  • Camp Towel
  • Trekking Poles (optional, recommended)
  • Down Booties (optional, recommended)
  • Sunglasses (2)
  • Water Bottles | Nalgenes (2-3)
  • Bladder (optional, recommended)
  • Toiletries, Sunscreen with SPF, Lip Balm with SPF
  • Watch (with alarm)
  • Extra Batteries
  • Battery Chargers
  • Head Lamp 
(2)
  • Water Purifying Tablets, Small Water Filter or Steripen
  • Camp Washing Bowl (optional, collapsible for clothes)
  • Laundry Detergent (Kathmandu) or Bio-degradable Clothes Soap
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Small Solar Panel (optional, recommended for iPods, iPhones, camera batteries, Kindles)
  • Book(s)
  • Zip-Lock | Plastic Bags
  • Soft Toilet Paper | Tissues (we supply toilet paper but you will want something softer for blowing your nose)
  • Baby-Wipes | Wet-Wipes (for personal cleaning)
  • Handi-Wipes, J-Cloth or Chux (optional: easy for a quick daytime clean, fast drying)
  • Rehydration | Electrolytes
  • Snacks!
  • Personal Medical Supplies

NOTE: We have a 'dress code' for the evenings in the tent, which essentially means you'll be changing out of your trekking clothes and into clean, dry evening clothes!

Medical Supplies
We strongly suggest bringing Western meds with you as there are a lot of Indian fakes on the market!

Suggested: Diamox, Azithromyacin, Ciprofloxacin, Tinidazole or Flagyl & Augmentin. Bring COMPEED for covering blisters & good tasting electrolytes &/or rehydration salts (Emergen-C is a good American brand). The local versions aren’t very appealing.
We also recommend bringing strong knee & ankle supports & braces, ACE bandages for sprains & strains, Tegaderm &/or other would coverings. Duct tape is always useful. We're happy to take excess medical supplies off your hands when you leave if you won't need them and pass them on to others. We use lots of the large amount we have with us to treat locals as well as our own trekkers ...

NOTE: We have a 'dress code' for the evenings in the tent, which essentially means you'll be changing out of your trekking clothes and into clean, dry evening clothes!

Comments on Gear
Layers are essential for trekking. Quality is more important than quantity. It’s worth investing in the great, newer lightweight trekking gear available in all gear shops, online or in Kathmandu.

Kim's Gear Suggestions: I generally wear a trekking t-shirt, light trekking pants, a mid-weight shirt, a lightweight synthetic jacket (instead of a fleece), a lightweight jacket and pants for wind and rain. If the weather looks stormy or it’s a pass day I carry a lightweight down jacket and a storm-weight jacket. I always have a pair of lightweight gloves (heavier ones additionally for pass days), a hat, a baseball cap and an extra pair of socks in my day-pack. I generally trek in low Merrill hiking shoes, and Keen boots on very cold days and over passes. I always carry Crocs with me in case of river crossings, or to air my feet at lunch. I carry a 38 L (although it looks larger) Black Diamond day pack although I also love Osprey packs. On pass days I carry Yak Trax and trekking poles, and I always have an extra pair of sunglasses, electrolytes, my camera, a medical kit, a Steripen, snacks and lots of water in my pack. My favorite gear brands available in Kathmandu are Sherpa Gear, Mountain Hardwear and Marmot. I wear lots of Patagonia gear although it's not available in Kathmandu.

Good trekking boots are essential. High boots are best, but you don’t need climbing or plastic boots (for mini-crampons or micro-spikes). You can also get away with low, sturdy trekking boot, which I wear quite often except for over the passes. Trekking poles are not required but strongly recommended, especially for going down passes which are often steep and icy and for treks with river crossings. Bring gators if you tend to use them but they’re not required if you don't own a pair. Micro-spikes (mini-crampons) or YakTraxs are almost always useful (or essential) for the pass crossings. We will have at least one ice ax with us. It’s also good (possibly essential) to have a pair of plastic Crocs for washing and to wear in the lodges in the evenings. Tevas take a long time to dry and are relatively heavy.

Good, polarized sunglasses are essential. Do bring an extra pair. Don’t forget a sun hat and/or a baseball cap, an extra headlamp and have plenty of sunscreen and lip balm with SPF!

The weather is changeable in the Himalaya, so again I recommend that everyone has a strong, WATERPROOF duffel bag for the trip (although they do tend to weigh more). We supply covers that go over the duffel bags to protect them from rain, dirt & rips.

Nights are chilly to cold, so a down jacket and a WARM sleeping bag are essentials. For your sleeping bag, we recommend a DOWN bag of 0 to -20 F (-18 to -28 C). Mine is -20 F. At lower altitudes I open it and sleep under it like a quilt and up higher am toasty warm during the cold nights. Campsites near passes can get COLD. Rentals available. The dining tent is a Tibetan style ‘yurt’, with blankets and camp chairs on the ground. It warms up in the evenings with the gas lamp but it is still important to have warm clothes for the evenings. I always use down booties which are great when it’s cold, but a pair of thick wool socks also work.

Bring extra large plastic bags or stuff-sacks in case of rain. You can pack electronics in them or stash your sleeping bag and clothes. The weather is changeable in the Himalaya, so again I recommend that everyone has a strong, WATERPROOF duffel bag for the trip. We supply covers that go over the duffel bags to protect them from rain, dirt & thorns.

Tents
Everyone gets their own Marmot Thor 2 tent without a single supplement. Singles have a 2-person tent and couples share a larger, 3-person version.

Daypack
We recommend a 35-45 liter day pack (ask at your gear shop if you’re not sure of the capacity). Better to have it too large than too small as on pass days you’ll need to carry more warm gear. Most have internal water bladders built in, which are good for ensuring that you stay hydrated. Make sure it fits and is comfortable before purchasing!

In your day pack, you will be carrying your camera, 2 liters of water, a jacket, wind & rain pants, hat, gloves, extra socks, sunscreen, snacks, electrolytes, water purifying tablets, filter, or Steripen, hand sanitizer, a pack-cover and often a down jacket. I slip my Crocs on the back in case of unexpected stream crossings or for lunch. Lhakpa & I carry small medical kits in our day packs.

Water
We bring KATADYN expedition-sized water filters along on the trek for fresh drinking water, ecologically the best way to get water in the Himalaya’s fragile trekking regions. Bring your own filter pump, Steripen/UV purifier or iodine/chlorine tablets for fresh water while trekking. NOTE: To be extra safe with your drinking water, you can drop one purifying tablet into your water bottle after filling with our filtered water. Make sure you wait the required amount of time before drinking, and don’t add anything with Vitamin C as this negates the iodine.

Please bring at least TWO (and better three) Nalgene, Sigg or other unbreakable plastic/metal water bottles. Camelbacks and other bladder systems are good for trekking but can leak, so as a back-up it’s best to also bring a Nalgene or other water bottle.

NOTE: We do not provide boiled water for drinking on either our tea-house/lodge or our camping treks although there is endless hot water for herbal, black or green teas, hot chocolate, hot lemon as well as Indian chai and Kashmiri tea.

Snacks
You will NEED snacks hiking at altitude, even if you’re not a snacker. People crave unusual foods at altitude!  Energy bars, ‘GU’ gels, chocolate bars, dried fruit & nuts, beef jerky (or whatever) are important to have along for long days, pre-lunch bonks and passes. Lemonade mix, Emergen-C or similar drink mixes are great to have for hot days in your water bottles, and it is ESSENTIAL to bring electrolytes with you every day.  

Bring something to share in the tent in the evenings if you want. Cheese is great as a treat on a cheese-board before dinner (Blue, Stilton, Yarlsburg, good Cheddar, Brie, etc). If you would like, bring a bit of your favorite and we’ll throw it on a cheese board for appetizers one night.

NOTE: Nothing besides your personal snack food is required, but it’s fun to see what everyone comes up with!  Almost all basics available in Kathmandu, so no need to over-load.

Rentals
We have Western down jackets to rent for $1.50 per day.  We also have good super-down sleeping bags to rent (0 to -10 F) for $2.50 per day.

Duffel Bags
We have North Face-style duffels with Kamzang logos for sale, S, L & XL. They’re very good quality and come in Orange (XL) for $40, Yellow (L) for $35, or Orange (XS) for $30.

Packing & Storage
It’s easiest to pack and unpack from a duffel bag, especially when the temperature drops, and easiest for porters to carry. Inexpensive and decent quality duffels are available in Kathmandu but it’s best to invest in a strong, waterproof duffel such as a North Face. You can store extra gear in Kathmandu at the Kathmandu Guest House storage room free of charge. Valuables can be stored at the Kathmandu Guest House in private safety-deposit boxes for 2 NRP per day.

Shopping
Almost all gear is now available in Kathmandu, from real (North Face, Mountain Hardwear, Sherpa Gear, Marmot shops in Thamel) to inexpensive knock-offs. The real gear shops take credit cards.

Upper Mustang

Mustang
Formerly the Kingdom of Lo and a part of the Western Tibetan Kingdom of Ngari, 'forbidden' Mustang has lured intrepid travelers to its remote realm for centuries, but only the most adventurous made it to this mountainous and inaccessible bastion of Tibetan Buddhism and its mythical walled city of Lo Manthang.

People have inhabited this harsh region for thousands of years, some of the early dwellers living or meditating in ancient caves, rich in Buddhist art, which pepper the bizarre rock formations. Mustang became part of the Yarlung Dynasty of central Tibet, later falling under the jurisdiction of the Malla Kingdom of Nepal (Jumla) and in the fifteenth century, the independent Kingdom of Lo was founded, ruling such other remote regions as Dolpo. It was only incorporated into the Kingdom of Nepal in 1951. Soon afterwards, renegade Khampa freedom fighters battling the Chinese used Mustang as a base of operations, and it was closed to all Westerners until 1992.

There are 9 sacred kabums, or cave monasteries, in Mustang, and an estimated 10,000 caves. Ka = 'teaching of Buddha' & bum = 'rimpoche'.

This mythical land north of the 8000 meter peaks Annapurna and Dhaulagiri still requires a special restricted area permit to enter, and numbers are limited, thus helping to preserve its unique heritage.

A Short History of Mustang

  • 7th century: Mustang was part of the Tibetan empire, and the mystic Milarepa spent a summer here in 651.
  • 11th century: Upper Mustang had followed the Bon religion, based on a cult of royal tombs and sacrifices. Upper Mustang was visited by masters from southwest Tibet. Lo was ruled by kings of western Tibet, and Buddhism was reestablished.
  • 13th -14th century: In the 13th century a Kashmiri scholar from Tibet, Sherap Rinchin, visited Mustang and translated 5 texts of the Tengyur. During the 13th & 14th centuries, Mustang was ruled by kings of Guntang in Tibet and protected by the fort in Muktinath. They had close ties with the Sakya sect of Buddhism in Tibet, which had the patronage of the Yuan dynasty in China. The fortresses may have been built to protect Mustang against the rulers of Jumla.
  • 14th century: There had been a practice of creamating 1/2 dozen men alive whenever a man died until the 14th century, which was put to an end along with the slaughter of animals. The Tibetan governor of Guntang's son, Chokyongbum, reconquered the western Tibet region of Purang (1380s) and gained governorship of Purang Fort (Barang?), presiding over Lo & Dolpo.
  • 14th - 15th century: Chokyongbum's son Ampel extended Lo's rule to include Purang & western Tibet. Lo gained independence from Guntang and gained an important fortress at Khacho.
  • 15th - early 17th century: Mustang went to war with Tibet in the 15th century. Mustang was called the Kingdom of Lo, and then dominated the salt trade along the Kali Gandaki River and throughout the Tibetan region . It was a wealthy and powerful region.
  • 17th century: Mustang was forced to pay levies (taxes) to the Kingdom of Jumla and came under their extended Kingdom.
  • 1795: Jumla was defeated by the Gorkhas and the Kingdom of Lo (Mustang) transferred its allegiances to Gorkha, which by then was the capital of a unified Nepal.
  • 1855: Lo supported Nepal against the Tibetans. The King of Nepal thus allowed the King of Mustang to keep his title of 'Raja of Mustang' although he had little politely power.

Birdlife
Hill and rock pigeons, crag martins, rose finches, pied wagtails, rock buntings, black redstarts, impeyan pheasants, grandala, snowcock and white-capped river chats, Himalayan griffin, lammergeiers, golden eagles (and many more).

Wildlife
Snow leopards, black bear, marmot, lynx, black wolf (chango), Himalayan wooly hare, blue sheep, red fox, pikas (and more).

Caves + Murals
"Mustang, the former Kingdom of Lo in northern Nepal, is home to one of the world’s great archaeological mysteries. In this dusty, wind-savaged place, hidden within the Himalayas and cleaved by the Kali Gandaki River, are approximately 10,000 human-built caves. In the mid-1990s, archaeologists from Nepal and the University of Cologne began exploring the stacked caves and found several dozen bodies, all at least 2,000 years old. Since then, groups have continued to investigate the remote Upper Mustang site, but no-one has discovered who built the caves."

"From Tombs to Homes. Scientists divide cave use in Upper Mustang into three periods. As early as 1000 BC, the caves were used as burial chambers. During the 10th Century, the region is thought to have been frequently battled over, and consequently, placing safety over convenience, families moved into the caves, turning them into living quarters. By the 1400s, the caves functioned as meditation chambers, military lookouts or storage units as people moved into villages.”

"In 2010, a team of mountaineers and archaeologists uncovered 27 human remains in Samdzong’s two biggest caves. The relatively intact skeletons – dating from the 3rd to the 8th Centuries, before Buddhism came to Mustang – had cut marks on the bones. Scientists believe that this burial ritual may have been related to the Buddhist practice of sky burial: to this day, when a citizen of Mustang dies, the body is sliced into small pieces, bones included, to be swiftly snatched up by vultures."

- Excerpts from The Ancient Mysteries of Mustang’s Caves, BBC

“In the 1990s, a high Himalayan cave in Upper Mustang, Nepal was discovered to contain 42 ancient people, buried on wooden bunk beds. American archaeologist Dr. Mark Aldenderfer believes there must be more burial caves … (His) theory is the funerary caves were carved out by the earliest people to have settled in the Himalaya. If he can find their remains and extract their DNA, he'll learn who these people were and what brought them to the toughest parts of the planet to live.

A series of burial caves are discovered above the riverbed, with human remains spilling forth from dangerously eroding caves … (They) recover bones from a total of 27 individuals: adult men, women, adolescents, even infants, along with their goats, cows and a horse. Wood inside the caves provides the clue that bunk beds must have housed the bones at one time.

Upon cleaning and taking painstakingly detailed observations of each bone, Eng discovers that 63 percent of the bones have cut marks on them, clear evidence of defleshing! Aldenderfer's quest takes an unexpected turn toward the macabre as he begins to trace the mortuary practices of Himalayan peoples, including the distinct sky burial rituals of the people of Upper Mustang today, where they cut up the flesh and bones of their dead and offer them to birds of prey. Could this modern practice, which dates back to the eighth century, be somehow related to the early peoples found with cut marks in Mustang's caves? Aldenderfer thinks so. Carbon dating reveals the cave people were from the 5th century. Their practice of defleshing bones was likely a precursor funerary ritual that eventually led to the development of what is known as sky burial by ethnically Tibetan peoples today.

Another cave tomb discovery, however, reveals to Aldenderfer that Mustang was home to a mosaic of cultures, all practicing different means of disposing of their dead. This cave has no bunk beds and there's no evidence of cut marks on the skeletal remains. (He) discloses that the dead were put into pits with multiple layers of sticks and stones. By analyzing the ceramics inside the burial cave, Aldenderfer concludes that the people interred inside date to approximately 1000 BC. This culture, likely different from the defleshed peoples found a little further north, was one among many, Aldenderfer believes, that traveled along Upper Mustang's Kali Gandaki River Valley trade route. Aldenderfer's cave people and their differing mortuary practices prove that the Kali Gandaki was a major trade artery connecting migrating people, their goods and their evolving funeral rituals with the well-traveled and highly influential Silk Road, further to the north.”

 - Excerpts from National Geographic Special: Cave People of the Himalaya, produced by National Geographic Television & Liesl Clark, Sky Door Films

Kim Bannister Photo Gallery | Trip + Trek Photos
Kim Bannister Photography

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Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1340m
You'll be met at the airport by a representative from the Kathmandu Guest House, so look out for a Kathmandu guest house sign when you leave the airport. They will bring you back to the Kathmandu Guest House, where your rooms are booked.

Kim will meet you at the guest house and introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu. Thamel is a myriad of banners, signs, music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels, shops of all imaginable varieties and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we'll go over some of the logistics of the trek and get to know each other over a few beers ...

Day 2 - Kathmandu
Morning meeting at 9:30 AM in the back garden of the Kathmandu Guest House. The day is free to explore Kathmandu, take excursions into the Kathmandu valley, shop, visit the spa, have a massage or just read a book in the lovely Kathmandu Guest House gardens. We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.

Sightseeing in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is filled with World Heritage sites and sacred destinations, crowded with traditional neighborhoods and colorful festivals. Spend a few days exploring Nepal's exotic capital and the history-laden Kathmandu valley. We can arrange sightseeing guide, vehicles and guides as required. See Kathmandu Heritage + Happenings for more details.

We recommend beginning with Pashupatinath in the early morning, and moving on to Boudhanath mid-morning. Hindu Pashupatinath on the sacred Bagmati river and its sacred temple complex is one of Nepal's most important sites, a powerful cremation site and Nepal's most important Hindu temple. Here, monkeys run up and down the steps of the burning ghats, and trident-bearing saddhus draped in burnt-orange and saffron sit serenely meditating, when they’re not posing for photos-for-rupees. Local guides can explain the significance of the complicated ceremonies. Please be respectful when taking photos.

Boudhanath, in the midst of traditional monasteries (gompas) and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the iconic stupa. The striking Buddha eyes of Boudhanath Stupa watch over a lively and colorful Tibetan community and attract pilgrims from all over the Himalayan Buddhist realm. There are wonderful spots for lunch at Boudhanath (Roadhouse Cafe has wood-oven pizzas and a breathtaking view of the stupa and colorful Nepals circling it), and it's a good place to learn the technique of thanka painting and purchase a thanka (Buddhist mural). See also Bhaktapur for more options for shopping for thankas.

Wander through the many temples, pagodas, courtyards and the museum at Kathmandu Durbar Square, a timeless gathering spot and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Kathmandu Durbar Square, including the old royal palace, is Kathmandu's 'Palace Square', a showcase for the world renown artisans and craftsmen of Kathmandu and a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist palaces, temples, stupas and statues. The Malla and Shah kings ruled over the Kathmandu Valley during the centuries of the building of the layers of this Durbar Square. Along with their opulent palaces, the square surrounds numerous courtyards and temples, all works of art with intricate and often erotic carvings. Kathmandu Durbar Square is known as Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square, a name derived from a statue of Hanuman, the monkey devotee of Lord Ram, at the entrance of the palace. The social, religious and urban focal point of the city, Durbar Square is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies such as Teej. Some important structures are Hanuman Dhoka Palace, Kumari Ghar (Abode of the Living Goddess), Taleju Temple, built between the 12th and 18th centuries, the 17th century stone inscription set into the wall of the palace with writings in 15 languages.

In the evening (take the interesting back streets from Durbar Square) climb the many steps to the gilded Swayambhunath stupa (known as the monkey temple) which rises from the Kathmandu valley floor at 1420 meters and is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal. . Swayambunath, the 'self created’  stupa, was founded over 2000 years ago at a time when the Kathmandu valley was filled by a large lake, with a single lotus in the center. Mythology says that Manjusri, a bodhisvatti, drained the lake with one cut of his sword and the lotus flower was transformed into the stupa. From its commanding views of Kathmandu, circumambulate Swayambunath's white-washed stupa, painted with distinctive Buddha eyes, the complex a unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. Another interesting time to visit Swayambunath is in the mornings, when Nepalis visit the temple dedicated to the God of Smallpox to with colorful offerings for the goddess.

Stop to photograph reflections in Kathmandu's many pokhari's, or ponds, including the beautiful Rani Pokhari (queen's bath) near New Road, and the Naga Pokhari (pond of the snake gods of the underworld) just beyond the palace gates. The many bathing ghats, square enclosures with steps leading down to water spouts, often decorated with naga heads, are also interesting and colorful gathering spots.

Day 3 - Fly Pokhara 800m
We start the day with a short but scenic flight to Pokhara, 198 kilometers west of Kathmandu, flying above the rivers flowing down towards the Terai from the Himalaya and Tibet. We look down on terraced villages and green hills, with the Ganesh, Langtang, Manaslu and Annapurna ranges in the distance, and land in balmy, sub-tropical Pokhara. We stay at the lovely Lake View Hotel with a cafe overlooking the lake. 

Enjoy the afternoon; wander the shore of Phewa Lake, drink fresh juice, do some shopping, or sit and relax at the hotel with a book. We'll head to Moondance Cafe for dinner and drinks in the evening, an atmospheric restaurant just near the hotel.

Day 4 - Fly Jomsom 2720m. Trek Kagbeni 2900m
Up early for our spectacular mountain flight to the district headquarters of Mustang, Jomsom. Once on the ground at one of the world's most scenic airstrips on the planet we are greeted by the sound of jingling horse bells as the Mustangi people pass by with their pony caravans. From the airport we have a fantastic panorama of Himalayan peaks: to the far west, Dhaulagiri, followed by Annapurna South, Hiun Chuli with Annapurna I in back, the sacred Machhapuchhre (Fishtail), Annapurna III, Annapurna IV, Annapurna II, Lamjung Himal, Himlung Himal and perhaps, on a clear day, Manaslu, Peak 29, Himal Chuli, Boudha Himal and Ganesh Himal to the distance to the far east.

After sorting out gear and loading our horses we trek up the windy Kali Gandaki valley to Kagbeni. The wide trail along a sandy, saligram-filled riverbed provides views of the surrounding peaks of Dhaulagiri, Tukuche and Niligiri, and to the south the entire Annapurna Massif. Kagbeni, spectacularly situated atop a cliff overlooking the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and the Jhong Khola rivers, is the last village in Lower Mustang and guards the entrance into Upper Mustang, visible across the Kali Gandaki riverbed. It is an oasis of green, patchwork fields in the midst of rocky, arid mountains, with Niligiri looming grandly behind it. This ancient, partially ruined citadel town provides us with a taste of scenes to come in upper Mustang, with its narrow alleyways and tunnels, irrigation canals, green fields of barley and its massive, newly-restored brick-red Sayka gompa, 800 years old. We'll also wander past the ancient, crumbing, 100-room King's Palace. At the police check post at the north end of the village where a sign reads 'Restricted area, tourists please do not go beyond this point', we will complete our paperwork to enter Upper Mustang tomorrow. We stay at the New Annapurnas Lodge for the night, with time to explore the village. Enjoy the fantastic views down-valley to Niligiri in the late afternoon, the alpenglow coloring it a lovely pink hue. (3 1/2 hrs)

Day 5 - Trek Chhungar 3755m
Leaving historic Kagbeni and heading east, we trek along the Annapurna trail to beautiful and traditional Jharkot (3350m), which has an old monastery at the top of this ridge top village. From here we take a small trail leading north from the main trail, drop to the Jhong Khola and then climb back up to Jhong (Dzong), with its fortress-like monastery. It's a short trek to our idyllic campsite just behind Chhungar village, which is relatively missed on the Annapurna circuit. The views of the Annapurna & Dhaulagiri massifs from this campsite are breathtaking!

ALTERNATIVE MUKTINATH ROUTE: For those wanting to visit the sacred pilgrimage site at Muktinath, it is do-able the same day, probably part by jeep. You would continue on another 30 minutes from Jharkot to Ranipawa, and then another 15 minutes to the Muktinath complex. Muktinath is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus situated in a tranquil grove of trees, and contains a wall of 108 waterspouts in the shape of cows heads spouting sacred water, the Jwala Mai temple with a perpetual spouting flame and the pagoda-styled Vishnu Mandir, all of which make up the auspicious combination of earth, fire and water. (4 hrs)

Day 6 - Trek Tetang 2995m (2955m) (cross Gyu La 4080m)
After many years of experimentation we've decided that this is the best route into Upper Dolpo, starting with a climb to the small Gyu La (4080m).

Leaving camp, we drop to Chungar and hike through the main route through the village, stunningly beautiful in the bright morning light. Prayer flags flutter in the wind from the flat Mustangi rooftops, sending prayers out into the world. Once through the village we drop to a bridge over the intersecting river and start climbing gradually up towards the pass. In approximately two hours, after several long contours with increasingly spectacular Himalayan views, we crest the flat pass and take a rest at the cairn which marks the border between the Annapurnas & Upper Mustang.

Descending into a green grazing valley peppered with local doksas, we pass a verdant spring, soon afterwards reaching a slightly exposed section of trail on good scree. The landscape becomes more Mustang-like as craggy canyons open up ahead of us, and we continue to descend steeply on a sandy trail. Once past the large willow tree and stream where we will stop for lunch and cool our feet we have our first views of Tetang, which sits 1000 meters below our pass.

Finally we reach the many multihued chortens which mark the entrance to Tetang and are treated to expansive views down over the terraced fields and the ancient Tetang Dzong. After stopping for photos we follow ancient mani walls (over the new road) to the maze of Tetang village. Tetang is an endlessly fascinating, fortified village with massive houses pock-marked with old scaffolding holes. The ruins of an ancient, crumbling dzong stand majestically on a crest at the northern end of the village, with several families living in this ancient monument. Years ago we witnessed a village women's council arguing over the use and shortage of water, a heated discussion. It is an extremely photographic village, but loses the sun before 5 pm. Our campsite is either just downriver from Tetang towards Chhusang (15 minutes, sandals for crossing the river usually) or another 10 minute in Chhusang village.

Note the extensive number of caves in the massive rock face across the Kali Gandaki. Of these caves, the historian Gucci believes that they were the homes of the earliest Lo-pas, later used by hermit-monks as retreats. (As Tibetans in the western part of Tibet lived in similar caves until recently). Many anthropologists believe that the caves were the Neolithic sites of early man from a time when there was much more water, large forests and plentiful game to hunt. (6 hrs)

Day 7 - Trek Paha 4075m
A spectacular day ahead of us, and a longer and relatively challenging one. Leaving camp at Tetang (or hiking 15 minutes up valley from Chhusang) we ascend on an impossible trail hewn into the sedimentary hillside of baked sand, passing through a world of hoodoos, often on exposed but safe trails and always far above the valleys below us. We spend the day trekking on top of a roller coaster of a ridge line trail which follows the Siyarko Tangk Danda, the cairns being recorded as 4015m, 4080m and 4165m. There is no water along this route, so be prepared. We crest several small cairn-topped ridges, stop for many photos breaks, eat lunch in one of Mustang's spectacular outdoor cafes and finally reach our shaded and chilly camp at Paha doksa mid-afternoon. (7 - 8 hrs)

Day 8 - Trek Tangge 3360m (cross Paha Tangge La 4185m)
It's a shorter and much easier day to Tangee, starting with cresting a small ridge pass (which we call the Paha Tangge La at 4185m) topped with more Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, and continuing with a steep descent most of the way to the Tangge Khola far below. Tangge is an incredibly stunning village, with monumental ochre and white chortens, long mani walls and a traditional village, surrounded be terraced barley fields. To reach the village we have to contour north to a bridge spanning the river and then hike another 15 minutes to camp at the upper reaches of the village. The tents have been set up at Tip Top campsite, just above the mani walls, a site sheltered from the unrelenting Mustang winds.

Tangge is a village of twenty houses, many sheep, goats and large mastiffs and the largest chorten in Mustang, over 50 feet high. There was a massive mudslide some years ago which wiped out many of the houses and barley fields on both banks; an elder of the village told us there were over a hundred houses in Tangge before this disaster. The culture now that we've reaached Upper Mustang becomes even more Tibetan; sheep horns adorn the houses, and there are protective amulets in the shape of a cross on the walls of the houses, similar to what we find in the old Tibetan villages in Ladakh and Zanskar. These 'zor' do what the look like they might do, capture evil spirits in their web and protect the inhabitants of the household, and date from the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. You will also see woman wearing the Tibetan decorative turquoise, coral and amber as well as 'dzis', ancient protective amulets of agate, which Mustangis believe came from lightening when it falls onto the mountains. At the far end of the village is the high route to Yara. Look to the south for views of the snow-peak called Ka Karru by locals. (4 hrs)

Day 9 - Trek Dhe 3930m (cross Dhe La 4245m)
Leaving Tangge heading northeast, we climb briefly out of the village and continue on an undulating trail through a fantastic moonscape, colored by ochre, weather worn rocks which have been sculpted by centuries of wind and water erosion. We stay high, climbing gradually until we reach a small pass which we called the Dhe La (4245m), decorated by a cairn of saligrams, a tribute to Vishnu and the local gods. A short descent through another bit of contorted landscape, past tricolored chortens, leads to the remote village of Dhe, one of the most isolated in the Himalaya. The inhabitants are planning to leave their village in a few years to relocate just northwest of here as there are serious water issues in Dhe. Still, it's a lively village with an old gompa to explore, and the villagers are friendly and welcoming as trekkers here are scarce. Enjoy the afternoon and get out to explore this beautiful village.

A Nepali film-maker recently made a documentary about this village and its plight which you can find in Kathmandu. (5 hrs)

Day 10 - Trek Yara 3610m
Again we are trekking along a little-used route on the far eastern fringes of Mustang, leaving remote Dhe and heading west along a somewhat rough trail. Climbing out of the village, we pass over more eroded gullies and stay on a high trail for a while, soon passing through an old mudslide which resembles a muddy glacier. To our right a distant trail heads east to Damodar Kunda and ancient clusters of cave dwellings appear dramatically in the cliff faces far above us. The trail crosses a small river and has a few ups and downs before it descends rather steeply to the riverbed below at just over 3400 meters. We wander down the small Dechyang Khola, collecting saligrams as we go and jumping or wading across (sandals would be a good idea) for an hour. To our right, near the end of the river at a settlement called Phangyakawa (where the Dhe-pa want to resettle), is a steep, switch backing trail which we ascend.

Upon reaching the plateau, we're treated to a feast of eroded canyons and hoodoos, so take some time to admire the scenery and take a few photos. We cross the plateau on a little-used trail, following it through more fantastic landscapes, and eventually spot the lovely, green village of Yara below, across the Puyung Khola. We descend to the rocky river bottom, cross the river and head for the village.

We camp for the night in the new campsite above of Saribung Guest House, in the middle section of Yara, a bustling village full of Mustangi life. Have a walk above the village in the afternoon, lovely with the sun shining through the willow leaves which brighten the village. We sponsor a young girl from Yara, Tsering Kondo, for her hearing impairment so we'll hope to get a visit from her and her family. There is a gompa and school in the lower reaches of the village for those wanting a short walk. We might be treated to a cultural dance in the evening, so be ready for a lively Mustangi party! (7 hrs)

Day 11 - Trek Ghara 3930m (Visit Luri Gompa 3985m)
After breakfast, heading northeast out of Yara, we pass fantastic, sculpted canyons with the remains of a network of ancient caves, now eroded enough to be inaccessible. We have a walk of less than an hour along the rocky, saligram dotted riverbed to the Tashi Kumbum cave complex, accessible via a narrow ledge of a trail. Tashi Kumbum is a newly discovered group of six cave dwellings dating from the 15th century, with fantastic Buddhist murals and a large exquisitely painted chorten. Gary McCue, who went there over fifteen years ago, wrote that the approach is very difficult and often dangerous. Our lodge owner was actually the one who discovered the ancient Tashi Kumbum, and then went there with Gary McCue.

Another hour along the Puyung Khola brings us to the fabled Druk-pa Luri Gompa and its complex of Tibetan Buddhist caves, some of which are accessible others now 'closed' forever. One of the older Kings of Lo married a Bhutanese princess, thus the Druk-pa influence. The main Luri Gompa is situated down near the riverbed; the teacher, kids in tow, will lead on a crumbling trail us up to the upper prayer-room and the fifteenth century 'Kabum Stupa', made of highly polished stucco and painted with intricately detailed Newari-styled Buddhist frescos of the Kagyupa saints Tilopa, Naropa and Marpa. Historians estimate them to be from the 13th or 14th century, and linked to the Tashi Kumbum caves, one of a group of connected cave dwellings throughout this particular region. Unfortunately, or fortunately, most have been rendered inaccessible due to the intense erosion in Mustang, so will remain hidden throughout history.

It's an easy half-hour hike from Luri Gompa along a high trail to the green oasis of Ghara, with its ruined gompa, chortens and old, winding walls. The staff have set up our camp just above the village in a walled enclosure with the village tap just below. We'll have many villagers as visitors, both adults and kids, all of whom will bring some of their ubiquitous saligrams and Mustangi artifacts to display. We'll be treated to fantastic mountain panoramas down-valley towards the Kali Gandaki at sunset and sunrise. Enjoy! (3 hrs)

Day 12 - Trek Chodzong Gompa Camp 3850m (cross Ghara La 4380m)
We have a hard, 7 or 8 hour day in front of us so have plenty of fresh coffee and a good breakfast before we head off. It's a steep climb behind the village along a dusty trail, past several cave dwellings, for well over an hour to reach to the top of the Ghara La at 4380 meters. En route we'll look down onto the red and white striped Luri Gompa and the patchwork of terraced fields of barley surrounding Ghara & Yara villages.

Contouring around several hillsides, staying high, we soon drop down to the green doksa of Kepuchhimi at the valley bottom, a stream running through it. Crossing the stone doksas, littered with dung, we have a steep climb on a trail of hardened mud back up to the plateau where we regain our expansive views of the sculpted rocks and canyons surrounding us. More scenic contouring and two small cairns later we reach the steep descent down to camp. We'll have lunch overlooking the border of Tibet ahead of us and then start on the switchbacking down the 500-meter descent to the pebbly riverbed below. Another half hour of jumping the small Chaka Khola as we trek downstream brings us to our lovely Canyon Camp, where the sun goes down early but is a lovely spot for a wash in the network of streams, downstream from camp ...

Now we enter a lost world of contorted canyons, muted earth-tones and narrowing passages, the wonderful world of 'lost' Mustang filled with mustard and blood-orange stained rocks and salt-drips. A quarter of an hour of river jumping (sandals) from camp in the direction of Lo Monthang we reach the river intersection. We take the right fork which heads to the 14th-15th century Chodzong Gompa which Peter Mattheissen wrote about in his book, 'East of Lo Monthang' and which houses some of the most important Buddhist artwork in Mustang. Unfortunately the main cave entrance has now crumbled away and is inaccessible.

After about half an hour of jumping the snaking river along the flood plain, we suddenly ascend dramatically, climbing on a steep trail of loose scree to a ridge which affords us incredible views up and down the valley. Soon afterwards we crest a small pass with an dramatic chorten and are treated to the dramatic site of the 14th - 15th century Chodzong Gompa 'castle of the faith' nearly at our height in the cliff-side ahead of us. Another translation, Chos Sung, translates as 'books' 'listen to' after the tradition of taking the books out of the gompa, walking them in a 'kora', and reading them to the nomads or villagers who would come for the readings. This is from local nomads.

We'll spot our horses unloading below, and the staff setting up our campsite in this idyllic spot, not a Westerner in sight. Welcome to Matheissen's hidden Mustang.

Have a quick scramble up to Cho Dzong Gompa, which Peter Matheissen wrote about in his book, 'East of Lo Monthang' and which houses some of the most important Buddhist artwork in Mustang. The main gompa has a lock on the door but you can hike up to a smaller gompa in back of the main one, possibly unlocked. Unfortunately the main cave entrance has now crumbled away and is inaccessible. Notice the tangle of antlers on top of the gompa roof, and the tsatsas in several of the caves. There is also an odd 'baby yak', stuffed, in one of the caves, but only some of our intrepid staff will be able to reach this dangerously situated cave. In the back of the cliff, now crumbling and inaccessible, is some of the most important artwork in the Tibetan Buddhist world. Unfortunately we won't be able to see it, but the Italian art restorer Luigi Fini is making a book of the murals from this cave, perhaps the only ones that will ever be taken. (7-8 hrs)

Day 13 - Trek Northern Mesa Camp 4785m
Another remote route today as we head high up to the plateaus near the border of Tibet where some of the last nomadic families in Mustang used to live until the harsh conditions forced them down to the camp nearer to Lo Manthang. They have since moved down closer to Lo Monthang but still live in their traditional Tibetan tents, herding their yaks and tending their Pashmina goats and sheep.

We leave camp heading in the same direction as yesterday, following a long, ancient mani wall painted in red and many large chortens, all signifying the importance that this gompa enjoyed in years past. More caves, and an old mill site at the intersection to a small mill further indicate an importance now hard to imagine. Quickly we start to climb, and climb. As we ascend some of the world's largest peaks come into view: Dhaulagiri, Niligiri, Thorung & Tilicho Peaks, Annapurna 1 and other 7000 and 8000 meter peaks rise impressively in back of us when we finally reach the top of the windy nomadic plateau.

Our campsite is the one pictured in Peter Matheissen's book 'East of Lo Manthang', with nomads and their yak-haired tents backed by a towering Dhaulagiri, a fantastic spot. A prayer wall protects us from the north, and the border of Tibet is just an hour's walk away, locals have told us. (5 hrs)

Day 14 - Trek Sam Dzong - Exploratory
This is an exploratory day to reach Sam Dzong, a village which Lhakpa explored last year from Lo Manthang. Enjoy the adventure as we trek from the high plateaus down to Sam Dzong, another village nestled amongst craggy cliffs which will probably soon relocate because of lack of water. Sam Dzong is located along the Sam Dzong Khola at around 4000 meters, a starkly beautiful and traditional village.

Day 15 - Trek Lo Manthang 3820m
The start of another partially exploratory day, we climb away from the small river and contour for a few hours until we reach the lower Chosar valley. From here we'll have a dusty walk to Lo Monthang, probably along the road unless the locals know an alternative route. We may decide to camp somewhere in this valley for the night.

Finally we spot the ancient walls of the fabled city of Lo Manthang high on the plateau ahead of us. We head directly west following the gurgling, willow-shaded Dokpolo Khola for about an hour until we reach the gates of Lo Manthang. This is an wonderfully green section, with grassy river banks underfoot, stone walls bordering the river, and behind, backed by the snow-peaks bordering Tibet, the ruins of the once-imposing Lo Dzong.

We enter the outer walls of the city and head to Pema Bista's campsite right at the walls to the city, under a small grove of ancient, sacred willows. The horses and crew will arrive behind us, so we will start exploring the maze-like alleyways of this fascinating village. Be prepared for the onslaught of tourism in Lo as vendors immediately find us and set up 'shop' next to the campsite. It's not as pristine as it used to be, but just as mystical in the golden, yellow light as the local men bring their sheep and horses inside the city gates for the night. Perhaps, we we'll have a cup of the infamous suija (salt butter tea) at Pema's house in the afternoon, after visiting his shop. And we'll have plenty of time to marvel at the surrounding panoramic views of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayan peaks bordering Tibet.

Lo Manthang
In the 1380’s, King Ame Pal established his reign in Lo, aptly named the ‘Plain of Aspiration', with the walled city of Lo Manthang as the capital and its inhabitants called Lobas. Within the walls of Lo Manthang are about 180 houses built among narrow streets, and some of the largest and finest Tibetan Buddhist gompas in Nepal. The city is quite prosperous due primarily to its past salt and wool trade along the Kali Gandaki with Tibet, and the Lobas themselves are still very Tibetan, living in Tibetan-style dwellings which we'll have a chance to visit. There are even yeti (known here as mehti) prints rumored to be found.

Lo Manthang traditionally had a single entrance, through which only the King, Queen and Kempo (Abbot) were allowed to ride. All others must walk, to pay their respects to Chenrizig, the Buddha of Compassion. King Jigme Palbar Bista, called 'Lo Gyelbu' by the Mustangis, still resides at his four-storied palace inside the city walls; that is, when he’s not in Kathmandu. He is an avid horseman, and keeps his own stable of horses, some of the best in Mustang. These days, the king plays a somewhat ceremonial role although he is well loved and respected throughout Mustang. The present king is the 25th descendent of Ame Pal.

There are four major temples within the medieval walls of Lo Manthang, the 14th century, brick-red Jampa Lhakhang (the oldest gompa, built in 1387, with the striking 50 foot 'Jampa' (Future) Buddha, the largest clay statue in Nepal until a few years ago), 15th century Thubchen Gompa (Great Assembly hall, pillars 30 feet high, the second oldest gompa with fantastic murals in the Dukhang), Chhoede Gompa (where the Kempo lives, with a monastic school) and Choprang Gompa. There is also the Raja's Palace, home to the present King Raja Jigme and Queen 'Rani Sahib' (who is from an aristocratic Lhasa family) and an interesting maze of a village to explore. There are approximately 1100 Lobas within the walls of the city although many lower caste Lobas live outside the walls. Many of the Lobas still practice polyandry.

Days 16 + 17 - Lo Manthang, Chosar & Thinggar Valleys (optional trip Rinchin Ling or Konchok Ling Caves)
We have two more wonderful days in this mythical walled capital known throughout the Tibetan Buddhist world. Some options below:

OPTION 1: Spend a day (or both) visiting the famous monasteries, wandering the labyrinthine alleyways of Lo Manthang, shopping for Tibetan and Mustangi artifacts and doing a 'kora' of the large complex. There is an amchi that runs a Tibetan herbal medicine clinic in town, two schools and even a coffee shop along with the increasing number of shops to visit.

OPTION 2: Visit the newly discovered Rinchin Ling cave complex, which requires a jeep, hiking up a steep hillside and entering the caves by a series of roped-together ladders carried up by local villagers for a fee. More about this on the trek, better to keep the details of these caves a bit quiet. We would also like to visit the cave complexes of Drakphuk and Konchung Ling. We will discuss with villagers the trail conditions and times, and find a guide if we decide to explore.

There is also an option to visit the Konchok Ling cave if the trail is in good condition. This little visited cave requires a seriously exposed hike along steep sided ridges, and a drop down using a rope, and is located north of the Chosar Cave complex.

OPTION 3: Visit the Chosar & Tinggar valleys on horseback
Disclaimer: Horses are a good way to visit both of these valleys but even on horseback it will be a long day. We take no responsibility for anything that may happen on a horse, and horses must be hired out apart from Kamzang Journeys. We will, of course, help with the arrangements.

Leaving Lo Manthang along a wide, canyon trail, past dry gullies and an ancient, ruined fortress, across a bridge and through a cultivated area, we finally view the cave village of Chosar, with the deep-red Nyphu Gompa built into the rock face. We'll need to cross two bridges to arrive at the gompa, at 3760 meters. Plenty of time for photographs before rounding the chorten-toped bend, where we get views of Gharphu Gompa on the east banks of the Mustang Khola. Past the gompa is an incredible cave-dwelling site called Jhong Cave, which you negotiate by ladders and through small tunnels, very interesting and reputed to be 2500 years old. In front of us, a range of spectacular snow-peaks marks the border with Tibet, and around us gurgling streams and green meadows line our trail. If we take the long loop, we can stop at Nyamdo Gompa, ride over a small pass and then head back down the western valley to Lo.

The western valley leads to Namgyal Gompa (the Monastery of Victory), set spectacularly on top of a desolate ridge and the newest and most active gompa in Lo. The village of Namgyal spreads out past the Gompa. Just past the gompa is the large, sprawling village of Thingkar, where the King has his summer palace. There is a new gompa here, where we saw a puja (prayer ceremony) last year, and met most of the villagers! There are also many ancient ruins surrounding the village, some gompas and others old fortresses perhaps. Further on, we reach Kimaling village, which is an interesting, white-washed village surrounded by fields where we did some carpet shopping last year. Kimaling Gompa is below the village, on the way out as we head towards Phuwa and its gompa on the way down towards Lo. There are tremendous views of Namgyal Gompa backed by snow-peaks behind us as we wander up the valley, and white peaks in front of us bordering Tibet.

The Chosar valley was the main trading route with Tibet and Lhasa, and is peppered with the ruins of old fortresses guarding this strategic valley. Just north of this valley, over the border in Tibet, Lhakpa and I met a Tibetan man who still dealt in the trade of rare animal skins with Mustangi traders, a risky and of forbidden endeavor. It will be interesting to see if we can find out anything of this trade on the Nepal side of the border.

“Nyphu had all the elements one could wish in a mysterious sacred retreat, possessing all the snugness of an underground hive and the grandeur of an eagle’s nest.” — Michel Peissel, Mustang; A Lost Tibetan Kingdom

OPTION 4: Visit the Namgyal valley on foot, a trek that will take a good part of the day but is worth doing. Leaving Lo Monthang behind the main gate and passing threw the willow-lined, lower caste villages below, we climb up to Namgyal Gompa for a visit. The young novices studying here are from all reaches of the Tibetan Buddhist world. The village is also worth a quick wander. Continuing north on the road and passing several ruins of ancient, crumbling monasteries we soon reach the old capital of Thingkar (4025m) where the king still has his small summer palace. The small village gompa has been newly renovated, and it's an interesting and colorful village to explore. Once on the opposite side of the winding alleyways we continue to hike north for about half an hour to Kimaling (4030m), just across a long suspension bridge. We've had some lovely experiences with the local villagers at Kimaling, who don't see very many trekkers. You'll find them weaving, washing textiles and herding their sheep and goats. We might stop for salt-butter tea at a new friend's small homestay (home) near the local lhakang (temple). The return route heads straight down the valley to Phuwa village and eventually back to Lo Manthang.

Back at camp, dinner is on the fire, tea is brewing, and cold beers are available from the tea-shops, so relax and enjoy our last evening in this magical capital.

Day 18 - Trek to Nomad Camp 4280m
Leaving Lo Manthang, we turn right out of the gate of Lo, cross a small bridge and head towards the high grazing plateaus of the nomads. Horses roam freely amongst the the crumbling walls and fields that surround Lo. We trek along the southern walls surrounding the city and hike for a few hours, following the valley bed, past the ruins of ancient fortresses and gompas. We climb the hill ahead of us, look back to the city-complex of Lo behind us, and drop down into the green valley below where to the 'last nomads of Lo' have now settled for most of the year. We have a bird-eye view over this scenic valley, dotted with nomadic tents of yak-hair, yaks, herds of sheep and goats, piles of yak dung and nomads. Several families live in this valley in their tents, and a few more in the valley over the next ridge.

We'll possibly take a northern route to the nomad settlement depending on our plans ....

Our campsite is idyllic, set right next to a clear stream on a grassy, flat plateau looking down-valley over Himalayan peaks. We'll visit the lively doksa later in the afternoon, perhaps being invited for a steaming cup of salt-butter tea and dried cheese. This is one of the last nomadic settlements in all of Nepal, a rare chance to see how real Tibetan nomads exist. We are quite high so it gets COLD in the evening. Sunsets and sunrises are perfect.

AFTERNOON TRIP: Hike over the hill to the north to visit the other nomadic settlements in the afternoon; all of the nomads were living in the Tibetan borderlands northeast of Lo Manthang, but many families moved to this spot about fifteen years ago to have better access to supplies, schools and medical facilities in Lo Manthang. From the hill between the camps, at the prayer flag, you can look right down to the walled city of Lo Manthang, a great view. Locals from Lo Manthang might come to the doksas to collect the sheep and goat dung that the nomads don't use. We might get some yogurt from the nomads, delicious and fresh, and we can buy exquisite textiles from the nomads if we like.

Day 19 - Trek to Tsarang 3575m (via Lo Ghekar 3940m)
It's an off the beaten path trekking day today as we head to Lo Gekar, or Ghar Gompa, to the south of us. Leaving camp, we hike for half an hour up to a small pass with a cairn on the top, to the west of the Marang La. From the ridge we'll have an easy, contouring descent through green doskas for an hour until we see see the imposing chortens of Ghar Gompa, or Lo Ghekar, which translates as 'Pure Virtue of Joy'. Lo Ghekar, built in the 8th century, is one of the oldest gompas in Nepal. It belongs to the Nyimgma sect and is connected by legend to Samye Gompa in Tibet as well as to the ubiquitous Guru Rimpoche. The name means 'house gompa' after the style of architecture, and harbors many exemplary frescoes as well as wonderfully carved and painted mani stones. Surrounding the gompa are massive, block-like chortens of a unique style and strings of colorful prayer flags fluttering in the winds of Mustang.

The story of Lo Gekar: Samye Gompa, the oldest gompa in Tibet, was repeatedly destroyed by demons when it was being built. The head lama dreamed that Guru Rimpoche could help with the construction and invited him to the site. The great Guru Rimpoche found demons to be the problem, and suggested that they first build Lo Gekar. Guru Rimpoche killed the demons at the spot that Lo Gekar was soon to be constructed. The long mani wall just south of Dhakmar is said to have arisen from the intestines of the demon, and the red cliffs above Dhakmar the blood of the demon. After Lo Gekar was completed, Samye in eastern Tibet was also successfully built.

Heading directly down valley, we soon intersect the mail trail from Tsarang to Lo, and head south past the massive and newly re-constructed chorten along the trail. A few hours of easy trekking brings us to the fortified village of Tsarang, meaning 'cock's crest', perched on the edge of a dramatic canyon. We walk between high walls to the south of the village, green with poplar and willow trees, and stop for a look at the Tsarang Gompa and its ruins, impressively built on a crag of rock. We we camp for the night at a lovely, grassy campsite called 'Green Camping' next to The Royal Mustang Holiday Inn run by a relative of the King, Maya Bista, the Palace and Gompa visible in the near distance.

Tsarang is a large village of 83 houses (population 400) built on top of the Tsarang Khola canyon, one of the later capitals of the Kingdom of Lo in the 14th century. Stone walls separate the houses and form tunnel-like paths, a new irrigation ditch lines the main street, and willow groves turn the village green. Tsarang bustles with its many shops, its own hydro-electric plant and quite a few guest houses and visitors. It is dominated by the massive, crumbling five-story Tsarang Dzong, a Tibetan-styled fortified palace built in 1378, and the large, ochre-hued Tsarang Gompa, built in 1385, of the Sakya sect and with the greatest library in Lo (the palace also has a great library). The dzong and palace were both built by Ame Pal and the other of the 'Three Sangpos'. The palace has a wonderful, old prayer room with a gold-printed prayer book and a fascinating array of statues, thankas and large Buddha paintings that the resident lama will show you, and the withered 500 year old hand of the master architect of the palace. Tsarang Gompa is adorned with fantastic 15th century frescos on the assembly hall walls; don't miss the older prayer room in back, once an 'ani gompa', or nunnery. Elaborate sand mandalas are created at the gompa at festival time, and then ceremonially deposited into the river at the festival’s end. Ekai Kawaguchi stayed nine months here in 1899, and Michel Peissel spent time with the Abbot of Tsarang, the king's brother (the present king's father) during his time in Mustang. Peissel said of Tsarang:
“The city appeared like magic, as if a great artist, tired of this arid land, had decided to paint a fairy artwork on this wild canvas background.”

Take a walk through the maze of paths to the dzong and friendly gompa before dinner, and stop in at one of the many shops for a look. Many of the wealthier homes here have family shrines which you might be lucky enough to be invited to see. The local women will be herding their sheep through the narrow, walled paths as dusk as the snow pigeons circle, shimmering, under the setting sun ... (6-7 hrs)

Day 20 - Trek Zaite 3840m (cross Ghemi La 3520m + Nyi La 4010m)
A morning walk through the maze of Tsarang's alleyways leads to the massive, brightly pained chorten which guards the entrance to Tsarang, and then hike along the dirt road for about an hour, soon reaching the Tsarang La (3870m). From the large cairn topped with Tibetan prayer flags, or lung-ta, we switchback steeply down to the bottom of the valley. Just ahead is a cluster of ancient chortens, some of the most massive in the Tibetan world, backed by dramatic, sculpted cliff-faces and said to be 1500 years old (the same as Lo Gekar); an awesome sight. The trail looks across the valley to ochre, blue and steel-grey cliffs, and leads us past tri-colored chortens and perhaps the longest and most spectacular mani wall in Mustang, behind which is the hospital.

After a short, steep descent we directly cross the new bridge and climb briefly up to Ghemi (3570m), built along the steep edges of the cliff as are many fortified villages in Mustang. There are actually the ruins of an old fortress somewhere in Ghemi, which was largely abandoned until the Khampa fighters set up a magar (war camp) here and brought new life and wealth to the village. We'll wander a bit through this interesting village, passing the mani walls and prayer wheels, perhaps finding the key-keeper to open the Ghemi Gompa for us.

After lunch (or perhaps we'll eat at the pass) we'll continue on to Zaite, another 2 hours away up and over the Ghemi La. From Ghemi it's a straight-forward climb to the Ghemi La (3520m) from where there are beautiful views down to Ghemi. Contouring to the south, we continue to climb gradually for another hour or so to the Nyi La (4010m), where we're treated to Himalayan panoramas including Annapurna 1 and beautiful Niligiri, as well as the clusters of white-washed villages. A short hike down the pass brings us to the Geling intersection, a lovely village with an ancient, ochre gompa, a sponsored school and cave complexes. From here we continue straight for about ten minutes to our lovely, green and sheltered campsite at Zaite. From the campsite we have great views of the Himalayan peaks to our south: Thorung Peak, Annapurna l and Tilicho amongst them. (6 hrs)

(Dhakmar Route | Alternative cross Mui La 4130m + 4175m)
After a look at the 'lha-khangs' or prayer rooms of the gompa, we start up an easy series of passes, the Mui La (4130m) and its second ridge (4175m). We'll stop for a break, gazing out at the Himalayan peaks in the distance. Blue sheep graze in these arid hillsides, their tracks stripping the otherworldly ridges, and griffins and choughs soar in the clear, blue Mustangi skies overhead. Climb the small hill to the left of the cairn; the views down the Dhakmar Valley are breath-taking, as is the sight of our horses descending into the tunnel-like pass. Rested, we descend steeply through the canyon and spires, dropping way down to dwellings and green pasture lands below. 20 minutes later, past the prayer flags at the start of the village, we reach the lively, sprawling village of Dhakmar (3820m), dominated by a dramatic, red canyon wall with many ancient cave dwellings. Across the stream on the western side is an old gompa. Sunsets against the red cliffs, which house Himalayan griffins and lammergeyers, are fantastic ...

"Dhakmar is a site where the landscape and man-made structures illustrate a well known Tibetan myth. Here Guru Rimpoche eviscerated a huge demoness, the Balmo, her blood and liver dyeing the steep eroded hills in red and purple-grey.” — Rob Powell, Earth Door, Sky Door

Following the small stream through the lower part of the village, green with old willows and more recently planted poplars, we continue hiking through a scenic, green valley, stopping occasionally for passing herds of sheep and goats. After crossing the small bridge, we reach the large chortens on the outskirts of Ghemi.

Day 21 - Trek Samar 3605m or Chhusang 2980m (cross Syangboche La 3825m)
From Zaite, we continue on to Samar over the Syangboche La, with an option to visit the Chungsi caves en route ...

From camp, we climb gradually, mostly along the small, dusty road, to reach the Syangboche La at 3825m meters. After a few photos of the dramatic Himalayan vista, with Annapurna 1, Niligiri and the peaks north bordering Tibet. We'll drop down to small Syangboche village just below the pass and perhaps split into two groups.

CHUNGSI CAVES OPTION (cross Chungsi La 3810m)
Once below Syangboche, we veer off to the left and descend into the valley, past seasonal doksas and shepherds herding their flocks of sheep and goats, on the eastern route to Samar via the important Chungsi Caves, at 3425 meters. En route, we see many nests of Himalayan Griffins high up in the cliff-faces, noticeable from their white below them (vulture droppings), and will see these majestic birds with their three meter wing-spans circling high above us. It should take us about an hour to reach the Chungsi Caves, one of the ubiquitous Guru Rimpoche's meditation caves. Up a series of rock steps to the entrance, and inside are fantastic 'rangjung' or self-created Tibetan Buddhist sculptures, chortens, 'Tara's terraced fields' and others Buddhist relics. The old caretaker is from Gheling. *** See page 144, Tucci.

We've now got a steep but spectacular walk in front of us as we head towards Samar, which means 'red earth' in Mustangi. We climb high up into an incredible, vast canyon, with wonderful, expansive views the entire time, and reach the Chungsi La (3810m) , approximately 500 meters above the cave. Then down, again steeply, to the Jhuwa and Samarkhung Kholas, and back up the switch-backing trail to the entrance chorten of Samar. A good day's trekking! (6-7 hrs)

HIGH ROUTE (cross Yamda La 3985m & Bhene La 3840m)
The other, shorter and easier route, entails hiking over the Yamda La (3985m) and then the Bhena La (3840m), but on a 'Himalayan flat' trail, so the ups and downs aren't so steep and you'll stay relatively at the same altitude between passes. After the Bhena La there is a steep drop down to the intersecting stream, which is crossed on a small bridge, and then another two small climbs until reaching the entrance chorten at Samar.

Lovely Samar is visible just below us, with its lovely poplar grove and flat-roofed houses, formerly a staging post for Khampa raids into Tibet. The Annapurna range, still dominated by Nilgiri, is visible to the south, a fantastic backdrop. We'll set up camp on the green, shaded grounds of the New Annapurna Guest House, one of our favorite campsites and the owned by good friends Namygal Gurung. His brother Karma used to be our horseman, and is now one of our guides. Relax, have a wash in the cold stream next to the grassy, campsite and enjoy the afternoon and sunset over the Himalayan peaks in this charming village. Showers are available inside the lodge and feel free to go into the kitchen for a cup of salt-butter tea. (5-6 hrs)

NOTE: We may trek another 2 1/2 to 3 hours back down the steep trail to Tsaile and then on to Chhusang ...

Day 22 - Trek Chhusang 2950m. Drive to Jomsom 2720m
Trekking almost finished, but we'll start the day with a couple of hours of hiking to reach our jeeps at Chhusang. It's an easy hike up the Dajori La (3600m), and a long, wonderful descent, past the Gurung village of Gyakar across the new suspension bridge, along our cliff-side canyon trail back to Tsaile, down and back across the tunnel bridge, and then along the riverbed for about 20 minutes to Chhusang.

There is a salt mine two hours from Chhusang, and fortified Tetang village just up the same valley; the salt trade was of utmost importance to Mustang in years past, and much of the wealth of the villages came from this trade. Across the Kali Gandaki , high up in the dramatic, fluted rock face, are clusters of ancient caves, their origins lost in antiquity but said to have been occupied from the ninth to the seventeenth centuries.

We'll drive south on the east bank of the Kali Gandaki along the new road, high up on the plateaus above the river-bed, all the time with magnificent views from all sides. We head north past the red, white and black chortens to the fortress-like Gurung village of Tangbe (3030m) three hours past Kagbeni. Tangbe is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways separating white-washed houses, fields of buckwheat, barley, wheat and apple orchards, unique in Mustang with its moat-like drainage system. Tangbe is split into two sections, the ruins of its ancient dzong (fortress) in the upper section. Nilgiri, which dominates the southern skyline at Kagbeni, continues to loom massively at the foot of the valley. The village of Tiri Gaon sits on the west bank of the river.

Soon we reach Jomsom and are are greeted by the sound of jingling horse bells as the Mustangi people pass by with their pony caravans, and beautiful textiles are woven by hand looms in the traditional style, readily available for sale. Yak tails to adorn your horses or dust your house are also sold. We arrive in Jomsom along a long, cobbled trail in time for lunch, with the afternoon free to wander, wash and shop. We'll celebrate our trek through 'Forbidden' Mustang at the Trekker's Lodge in the evening, handing out tips, extra gear and a few beers to our fantastic staff ... (3 hrs, 2 hrs driving)

Day 23 - Fly to Pokhara + Kathmandu
We'll be up early again for our mountain flight from Jomsom to Pokhara, flying between Dhaulagiri and Annapurna South before landing in balmy Pokhara. We re-board another plane in Pokhara for our short, scenic flight to Kathmandu, 198 east of Pokhara, flying high above the north-south rivers flowing down towards the Terai from the Himalaya and Tibet. We pass over terraced villages and green hills with the Ganesh, Langtang, Manaslu and Annapurna ranges in the distance.

In Kathmandu, rooms are booked, showers are hot and laundry can be dropped off. We'll meet for a farewell dinner tonight although we advise keeping an extra few days in Kathmandu post-trek ...
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NOTE: In the case of flight cancellation out of Jomsom everyone will be responsible for their rooms and meals at Trekkers Inn.

Day 24 - Kathmandu
An extra day in Kathmandu for shopping, koras at Boudha or in case of a flight delay out of Pokhara or Jomsom.

Day 25 - Trip Ends
Transfer to the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) for your flight home. Namaste!

Kathmandu | Optional Sightseeing Tour Bhaktapur
One more day in Kathmandu, with an optional sightseeing excursion by private vehicle to Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur which translates as 'Place of Devotees’ and is also known as Bhadgaon, is an ancient Newar city approximately 15 kilometers east of the Kathmandu Valley. Bhaktapur is one of three ancient capitals of the Kathmandu valley, the capital of the Newar Kingdom and a city of artisans and craftspeople famous for its art and architecture: intricate carvings, sculptures, paintings, thankas, pottery, statues and temples, or pagodas. Bhaktapur has a well-preserved ‘durbar square’, or palace square, and has been named a World Heritage site by UNESCO because of its incredible temples, pagodas, wood carvings, stone carvings and metalwork. Bhaktapur is also famous for its yogurt, called curd in Asia, a taste which hasn’t been duplicated anywhere.

Spend a full day exploring Bhaktapur and its rich cultural heritage, where a majority of enthnic Newaris live in traditional ways, and life seems to stand still. There are many great restaurants and cafes to rejuvenate, and it's possibly the best spot in Kathmandu for purchasing a thanka after watching the technique, as well as shopping for endless other locally produced crafts. Bhaktapur is home to countless local festivals, so if you are lucky and arrive on a festival day, enjoy the timeless and colorful events unfold.

+ Kathmandu World Heritage Sightseeing Tour | Bhaktapur (+$100)
+ Entrance Fees not Included for Single Person

Kathmandu | Optional Sightseeing Tour Patan
Visit the third of Kathmandu's ancient capitals, known as 'The City of Fine Arts', best if you have an extra day in hand as Patan is also rich in cultural heritage, has many lovely roof-top cafes for lunch and world-class museums. Some of the highlights of Patan are its Durbar Square, the Krishna Temple within the palace complex of Patan (entirely made of stone, with 21 distinctive spires), and Hiranya Varna Mahavir, or the Golden Buddha Temple.

+ Kathmandu World Heritage Sightseeing Tour | Patan (+$50)
+ Entrance Fees not Included for Single Person

Kathmandu | Optional Everest Sightseeing Flight
An hour long extravaganza of the world's 8000 meter peaks, including airport transfers. (+$270)

Kathmandu | Optional Extra Days at Shivapuri Heights Cottages
A wonderful get away 20 km north of Kathmandu, Shivapuri Heights Cottages are stylishly designed and personal cottages built around a 'common house', where you can breakfast overlooking the stunningly beautiful Kathmandu valley. Massages available on request. (+Inquire for Price)

Kathmandu | Optional Cycling Trip in Kathmandu Valley
Many options for day trips, or extended trips, in the Kathmandu Valley. We can customize a cycling trip for you in partnership with one of our knowledgeable partners in Kathmandu. (+Inquire for Price)

Extra Days in Kathmandu | Customize your Journey!
We have plenty of great suggestions for extra days, or weeks, in Nepal! See our Nepal & Kathmandu Modules | Customize Your Trip! to put together the perfect journey.

Mountain biking, rafting, vespa tours or yoga retreats around the Kathmandu valley or Pokhara, trips to Bhaktapur or Patan (Kathmandu Valley's other historic capital cities), a visit to the Newari temple of Changu Narayan and a night at the Fort Hotel in Nagarkot for sublime Himalayan panoramas, an Everest sightseeing flight, a luxurious stay at Temple Tree Resort & Spa, paragliding, hiking or zip-lining in Pokhara, a spa & wellness getaway at Dwarikas Resort in Dhulikhel, a relaxing excursion to Chitwan National Park Wildlife Safari & Tharu Villages (staying at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge) or Bardia National Park, a weekend of adventure, sauna and pampering at The Last Resort or five-star treatment in historic Dwarika's in Kathmandu.

Kamzang Journeys can customize any of these excursions for you, just inquire!

 

Namaste & Tashi Delek!

© Kim Bannister

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