Upper Mustang & Sky Caves Trek - Nepal

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

'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 wonderful trek into the hidden Buddhist kingdom of Upper Mustang ventures deep into the world of 'sky-caves', including the renown Luri Gompa and Tashi Kabum, adorned with some of the most exquisite murals of the Tibetan Buddhist world and dating back to antiquity.

Situated in the rain shadow of the Dhaulagiri range, 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.

Upper Mustang and its walled capital, Lo Monthang, 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.

Upper Mustang is the realm of the last nomads of Mustang, still living their traditional migratory lifestyle on the high plateaus bordering Tibet. We visit some of Mustang's most far-flung villages such as Ghara, Yara and Tangge (in the Spring), having salt-butter tea and bartering for locally-woven textiles with the villagers.

Don't miss this journey!

Trip

Upper Mustang Spring Itinerary
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu
Day 2 - Kathmandu
Day 3 - Fly Pokhara
Day 4 - Fly Jomsom. Trek Kagbeni
Day 5 - Trek Tsaile
Day 6 - Trek Syangboche
Day 7 - Trek Dhakmar
Day 8 - Trek Tsarang | Visit Lo Gekar
Day 9 - Trek Lo Monthang
Day 10 - Lo Monthang | Visit Chosar & Thinggar Valleys
Day 11 - Trek Yara
Day 12 - Yara | Visit Luri Gompa + Tashi Kabum
Day 13 - Trek Tangge
Day 14 - Trek Geling
Day 15 - Trek Samar | Visit Chungsi Caves
Day 16 - Trek Chusang. Drive Jomsom
Day 17 - Fly Pokhara + Kathmandu
Day 18 - Depart

Upper Mustang Autumn Itinerary
Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu
Day 2 - Kathmandu
Day 3 - Fly Pokhara
Day 4 - Fly Jomsom. Trek Kagbeni
Day 5 - Trek Tsaile
Day 6 - Trek Syangboche
Day 7 - Trek Dhakmar
Day 8 - Trek Lo Monthang | Visit Lo Gekar
Day 9 - Lo Monthang | Visit Chosar & Thinggar Valleys
Day 10 - Trek Yara
Day 11 - Yara | Visit Luri Gompa + Tashi Kabum
Day 12 - Trek Tsarang
Day 13 - Trek Geling
Day 14 - Trek Samar | Visit Chungsi Caves
Day 15 - Trek Chusang. Drive Jomsom
Day 16 - Fly Pokhara + Kathmandu
Day 17 - 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!

Custom Upper Mustang Itineraries
We can customize this Upper Mustang itinerary to include more or less days, to drive directly from Lo Monthang back to Jomsom, to charter a helicopter out of any of the village, to include other destinations or to include sections of the Annapurna trek. We also offer a set-departure trek led by Kim for a more comprehensive and more remote Upper Mustang camping trek.

We can customize this itinerary and include the TIJI FESTIVAL (Lama Dance in Lo Manthang) in May for which you'll want an extra day in Lo Manthang.

Notes on Upper Mustang Itinerary
NOTE: We have different itineraries for Spring & Autumn as it's not possible to cross the Kali Gandaki River in many places in the early Autumn. The Autumn itinerary is one day shorter and may also be trekked in the Spring.

NOTE: We strongly suggest scheduling an extra day in Kathmandu post-trek in case of flight delays or cancellations out of Jomsom! It is possible to shorten the trek by driving from Lo Monthang directly back to Jomsom OR taking a helicopter from any of the villages back to Jomsom or Kathmandu. Let us know if you would like a stopover in Pokhara for a night or two.

Highlights+Reviews

Trip Advisor Reviews

Clients' Highlights
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, Last Nomads of Mustang 2011

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, Nar Phu to Upper Mustang 2014

Thanks for looking after my friends Ian & Adam so well! They were really pleased and very impressed with the arrangements made by Kamzang Journeys and particularly pleased with the guide, Karma, who did a wonderful job of looking after them on their trek. Everything went to their satisfaction and it exceeded their expectations. He's now got a taste of Nepal and thinking about doing another trek there sometime!
 - Viv D, friend of Paul & Patrick, Private Annapurna Peaks & Villages, Helambu Trek 2014

I have traveled the world and I have never been as cared for as I was in my trek in Nepal.  Karma was beyond attentive and professional. He has become family. The very best of Nepal and mankind can be found in this young man.
 - Dave M, Annapurna Peaks & Villages 2013

Read More Testimonials
Trekker's Comments

Trek Highlights

  • Upper Mustang trek, a unique insight into 'Old Tibet'
  • 11 or 12-day Upper Mustang permit
  • Lo Monthang, Mustang's walled city
  • Mustang's medieval & colorful villages
  • '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 secret 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

Before They Pass Away (Photos) | Jimmy Nelson

Sky Caves of Nepal | National Geographic

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 (Excepts 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

Dates
Private Departures (17 or 18 days)
Spring, Summer or Autumn

Trek Price - $3180 Autumn Itinerary | $3380 Spring Itinerary
Prices for 2+ Trekkers

Includes

  • Kathmandu Guest House
  • Upper Mustang Permit & Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (12 Day Upper Mustang permit)
  • Domestic flights
  • Airport transfers
  • Group transportation by private vehicle
  • Lodge trekking with Nepali guide, porters or horses & all trek logistics

Excludes

  • Travel medical & travel insurance (both required)
  • Nepal Visa
  • Helicopter rescue service cost
  • Helicopter shuttle service to or from Jomsom in case of flight delays or cancellations
  • Meals (while not on trek)
  • International flights
  • Monastery donations
  • Equipment rental
  • Alcohol & packaged drinks
  • Laundry
  • Tipping & other items of a personal nature

Tips & Extra Cash
Allow approx $250 for meals (while not on trek), drinks (on trek) and tips. We recommend $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 Office Contact
Khumbu Adventures
Office: +(977) 01 4488352
Lhakpa Dorji Mobile: +(977) 9841 235461, 9813 371542
Doma Mobile: +(977) 9841 510833, 9803 675361

Arrival Hotel
Kathmandu Guest House
Thamel, Kathmandu
Tel: +(977 1) 4700632, 4700800

Arrival Kathmandu

Arrival
You will be met at the airport by one of our representatives and dropped at the wonderful Kathmandu Guest House where your rooms are booked for you.

NOTE: Let us know if you would prefer to book an alternative boutique, luxury or budget hotel instead of the Kathmandu Guest House.

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 ONLINE VISA FORM

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 ...

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!

Gear List

Gear List
This is a guideline, not a bible, for the gear you will need on the trek. Ask if you have questions!
NOTE: Your duffel bag can NOT be any larger than a North Face XL (140 Liter, 32" x 19" by 19"). ONE duffel bag only please.

20 kg (50 lbs) weight limit for treks
15 kg (33 lbs) weight limit for domestic flights (airline regulations). This includes day packs.

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

  • Trekking Pants (2)
  • T-Shirts (2)
  • Long-sleeve Trekking Shirts (2)
  • Trekking Jacket
  • Gortex (or light weight) Jacket & Pants
  • Fleece or Thermal Top (evenings)
  • Fleece or Thermal Bottoms (evenings)
  • Lightweight Long Underwear (to sleep in or layer under clothes)
  • Socks (4)
  • Gloves
  • Wool Hat
  • Baseball Cap or Wide-brimmed Hat
  • Camp Towel
  • Trekking Poles (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
  • 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

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 ...

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

Kim's suggestions: I generally wear a trekking t-shirt, light trekking pants, a mid-weight trekking shirt, a lightweight synthetic jacket (instead of a fleece jacket) and always carry a wind & rain jacket (the same jacket, light weight). If the weather looks stormy, we're at higher altitudes, it's cold or it’s a pass day I carry a lightweight down jacket with me. I always have a pair of gloves, a wool hat, a baseball cap and extra pair of socks in my day pack. Good trekking boots are essential for passes although I mostly trek in low Merrill hiking shoes with socks. You don’t need climbing or plastic boots (for mini-crampons or micro-spikes).

Nights are chilly to cold, so a down jacket and warm sleeping bag are essentials. 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.

Trekking poles are not required but strongly recommended, especially for going down passes which can be quite steep and are often icy. 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 YakTraks are almost always useful (or essential) for high pass crossings. It’s also good (possibly essential) to have a pair of plastic Crocs for washing and the evenings. Tevas take a long time to dry, not recommended. You can bring a pair of light sneakers or running shoes for the afternoons or easy days if you have room in your pack, or if you are used to hiking in them.

Good, polarized sunglasses are essential; please bring an extra pair if you tend to lose them! Don’t forget a sun hat or baseball cap and have plenty of sunscreen and lip balm with SPF!

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.

Daypack
We recommend a 35-45 liter daypack (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 daypack, 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 (optional), camera, hand sanitizer, a pack-cover and often a down jacket. I slip my Crocs on the back for lunch. Lhakpa & I carry small medical kits in our daypacks.

Water
We bring MSF 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. 

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 -10F) for $2.50 per day.

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

Packing & Storage
It’s easiest to pack and unpack from a duffel bag, especially when the temperature drops, and easy for porters to carry. Inexpensive and decent quality duffels are available in Kathmandu. You can store extra gear in Kathmandu at the Kathmandu Guest House or your hotel's  storage room free of charge.

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.

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).

Spring 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 10 AM in the back garden of the Kathmandu Guest House ...

A free day to explore exotic Kathmandu and the mythical Kathmandu valley. Options: Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. 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. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. 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.

We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.

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

You have the afternoon to wander the shore of Phewa Lake, drink fresh juice, do some shopping, or sit and relax at the hotel with a book. 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
You'll be 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 breakfast at Trekkers' Inn you will start the Upper Mustang trek by heading up the windy Kali Gandaki river 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. You will 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 Tsaile 3060m
After breakfast, we enter the restricted area of Upper Mustang with our staff and horse caravan in tow. We head high up a trail of scree to a ridge crest, which affords us wonderful views of the patchwork of Kagbeni and Niligiri down the valley. We continue trekking 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. The village of Tiri Gaon sits on the west bank of the river. 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.

An hour and a half past Tangbe we reach Chhusang village (2955m), an interesting Tibetan village with lots to explore. 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. Watch the village life unfold around you in the late afternoon, timeless ...

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.

The culture from Tsaile north becomes 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.

Across the Narsing Khola, crossed by rock-hopping, is the northern part of Chhusang, which we wind our way through, passing the archery field at the end of the village. We head down to the rocky Kali Gandaki River bed where we might find saligrams from the Jurassic period (160 million years old) which were embedded in sediment of the sea floor. We soon cross the river on log bridges to the trail leading to Tsaile at 3060 meters, which looms high above us on the plateau. There is a famous bridge crossing the Kali Gandaki at a naturally-formed tunnel through which the Kali Gandaki flows. It's a very steep climb up a rocky gully to Tsaile, a lively village with extensive wheat and barley fields, where we stay for the night in a guest house. (6 hrs)

Day 6 - Trek Shyangboche 3765m
After a good breakfast we'll start our ascent to Samar. The scenery is awesome, the classic high altitude desert of the Tibetan high plateau, and in back of us a chain of Himalayan peaks: Thorung Peak, Khatung Kang, Kangsar Kang, Annapurna l, Tilicho & North Tilicho Peaks and the Niligiri Peaks. Our trail continues to ascend as we trek past the river valleys leading into the Kali Gandaki River. Soon we reach a spectacular, steep canyon-side trail leading north into Upper Mustang. Across the canyon, there is a new suspension bridge to access the remote village of Ghyakar. The Dajori La, at 3600 meters, is marked by rock cairns, a 2 1/2 - 3 hour trek from Tsaile.

Lovely Samar (3605m) is visible just below us, and we traverse to a group of chortens on the ridge above the village, soon after reaching the green village of Samar (3605m), 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.

Passing through the cluster of traditional houses and mani walls of Samar, we exit through the entrance and exit 'kane' chorten and descend steeply on a switch-back trail to the Samarkyung Khola where we soon take the left fork, climb steeply on stone steps to a view-point. After a short rest, we continue to climb another half hour to the chorten-topped Bhena La (3840m). We continue past the seasonal Bhena village along a lovely, high, wooded trail with wonderful, broad vistas across the canyons, climbing sharply up to the Beg La, just a ridge, and past the two-house seasonal village of Yamda. After an unrelenting gradual ascent, we finally reach the Yamda La (3985m) , adorned with a large cairn and a tangle of multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags, called 'lung ta' or wind horses. The views from the top are spectacular, so we'll stop for a bit to enjoy them.

A steep switch-back cutting down through the new, dirt road leads to the small hamlet of Shyangboche, originally a seasonal kharka, named after the a girl, Shyangbo (che means place in Tibetan). Shyangboche has three basic lodges, and we'll stay at either the Dhaulagiri or the Niligiri Lodge. (7 hrs)

Day 7 - Trek Dhakmar 3820m
From the lodge we have a short climb to the Shyangboche La, just 50 meters above the village, where the trail intersects a wide east-west valley. There are fantastic Himalayan panoramas from the crest, and we look down to the east to the picturesque village of Geling. Above Geling is an old, brick-red gompa and ancient meditation caves in the eroded cliffs, and in the village a new school and white-washed Mustangi houses surrounded by barley fields. We trek north on the new road, cutting down to a smaller trail which leads over a small stream. We climb to the small hamlet of Tamagaon (3700m) and continue along a lovely trail amongst rounded granite boulders to the small hamlets of Chhunggar (3750m), where there is a large, colorfully striped chorten at each end of the village. Continueing on to the next small hamlet of Zaite (3820m), we pass the intersecting trail (road) from Geling and climb the trail that intersects the switchbacking road leading to the Nyi La (4000m), a half an hour ascent.

More of Upper Mustang opens up in front of us a the cairn-topped pass, including the new road snaking its way to Tibet. We descend on the road for a bit, but soon head off on a small trail and continue contouring around hillsides to the Ghemi La where there are wonderful views down to the checkered fields and large, beautiful village of Ghemi (3570m). We descend steeply down to Ghemi, 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.

Afterwards, we take a small, rocky trail down to a bridge crossing the Tangmar Chu and stop for lunch on the grassy banks of the river. Revived, we cross the bridge and climb a steep, dusty hill. 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. Looming ahead of us is a cluster of gigantic, ancient chortens, backed by dramatic, sculpted cliff-faces, an awesome sight. We continue hiking through a scenic, green valley, stopping occasionally for passing herds of sheep and goats, soon arriving at the lively, sprawling village of Dhakmar, dominated by a dramatic, red canyon wall with many ancient cave dwellings. Following the small stream through the lower part of the village, green with old willows and more recently planted poplars, we stay in Tenzin Riverside Guesthouse, another wonderful trekking day. Across the stream on the western side is an old gompa. Sunsets against the red cliffs, which house Himalayan Griffins and Lammergeyers, are fantastic. (6 hrs)

Day 8 - Trek Tsarang 3575m (via Lo Ghekar 3940m)
One of our best trekking days is in front of us as we head north to one of Upper Mustang's capitals, Tsarang, via Lo Ghekar. More dwellings and green pastureland ahead of us as we head slowly up valley to the prayer flags at the end of the village, 20 minutes from camp, and start to climb steeply through the canyon and spires. We reach a narrow ridge, and stop for a rest, looking out at the Himalayan peaks in the distance. Blue sheep graze in these arid hillsides, their tracks stripping the otherworldly ridges, and Himalayan griffins and choughs soar in the clear, blue Mustangi skies overhead. It won't take long to pass through the narrow opening in the cliffs and cross first ridge of the Mui La (4175m). 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 cresting the tunnel-like pass. We drop back down and the climb yet again through high meadows by a meandering, rocky stream to the other Mui La (4130m).

Finally, Lo Ghekar, 'Pure Virtue of Joy', set majestically in the valley below us. Lo Ghekar or Ghar Gompa, built in the 8th century, is one of the oldest gompas in Nepal. It belongs to the Nyimgmapa 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.

After a look at the 'lha-khangs' or prayer rooms of the gompa we'll trek down the Tsarang Khola valley past scenic Marang 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 stay at The Royal Mustang Holiday Inn, run by Maya Bista, a relative of the King, the Palace and Gompa visible in the near distance. Take the chance to have a cup of traditional salt-butter tea in the kitchen with Maya and the staff of the inn!

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.

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. (5 hrs)

Day 9 - Trek Lo Manthang 3820m
Leaving Tsarang at the northern end of the village, we descend to the river and climb again to a new road which we follow for several hours to Lo Monthang, passing the impressive Sungda Chorten en route. The trail begins to climb after a cluster of teahouses and we'll reach the small Lo La pass. 

It's an exciting moment when we first spot the walls of mythical Lo Manthang, aptly named the ‘Plain of Aspiration'. Horses roam freely amongst the the crumbling walls and fields. We trek along the southern walls surrounding the city and reach the small bridge also accessed from the Lo La and the road from Tsarang.

We have reached the fabled walled city of Lo, with a single entrance through which only the King, Queen and Kempo (Abbot) are 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.

We enter the outer walls of the city and head to Pema Bista's sunny, new lodge with a campsite in back. Start exploring the maze-like alleyways of this fascinating village as the porters catch up. Be prepared for the onslaught of tourism in Lo as vendors immediately find you, touting their 'local' crafts (some of them are, others are from Kathmandu). 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 of treasures (recommended). And we'll have plenty of time to marvel at the surrounding panoramic views of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayan peaks bordering Tibet. (3 1/2 hrs)

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.

Day 10 - Lo Manthang (visit Chosar & Thinggar Valleys)
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 Chosar & Tingkar 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.

OPTION 3: Explore Rinchin Ling caves north of Lo Manthang. The schedule would be to drive to these remote Buddhist caves, hike up to caves with locals carrying two ladders, tie ladders together and climb into cave (not for those who don't like exposure), hike back down to the road and return by jeep or truck to Lo Manthang. Note that this isn't always an option, more details on the trek.

"The Ritseling Cave is located in Upper Mustang on a peak West of the Konchog Ling Cave. Prior to the last few years it appears as though no one has entered the small cave complex in several hundred years. It has an assortment of murals with a large mandala close to the entrance along with several Buddha figures. Towards the back of the cave there is a mural depicting narrative scenes possibly of one of the occupants of the cave and his travels through Tibet and especially to Lhasa. Various protector deities are found along with a stunning image - large in size - of the nine faced, eighteen armed Garuda. The only other image of this Garuda in a Buddhist context is found in Phyang Monastery, Ladakh, India." Excerpt from Himalayan Art | Mustang Cave Art

Day 11 - Trek Yara 3610m
Leaving Lo Manthang, we climb less steeply to the Lo La, a small pass at 3950 meters, looking back for one last time at Lo Manthang before making the next left at the trail marker signaling the route to Dhi. From here it's a stunningly beautiful and dramatic canyon top walk for a few hours, always with incredibly dramatic views, often undulating. The route is a geologists dream, a mini Grand Canyon of ancient, crumbling and sculpted rocks. Have your poles with you as the descent gets steeper and the scree looser the further we descend. Soon we spot the lush, green oasis of Dhi (3360m) below us, an old trading village on the salt-route to Tibet.

After a rest in Dhi we descend to the Kali Gandaki which we cross on a bridge, and then turn left at the next major river junction five minutes further down the valley. We have another hour's walk along the river valley, with a last ascent on the left of the saligram-filled riverbed, to reach beautiful Yara.

Notice the fluted cliff side across the river, from Yara; fantastic, sculpted canyons with the remains of a network of ancient caves, now eroded enough to be inaccessible. We stay at the 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.

Day 12 - Yara. Visit Luri Gompa & Tashi Kabum
We stay in Yara for the night, so no unpacking, and after breakfast head out on a day trip to Luri Gompa and Tashi Kabum. We walk along the saligram dotted riverbed for an hour to we reach the access point 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 dangerous, and it's not for the faint hearted or those with exposure issues. We discovered last year that our lodge owner was actually the one who discovered the ancient Tashi Kumbum, and then went there with Gary McCue, an interesting history and some of the most amazing works of Buddhist art around.

NOTE: Those choosing to climb up into the caves do so at their own risk! We assume no responsibility for any injury resulting from anyone climbing to these caves.

Staying along the riverbed, we'll hike for another hour along the narrowing river valley to the fabled Druk-pa Luri Gompa and its complex of Tibetan Buddhist caves, some of which are accessible others now 'closed' forever. From the river we'll have a short hike up to the newer gompa, and then a steeper hike up to the cave complex on a newly rebuilt trail.

The story of Luri Gompa: 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 and one of the nuns who keep the key 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.

We'll return to Yara via Ghara, another lovely village about half an hour from Luri Gompa but on the high plateau. We can stay on the higher trail after Ghara, reaching Yara about an hour later.

Day 13 - Trek Tangge 3215m
A sandals day! We will be crossing the Kali Gandaki several times, so have your sandals in your daypack. Descending back down to the Puyung Khola, we return to Surkhang, the very small administrative center just south of Dhi and hike above the village to a viewpoint looking down the Kali Gandaki. About 20 minutes after this point, back on the riverbed, we have to cross the river for the first time, either on a precarious series of stone steps or with sandals, across the river. Keep your sandals on from this point as we'll have to recross the river several times. After 1 1/2 hours of river bed walking we reach the large Dechyang Khola from where saligrams are mined further up-river.

Trekking south along the stunning Kali Gandaki riverbed for another 1 1/2 hours, searching for saligrams and crossing the river several times, we finally reach the Tangge Khola sumdo. Turning left, we trek along this pebbly, windy floodplain for another hour or more, crossing this river several times as well before finally spotting the magical, whitewashed village of Tangge built into on the terraced hillside. Climbing slightly to the main trail, we pass the line of red, yellow, white and blue-grey chortens and the long mani wall with four carved figures on each.

Tangge is an incredibly stunning village, with monumental ochre and white chortens, long mani walls and traditional architecture, surrounded be terraced barley fields, a village of 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, and now there are only twenty. 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.

We stay at Tip Top Guest House, just above the mani walls, a site sheltered from the unrelenting Mustang winds.

Day 14 - Trek Geling 3570m
Splashing back down river, we soon reach the Kali Gandaki river, whose cliff-walls now soar above us. We have to cross this formidable river many times, so we'll stick together. We'll have a beautiful river morning, with a full three hours of gazing at the canyons surrounding us as we hike down river. The river becomes more curvy, new vistas emerging at every bend. At the large doksa on the right we leave the river bed and ascend to the jeep road, which we follow for an hour or more past a long line of unique, colorful mani stones to the green village of Gheling.

We set up camp in the walls of a new guest house and have time to explore this lovely, green village with its old, ochre monastery on the hillside above the village and a sponsored school.  From the campsite, we have great views of the Himalayan peaks to our south: Thorung Peak, Annapurna l and Tilicho amongst them.

Day 15 - Trek Samar 3605m (via Chungsi Caves)
From Geling we continue on to Samar over the Syangboche La, with an option to visit the Chungsi caves en route ...

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:
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!

HIGH ROUTE:
The other, shorter and easier route, entails hiking over the Yamdo La (3860m) and then the Bhena La (3860m), 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 stay at the green New Annapurna Guest House, one of our favorite guest houses owned by our friend Namygal Gurung. His brother Karma used to be our horseman, and is now one of our best guides. Showers are available inside the lodge and feel free to go into the kitchen for a cup of salt-butter tea. Relax and enjoy the afternoon and sunset over the Himalayan peaks in this charming village.

Day 16 - Trek to 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

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 once-forbidden Mustang at the Trekker's Lodge in the evening, handing out tips, extra gear and a few buying drinks for the staff.

Day 17 - Fly to Pokhara & Kathmandu
You'll again be up early for the 20-minute 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.

NOTE: In the case of flight cancellation out of Jomsom everyone will be responsible for rooms and meals at Trekkers Inn

Day 18 - Depart
We send you off to the airport for your flight home, and hope to see you again soon!

NOTE: We STRONGLY suggest you add at least one, and perhaps two days in Kathmandu at the end of the trek that allow for flight delays or cancellations leaving Jomsom.

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!

Autumn 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 10 AM in the back garden of the Kathmandu Guest House ...

A free day to explore exotic Kathmandu and the mythical Kathmandu valley. Options: Climb the many steps to Swayambhunath (the monkey temple), with its commanding views of Kathmandu (at 1420 m), its whitewashed stupas and its unique synthesis of Buddhism and Hinduism. 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. In the midst of traditional gompas, and hung with long strings of multi-colored prayer flags, Boudhanath attracts Sherpas, Tibetans and tourists alike for daily circumambulations (koras) of the stupa. Durbar Square, one of the old capitals of the Kathmandu valley, is a synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and statues, and is often the site of festivals, marriages and other ceremonies. Hindu Pashupatinath and its sacred temple complex on the banks of the holy Bagmati river. 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.

We'll have time for a bit of gear shopping in Thamel for anyone who needs to do this, and in the evening will head out for dinner of wood-oven pizza at the Roadhouse Cafe.

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

You have the afternoon to wander the shore of Phewa Lake, drink fresh juice, do some shopping, or sit and relax at the hotel with a book. 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
You'll be 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 breakfast at Trekkers' Inn you will start the Upper Mustang trek by heading up the windy Kali Gandaki river 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. You will 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 Tsaile 3060m
After breakfast, we enter the restricted area of Upper Mustang with our staff and horse caravan in tow. We head high up a trail of scree to a ridge crest, which affords us wonderful views of the patchwork of Kagbeni and Niligiri down the valley. We continue trekking 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. The village of Tiri Gaon sits on the west bank of the river. 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.

An hour and a half past Tangbe we reach Chhusang village (2955m), an interesting Tibetan village with lots to explore. 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. Watch the village life unfold around you in the late afternoon, timeless ...

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.

The culture from Tsaile north becomes 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.

Across the Narsing Khola, crossed by rock-hopping, is the northern part of Chhusang, which we wind our way through, passing the archery field at the end of the village. We head down to the rocky Kali Gandaki River bed where we might find saligrams from the Jurassic period (160 million years old) which were embedded in sediment of the sea floor. We soon cross the river on log bridges to the trail leading to Tsaile at 3060 meters, which looms high above us on the plateau. There is a famous bridge crossing the Kali Gandaki at a naturally-formed tunnel through which the Kali Gandaki flows. It's a very steep climb up a rocky gully to Tsaile, a lively village with extensive wheat and barley fields, where we stay for the night in a guest house. (6 hrs)

Day 6 - Trek Shyangboche 3765m
After a good breakfast we'll start our ascent to Samar. The scenery is awesome, the classic high altitude desert of the Tibetan high plateau, and in back of us a chain of Himalayan peaks: Thorung Peak, Khatung Kang, Kangsar Kang, Annapurna l, Tilicho & North Tilicho Peaks and the Niligiri Peaks. Our trail continues to ascend as we trek past the river valleys leading into the Kali Gandaki River. Soon we reach a spectacular, steep canyon-side trail leading north into Upper Mustang. Across the canyon, there is a new suspension bridge to access the remote village of Ghyakar. The Dajori La, at 3600 meters, is marked by rock cairns, a 2 1/2 - 3 hour trek from Tsaile.

Lovely Samar (3605m) is visible just below us, and we traverse to a group of chortens on the ridge above the village, soon after reaching the green village of Samar (3605m), 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.

Passing through the cluster of traditional houses and mani walls of Samar, we exit through the entrance and exit 'kane' chorten and descend steeply on a switch-back trail to the Samarkyung Khola where we soon take the left fork, climb steeply on stone steps to a view-point. After a short rest, we continue to climb another half hour to the chorten-topped Bhena La (3840m). We continue past the seasonal Bhena village along a lovely, high, wooded trail with wonderful, broad vistas across the canyons, climbing sharply up to the Beg La, just a ridge, and past the two-house seasonal village of Yamda. After an unrelenting gradual ascent, we finally reach the Yamda La (3985m) , adorned with a large cairn and a tangle of multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags, called 'lung ta' or wind horses. The views from the top are spectacular, so we'll stop for a bit to enjoy them.

A steep switch-back cutting down through the new, dirt road leads to the small hamlet of Shyangboche, originally a seasonal kharka, named after the a girl, Shyangbo (che means place in Tibetan). Shyangboche has three basic lodges, and we'll stay at either the Dhaulagiri or the Niligiri Lodge. (7 hrs)

Day 7 - Trek Dhakmar 3820m
From the lodge we have a short climb to the Shyangboche La, just 50 meters above the village, where the trail intersects a wide east-west valley. There are fantastic Himalayan panoramas from the crest, and we look down to the east to the picturesque village of Geling. Above Geling is an old, brick-red gompa and ancient meditation caves in the eroded cliffs, and in the village a new school and white-washed Mustangi houses surrounded by barley fields. We trek north on the new road, cutting down to a smaller trail which leads over a small stream. We climb to the small hamlet of Tamagaon (3700m) and continue along a lovely trail amongst rounded granite boulders to the small hamlets of Chhunggar (3750m), where there is a large, colorfully striped chorten at each end of the village. Continueing on to the next small hamlet of Zaite (3820m), we pass the intersecting trail (road) from Geling and climb the trail that intersects the switchbacking road leading to the Nyi La (4000m), a half an hour ascent.

More of Upper Mustang opens up in front of us a the cairn-topped pass, including the new road snaking its way to Tibet. We descend on the road for a bit, but soon head off on a small trail and continue contouring around hillsides to the Ghemi La where there are wonderful views down to the checkered fields and large, beautiful village of Ghemi (3570m). We descend steeply down to Ghemi, 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.

Afterwards, we take a small, rocky trail down to a bridge crossing the Tangmar Chu and stop for lunch on the grassy banks of the river. Revived, we cross the bridge and climb a steep, dusty hill. 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. Looming ahead of us is a cluster of gigantic, ancient chortens, backed by dramatic, sculpted cliff-faces, an awesome sight. We continue hiking through a scenic, green valley, stopping occasionally for passing herds of sheep and goats, soon arriving at the lively, sprawling village of Dhakmar, dominated by a dramatic, red canyon wall with many ancient cave dwellings. Following the small stream through the lower part of the village, green with old willows and more recently planted poplars, we stay in Tenzin Riverside Guesthouse, another wonderful trekking day. Across the stream on the western side is an old gompa. Sunsets against the red cliffs, which house Himalayan Griffins and Lammergeyers, are fantastic. (6 hrs)

Day 8 - Trek Lo Manthang 3820m (via Lo Ghekar 3940m)
One of our best trekking days is in front of us as we head north to mythical Lo Manthang via Lo Ghekar. More dwellings and green pastureland ahead of us as we head slowly up valley to the prayer flags at the end of the village, 20 minutes from camp, and start to climb steeply through the canyon and spires. We reach a narrow ridge, and stop for a rest, looking out at the Himalayan peaks in the distance. Blue sheep graze in these arid hillsides, their tracks stripping the otherworldly ridges, and Himalayan griffins and choughs soar in the clear, blue Mustangi skies overhead. It won't take long to pass through the narrow opening in the cliffs and cross first ridge of the Mui La (4175m). 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 cresting the tunnel-like pass. We drop back down and the climb yet again through high meadows by a meandering, rocky stream to the other Mui La (4130m).

Finally, Lo Ghekar, 'Pure Virtue of Joy', set majestically in the valley below us. Lo Ghekar or Ghar Gompa, built in the 8th century, is one of the oldest gompas in Nepal. It belongs to the Nyimgmapa 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.

After a look at the 'lha-khangs' or prayer rooms of the gompa we have one last pass to crest, the Marang or Chogo La (4230m). Descending and crossing the small stream on the other side of the gompa, we have two hours of somewhat steep climbing through green doksa regions to crest the Marang La. From the pass we descend through nomadic regions for an easy two hours to Lo Monthang, following the valley bed, past the ruins of ancient fortresses and gompas. Horses roam freely amongst the the crumbling walls and fields that surround Lo as we approach. It's an exciting moment when we first spot the walls of mythical Lo Manthang, aptly named the ‘Plain of Aspiration'. We trek along the southern walls surrounding the city and reach the small bridge also accessed from the Lo La and the road from Tsarang.

We have reached the fabled walled city of Lo, with a single entrance through which only the King, Queen and Kempo (Abbot) are 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.

We enter the outer walls of the city and head to Pema Bista's sunny, new lodge with a campsite in back. Start exploring the maze-like alleyways of this fascinating village as the porters catch up. Be prepared for the onslaught of tourism in Lo as vendors immediately find you, touting their 'local' crafts (some of them are, others are from Kathmandu). 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 of treasures (recommended). And we'll have plenty of time to marvel at the surrounding panoramic views of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayan peaks bordering Tibet. (3 1/2 hrs)

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.

Day 9 - Lo Manthang (visit Chosar & Thinggar Valleys)
You have two options for today:

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 Chosar & Tingkar 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.

Day 10 - Trek to Tsarang 3575
We have an easy day of trekking today to make up for yesterdays longer day. Leaving Lo Manthang, we climb less steeply to the Lo La, a small pass at 3950 meters, looking back for one last time at Lo Manthang. We trek south along a new dirt road, passing a cluster of teahouses and then the impressive Sungda Chorten a bit more than half way to Tsarang.

Another 1 1/2 hours of easy walking and we've reached the fortified village of Tsarang, translated as 'cock's crest' and green with populars and willows, perched on the edge of a dramatic canyon. We descend to the river and hike up to the entrance chorten (kane) and enter the village from the north. We'll stop for a look at the Tsarang Gompa and its ruins, impressively built on a crag of rock. We stay at The Royal Mustang Holiday Inn, run by Maya Bista, a relative of the King, the Palace and Gompa visible in the near distance. Take the chance to have a cup of traditional salt-butter tea in the kitchen with Maya and the staff of the inn!

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.

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. (4 1/2 hrs)

Day 11 - Trek Yara 3610m
Leaving Tsarang through the southern chorten, we take a sharp turn to the left (east) and descend a steep valley of river rocks to the Kali Gandaki. We have to cross the Kali Gandaki, so have sandals with you. Ascending a small ridge for views down the river valley, we drop back down to the small administrative center of Surkhang, the lush, green oasis of Dhi (3360m), an old trading village on the salt-route to Tibet, just across the river. From here we have another hour's walk along the river valley, with a last ascent on the left of the saligram-filled riverbed, to reach beautiful Yara.

Notice the fluted cliff side across the river, from Yara; fantastic, sculpted canyons with the remains of a network of ancient caves, now eroded enough to be inaccessible. We stay at the 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.

Day 12 - Yara. Visit Luri Gompa & Tashi Kabum
We stay in Yara for the night, so no unpacking, and after breakfast head out on a day trip to Luri Gompa and Tashi Kabum. We walk along the saligram dotted riverbed for an hour to we reach the access point 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 dangerous, and it's not for the faint hearted or those with exposure issues. We discovered last year that our lodge owner was actually the one who discovered the ancient Tashi Kumbum, and then went there with Gary McCue, an interesting history and some of the most amazing works of Buddhist art around.

NOTE: Those choosing to climb up into the caves do so at their own risk! We assume no responsibility for any injury resulting from anyone climbing to these caves.

Staying along the riverbed, we'll hike for another hour along the narrowing river valley to the fabled Druk-pa Luri Gompa and its complex of Tibetan Buddhist caves, some of which are accessible others now 'closed' forever. From the river we'll have a short hike up to the newer gompa, and then a steeper hike up to the cave complex on a newly rebuilt trail.

The story of Luri Gompa: 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 and one of the nuns who keep the key 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.

We'll return to Yara via Ghara, another lovely village about half an hour from Luri Gompa but on the high plateau. We can stay on the higher trail after Ghara, reaching Yara about an hour later.

Day 13 - Trek Ghemi 3570m or Geling 3570m
A sandals day! We will be crossing the Kali Gandaki several times, so have your sandals in your daypack. Descending back down to the Puyung Khola, we return to Surkhang, the very small administrative center just south of Dhi and hike above the village to a viewpoint looking down the Kali Gandaki. About 20 minutes after this point, back on the riverbed, we have to cross the river for the first time, either on a precarious series of stone steps or with sandals, across the river. Keep your sandals on from this point as we'll have to recross the river several times. After 1 1/2 hours of river bed walking we reach the large Dechyang Khola from where saligrams are mined further up-river.

From this intersection we head west, ascending on a good trail for just over an hour to the plateau above where we soon reach the dirt road and follow it to the Tsarang La (3870m) and then descend on a trail through the switch-backing road to a set of incredibly dramatic chortens in front of us, and then the longest mani wall in Mustang just to the west of the chortens. Descending back to Ghemi we retrace our tracks over the Ghemi, then ascending to the the Nyi La and have an easy, 45-minute descent to scenic Geling below.

We stay in a new guest house and have time to explore this lovely, green village with its old, ochre monastery on the hillside above the village and a sponsored school. From the guest house, we have great views of the Himalayan peaks to our south: Thorung Peak, Annapurna l and Tilicho amongst them.

Day 14 - Trek Samar 3605m (via Chungsi Caves)
From Geling we continue on to Samar over the Syangboche La, with an option to visit the Chungsi caves en route ...

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:
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!

HIGH ROUTE:
The other, shorter and easier route, entails hiking over the Yamdo La (3860m) and then the Bhena La (3860m), 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 stay at the green New Annapurna Guest House, one of our favorite guest houses owned by our friend Namygal Gurung. His brother Karma used to be our horseman, and is now one of our best guides. Showers are available inside the lodge and feel free to go into the kitchen for a cup of salt-butter tea. Relax and enjoy the afternoon and sunset over the Himalayan peaks in this charming village.

Day 15 - Trek to 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

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 once-forbidden Mustang at the Trekker's Lodge in the evening, handing out tips, extra gear and a few buying drinks for the staff.

Day 16 - Fly to Pokhara & Kathmandu
You'll again be up early for the 20-minute 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.

NOTE: In the case of flight cancellation out of Jomsom everyone will be responsible for rooms and meals at Trekkers Inn

Day 18 - Depart
We send you off to the airport for your flight home, and hope to see you again soon!

NOTE: We STRONGLY suggest you add at least one, and perhaps two days in Kathmandu at the end of the trek that allow for flight delays or cancellations leaving Jomsom.

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

Signup for our Newsletter kimkim Add me to Skype  Facebook  Blog        Kamzang Youtube  Tripadvisor Kamzang Contact Informations