The Magical Upper Mustang

Traced in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, hidden behind towering peaks with dry and arid yet amazing landscapes, a region that promises extraordinary adventure in Nepal. Located northwest of the capital Kathmandu, the remote region soaked in great history and amazing culture has its door open for visitors seeking an unreal journey through time accompanied by wonderful landscapes.

The region is influenced by Tibet and shares a border with Tibet. Well known for caves which are manmade and Tibetan-influenced Buddhist culture, the walled city of Lo manthang remained isolated for centuries preserving its culture and heritage. This journey offers a surreal landscape, most of them are barren, centuries-old monasteries, white-washed houses with narrow alleys, apple orchards, palaces, and more.

One can either do the Upper Mustang Trek or explore the place by enjoying the Jeep Tour to Upper Mustang. The mystical charm of the place is also enhanced by the amazing Tiji Festival. Exploring Upper Mustang takes you back in time and connects you with nature.

At a Glance of the Forbidden Kingdom

At the edge of the Himalayas neighboring Tibet, the place holds a strong Tibetan influence in its people, culture, and arid landscape featuring high cliffs and unique rock formations and vibrant colors. Along the way the small town of Jomsom, Kagbeni is the gateway to Upper Mustang, before proceeding through the Dhaulagiri massif’s rain shadow to Lo-Manthang. There, you can explore the past King’s throne rooms in the Kingdom of Lo-Manthang, as well as the caves, rock paintings, chortens, monasteries, and gompa while gaining insight into the local people’s daily lives and rich culture.

This area has been isolated from the rest of the world for many years, allowing it to develop its unique traditions and culture closely linked to Tibet, with stunning mountain scenery in Nepal’s rain shadow region. The term “Forbidden Kingdom” is used because the place had certain restrictions in the past on travel made by the government of Nepal until 1992 limiting the number of visitors. Another interesting village you could trek is the village of Yara Ghara. The hidden village is home to 200 people who live on basic and simple things limiting their involvement in the modern world.

Not only Yara and Ghara there are more interesting villages in the region of the Forbidden Kingdom like Lubra village, home to only 14 families, who are away from the touch of modernization. If you would like to know more information on such places as Upper Mustang and others feel free to contact Global Holidays Adventure, a local travel company based in Kathmandu that has operated for decades practicing sustainable tourism and helping communities

A Journey Through Time

Upon reaching the Forbidden Kingdom you feel like stepping into a time capsule. The landscape and its color feel like you are on Mars. The deep gorges, the Sija Jong cave chiseled by hand, and ancient monasteries take you to an era when people used to trade salt between Tibet and Nepal. The place was also a salt trade route between India and Tibet as well. The centuries-old monasteries, chorten, and Mani walls stand still reflecting a history and culture influenced by Tibet.

The trek to Upper Mustang starts at Kagbeni where trails lead to Forbidden Kingdom. As you ascend through the trail you will experience a dramatic change in the landscape. The vibrant greenery goes through dry and arid landscapes creating a strange ambiance.

Culturally Upper Mustang

Culturally Upper Mustang

The culture of the region is deeply rooted within people’s hearts with the influence of Tibetan Buddhism. The dotted monasteries, chortens, are decorated with ancient paintings, prayer flags, and religious artifacts. These flags, inscribed with prayers, are believed to transmit positive energy and blessings when carried by the wind, spreading their generous influence throughout the world.

The iconic walled city of Lo is a living witness to the culture and tradition of the Mustang. Surrounded by the wall, the walled city is a maze of narrow alleys leading to ancient palaces, gompa, dzongs, and others.

The Tiji festival is another living proof of the region’s cultural heritage. Normally, the Tiji festival takes place during month of May following the Tibetan lunar calendar within the town of Lo Manthang. The three-day celebration is usually a battle between good and evil which contains chants and dances performed by monks in colorful dresses.

Tiji festival lasts for three days and is performed in front of the ancient Royal Palace of Upper Mustang. According to some ancient stories, demons or bad spirits used to trouble the people of the Mustang region with some evil deeds. The evil spirits blocked the water and spread various diseases in the Mustang region.

Dorje Jono, a monk of Chodde monastery freed the entire region of Mustang fighting the demons and defeating them. This included the prayers, chants, and mask dance lasting over three days in the monastery of Lo Manthang. Everyone including the royal families gathered in the monastery and acted as participants in the sacred dance.

The Mysterious Caves of Upper Mustang

Another unique feature of the upper Mustang is the sky cave dating back to the 8th century. Chiseled by hand on the cliffside by ancient inhabitants. It is believed that the caves are the residence of the inhabitants of Tibet. The caves are used as both meditation chambers and places to reside. The beauty of these mysterious caves showing scriptures of Buddhism adds different vibes during the trekking or the tour.

There are a number of caves and different caves serve different purposes. It is believed that some caves are used as burial chambers as well, holding secrets of the long-gone era. Exploring such ancient caves decorated with Buddhist paintings and scriptures which are now fading are some bits and pieces of distant past.

The Monasteries at Upper Mustang

The architectural style of Nepalese monasteries is distinct and often reflects the local culture and surroundings. Situated on hilltops or in serene locations, these monastic structures exude a sense of peaceful seclusion. Typically crafted from stone and wood, the buildings showcase intricate carvings and decorative elements, adding to their aesthetic appeal.

Most of the monasteries located in the upper Mustang region contain gold-imprinted mantras, prayers, and chants. All of them were collected from the caves. The gold imprints helped monks in order to chant prayers during the night as well. However, such books, scrolls as well as gold imprints are not given to new monks due to their purity and one must be worthy enough to have it.

Places like Ghar Gompa, Luri Gompa, Chele Monastery, Thrangu Tashi Choling Monastery Ghiling, and many other monasteries, of them were built in the 14th, 15th, and 10th centuries. Such monasteries not only offer a glimpse of rich culture, religion, and faith but also provide a great environment for meditation and a lot of self-realization.

As the charm of Upper Mustang draws the attention of people, responsible tourism and the conservation of culture have been crucial.  Sustainable practice with the involvement of the local community is a shared commitment from locals and travel companies like Global Holidays Adventure. However, if the government of Nepal takes some initiative, it which help the people of the region to grow economically and motivate them in order to practice and preserve the cultural richness they have and pass it on to future generations.

In the heart of the Himalayas, Upper Mustang is a place that holds a rich cultural significance, mystical landscapes, and the amazing hospitality of locals. The forbidden kingdom invites us on a transformative journey through time as well as changing the perspective of our mind, heart, and soul.