The remote Mustang Valley of Nepal was once a thriving region hidden deep amongst the northern Himalayan passages. It’s early inhabitants were producers of fine Buddhist art and writings, but the major economic vein that helped it thrive thousands of years ago was salt, trading up and around the Chinese border and beyond. What the now desolate region is known for most these days however, are its vast, mysterious, and nearly impossibly complex system of man-made caves, one of the great archaeological mysteries of the world.
Some sit by themselves, a single open mouth on a vast corrugated face of weathered rock. Others are in groups; a grand chorus of holes, occasionally stacked eight or nine stories high, an entire vertical neighborhood. Some were dug into cliff sides, others tunneled from above. Many are thousands of years old. The total number of caves in Mustang, conservatively estimated, is 10,000.
In the mid-1990s, archaeologists from Nepal and the University of Cologne began exploring the stacked caves and found several dozen bodies, all at least 2,000 years old. Since then, groups have continued to investigate the remote Upper Mustang site, but no-one has discovered who built the caves. Pete Athans is the leader of an interdisciplinary team of mountaineers and archaeologists that have spent their most recent and most passionate efforts scaling the dangerous, crumbling walls of the Mustang Valley, discovering incredible preserved artifacts amongst the ancient caveways–murals, bowls, documents (religious, legal, mundane), ritual burial sites. The greatest find of the recent excavations came near the village of Samdzong, just south of the Chinese boarder by Mustang.
“Those who have seen the mysterious caves say the effect of them on the cliff face makes it look like a giant sandcastle.” Considered to be one of the greatest wonders of the world, the caves in Mustang never cease to mystify and baffle human kind. As ever in Mustang, the cliffs hold secrets yet to be uncovered. Join us for ‘Upper Mustang Trek’ and experience the mystical aura exuded by the ancient mystery caves for yourself!