The Mustang Region in Nepal is a fascinating area that blends natural and cultural attractions. It is located in northern Nepal, in the Himalayas, and is part of the Gandaki Province, sharing borders with Tibet to the north. Mustang is renowned for its rich culture, ancient monasteries, breathtaking landscapes, and the protected city of Lo Manthang, which serves as the capital of the Upper Mustang Region. The region is often referred to as the “Forbidden Kingdom” of Nepal.
Similarly, Mustang has recently secured 37th position among 52 listed popular destinations in 2024 in the New York Times. It is also one of the most visited destinations and a dreamy place for every age group from any corner of the world due to its captivating geographical distribution and natural consistency. Therefore, Mustang is an adventurous journey for those interested in adventure, culture, and history.
Here are some reasons why Mustang is so special and why it is listed on the New York Times 2024 popular destinations:
Unique Terrain of Mustang Region
The Mustang region is a geographically diverse area in Nepal with a unique terrain that ranges from high-altitude deserts to lush river valleys. It is divided into two main parts: Upper Mustang and Lower Mustang. Lower Mustang showcases beautiful natural scenery, with the Kali Gandaki River flowing through the deepest gorge in the world. Travelers can also witness the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges in this region.
Similarly, Upper Mustang is a mystical and once-forbidden kingdom. The ancient culture and traditions of the Lo people are still preserved. Upper Mustang is a high-altitude desert with arid plateaus, red cliffs, sandy dunes, and narrow valleys surrounded by majestic valleys. Furthermore, the terrain in this region is also very different from other popular trekking routes such as Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Base Camp, and Manaslu Base Camp.
Mustang is a culturally rich region with a strong Tibetan influence and a long history of Buddhism. Many ancient monasteries, temples, and caves in the region showcase the art and architecture unique to the area. The people of this region also follow many festivals and traditions that reflect the local culture and beliefs. Some of the festivals are Tiji, Yartung, and Lhosar. The harsh climate and geography of the region influence its unique cuisine, clothing, and handicrafts. Moreover, the Tiji Festival is one of the important festivals celebrated annually, by the local people of Mustang.
Lo Manthang as a Walled City
Lo Manthang is the capital city of Upper Mustang. It is a walled city with a rich history. Many ancient monasteries, temples, and caves in the region showcase the art and architecture unique to the area. Additionally, Lo Manthang preserves the ancient culture and traditions of the Lo people, making it the last forbidden kingdom of Nepal. Lo people are closely related to Tibetans.
The area has stunning landscapes with barren, high-altitude deserts, deep canyons, and views of the Himalayas. The locals here also celebrate the most colorful and vibrant festivals, such as Tiji and Yartung. Moreover, it is also a captivating trekking destination with different routes and adventurous experiences.
The sacred kingdom of Lo is the only place where trekkers can explore the living Tibetan culture in Nepal.
Upper Mustang as a restricted area
Acknowledging the rich cultural heritage, unique traditions, and diverse geography, authorities designate the Mustang region as a restricted area to ensure protection. The Mustang region is acknowledged as a restricted area to protect its rich cultural heritage, unique traditions, and diverse geography. Mustang has a big archaeological value, as there are over 10,000 man-made sky caves such as, sky burials, monasteries, shelters, and more. Similarly, there are huge ancient treasures and art that need to be protected and preserved.
Furthermore, the rich and distinctive cultural heritage of Mustang preserves the culture and traditions of the Lo people. The tourism controlled in Upper Mustang plays a pivotal role in safeguarding and respecting these cultural elements, preventing them from external influences and changes.
Upper Mustang, is the most restricted area. Similarly, as a foreign traveler, to enter Mustang Valley, mainly Upper Mustang, you need to obtain a permit and a guide from the government of Nepal.
The Mustang Valley has a strong Tibetan influence and a long history of Buddhism. There are many ancient monasteries, also known as gompas, that showcase the art and architecture. Some of the popular monasteries in Mustang Valley are:
- The largest and most famous monastery in the Lo Manthang region is Dragkar Thegchen Ling Gompa, built in the 13th Century. Still, some of the powerful lamas reside in the monastery.
- Jampa Monastery: It is one of the major gompa among three monasteries located in the center of Lo Manthang. It was build in the 14th century, adorned with 109 pieces of mandalas painted in gold, silver, and turquoise.
- Thubchen Gompa: Builders constructed the monastery in the 15th century, creating a huge assembly hall with a golden roof and featuring a 45-foot Lord Buddha statue. Additionally, it also has a library with many ancient manuscripts.
- Luri Gompa: Luri Gompa is a cave monastery in the Yara village, built in the 13th century. The monastery has a unique stupa with 13 rings. It also has many murals and statues of deities.
- Ghar Gompa: Ghar Gompa is one of the oldest monasteries in Mustang, established in the 8th century. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche (Founder of Tibetan Buddhism), used to mediate here and his handprint is on the rock.
These monasteries are not only for worship purposes but also showcase the huge historical and cultural significance of the Lo people. These monasteries offer an adventurous experience, blending spirituality, history, culture, and natural beauty.
Upper Mustang Trek
The Upper Mustang Trek is a memorable journey through the forbidden kingdom of the Mustang Valley. This trek is a remote and culturally rich trekking route in Nepal that offers stunning views of the Himalayas, the Kali Gandaki River, and the valley, showcasing the importance of Tibetan Buddhist culture. The trek begins from Jomsom, the headquarters of the Mustang District. During the trek, you can enjoy diverse landscapes, visit ancient monasteries and caves. You can also immerse yourself in colorful festivals and traditions, and experience the hospitality and lifestyle of the Lo people.
Did you know?
According to the Annapurna Conservation Area Project(ACAP), more than 90,000 foreign tourists visited the Mustang Valley in 2023.
Mustang, positioned in the north-central part of the country, lies behind the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Himalayan ranges. It holds the distinction of being one of the most remote areas due to its geographical location, challenging terrain, and historical factors. Furthermore, it stands out as one of the least populated regions in the Himalayas, making it isolation from the rest of the world.
Tiji and Yartung Festival
Tiji and Yartung festivals are two of the most popular and colorful festivals in Upper Mustang. Tiji is a three-day festival that features colorful costumes, drumming, and the chanting of Buddhist monks, as well as mask dancers celebrating the victory of good over evil. The Upper Mustang Tiji Festival is believed to have begun approximately 500 years ago to celebrate the victory of Buddha, in an incarnation of Dorje Sonnu, over local demons who were responsible for causing droughts.
Similarly, Yartung is a celebration of the horsemanship of the locals, marking the end of summer and the harvesting season. This festival showcases horse races, drinking, dancing, and prayer. The Yartung festival takes place in several Mustang locales, such as Lo Manthang, Khimkar, Jharkot, and Ranipauwa, on the day of the full moon in August.
Annapurna Circuit Trek
The Annapurna Circuit Trek is an adventurous and culturally rewarding trek through Nepal’s diverse landscapes. The trek takes you around the stunning Annapurna mountains, leading to the breathtaking Thorong La Pass. Along with the Annapurna Circuit Trek, the trek will also pass through the Mustang’s valley, the world’s deepest Kali Gandaki Gorge, surrounded by the towering peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. You’ll also encounter diverse cultures, meeting Gurungs, Thakalis, and Lopa. Furthermore, you can also explore the sacred Muktinath Temple and immerse yourself in the rich Tibetan Buddhist culture of Manang Village.
Muktinath Temple in the Mustang region is a holy site for Hindus and Buddhists. It is one of the world’s highest temples, at an altitude of 3,800m(12467.19ft). Similarly, the temple is dedicated to Vishnu, who is worshipped as Muktinath, the lord of liberation. The temple has pagoda-style architecture, with a golden roof and a 45-foot statue of Vishnu. There are also 108 water spouts, where pilgrims bathe to cleanse their sins and attain salvation. Moreover, the Himalayan mountains and the Kali Gandaki River surround it. It is also the ancient salt trade route between Tibet and India.
10 Must-Visit Attractions During Mustang Tour
The Mustang region is popular for its unique landscapes, ancient monasteries, and vibrant Tibetan culture. However, here are some of the must-visit attractions you don’t want to miss during the Mustang tour:
- Lo Manthang
- Ghar Gompa
- Choser Cave
- Muktinath Temple
- Mustang Eco Museum
- Sky Cave
If you are looking for an adventure that will take you back in history, Mustang is the must-visit destination. You can explore its stunning landscapes, ancient monasteries, and colorful festivals. Mustang is not easy to reach, but it is worth the effort. After completing this trek, it will inspire you, challenge you, and let you make unforgettable memories. So, don’t miss this opportunity to visit one of the most adventurous and historical places in Nepal.