UPPER MUSTANG – The Kingdom at the Back of Beyond –
13 Days. Max. Altitude 3,840m.
Basic Tea-House Trekking with guides and porters.
Pre-trek Briefing: HE Base Camp (Pokhara) 5pm on day prior to Day 1.
Mustang is a distinctly separated region of Nepal where influences divide unequally into three. Firstly it is a land standing alone and bravely independent, secondly it draws almost all other historic, cultural and religious traditions from Tibet, and, thirdly (lastly really) it is a somewhat inappropriate part of Nepal (which continues to recognise its autonomy and its king and its status as a kingdom.
Mustang’s extraordinary landscape marks it out as somewhere very different. If geography is the foundation of history then no wonder Mustang is so distinct. Here is the definitive ‘back of beyond’, sandwiched by great neighbours to the North and South yet historically quite beyond the reach of either while surviving in the rain shadow of the Annapurnas and all but lost in the vast folds of the trans-Himalaya. With eons of harsh climate leaving behind the desolate, craggy shapes of erratic erosion it is redeemed by the life-giving waters of the streams that supply the Kali Gandaki.
Villages are typically a few hours apart, each one integrated into the landscape and taking form by morphing out of a mirage.
The story of Mustang has been one of almost total self-reliance and independence but with trade woven into its social fabric…sited as it is on a main trans-Himalayan trade route while also bartering salt for a few legendary luxuries of India and Tibet brought back by the yak and mule caravans - tribute of sugar or candles or brocade paid to the king in his fabled palace.
So fast is ‘progress’ now being imposed that before too long a key, commercially strategic road will use the valley of the Kali Gandaki to link China with India, via both Jomson (on the Annapurna Circuit) and both Pokhara. This will of course totally reinvent Mustang. So if you want an easy trip to a once-magnificent land you can always wait the few years it will take! Until then, this is a unique
and pretty unexplored, awesomely wonderous world apart. Ours is a trek to its mountain stronghold and historic seat of power known as ‘Lo Mustang’.
DAY TO DAY PLAN –
Day 1: Fly Pokhara to Jomsom
(2,760m) (25mins approx.) and trek to Kagbeni (O/nt Altitude 2,800m/4hrs approx.) Our early morning flight takes us to Jomson, with Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri towering on either side of the Kali Gandaki.
We set off and cross the Panga River and climb to Eklai Bhatti and by day’s end have reached the village of Kagbeni, a green oasis at the junction of the Jhong River and Kali Gandaki.
Day 2: To Chele
(O/nt Altitude 30,50m/6hrs approx.)
The trail now heads due North and we reach Tangbe, a pleasant village of white-washed houses and narrow alleys, set in a patchwork of fields of buckwheat, barley and apple orchards.
We reach Chhuksang village in the crook of the confluence of the Narshing River and the Kali Gandaki and we continue on to Chele. The transformation from ethnic Manangi to Tibetan (Mustangi) culture is well expressed in the architecture.
Day 3: To Syanboche
(O/nt Altitude 3,800m/7hrs approx.) The trail from Chele climbs to a spur and a view down to the village of Ghyakar, it continues over the Chele La (3,630m) then down to the ‘oasis’ of Samar. High above the river and set amongst apricots and apples and a bright yellow mustard crop Samar is known for a supply of sturdy pack-ponies. From here we can still see the Annapurnas and Nilgiri in the South. The trail continues to Bhena before crossing the pass known as Yamdo La (4,010m). There is then a descent before the short climb to Shyangmochen, another classic Mustang village. Another short climb to Shyangmochen La (3,850m) and we enter yet another remarkable valley.