• UPPER MUSTANG TREKKING GUIDE

    A trekker looking out to a vast expanse of colourful mountains and jagged rock formations on an Upper Mustang Trek
  • UPPER MUSTANG TREKKING GUIDE

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

The Essential Guide

Upper Mustang is a place unlike any other in Nepal. Despite bordering one of the most popular trekking regions in the country, it sits a world apart thanks to its dramatic semi-arid landscape and distinct Tibetan heritage. A trek here is also unlike any other in Nepal, centering as much on cultural exploration as it does spectacular scenery.

But, this once ‘hidden kingdom’ is changing. Historic salt trade routes are being developed into modern Chinese truck trading routes, altering the very nature of a ‘trek’ here. Roads plough right over what once were trekking trails, with little care for the surrounding environment. Slow and continual construction (it’s been going on for years with no end date in sight) means trekkers have to put up with disruption for at least part of their trek to Lo Manthang and back. But for those who can accept this (and afford the hefty permit fee), a truly rewarding journey awaits, especially if you return via the challenging but road-less eastern route.

Our own (poorly researched) trek in Upper Mustang was a whirlwind of highs and lows, with plans constantly evolving in response to a trek that, initially at least, seemed more like a very expensive trudge along a construction road. However, it ended with three of the most memorable trekking days we’ve ever had, turning our entire notion of an Upper Mustang trek on its head.

Learning from our own experiences and mistakes, we’ve put together this Upper Mustang Trekking Guide to help you have the best trek possible. In truth, the very fact that you’ve read this far means you’re already better prepared for the realities of the trek than we were, but do read on as we have much to share! For a day to day account check out our separate Upper Mustang Trek Itinerary. And to get a sense of what the trek is really like, watch our complete Upper Mustang Instagram Stories (part one/part two/part three), plus our video below.

WATCH THE VIDEO

UPPER MUSTANG TREKKING GUIDE

Read through the guide or jump ahead to a particular section by clicking on the links below.

UPPER MUSTANG QUICK FACTS

    • Start/End: Kagbeni/Jomsom
    • Permit: 500 USD Restricted Area Permit
    • Guide: Compulsory (plus a minimum of 2 trekkers)
    • Season: March – November best for trekking
    • Route: Mix of road and trail walking
    • Culture: Traditional Tibetan Buddhist heritage
    • Landscape: Semi-arid, plateaus, steep-sided gorges

QUICK FACTS

Start/End
Kagbeni/Jomsom

Permit
500 USD Restricted Area Permit

Guide
Compulsory (plus a minimum of two trekkers)

Season
Mar – Nov best for trekking

Route
Mix of road and trail walking

Culture
Tibetan Buddhist heritage

Landscape
Semi-arid, dramatic rock formations, extensive plateaus, steep-sided gorges


A BRIEF HISTORY OF UPPER MUSTANG

Ancient cave dwellings, found all over Upper Mustang to this day, suggest the region was first inhabited 2000 – 3000 years ago. But for the last 600 years, the inhabitants have been the Lopas (or Lobas), people related both ethnically and culturally to those of Tibet. The Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism is dominant, although Nyingma, Kagyo and Bon are also present. Shades of ochre, white, and grey make up the colours of the dramatic landscape, with those same colours adorning monasteries, chortens and mani walls throughout the land. They represent three Bodhisattvas and act as protectors, but also create a chromatic harmony between man-made structures and the surrounding environment.

THE KINGDOM OF LO

 Historically, the region fell under control of the Ngari district of Tibet, with the independent Kingdom of Lo later being founded in 1380, by Ame Pal, a warrior from Western Tibet. He established the walled city of Lo Manthang, and in 1440 the palace at Tsarang was built, along with many other forts and settlements for the growing population.

The ruins of the old King's and Queen's castles, sitting high on two separate hills to the north of the walled city of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang.

The remnants of the old King’s (right) and Queen’s (left) castles on the hills to the north of Lo Manthang



The ruins of the old King's Castle, sitting high on a hill to the north of the walled city of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang.

The ruins of the old King’s Castle, high
on the hill to the north of Lo Manthang



Thanks to its strategic position, the Kingdom flourished throughout the 15th – 17th centuries. Lo controlled the prosperous salt trade route between Tibet in the north and India in the south, via the Kali Gandaki gorge. In the late 18th century, the independent Kingdom of Lo was incorporated into the greater Kingdom of Nepal, but continued to operate under its own rule.

Life for the people of Lo carried on much the same until the 1950s, when the Chinese invasion of Tibet put an end to cross border trade and the local economy suffered. In the late 1950s and 60s, Tibetan guerrillas, backed by the CIA, based their resistance out of Lo. An agreement between China and the US was reached in the early 1970s, and the CIA withdrew their support for the guerrillas in 1974, effectively ending the resistance movement.

TOURISM BEGINS

While tourism in Lower Mustang opened in the late 1970s, Upper Mustang was declared a restricted area and completely off-limits to foreigners until 1992, earning it the moniker ‘The Forbidden Kingdom of Lo’. Early tourism to the region was strictly limited and regulated. No lodges were allowed to be built by local people, with trekking agencies operating camping treks and bringing all their supplies with them. The opportunity for locals to benefit financially was largely limited to those with flat camping grounds or horses to hire out for a day trip from Lo Manthang.

As compensation, the Lopa were promised 60% of the revenue from the hefty $500 Upper Mustang permit fee. This money would be reinvested into the community to develop services and infrastructure, fund the restoration of cultural treasures, and support environmental conservation. It didn’t happen. The Lopa received around 40% initially, dropping to 5% by 1997, and seemingly all but drying up in the years since.

In the meantime, tourists, filmmakers, and photojournalists were flocking to the ‘mysterious forbidden kingdom’ (the restrictions on numbers went out the window, too). Locals found their photos plastered over books and shiny mags, and no doubt felt they’d been taken advantage of. The entire situation understandably led to a degree of resentment and bitterness among some in the community.

UPPER MUSTANG TODAY

The descendents of Ame Pal ruled as the Kings of Lo for 25 generations. However, in 2008 when Nepal became a republic, the country abolished its monarchy and that of Lo with it. The last King of Lo, Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, continued to be recognised and revered by locals until his death in 2016.

The smiling female owner of the Dhye Riverside Hotel in Upper Mustang

A friendly teahouse owner at Dhye



These days, the situation in Upper Mustang seems quite different to that of the initial decade or so after opening to the world. Fully supported camping treks are no longer a must, with locally owned and operated lodges dotting the region. Reports of ‘unwelcoming’ locals, demanding money for photos or shouting ‘no photo’ at tourists, didn’t match with our own experience. We can only assume that perhaps the situation, economically at least, has improved somewhat and therefore that attitudes towards tourists have warmed? Culturally and environmentally though, Upper Mustang is certainly at risk from the ongoing and haphazard development of the road to the border at Kora La.

The future of Upper Mustang is unclear, and we can’t help but wonder if the huge amounts of money raised from the ‘restricted area’ status were in fact put towards the building of the road from Jomsom to Lo Manthang. This road, while potentially beneficial in some respects, will undoubtedly make it harder for the centuries-old culture and traditions of the region to cling on in a rapidly changing environment, irrevocably altering the former Kingdom of Lo forever.

READ OUR UPPER MUSTANG TREK ITINERARY

UPPER MUSTANG TREK ITINERARY

This suggested 10 Day Upper Mustang trek itinerary covers what we feel are the scenic and cultural highlights of the region, matched to the standard 10 day permit. However, we highly recommend adding at least a couple of days to your permit. This is so you can spend more time in and around Lo Manthang, as well as have an extra day in Yara to explore Luri Gompa and the surrounding area. Add an additional 1-2 days at the start and end of your trek in order to get to/from Jomsom by road or air.

Distances and trekking times are approximate.

DAY 1Kagbeni (2810m) → Chele (3050m) via Tangbe16 km | 6 hours
DAY 2Chele (3050m) → Syangboche (3800m) /
Ghiling (3570m)
16/17 km | 7/8 hours
DAY 3Syangboche (3800m) / Ghiling (3570m) →
Dhakmar (3820 m) via Ghami
18/14 km | 8/7 hours
DAY 4Dhakmar (3820m) → Tsarang (3560m)
via Ghar Gompa
12 km | 6 hours
DAY 5Tsarang (3560m) → Lo Manthang (3810m)
– explore monasteries & walled city
13 km | 4 hours
DAY 6*Lo Manthang (3810m) → Chhoser (3900m)
→ Lo Manthang (3810m)
16 km | 6 hour return trip
DAY 7Lo Manthang (3810m) → Yara (3650m) via Dhi16 km | 7 hours
DAY 8**Yara Tangge (3560m) → Tangge (3340m)16 km | 8 hours
DAY 9Tangge (3340m) → Chhusang (2980m)24 km | 10 hours
DAY 10Chhusang (2980m) → Muktinath (37000m)
via Gyu La
16 km | 9 hours
DAY 1Kagbeni (2810m) → Chele (3050m) via Tangbe16 km | 6 hours
DAY 2Chele (3050m) →
Syangboche (3800m) /
Ghiling (3570m)
16/17 km | 7/8 hours
DAY 3Syangboche (3800m) /
Ghiling (3570m) →
Dhakmar (3820 m) via Ghami
18/14 km | 8/7 hours
DAY 4Dhakmar (3820m) →
Tsarang (3560m) via Ghar Gompa
12 km | 6 hours
DAY 5Tsarang (3560m) →
Lo Manthang (3810m)
– explore monasteries & the walled city
13 km | 4 hours
DAY 6*Lo Manthang (3810m)
→ Chhoser (3900m)
→ Lo Manthang (3810m)
16 km | 6 hour return trip
DAY 7Lo Manthang (3810m)
→ Yara (3650m) via Dhi
16 km | 7 hours
DAY 8**Yara (3560m) → Tangge (3340m)16 km | 8 hours
DAY 9Tangge (3340m) →
Chhusang (2980m)
24 km | 10 hours
DAY 10Chhusang (2980m) →
Muktinath (37000m) via Gyu La
16 km | 9 hours

*Ideally add an extra night here to explore more of Lo Manthang and around.

**Ideally add an extra night here to explore Luri Gompa and around.

UPPER MUSTANG TREKKING MAP

Below you’ll find our Upper Mustang Trek map with key villages and sights marked. We’ve also outlined the three main trekking routes: Classic Route ~ Green, Western Route ~ Blue, Eastern Route ~ Red. Hover over or tap the icons for extra details. You can switch between terrain and satellite view for a better appreciation of the land.

You can also download our Maps.Me bookmarks for offline use here. Be sure to download the Maps.Me app first (iOS/Android). We’ve coloured the bookmarks green, blue and red to match the three trekking routes, and points of interest are bookmarked in yellow. The existing Upper Mustang trails are already marked on Maps.Me, so it’s easy to navigate from point to point.

This is a useful online version of a popular paper trekking map of the region. The trekking trail routes are marked in bold yellow, the roads are white.

UPPER MUSTANG TREKKING ROUTES

Treks to Upper Mustang usually start and end at Jomsom, with the walled city of Lo Manthang being the turnaround point. There are three main trekking routes in Upper Mustang – The Classic, Western and Eastern Routes. You’d be forgiven for thinking there were just two however, as many guides and local trekking agencies don’t even mention the Eastern Route as an option.

The Classic Route largely follows the road, with off-road detours here and there. The Western Route is essentially a 1-2 day alternative off-road section between Ghami and Lo Manthang via Dhakmar and Ghar Ghompa. The Eastern Route is a 3 day (almost) entirely off-road trail between Lo Manthang and Chhusang via Yara and Tangge, best tackled on the return half of the journey. From Chhusang you can trek on trail over the Gyu La to Muktinath, instead of on road to Kagbeni. The Eastern Route is quite challenging, but absolutely spectacular and the highlight of the whole trek in our opinion.

In this section we’ll first discuss which route (or routes) to take, then give an outline of the different villages and places usually visited on each one.

Bizarre pinnacled rock formations of varying shades of ochre, seen from a trail on an Upper Mustang trek from Tangge to Chhusang

The kind of spectacular rocky landscape that you can only see up close on the Upper Mustang Eastern Route



Bizarre pinnacled rock formations of varying shades of ochre, seen from a trail on an Upper Mustang trek from Tangge to Chhusang

Spectacular rocky landscapes that you can only
see up close on the Upper Mustang Eastern Route



WHICH ROUTE?

Most people mix-and-match the routes into a loop trek, rather than walking the same way in both directions. Our suggested itinerary above outlines what we consider to be the best 10 day trekking route, combining the Classic/Western routes on the way to Lo Manthang, and returning via the Eastern route.

Combining just the Classic and Western route is an itinerary that many trekking agencies and guides suggest, but the reality is that you’ll be covering much of the same ground on the way there and back. In order to cover the entire distance within 10 days (the standard permit allowance) you’ll have some pretty long trekking days. There will be plenty of gruelling road sections and limited time to actually explore the fascinating villages and sights along the way. In our opinion, this results in a disappointing trekking experience and fails to do that expensive permit fee any justice.

 For these reasons, if you don’t plan to trek the Eastern route we would actually suggest just a one-way hike from Kagbeni to Lo Manthang as the best alternative. You can then take advantage of the road and opt for a shared or private jeep back to Chhusang or Jomsom. This way you can really take your time trekking to Lo Manthang and fully experience the history, culture and geography that make this region so special.

UPPER MUSTANG CLASSIC TREK ITINERARY

As trekkers usually stay in some villages on the way to Lo Manthang and others on the way back, in order to vary the trek as much as possible, there are different options when planning this part of the overall trek. As such, we’ve chosen to not lay out a specific route here, instead outlining a bit about each place to help you decide where you might want to stop or stay. The main villages to visit on a Classic Upper Mustang trek itinerary are as follows:

Kagbeni | Tangbe | Chhusang | Chele | Ghyakar | Samar | Syangboche | Ghiling | Ghami | Tsarang | Lo Manthang


Kagbeni
Tangbe
Chhusang
Chele
Ghyakar
Samar
Syangboche
Ghiling
Ghami
Tsarang
Lo Manthang


Our personal favourites are Kagbeni, Tangbe, Ghami, Tsarang, and Lo Manthang. Ghiling would no doubt be on that list too, had we visited. 

Kagbeni

This medieval village sits at the crossroads of four historic trade routes and the confluence of the Jhong and Kali Gandaki rivers. It’s the gateway to Upper Mustang and your permits are checked here before entering the restricted area. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric village with narrow lanes, traditional mud brick houses, shared courtyards where locals fetch water, quirky ‘ghost eater’ statues, and an impressive 15th century gompa.

An enclosed courtyard with prayer flags in the middle and mudbrick houses on all sides in the medieval village of Kagbeni

A traditional courtyard among the mudbrick houses



The male version of a 'ghost eater' statue in an alleyway in Kagbeni, meant to ward away evil spirits.

Kagbeni ‘ghost eater’



An enclosed courtyard with prayer flags in the middle and mudbrick houses on all sides in the medieval village of Kagbeni

Traditional courtyard among the mudbrick houses


The male version of a 'ghost eater' statue in an alleyway in Kagbeni, meant to ward away evil spirits.

Kagbeni ‘ghost eater’



Tangbe

This is an attractive village definitely worth a short detour to visit on your way to or from Chhusang. It sits on the banks of the mighty Kali Gandaki, with cultivated fields and apple orchards spread out around it. There are some old chortens, narrow cobbled lanes and photogenic buildings to admire.

Chhusang

Also spelt Chuksang (and numerous other variants), this is a common overnight stop for trekkers on the return journey from Lo Manthang, and a popular lunch stop on the way north. It is connected by road to Kagbeni, and you’ll spend much of your day walking on said road, with just a few off-road shortcuts on trekking trails between road sections. The village itself is nice enough, but it’s the incredible coloured cliffs across the Kali Gandaki that really steal the show. Shared local jeeps to/from Lo Manthang run from here.

A view down towards the village of Chhusang in the middle of the Kali Gandaki Gorge. The village juts out on a spit of land and red and orange cliffs rise to the side. Seen from the road on the first day of an Upper Mustang trek.

The village of Chhusang sits in an incredibly dramatic location, jutting out into the Kali Gandaki Gorge and framed by those striking cliffs



A view down towards the village of Chhusang in the middle of the Kali Gandaki Gorge. The village juts out on a spit of land and red and orange cliffs rise to the side. Seen from the road on the first day of an Upper Mustang trek.

Chhusang juts out into the Kali Gandaki Gorge,
framed by those striking orange and red cliffs



From Chhusang it’s also possible to make a short side trip to the village of Tetang and back. This village sits impressively atop a cliff, with chortens, ancient cave homes, and a couple of monasteries to see.

Chele

From Chhusang the trail follows the road and river, crossing a steel bridge which sits under some impressive ancient cave homes. You can see a line of ‘windows’ carved out of the cliff face above. From the river bed it’s a short, steep climb to the village of Chele. There are numerous traditional Mustang homes, a couple of lodges, and attractive views.

Ghyakar

From Chele the trekking trail used to hug the cliffside high above a plunging gorge on the route to Samar, but this no longer exists thanks to the road. There is now a suspension bridge across the gorge to Ghyakar, a small leafy village which saw little to no trekking traffic in the pre-road days. As such, this is very much a local village with limited options for eating, and no overnight lodge as far as we’re aware. Beyond the village, the trail continues for a while before joining the road to Samar.

Samar

This is a small settlement with just a smattering of homes and lodges. It’s a common lunch stop, but some trekkers overnight here if it’s convenient for their trek itinerary.

Syangboche

Also spelt Syanboche, Shyangbochen, or similar. This is another small settlement with a couple of lodges. It doesn’t hold much interest, but it makes a convenient overnight stop for some trekkers, depending on your itinerary. Between Samar and Syangboche there is a road trail via Bhena La and Yamda La, or an off-road trail via Chungsi (Runchung) Cave.

A line of prayer flags streaming in the wind at the Yamda Pass viewpoint on the Upper Mustang trek

Walking the road to Syangboche isn’t much fun, but the upside is getting views like this from Yamda La (3970 m)



A line of prayer flags streaming in the wind at the Yamda Pass viewpoint on the Upper Mustang trek

Walking the road to Syangboche isn’t much fun, but
the upside is views like this from Yamda La (3970 m)



Ghiling

Ghiling (Geling, Giling) is one of the bigger villages in the region and home to an impressive 15th Century monastery. The village sits at the foot of a rocky mountain, surrounded by agricultural fields (although the water supply in this area is drying up). There are lodges and local homes.

The village of Ghiling in Upper Mustang, tucked in at the base of a rocky hillside in a wide valley, with snowy peaks rising in the distance.

The village of Ghiling (3570 m), tucked in at the bottom of a steep, rocky slope



The village of Ghiling in Upper Mustang, tucked in at the base of a rocky hillside in a wide valley, with snowy peaks rising in the distance.

The village of Ghiling (3570 m), tucked
in at the bottom of a steep, rocky slope



Ghami

Another of the more interesting villages in the region. Ghami (Ghemi) is home to a few lodges and local homes, and surrounded by trees and fields. There is a nice prayer wall and colourful chortens in the centre, alongside taps where locals fill their water. Outside of the village lies the longest mani wall in Mustang at 305 m. Beyond the mani wall, a picturesque cluster of large chortens blend seamlessly with the backdrop of jagged cliffs, the grey, ochre and red paint clearly derived from and influenced by the colours of the landscape.

Women carrying wicker baskets through the central dirt square of Ghami in Upper Mustang.

Women making their way through the centre of Ghami, past the communal water taps and striped prayer wheel wall



Women carrying wicker baskets through the central dirt square of Ghami in Upper Mustang.

Women making their way through the
centre of Ghami, past the 
striped prayer
wheel wall
and communal water taps



Tsarang

Tsarang (Charang) is the second largest settlement in Upper Mustang, after Lo Manthang. It was once the capital, and the King’s Palace still stands tall, overlooking the surrounding fields and houses. The most prominent building though is the imposing 16th century monastery, a central red building surrounded by striped walls, one of the most impressive in the whole of Upper Mustang. It’s a lovely village to wander for a couple of hours.

The 16th century ochre, white and grey striped monastery sits atop a rocky hill in Tsarang, the second biggest settlement in Upper Mustang.

The distinctive 16th century Thubten Shedrup Dhagyeling Monastery in Tsarang



The 16th century ochre, white and grey striped monastery sits atop a rocky hill in Tsarang, the second biggest settlement in Upper Mustang.

The distinctive 16th century monastery in Tsarang



Lo Manthang

The walled city of Lo Manthang is indeed a wonder to behold. Its warren of dirt lanes are a pleasure to get lost in, narrow alleys suddenly opening out into courtyards with water wells and rows of bulbous chortens. Locals rest in the shade, chatting to neighbours, cows wander aimlessly, and flashes of red catch your eye as monks pass by.

There are three historic monasteries to visit – a single 1000 NPR ticket covers entry to all – each one different and fascinating in its own right. The views from the upper floor of the Jampa Gompa are wonderful, giving you a great perspective over the neighbouring rooftops and surrounding countryside. Restoration work of the intricate paintings on the inner walls of Thupchen Gompa are ongoing – talk to the owner of the art shop within the city walls and check out Luigi Fieni’s website to learn more about the process. Photography is not permitted inside the monasteries (unless you pay a hefty $100 fee!).

A lone trekker wandering and admiring the backstreets of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang.

Admiring the backstreets



A view of Jampa Gompa and the domed tops of chortens in Lo Manthang, as seen from the city walls

Looking over the chortens and monasteries of Lo Manthang from atop the city wall



A view of Jampa Gompa and the domed tops of chortens in Lo Manthang, as seen from the city walls

Looking over the chortens and monasteries
of Lo Manthang from atop the city wall


A lone trekker wandering and admiring the backstreets of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang.

Admiring the backstreets of Lo Manthang



 The old King’s Palace is another main feature of the walled city, also currently undergoing restoration. The square outside it is where the annual Tiji Festival takes place, but at other times of year it is a nice spot to sit and people watch. The ACAP Office has lots of information boards about local customs, culture and history. Outside the walled city the wider stone streets are home to an increasing number of lodges and shops, unfortunately not all of them in-keeping with the traditional surroundings.

A colourful but faded painted door to a souvenir shop in the walled city of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang.

Lo Manthang souvenir shop



The four storey, whitewashed, mud brick building in Lo Manthang that is the old King's Palace.

The old King’s Palace, seen from the main square within the walled city



The four storey, whitewashed, mud brick building in Lo Manthang that is the old King's Palace.

The old King’s Palace, seen from the
main square within the walled city



Around Lo Manthang

There is plenty to explore beyond Lo Manthang. The ruins of the historic King and Queen’s Castles (dzong) sit atop two conical hillocks a little to the north. You can hike to them to explore close up, or admire them from afar. The most popular day trip from Lo Manthang is to Chhoser, home to the multi-story Jhong Caves, Niphu Gompa, Garphu Gompa and lesser visited Chemba-Concholing Cave.

Bright red Nyphu Gompa, built into the cliffside

Nyphu Gompa, one of the most dramatically situated monasteries in Upper Mustang



Bright red Nyphu Gompa, built into the cliffside

Nyphu Gompa, one of the most dramatically
situated monasteries in Upper Mustang



Again, one 1000 rupees ticket covers entry to all. To the north-west of Lo Manthang lie the small villages of Namgyal, Thinggar and Kimaling. You can return from Chhoser via these villages, making a loop from Lo Manthang, or visit as a separate return trip from Lo. It’s common to hire a horse for these day trips, but you can also walk.

A narrow river snakes through the semi-arid landscape in Upper Mustang, with a small village of traditional whitewashed houses sitting on the eastern bank.

The village of Nenyul, sitting picturesquely next to the river on the road to Chhoser



A narrow river snakes through the semi-arid landscape in Upper Mustang, with a small village of traditional whitewashed houses sitting on the eastern bank.

The village of Nenyul, sitting picturesquely
next to the river on the road to Chhoser



UPPER MUSTANG WESTERN TREK ITINERARY

In addition to the places mentioned in the Classic itinerary, a Western Upper Mustang trek itinerary includes Dhakmar and Ghar Gompa/Lo Gekar. It’s possible to carry on north from Ghar Gompa via Chogo La (4280 m) to Lo Manthang (you’ll need a packed lunch and enough water), or turn south-east to Tsarang via Saukre and Marang. This is a good option if you plan to return via the Eastern Route, but don’t want to miss Tsarang on the way north. 

TYPICAL WESTERN UPPER MUSTANG TREK ROUTE

Ghami (3520 m) Dhakmar (3820 m) Ghar Gompa (3950 m)
Tsarang (3560 m) or Chogo La (4280 m)
Lo Manthang (3810 m)


TYPICAL WESTERN UPPER MUSTANG TREK ROUTE

     Ghami (3520 m)
Dhakmar (3820 m)
Ghar Gompa (3950 m)
Tsarang (3560 m) or
     Chogo La (4280 m)
Lo Manthang (3810 m)


Dhakmar

The small village of Dhakmar is reached by trekking trail (no road!) and sits in a narrow valley with amazingly red cliffs rising steeply from the valley floor. Legend has it that the cliffs are so red because they are stained with the blood of a demon, its intestines used to colour the mani wall at Ghami.

A lone trekker walks the length of the longest mani wall in Mustang, with orange and red cliffs rising in the distance.

The long mani wall outside Ghami, with the orange red cliffs ahead marking the entrance of the western valley to Dhakmar



Crumbled chortens matching the colours of the cliffs behind, standing at the entrance to the Dhakmar Valley in Upper Mustang.

These crumbled chortens stand outside Ghami, at the
entrance of the western valley that leads to Dhakmar



Ghar Gompa / Lo Gekar

This is the oldest monastery in Upper Mustang, dating from the 8th Century. It is said to have historical connections with Samye monastery in Tibet. The story goes that during the building of Samye Gompa, it kept being destroyed by demons at night. The Llamas dreamt that Guru Rinpoche could help them, and he travelled to Samye to defeat the demons and advised that a gompa must first be established at Lo Gekar. He returned to Mustang, slaying another demon at Lo Gekar (whose blood adorns the cliffs at Dhakmar), and Ghar Gompa was built.

UPPER MUSTANG EASTERN TREK ITINERARY

An Eastern Upper Mustang trek itinerary visits the same places outlined in the Classic or Western trek itinerary on the way north to Lo Manthang, followed by an almost entirely off-road trek via the lesser visited villages of Dhi, Yara and Tangge on the return journey south. You can also opt to end the trek in Muktinath instead of Kagbeni by trekking from Chhusang over the Gyu La (4077 m) on the final day.

TYPICAL EASTERN UPPER MUSTANG TREK ROUTE

Lo Manthang (3810 m) Dhi (3400 m) Yara (3650 m) Tangge (3340 m) → Pa (4000 m)
Chhusang (2980 m) → Kagbeni (2810 m) or Muktinath (3700 m) via Gyu La (4077 m)


TYPICAL EASTERN UPPER MUSTANG TREK ROUTE

Lo Manthang (3810 m)
Dhi (3400 m)
Yara (3650 m)
Tangge (3340 m)
Pa (4000 m)
→ Chhusang (2980 m)
→ Kagbeni (2810 m) or
Muktinath (3700 m)
via Gyu La (4077 m)


This route involves long trekking days and some lengthy, steep ascents and descents in often windy conditions. There are limited food and lodging options along the way, meaning you must carry a packed lunch for 2 or 3 of the days. The remoteness of the villages en route means it can be impossible to call ahead and reserve a room or check if lodges are open. For these reasons, many trekking agencies and guides aren’t keen to offer this itinerary, which in a way has helped prevent over-tourism and preserved the landscape better.

If you’re looking for a taste of eastern Upper Mustang without trekking the entire route, an alternative option is to trek from Lo Manthang to Dhi, then south along the river before turning north-west up to Tsarang. You could also include a day trip to Yara and Luri Gompa and back, spending 2 nights in Dhi.

Dhi

Heading south from Lo Manthang the turn off for Dhi is on the left shortly after Lo La. This is the start of a spectacular three day trekking trail that will have you beaming with delight and in awe of the landscape. Dhi itself is reached after a ridge hike that runs parallel to the Tsarang-Lo Manthang road, followed by a steep descent surrounded by towering columns of crumbling cliffs. The picturesque village sits on the banks of the Kali Gandaki, a cluster of houses and a spread of fields and trees. It’s usual to stop for lunch before carrying on to Yara, but some do also overnight here (especially if continuing downriver and up to Tsarang instead of completing the eastern route).

A view of the village of Dhi in Upper Mustang from the rocky trail above.

The village of Dhi appears through a gap in the rocks from the trail above



A view of the village of Dhi in Upper Mustang from the rocky trail above.

The village of Dhi appears through a
gap in the rocks from the trail above



Yara

A few kilometres east of Dhi lies the village of Yara. It sits high above the river, looking across to the most bizarre cliff face, like melted pinnacles merged together and solidified once again. More cave ‘windows’ dot the cliffs, forming strange faces looming over the trail. The village, like most in Upper Mustang, has terraced fields spreading out from it and a cluster of traditional homes. It seems a bit more run down than some others in the region, the mud brick walls less white, more crumbly. It’s the only place you’re likely to be visited at your lodge by a group of enterprising local women selling bracelets and knick-knacks.

The blocky whitewashed houses and terraced fields of Yara village in Upper Mustang

Yara sits high in a remote valley, its dusty tones seeming to suit the surrounding landscape



The blocky whitewashed houses and terraced fields of Yara village in Upper Mustang

Yara sits in a remote mountain valley, its dusty
tones seeming to suit the surrounding landscape



Luri Gompa

From Yara it’s possible to make a day trip to Luri Gompa (approx 9 km return). This monastery and cave complex is home to some incredible artwork thought to date from the 14th century. The Indian and Kashmiri influenced paintings adorn a chorten in the inner chamber of the cave, with more artwork on the roof of the cave above it. You will likely need an extra day on your permit to fit this side trip in.

Tangge

The most beautiful village in Upper Mustang (in our humble opinion). The adventurous trek to get here makes it all the more spectacular. On the journey from Yara you’ll ascend and descend otherworldly cliff faces and cross numerous starkly beautiful plateaus. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a hot lunch en route from the lone lodge at Dhye, but it’s best to bring a packed lunch from Yara just in case it’s closed.

A trekker descending the stony trail to Tangge village on the Upper Mustang Trek

After the day’s exertions, the sight of Tangge below is a pleasure to behold



A trekker descending the stony trail to Tangge village on the Upper Mustang Trek

After the day’s exertions, the sight of
Tangge below is a pleasure to behold



The view from the final descent to Tangge, tucked in beneath more impossibly formed rock faces, will have you grinning ear to ear. The village setting is beautiful, with an expansive riverbed below and classic Mustang mountains all around. But it’s the numerous colourful chortens and exquisite mani wall that really make your jaw drop. Add some extra friendly locals and roaming Mustang horses to the mix and you’ve got a village that really takes hold of your heart.

Tangge – Pa – Chhusang

The trek back to Chhusang is a long one (24 km/10 hours), so be sure to leave early.  There is nowhere to get lunch on the trail, so you must bring a packed lunch from your lodge in Tangge. You can sometimes get water from a small spring at Pa, but it’s best to carry enough for the whole day, just in case it’s dry.

The day starts with a gruelling 800 metre / 3+ hours ascent from the riverbed to the top of the cliffs you’ve been looking over to. Prayer flags welcome you at the top, as does a spectacular view reaching far and wide. The trail to the abandoned settlement of Pa is more rolling, trekking through a landscape now dotted with small pink and red thorny bushes. Some camping tour groups (like World Expeditions) camp at Pa instead of having to carry on all the way to Chhusang.

Trekkers approaching a mountain pass in Upper Mustang, the village of Tangge far below them and mountains stretching into the distance beyond

The view back from the pass, with the whole of northern Upper Mustang spread out before you



Trekkers approaching a mountain pass in Upper Mustang, the village of Tangge far below them and mountains stretching into the distance beyond

The view back from the pass, with the whole of
northern Upper Mustang spread out before you



After Pa you’ll be treated to some truly outstanding rock formations, masses of spiked rocky pinnacles shot through with grey, white, ochre and rust. In the distance, the snowy peaks of Dhaulagiri, Tukuche, Nilgiri and friends remind you that you are actually in Nepal and not some alien land.

A narrow trekking trail in Upper Mustang stretching off into the distance amidst some bizarre rock formations, with the snowy peak of Dhaulagiri in the background

The trail along the ridgeline is spectacular, and the accompanying views are even better



A narrow trekking trail in Upper Mustang stretching off into the distance amidst some bizarre rock formations, with the snowy peak of Dhaulagiri in the background

The trail along the ridgeline is spectacular,
and the accompanying views are even better



The final 900 metre descent to Chhusang is in three stages – descent, plateau, descent, plateau, descent, Chhusang. The initial descent is the most challenging, steep and slippery underfoot, and the notorious high winds of the region can make it even more tricky.

Chhusang – Tetang – Gyu La – Muktinath

The easiest route out of Upper Mustang is to retrace your steps along the road to Kagbeni, but if you’re still up for a challenge then traverse the Gyu La (4077 m) to Muktinath instead. It’s another long day with a fairly steep 1100 metre ascent to the pass, followed by an easier 400 metre descent. Again, you’ll need a packed lunch and enough water for the journey.

The scenery makes up for the hard slog, and you’ll have panoramic views from the pass of Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Tukuche peaks. Muktinath is a holy place, with many Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims journeying here. It is also where trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit descend to after crossing the Thorong La, so it’s a busy place!

WHEN TO TREK UPPER MUSTANG

GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE

The Kali Gandaki River cuts north to south through Mustang, with the Kali Gandaki Gorge being the deepest in the world. It acts as a giant wind tunnel, funnelling increasingly fierce winds up the gorge from mid-morning onwards. The Annapurna and Dhaulagiri peaks rise on either side of the Kali Gandaki in the Lower Mustang region, forming a rain shadow over Upper Mustang. The geography of the land creates wildly different climates in Upper and Lower Mustang, the former experiencing little rain and having a semi-arid climate as a result.

The Kali Gandaki River snakes down the valley in multiple channels between rocky cliffs in Upper Mustang

A fierce wind can rush up the Kali Gandaki Gorge after being channeled between the high peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri to the south



The Kali Gandaki River snakes down the valley in multiple channels between rocky cliffs in Upper Mustang

A fierce wind can rush up the Kali Gandaki
Gorge after being channeled between the high
peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri to the south



TREKKING SEASONS

 In contrast to the rest of Nepal, Upper Mustang does not experience a summer monsoon, extending the trekking season here from March to November. Winter (December – February) can be harsh and is not recommended for trekking as many lodges close and locals migrate south for the season.

In Spring (March – May) wildflowers grow, adding colour to the dry and dusty landscape. Summer (June – August) is even more colourful with lush green fields surrounding villages, but there is a higher chance of cloud coverage. Transport in Lower Mustang is likely to be disrupted due to the monsoon. Autumn (September – November) usually has clear skies, colourful trees, and wonderful views all the way south to the snowy peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri.

UPPER MUSTANG FESTIVALS

There are two main festivals that take place in Upper Mustang and timing a trek to coincide with these is also a good idea.

Tiji Festival

The first (and busiest) is Tiji Festival, held over 3 days in mid-May. Monks from Chode Monastery perform ritual masked dances and chants in colourful costumes, recreating the legend of Dorje Sonnu defeating demons to save the land from drought. The lead monk prepares for his role in isolation for three months at Chode Monastery. The festival takes place in the square within the walled city of Lo Manthang and people come from all over Mustang to attend. A huge ancient Thangka of Guru Rinpoche is hung from one of the buildings, the only time of year that it is on display.

Yartung Mela

The second most important festival of the year is the Yartung Mela, or horse festival. This takes place over 3-4 days around the August Full Moon, marking the end of summer and the completion of the harvest. There is lots of drinking and dancing, plus archery and football competitions, horse races, and religious processions. It is celebrated across Mustang, most notably in Lo Manthang and Muktinath.

MORE TREKKING & HIKING ADVENTURES

A narrow trekking trail in Upper Mustang stretching off into the distance amidst some bizarre rock formations, with the snowy peak of Dhaulagiri in the background
Trekkers on a trail approaching a round orange rock formation with a plateau stretched out into the distance in Upper Mustang
Sunrise hitting the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal
Trekkers look out while descending from the Larke Pass on the Manaslu Circuit Trek
A catamaran sails on the calm water at sunset off the south coast of Jeju Island
A female Olle Trail hiker standing by a Hallabong mosaic mural, looking out to sea on Jeju Island
Looking out from wat Pha Lat over Chiang Mai, reflected in the still water and surrounded by lush green vegetation
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Bijindo: Two local women protected from the hot sun walk in front of a sashimi shack
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A narrow trekking trail in Upper Mustang stretching off into the distance amidst some bizarre rock formations, with the snowy peak of Dhaulagiri in the background
Trekkers on a trail approaching a round orange rock formation with a plateau stretched out into the distance in Upper Mustang
Sunrise hitting the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal
Trekkers look out while descending from the Larke Pass on the Manaslu Circuit Trek
A catamaran sails on the calm water at sunset off the south coast of Jeju Island
A female Olle Trail hiker standing by a Hallabong mosaic mural, looking out to sea on Jeju Island
Looking out from wat Pha Lat over Chiang Mai, reflected in the still water and surrounded by lush green vegetation
Fann Mountains Trekking Routes And Practicalities
Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains: Haft Kul To Alauddin
A Week On The Olle: Jeju Olle Video
Hiking Hallasan: South Korea's Highest Peak
Yokjido A Korean Island Guide
Bijindo: Two local women protected from the hot sun walk in front of a sashimi shack
Looking towards one of Saryangdo Island's suspension bridges from the ridge hiking trail, with the road bridge and surrounding islands in the distance, South Korea

HOW LONG DOES AN UPPER MUSTANG TREK TAKE?

Most people spend 10 days actually in Upper Mustang (to match the permit), plus extra days getting to and from the gateway town of Jomsom.

TOTAL NUMBER OF DAYS

The quickest option is to fly between Pokhara and Jomsom, then trek from there. This combination would take around 12 days in total

Taking a bus/jeep between Pokhara and Jomsom would take around 14 days in total

The standard 10 day permit starts when you enter the restricted area just north of Kagbeni and lasts for a total of 9 nights/10 days


Although the standard Upper Mustang permit is for 10 days, we don’t feel this gives you long enough to fully explore the main villages and sights – you end up with some pretty long trekking days and/or having to skip places of interest. Ideally, we suggest obtaining extra days on your permit (which costs an extra $50 per person per day) and extending your time in Upper Mustang to at least 12 days. This would mean a total of 14-16 days from Pokhara to Pokhara.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK DIFFICULTY

We consider trekking in Upper Mustang to be moderately difficult. There are no technical sections, and you remain below 4000m for the most part. There are a string of lodges which provide food and comfortable accommodation along the way. One of the most challenging aspects can be the dust and wind, which can be relentless and tough if you are walking straight into it.

Ultimately, your overall experience will vary greatly depending on which route you choose, and the pace at which you trek. For example, trekking the Western and Eastern routes involves longer days with some steep ascents/descents and limited facilities, making it more challenging. On the flip side, a one-way trek to Lo Manthang, returning by jeep, allows you to have shorter trekking days and more down time, making it easier.

THE TRAIL

In general, trekking trails in Upper Mustang are not well marked and can be a little confusing to navigate at times. Hiring a guide with experience trekking in the region is a must. Continuing road construction means trekking trails on the Classic route can change constantly. A trail marked on Maps.me or an official paper map can disappear overnight if the diggers have been busy, leaving you no option but to trek on the road or find an alternative route.

The small figure of a trekker crossing a jagged edge plateau with mountains all around in Upper Mustang.

The eastern route from Lo Manthang to Dhi is a fairly challenging trail with steep descents, but it comes with a surplus of incredible views



The small figure of a trekker crossing a jagged edge plateau with mountains all around in Upper Mustang.

The eastern route from Lo Manthang to Dhi is
a fairly challenging trail with steep descents,
but it comes with a surplus of incredible views



 Some trails can be tricky underfoot due to small loose stones, and care is needed not to slip. Road sections can feel like a real slog. The nature of the land – flat plateaus sitting above steep sided gorges – often means descending all the way to a riverbed just to ascend the other side. You’ll likely trek for an average of 6-7 hours a day, but depending on your route you may have some 10 hour days.

HOW MUCH WEIGHT WILL YOU CARRY?

The difficulty of the trek will also depend on how much weight you are carrying. If you are trekking without a porter, you will need to carry all your gear. A 15 kg backpack can really start to weigh you down after a while, slowing your pace. Depending on your route, you may need to carry extra water on some long days, which of course means extra weight.

YOUR EXPERIENCE

As with any trek, the difficulty of trekking in Upper Mustang will also depend on your own experience. Newbie hikers and those with little experience trekking at altitude will no doubt find it harder than those used to multi-day hikes at such elevations. A moderate to good level of fitness will help in any case.

ALTITUDE

For any trekker, experienced or not, altitude sickness is a potential risk while trekking in Upper Mustang and can affect the difficulty of the trek. In Himalayan standards, it is not considered a high altitude trek like the Annapurna or Manaslu Circuit treks, but it is best to be prepared in advance. Ensure you have a well stocked medical kit and do your research beforehand – know how to prevent altitude sickness, what symptoms to look out for, and how best to treat them if you do develop AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) or the life-threatening conditions of HAPE or HACE.

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HOW TO ORGANISE AN UPPER MUSTANG TREK

Upper Mustang is a restricted area and as such trekking with a guide is mandatory, as is the $500 Restricted Area Permit (RAP). It is not possible to trek independently. Additionally, there must be a minimum of two trekkers to obtain the RAP.

There are three main options to choose between when organising an Upper Mustang trek:

First | Hire a guide (and porter), obtain the permits via a trekking agency, and organise everything else yourself (transport, accommodation, food, itinerary planning, etc.) This option offers the most flexibility, independence, and control over which route to trek, but requires the most effort and planning.

Second | Book an inclusive package with a local trekking agency or tour operator. This will cost one lump sum, with local transport, trekking permits, accommodation, meals,  your guide and porter all included. This is ideal if you want to just turn up and have everything taken care of. You won’t have to worry about any of the logistics or decision making along the way, although you’ll likely have less flexibility and control over the itinerary. It can still be a time consuming process though, comparing trekking agencies and separating the wheat from the chaff.

Third | Join a fully inclusive group tour with an international company for a set departure date. This will likely include everything from your arrival in Kathmandu to your departure. As such all the logistics will be taken care of and all you really need to do is organise your travel insurance and international flights. Organisation wise, this is an easy option and you can expect professional service and highly experienced guides. It’s great for solo trekkers as you won’t need to worry about finding a ‘permit buddy’, but it is also the most expensive option.


First

Hire a guide (and porter), obtain the permits via a trekking agency, and organise everything else yourself (transport, accommodation, food, itinerary planning, etc.) This option offers the most independence, flexibility and control over which route to trek, but requires the most effort and planning.

Second

Book an inclusive package with a local trekking agency or tour operator. This will cost one lump sum, with local transport, accommodation, meals, trekking permits, your guide and porter all included. This is ideal if you want to just turn up and have everything taken care of. You won’t have to worry about any of the logistics or decision making along the way, although you’ll likely have less flexibility and control over the itinerary. It can still be a time consuming process though, comparing trekking agencies and separating the wheat from the chaff.

Third

Join a fully inclusive group tour with an international company for a set departure date. This will likely include everything from your arrival in Kathmandu to your departure. As such all the logistics will be taken care of and all you really need to do is organise your travel insurance and international flights. Organisation wise, this is an easy option and you can expect professional service and highly experienced guides. It’s great for solo trekkers as you won’t need to worry about finding a ‘permit buddy’, but it is also the most expensive option.


We cover each of the above options in greater detail below.

HIRING A GUIDE AND PAYING-AS-YOU-GO

Hiring a guide with experience trekking in Upper Mustang, especially on the routes that you wish to take, will make a huge difference to your overall enjoyment of the trek. As this is as much a cultural trek as a scenic one, you will really benefit from hiring a guide who is knowledgeable in the history, customs and culture of the region.

Guide costs for Upper Mustang range between $25 – $50 per day, but you should expect an experienced guide to cost around $40 per day. If you don’t want to carry your own bag, it’s possible to hire a porter along with a guide. Porters cost between $20 – $25 per day.

A trekker and guide walk past a huge cairn with prayer flags strung from it in Upper Mustang, with dusty coloured mountains all around.

Trekking with a guide in Upper Mustang is mandatory, but there are significant differences in the daily rate and level of experience



A trekker and guide walk past a huge cairn with prayer flags strung from it in Upper Mustang, with dusty coloured mountains all around.

Trekking with a guide in Upper Mustang is
mandatory, but there are significant differences
in the daily rate and level of experience



A guide may be independent or may work for a trekking agency themselves. Either way, the Restricted Area Permit can only be obtained by an authorised trekking agency. If you’re hiring an experienced independent guide, they should be able to organise the permit through whichever agency they have a relationship with. If you’re hiring a guide through an agency, they will be able to secure your permit. Expect to pay around $50 USD over and above the permit costs for this service.

Everything else can be organised by yourself and you can pay-as-you-go for your accommodation and food on the trek. Beyond that, this Upper Mustang Trekking Guide has all the info you need to plan the nitty gritty stuff like transport, budget, the best routes, etc.

Finding a guide in Kathmandu or Pokhara

If you have a few days in Kathmandu or Pokhara and are comfortable not having anything pre-booked, it is definitely advantageous to shop around in person. It is much easier to get a sense of a guide when you meet them face to face. There are many trekking agencies where you can inquire: in the Thamel area of Kathmandu and along the main Lakeside drag in Pokhara.

Organising a guide before travelling to Nepal

If you want to organise a guide before travelling to Nepal, a recommendation from someone you know and trust goes a long way. Just make sure you get a guarantee of who your guide will be if you are dealing with a recommended agency as opposed to the guide themselves. We’re aware of people arranging with a particular company for a certain guide, only to arrive and discover that they have a different guide. As the guide is the person you’ll be spending all your time with, they (not the company) are the most important factor.

If you don’t have a recommendation but still want to organise a guide before you go, you can browse guide profiles here and here. Both sites outline the guides’ daily rate, experience and contact details so you can get in touch directly and discuss options with them.

Things to consider when choosing a guide

Whether you’re getting organised ahead of time or finding someone in Kathmandu or Pokhara, here are the main things to keep in mind when choosing a guide:

Talk to as many guides/agencies as possible to compare prices and services

Have a conversation to gauge their level of English

Ask about the guide’s experience with the trek, especially the specific routes you want to take

Ask about their knowledge of the history and culture of Upper Mustang

Ask if they have had any first aid training and ask to see the certificates if they say yes. Ask how they would handle an emergency situation

Ask whether they will drink alcohol on the trek (you may wish to establish a no-alcohol agreement from the get-go)


Talk to as many guides/agencies as possible to compare prices and services

Have a conversation to gauge their level of English

Ask about the guide’s experience with the trek, especially the specific routes you want to take

Ask about their knowledge of the history and culture of Upper Mustang

Ask if they have had any first aid training and ask to see the certificates if they say yes. Ask how they would handle an emergency situation

Ask whether they will drink alcohol on the trek (you may wish to establish a no-alcohol agreement from the get-go)


If you’ve found someone you’re comfortable with, here are a few things to remember when finalising your arrangement:

Check that they are properly licensed and insured (ask to see proof)

Agree on the daily rate and number of days

Agree that you’ll pay for your accommodation and food, and the guide will pay their own accommodation and food

Agree that you can choose which lodge to stay in (some places like Lo Manthang have many to choose from and your preferences may differ to those of your guide)


Check that they are properly licensed and insured
(ask to see proof)

Agree on the daily rate and number of days

Agree that you’ll pay for your accommodation and food, and the guide will pay their own accommodation and food

Agree that you can choose which lodge to stay in (some places like Lo Manthang have many to choose from and your preferences may differ to those of your guide)

Confirm whether you can choose which lodge to stay in, or if the guide will choose – if you are organising a guide only then we recommend that you agree beforehand that you make the final decision. If you are booking an inclusive package, your guide will likely choose


Lastly, check that your guide is properly equipped for the trek prior to setting off. If you’re hiring an experienced guide then chances are they will be well prepared for conditions on the trail. However, this isn’t always the case. Check that they have proper hiking boots in good condition, warm windproof clothing and sunglasses as a bare minimum. This of course applies to your porter too if you’re hiring one.

BOOKING AN INCLUSIVE TREKKING PACKAGE

Many Nepal based trekking agencies offer Upper Mustang trekking itineraries for one inclusive package price. It will likely include all local transport starting and ending in Kathmandu or Pokhara, your guide, porter, permits, accommodation and meals. The itinerary is generally fixed, with most agencies offering a trek following the Classic and Western routes, but some do offer the Eastern route too.

Colourful Sungda Chorten, sitting in the middle of the dusty road between Tsarang and Lo Manthang

Sungda Chorten, a notable feature of the ‘Classic Trek Route’ on the road between Tsarang and Lo Manthang



Colourful Sungda Chorten, sitting in the middle of the dusty road between Tsarang and Lo Manthang

Sungda Chorten, a feature of the ‘Classic Route’
on the road between Tsarang and Lo Manthang



The quality of service and professionalism of guides can vary greatly when it comes to trekking agencies in Nepal, and it can feel like a bit of a minefield when it comes to choosing a good one. Do your research beforehand and narrow down the trek itinerary you want before approaching agencies in person in Kathmandu or (preferably) Pokhara. If you’re sifting through options online in advance, you should be able to get a feel for those churning out the same old itinerary, and those offering something with a better trekking experience.

Ask lots of questions about the itinerary and your guide’s experience in the region before finalising an agreement with a company. Don’t forget to check independent reviews, too. If booking from outside of Nepal, be wary of any trekking agency requiring full payment up front. It should be possible to make a deposit and finalise payment when you get to Kathmandu/Pokhara.

You can browse inclusive package tours on Tourradar, most of which are with Nepal based operators. Some of these are group tours, some are not. You can check exactly what is and isn’t included in the tour details for each one, or ask Tourradar for more information.

Check Inclusions/Exclusions

If you’re booking a trekking package, be sure to check the exact inclusions and exclusions very carefully. As well as many of the questions outlined in the Hiring A Guide section above, ask about the following:

Transport: How will you be getting to and from the trail (private jeep or public bus?)

Groups: Is it a group tour with others, or only for you/the people you are booking with?

Accommodation: Will you be sharing a room, and if so with how many people? Can you have a say in which lodge to stay in or does your guide decide?

Food: Can you order what you like or are your choices limited?

Drinks: What drinks are included and how many a day?

Permits: Are all permits included in the cost and will these be organised for you?


Transport
How will you be getting to and from the trail (private jeep or public bus?)

Groups
Is it a group tour with others, or only for you/the people you are booking with?

Accommodation
Will you be sharing a room, and if so with how many people? Can you have a say in which lodge to stay in or does your guide decide?

Food
Can you order what you like or are your choices limited?

Drinks
What drinks are included and how many a day?

Permits
Are all permits included in the cost and will these be organised for you?


BOOKING AN UPPER MUSTANG GROUP TOUR

There are a few international companies who run fully inclusive small group trekking tours in Upper Mustang with set departure dates. These are often camping trips, allowing for more flexibility when it comes to setting the itinerary.

International tour companies tend to work with the very best local trek operators, so you can expect professional service and highly experienced guides. Booking onto a tour like this certainly takes the hassle and uncertainty out of finding reliable and experienced guides or trekking agencies yourself. It also involves very little organisation or planning, making it ideal for people with limited time. You can book onto such tours as a solo traveller or with others, knowing that you’re guaranteed a group of trekking buddies to share the journey with.

Trekkers climbing a long steep trail from Tangge on an Upper Mustang trek

You can book onto an Upper Mustang group tour in the knowledge that you’ll have fellow trekkers to share the experience with



Trekkers climbing a long steep trail from Tangge on an Upper Mustang trek

You can book onto an Upper Mustang group
tour in the knowledge that you’ll have fellow
trekkers to share the experience with



Naturally, all of this expertise, organisation and ease of booking comes at a price, with this option being the most expensive way to trek in Upper Mustang.

Two options to check out are Active Adventures and World Expeditions. The itineraries differ slightly, but both explore parts of eastern Upper Mustang which we definitely recommend visiting.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK PERMITS

In order to trek in Upper Mustang you need three different permits per person, totalling approximately 550 USD. As previously stated you must trek with a guide, and, there must be a minimum of two trekkers to obtain the Restricted Area Permit (RAP), although there are ways around this.

REQUIRED UPPER MUSTANG PERMITS

Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit (RAP)
500 USD per person (10 days)
+ $50 for each additional day

Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP)
Total cost: 3000 NPR per person

Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS)
Total cost: 1000 NPR per person


Upper Mustang Restricted
Area Permit (RAP)

500 USD per person (10 days)
+ $50 for each additional day

Annapurna Conservation
Area Permit (ACAP)

Total cost: 3000 NPR per person

Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS)
Total cost: 1000 NPR per person


The Upper Mustang RAP must be processed by a trekking company in Nepal. The other two permits can be obtained by a trekking company or individual trekker, but you might as well have the trekking company organise all three. The TIMS card is not strictly necessary for Upper Mustang, but it is required for areas of Lower Mustang that you need to pass through before and after. All three permits must be processed in Kathmandu or Pokhara, so you cannot organise them while already in Lower Mustang (ie. Jomsom/Kagbeni).

You will need to provide your passport, with a valid Nepal visa, and a passport photo.

An example of the Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit (RAP).

Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit (RAP)



An example of the Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit (RAP).

Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit (RAP)



If you want to trek in Upper Mustang for more than 10 days it is best to add any additional days onto your permit at the time of processing. If for whatever reason you exit Upper Mustang later than your permit allows, in our experience it is possible to get a ‘late letter’ at the checkpoint in Kagbeni, then pay the equivalent fee at the main office in Jomsom ($50/day). This is what we did after changing plans whilst already in Upper Mustang and exiting on day 11 instead of day 10 as per our permit.

HOW TO GET AN UPPER MUSTANG TREKKING PERMIT AS A SOLO TREKKER

As mentioned, it is not possible to obtain the Upper Mustang RAP as an individual trekker. A minimum of 2 trekkers (plus guide) is required to issue the permit. So, if you’re an individual looking to trek in Upper Mustang you have to find a workaround. For the majority of people, this means either finding a trekking permit partner yourself and applying together, or finding a trekking agency who can match you up with someone. In either case, you don’t have to actually trek with your permit partner. Rather, you will both be named on the permit, and your trek dates will match.

You can look for permit buddies on forums online, for example by posting your proposed trip details or searching existing posts on this site. You can also ask around to try and find someone in popular tourist areas like Thamel in Kathmandu or Lakeside in Pokhara.

Alternatively, approach trekking agencies to see if they have any other clients looking to trek at the same time. It is quite common for agencies to match up solo trekkers in order to apply for the permit, with each person then trekking with their own guide. We came across this on the Manaslu Circuit, which has similar restrictions.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK ACCOMMODATION

Accommodation in Upper Mustang is more often than not in a traditional home, and it’s a memorable experience.

TRADITIONAL MUSTANG HOMES

Traditional Mustang homes are pretty special. From the outside they look cold and unwelcoming, a foreboding solid block of white with few small windows and a jagged crown of wooden sticks. But, step inside and you’ll usually find a light-filled courtyard at the centre of the home, a mezzanine balcony on the floor above, and various rooms with large windows overlooking the courtyard. Small outer windows are framed in bright colours, and intricate paintings with Tibetan Buddhist motifs adorn dining room walls. What looks like an inhospitable fort from the outside becomes a welcome sanctuary from within.

Rooftops lined with stacks of wood in Chele, Upper Mustang

Their roofs stacked with wood, traditional Mustang homes are tightly packed in the clifftop village of Chele



Rooftops lined with stacks of wood in Chele, Upper Mustang

Traditional Mustang homes, tightly
packed in the clifftop village of Chele



These wonderful homes have developed in response to the local climate and available materials. The earthen walls are thick, insulating against the harsh wind and cold winter. Wood is scarce, with supplies transported from Lower Mustang. As such, it is used sparingly and usually only in winter. Wood supplies are stored in quite a unique way, with bundles stacked around the rooftop. The more wood piled up, and the older it is, the wealthier the owner.

UPPER MUSTANG GUESTHOUSES

Where guesthouses are traditional Mustang homes, the bright inner courtyard on the ground floor often has tables and chairs. This can make a good spot for lunch in the warm sun. There is normally a kitchen and other rooms off the courtyard. An open staircase commonly leads to the upper floor where the mezzanine balcony runs all around. Guest bedrooms and a dining room are usually accessed from the balcony, although bedrooms can also be on the ground floor.

A view from the upper floor balcony of the inner courtyard of the Hotel Dhaulagiri in Syangboche, a common place to stay on the second day of an Upper Mustang trek

The central inner courtyard of the Hotel Dhaulagiri in Syangboche, a traditional Mustang house



A view from the upper floor balcony of the inner courtyard of the Hotel Dhaulagiri in Syangboche, a common place to stay on the second day of an Upper Mustang trek

The inner courtyard of the Hotel Dhaulagiri
in Syangboche, a traditional Mustang house



In our opinion, these Mustang homes feel much more like family guesthouses or homestays than ‘trekking lodges’. They certainly feel far more personable and homely than the teahouses of the Annapurna Circuit or such like.

Lo Manthang is the main exception on the accommodation front, with a number of non-traditional multi-storey concrete hotels having been built outside of the city walls in recent years. These seem to cater largely to big tour groups and those on jeep tours rather than small groups of trekkers, and we’d certainly recommend the more characterful traditional homes closer to the walled city.

External view of the large traditional Mustang style Tashi Delek Guesthouse, with prayer flags strung from its rooftop and colourful window frames against whitewashed walls

Backing on to the walled city, the traditional Tashi Delek Guesthouse has much more character than newer concrete structures in Lo Manthang



External view of the large traditional Mustang style Tashi Delek Guesthouse, with prayer flags strung from its rooftop and colourful window frames against whitewashed walls

Backing on to the walled city, the traditional Tashi
Delek Guesthouse has much more character than
the newer concrete structures in Lo Manthang



Rooms

Bedrooms usually have two single beds and a small table. Pillows and blankets are provided, but a sleeping bag is recommended (don’t expect the blankets to be particularly fresh or clean). Think of the blanket as supplementary to your sleeping bag when it gets cold.

Toilets

It’s best to assume that you will have shared bathroom facilities, although some guesthouses have rooms with attached bathrooms. Shared bathrooms are usually inside the home, on the same floor as the guest rooms. Some have a western style flushing toilet, others a squat toilet. They usually have a sink just outside the toilet door for washing your hands, cleaning your teeth, etc. It’s best to have your own toilet paper, and soap isn’t always provided so make sure you have hand sanitiser too. Generally speaking, used toilet paper goes in a bin next to the toilet. If it’s a squat toilet, flush it by scooping water out of the nearby bucket with whatever receptacle is provided.

Showers

Showers, if available, are often in a separate room to the shared toilet. If you have an attached bathroom it will likely have a shower head, too. In either case, the shower head may or may not actually attach to the wall. Your chances of a hot shower depend on whether the guesthouse has gas or solar heating. Gas showers are more reliably hot, but a bit of a luxury. Solar heated showers are more common, but to get hot water you need to time it just right in the late morning/early afternoon, and of course it needs to be a sunny day. Out of eight different guesthouses, we had three great hot showers, two not so great lukewarm showers, and three without any showers. Sometimes you have to pay for a hot shower, usually around 200 rupees.

Dining Room/Kitchen

In the evening, meals are usually served in the atmospheric dining room. This is often home to the family altar, complete with butter lamps, candles, and incense, with colourful paintings on the walls. The window frames and wooden beams are often elaborately painted, too. Many homes have portraits of the former King and Queen of Lo on the wall, along with Tibetan Buddhist leaders like the Dalai Lama and the 41st and 42nd Sakya Trizin. There may be a gas heater in the dining room to keep you warm, but not always.

Midday sun streams through the window into the dimly lit dining room of an Upper Mustang guesthouse.

Atmospheric dining room at lunchtime in Samar’s Himali Hotel



Tables and fixed seating line the walls of this Upper Mustang guesthouse dining room.

Upstairs dining room at the Hotel Dhaulagiri in Syangboche



Midday sun streams through the window into the dimly lit dining room of an Upper Mustang guesthouse.

Atmospheric dining room at Samar’s Himali Hotel


Tables and fixed seating line the walls of this Upper Mustang guesthouse dining room.

Upstairs at the Hotel Dhaulagiri in Syangboche



You may also be served dinner/breakfast in the family kitchen, especially if you’re the only guest(s). This is always the warmest room in the house, and it’s an interesting cultural experience.

FOOD AND DRINK ON AN UPPER MUSTANG TREK

Food options on an Upper Mustang trek are similar to other treks in Nepal, but with a more constant supply of fresh veggies. Meals tend to cost a lot less than on other teahouse treks, and prices don’t fluctuate as much as on neighbouring high altitude treks like Annapurna Circuit. Chinese consumables are increasingly available in the region due to cross-border trading just north of Lo Manthang.

POINTS TO NOTE

You’re expected to eat dinner and breakfast at your guesthouse. Lunch will generally be at a different place somewhere along the trail unless it’s a short day and you arrive at your destination earlier

Try to order the same as the people you’re trekking with. Your food will usually arrive more quickly and less fuel will be needed to cook it

You may need a packed lunch. You’ll need a packed lunch some days if trekking the western and/or eastern routes. Your guesthouse will be able to provide this for you in the morning when you set off. Boiled eggs, chapatis and paratha are all sensible options. Be sure to order the night before


POINTS TO NOTE

You’re expected to eat dinner and breakfast at your guesthouse. Lunch will generally be at a different place somewhere along the trail unless it’s a short day and you arrive at your destination earlier

Try to order the same as the people you’re trekking with. Your food will usually arrive more quickly and less fuel will be needed to cook it

You may need a packed lunch. You’ll need a packed lunch some days if trekking the western and/or eastern routes. Your guesthouse will be able to provide this for you in the morning when you set off. Boiled eggs, chapatis and paratha are all sensible options. Be sure to order the night before


DAL BHAT

Dal Bhat is the classic trekking dish. A combination of dal (lentils), veg curry, pickle, papad, rice, and vegetables, this staple of the Nepali diet is a great option. It comes with a guaranteed refill of rice and curry, and usually some extra dal too.

  • A serving of classic Nepali dish dal bhat on a brass plate, sitting on a peach coloured wooden table
  • A serving of classic Nepali dish dal bhat on a brass plate, sitting on a peach coloured wooden table

Dal Bhat


Although it sometimes seems a more expensive choice, the option for free refills makes it worth it, and this meal will give you all the energy you need. Dal Bhat usually costs about 400 – 500 NPR. We eat it twice a day most days when trekking in Nepal, and love it.

BREAKFAST

Breakfast options range in price from about 150 – 250 NPR. They include porridge, pancakes, omelettes, boiled/fried eggs, and various breads (fried Tibetan bread, buckwheat bread, chapatis, and so on). Often you can get them with jam, honey, or apples. You can order these dishes any time of day, and it’s common to place your breakfast order the night before.

LUNCH AND DINNER

Besides the ubiquitous dal bhat, lunch and dinner dishes include soups, pasta, fried rice, momos (a kind of dumpling), chowmein, curries, and so on. Thukpa is a Tibetan noodle soup that you’ll find on most menus in the region. Prices range from around 300 – 400 NPR.

A bowl of Thukpa, a Tibetan noodle soup common in Upper Mustang.

Thukpa is a noodle soup found on most menus in Upper Mustang



A bowl of Thukpa, a Tibetan noodle soup common in Upper Mustang.

Thukpa is a noodle soup found on
most menus in Upper Mustang



DESSERT & SNACKS

Sweet treats and snacks on offer include the likes of pancakes, chocolate bars, packets of biscuits, and chips (potato fries). Prices range from around 60 NPR for a packet of biscuits, to 300 NPR for a portion of chips. If you want to stock up on trail snacks, the shops in Lo Manthang have the most on offer, with plenty of Chinese snacks that get traded across the border just 20 km to the north.

DRINKS

Hot drinks are on the menu at every guesthouse, with an often huge range of options stretching from regular black tea and instant coffee to masala tea, lemon ginger honey tea, and hot chocolate. Prices range from about 40 – 60 NPR per cup, but sometimes a ‘pot’ (thermal flask) is better value. You can also order just hot water. Soft drinks like Coke or Sprite cost around 100 – 150 NPR. Beer, rum, apple brandy and local rakshi are often available. Expect to pay around 500 NPR for a beer or small bottle of Khukri rum/brandy, and around 100 NPR for local rakshi.

DRINKING WATER ON AN UPPER MUSTANG TREK

It can be hot, dry, and dusty on an Upper Mustang trek and drinking plenty of water is a must. It will keep you hydrated and help you acclimatise better. Planning to have at least three to four litres of water a day is a good place to start.

WHERE TO GET WATER

Upper Mustang has a semi-arid climate, so natural water sources like streams are limited. There are communal water taps in every village though, and at guesthouses along the way, so just remember to fill up before you hit the trail again. If you’re trekking the eastern route, it’s advisable to carry enough water for the whole day when leaving Yara and Tangge, as there may be nowhere to fill up on the trail.

A woman doing laundry at a communal water tap in Tsarang while her young son looks on

There are communal water taps in every village, although you may have wait or find another if someone’s doing their laundry



A woman doing laundry at a communal water tap in Tsarang while her young son looks on

There are communal water taps in every
village, although you may have wait
if someone’s doing their laundry



WATER STERILISATION

It’s advisable to use an effective sterilisation method to make sure your water is safe to drink.

Our preferred method is the Steripen Ultra. It uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and treats one litre of water in 90 seconds. The bulb has a lifetime of around 8,000 treatments, making the initial cost (about $100 USD) seem cheap when you realise how many litres of water that is. If you happen to use up the bulb, the company will replace it for free. We use our Steripen in conjunction with a filter to keep any weird floaty bits out. It’s quick and hassle free, especially when compared to using purification tablets, and the Ultra model is rechargeable via USB.

Other popular means of sterilisation are Lifestraw, Grayl, Water-To Go, a squeeze filter system, and of course water purification tablets (we always have a few strips of these as a backup). Personally, we like the versatility of the Steripen. It allows us to sterilise water in 1L Nalgene bottles before filling up our water bladders for use with our backpacks.

BOTTLE OR WATER BLADDER?

A combination of both works well for us, but it’s totally down to personal preference.

We’ve used water bladders/reservoirs for many years. Having 2-3 litres in your backpack at the start of the day makes drinking water on the go easy. No stopping to get your bottle out, just drink from the handy tube. These days we use the excellent Hydrapak Shape-Shift Reservoir.

We always have our Nalgene Tritan Wide Mouth 1L bottles with us too. They’re great for using at the guesthouses or when wandering around the villages, and for sterilising 1L of water at a time for the bladders. They work well in conjunction with Steripen’s wide mouth bottle filter, perfect for getting rid of any particulates in the water.

SAY NO TO BOTTLED WATER!

Bottled water is available to buy throughout the trek, but we would advise against this for a number of reasons.

First | With the sterilisation methods outlined above, there is absolutely no need to buy bottled water while trekking in Nepal, or virtually anywhere for that matter

Second | Waste management is not dealt with in a sustainable way, and the last thing the local environment needs is a load more plastic waste. By buying bottled water you’ll be directly contributing to the problem, when it is so easily avoidable with a little pre-planning

Third | As if those reasons aren’t enough, think about your wallet. As well as creating a huge amount of unnecessary waste, you’ll be wasting a significant amount of money if you buy bottled water each day (one bottle can cost 100-200 NPR)


First
With the sterilisation methods outlined above, there is absolutely no need to buy bottled water while trekking in Nepal, or virtually anywhere for that matter

Second
Waste management is not dealt with in a sustainable way, and the last thing the local environment needs is a load more plastic waste. By buying bottled water you’ll be directly contributing to the problem, when it is so easily avoidable with a little pre-planning

Third
As if those reasons aren’t enough, think about your wallet. As well as creating a huge amount of unnecessary waste, you’ll be wasting a significant amount of money if you buy bottled water each day (one bottle can cost 100-200 NPR)


WIFI, SIM CARDS AND STAYING CHARGED

Internet connectivity is not great in Upper Mustang, and electricity isn’t exactly free flowing either.

WiFi

WiFi is not widely available in guesthouses in Upper Mustang. When it is, it’s usually via an expensive satellite connection which doesn’t always work that well. From memory it was about 1000 NPR for 24 hours so we never bothered connecting.

NEPAL SIM CARDS

4G sim cards and packages can be bought at the airport, or from numerous vendors in the Thamel area of Kathmandu, or from shops in Pokhara. Data connection works very well in the city but as soon as you leave the coverage is patchy and drops to 2G/3G. Nepal Telecom (NTC) is your best bet for data connection in Upper Mustang, but it’s safe to say it will be limited and slow.

Heads up – we bought a 60 day Ncell SIM card package from a tourist shop in Kathmandu to cover our 40 day trek. We paid what we later realised was a ridiculously inflated price. After 30 days, our data allowance ran out. We later discovered that Ncell don’t sell packages for longer than 30 days and we had been conned. Returning to the shop in Kathmandu, we got our money back after threatening to involve the police. Something to bear in mind if you’re going to be in Nepal for longer than a month.

The striped walls and blocky red building of the 16th Century Tsarang Gompa in Upper Mustang

Even if the internet was perfect, with scenes like this and limited time in the region, why would you want to spend it online?



The striped walls and blocky red building of the 16th Century Tsarang Gompa in Upper Mustang

Even if the internet was perfect, with scenes
like this and limited time in the region, why
would you want to spend it online?



STAYING CHARGED

Don’t let the power lines fool you into thinking Upper Mustang is running off reliable mains electricity. Many households rely on solar power generators, even in Lo Manthang. Generally speaking, you should be able to charge your phone or camera batteries, but this is often limited to certain times of day when they turn on the power (usually in the evening). You can ask the guesthouse owners if they have set electricity times when you arrive.

If staying charged is important to you, we’d definitely recommend packing spare camera batteries, a power bank, and/or a small lightweight solar panel. We’ve been using a 15W Anker one for a few years now, and in sunny conditions it really is amazing how quickly it can charge things. Remember to keep your phone on flight mode to keep it charged for longer.

MONEY MATTERS IN UPPER MUSTANG

The amount of money you need to take on your Upper Mustang Trek will depend on your style of travel. If you are paying as you go, then you’ll need to have enough cash to cover all costs: accommodation, food, drink, etc. (see budget section for detailed info). If you are on a prepaid inclusive tour, then you’ll just need money for any food or drinks over and above what’s included in your package.

On the trail, everything is payable in cash in the local currency, Nepalese Rupees (NPR). Take plenty of small denomination notes as change isn’t always readily available, especially in more remote villages. If you have a few days in Kathmandu or Pokhara beforehand, pay for things in big notes to build up your supply of small ones. Also beware that ATMs have max withdrawal amounts, and your bank may have a max daily withdrawal limit, so you may not be able to withdraw the total amount that you need all in one day. Plan ahead.

There are ATMs in Jomsom, but it’s best to withdraw your cash in Kathmandu/Pokhara instead of relying on a local ATM.

WHY NOT ADD THE MANASLU CIRCUIT TREK TO YOUR NEPAL ADVENTURE?

UPPER MUSTANG TREK BUDGET

The total cost of your Upper Mustang trek will largely depend on how you choose to do it. The cheapest option is to hire a guide, travel around Nepal on public transport, and pay-as-you-go for your food and accommodation. The most expensive option is to book a fully inclusive group tour with an international company. Booking an inclusive package with a local trekking agency will fall somewhere in between. Whichever option you choose, there’s no getting around that hefty 500 USD permit fee, but at least food costs are considerably less than on other Nepal treks.

In this section, we’ll give a ballpark figure for each approach, followed by a detailed breakdown of all the costs involved so you can compare the various options.

APPROXIMATE UPPER MUSTANG TREK COSTS

Hire Guide + Pay-As-You-Go
$1200 – $1500 (solo trekker)
$1000 – $1150 pp (two trekkers)

Hire Guide & Porter + Pay-As-You-Go
$1480 – $1840 (solo trekker)
$1140 – $1320 pp (two trekkers)

*above figures based on 12 days
and public transport (no flights)

Inclusive Package With Nepal Trekking Agency
$1500 – $2000 (per person)

International Group Tour 15-22 Days
$3500+ (per person)


PERMIT COSTS

The combined cost of the Upper Mustang RAP, ACAP and TIMS permits are approx 550 USD + $50 for each additional day in Upper Mustang (see the permit section for full details).

GUIDE AND PORTER COSTS

Upper Mustang trekking guides cost between $25 – $50 per day, depending on their experience. As previously mentioned, it is definitely worth hiring a guide with experience trekking in the specific areas you wish to explore, and one who is knowledgeable about the culture and history of the region (not just the landscape). We suggest a budget of around $40 per day for a good, experienced guide. Over a 12 day trek, this would total $480. The cost of a guide can be split between a group, usually up to 5 trekkers. A porter costs around $20 – $25 per day and this cost can usually be shared between two people, based on 10 – 15 kg per person.

Two trekkers on a trail towards Chhoser in Upper Mustang

Walking with our guide on a day trip from Lo Manthang to Chhoser 



Two trekkers on a trail towards Chhoser in Upper Mustang

Walking with our guide on a day
trip from Lo Manthang to Chhoser



ACCOMMODATION BUDGET

Accommodation costs range from around 300 NPR to 700 NPR, and up to 1200 NPR if you want an attached bathroom. The average price for a twin room is 500 NPR / 4 USD per night. Over a 12 day trek, this would total approximately 6000 NPR / 50 USD. The price is generally the same whether the room is used by one or two people.

FOOD AND DRINK BUDGET

 Food and drink costs can vary widely from person to person. It really depends on how much you consume, and how often you treat yourself to a beer, dessert, snacks, and so on. We’ve outlined approximate costs in more detail in the Food and Drink section to help you budget for yourself. However, based on our food and drink costs, we’d recommend a food budget of 2000 NPR / 16 USD per day. Over a 12 day trek, this would total approximately 24000 NPR / 200 USD.

We usually ate porridge/omelette with Tibetan bread/chapatis for breakfast, and dal bhat for lunch and dinner, although sometimes we swapped it for (cheaper) veg chowmein or curry. We shared a snack most afternoons, such as potato chips or veg momos. Del had a few beers and some rum over the course of the trek, and drank copious amounts of tea on a daily basis. We also stocked up on chocolate bars and biscuits in Lo Manthang to add to our packed lunches while trekking south via the Eastern Route.

TRANSPORT BUDGET

Transport costs vary widely depending on whether you travel by local bus, private jeep, or airplane. The cheapest option is to travel by public bus. For a return trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara to Jomsom, it costs around 4200 NPR / 35 USD. Flying will cost around 500 USD (4 x $125 for each leg).

ENTRANCE FEES & DONATIONS

Budget 1000 NPR for a ticket to visit the three main monasteries in Lo Manthang, and another 1000 rupees to visit the sights around Chhoser. If you visit any other monasteries, such as at Tsarang, you will be charged a small entrance fee and may wish to give a donation. If you stay in Tangge, you will likely be visited by their women’s group who collect donations for local projects. We recommend a budget of around 2500 – 3000 NPR / 20 – 25 USD to cover entrance fees and donations on your trek.

Birds flocking around the rooftop of bright red Jampa Gompa in Lo Manthang

Jampa Gompa is one of three Lo Manthang monasteries covered by the 1000 NPR ticket



Birds flocking around the rooftop of bright red Jampa Gompa in Lo Manthang

Jampa Gompa is one of three Lo Manthang
monasteries covered by the 1000 NPR ticket



MISCELLANEOUS COSTS

It’s best to have some extra money in case you want to buy small items like toilet paper, tissues, or postcards on your trek (around 1000 – 1500 NPR should suffice). If you wish to have a hot shower, some places charge around 200 NPR. There are also many souvenir, art and gift shops in Lo Manthang where you may be tempted to part with some cash.

TIPPING COSTS

Tipping trekking guides and porters is not compulsory, but it is recommended and a good thing to do. You’ll need to factor the cost into your overall budget and be sure to have enough money to give the tip at the end of your trek. Generally accepted tipping guidelines are around 5 USD per day for guides, and 3 USD for porters. Double these amounts if you are trekking as part of a group, with the cost shared by everyone. Over a 12 day trek, this would total $60 for a trekking guide, $36 for a porter.

Additionally, if you are trekking as part of a large group tour with a head guide (and maybe an assistant guide), they are usually given 10 – 15% of their daily rate from the group as a whole. In these situations, it’s worth finding out the total number of guides and porters in your group beforehand, as well as the number of fellow trekkers, so you can budget accordingly. You won’t necessarily know their daily rate, but someone experienced enough to be working for an international company will likely be at the higher end of the scale. You can ask the company or head guide for advice.

WHAT TO PACK FOR AN UPPER MUSTANG TREK

Below you’ll find our packing lists for trekking in Upper Mustang. The first outlines the clothing you should take and the second is a list of equipment/gear we recommend for the trek. In the colder winter months, extra warm clothing is necessary. There are many outdoor clothing shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara (some knock-offs, some the real deal), so it’s certainly possible to stock up on gear when you arrive in Nepal. Saying that, we’d strongly suggest buying and breaking in your boots at home.

Note that it’s very common to leave excess baggage for free at hotels and guesthouses in Kathmandu or Pokhara.

A full backpack standing on rocky ground at the side of a road with a mountain view on the Upper Mustang Trek in Nepal.

As we carry a lot of photography/video gear, this backpack is considerably bigger/fuller than the average trekker needs



A full backpack standing on rocky ground at the side of a road with a mountain view on the Upper Mustang Trek in Nepal.

As we carry a lot of photography gear, this is
bigger/fuller than the average trekker needs



CLOTHING

You need to be prepared for windy and dusty conditions, and the sun can be pretty intense, with little shade on the trails. Quality gear and the right materials will make a big difference to your enjoyment and how much/little you need to pack.

Layers

Layers are important – it’s a good idea to have a base layer (like this), a mid-layer (like this), an insulating layer (like this), plus a windproof top shell (like this). This way, you can take off and put on layers as you hike and regulate your temperature easily.

Merino Wool

Avoid cotton clothing as it will quickly become smelly and be very difficult to dry when wet. Opt for merino wool instead. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cool, and amazingly won’t stink even after days of wearing it. It will dry relatively fast too, which is great if you plan to do a spot of laundry on-the-go. When trekking we wear merino wool underwear, socks, t-shirts, thermals, buffs, everything! Icebreaker do a great range.

Separate Evening Clothes

Make sure you have a separate change of clothes for the evening/sleeping in and get out of those sweaty clothes as soon as you arrive at your guesthouse. Changing your clothes, including your socks, will keep you much warmer.

Hiking Boots

Break in your hiking boots before you trek! Blisters and hot spots can really ruin your hike. Pack Compeed or similar just in case. While there are large sections of road walking, we’d still recommend proper hiking footwear for this trek rather than trainers/sneakers, especially if you plan on going off trail on the western or eastern routes. We both wear Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX boots (his/hers) these days and love them.

Insoles

Getting an insole specific to your foot shape is also a worthwhile investment. It will help keep your foot in place, in turn reducing the chance of blisters or hot spots developing. They also reduce foot fatigue, improve shock absorption and will stop you pronating, which can lead to knee or hip ache over the course of a multi-day hike. We really love our superfeet insoles and wish we’d started using them earlier.

Merino T-Shirts x 3
His/Hers

Merino Thermal Baselayer
His/Hers

Merino Thermal Leggings
His/Hers

Merino Underwear x 3
His/Hers

Sports Bra x 2

Fleece
His/Hers

Down Jacket
His/Hers

Quick Drying Hiking Trousers (preferably with zip-off shorts)
His/Hers

Trousers to wear in the evening
(Lightweight, similar to above)

Trekking Socks x 3
His/Hers

Warm Socks to wear at night x 1

Buff

Gloves
Liner & Waterproof Outer

Sun Hat

Warm Hat

Sunglasses
(plus a spare pair)

Hiking Boots
His/Hers

Waterproof sandals /Crocs
(for evening)

Belt
You might lose weight on the trek!


EQUIPMENT, GEAR & MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS

You don’t need much in the way of specialist gear or equipment for trekking in Upper Mustang as it isn’t a technical or high altitude trek. The below are all essential and/or useful.

Backpack

Most obviously you’ll need a good backpack. Osprey backpacks with their Anti-Gravity (AG) back system are the most comfortable and easy to carry we’ve ever used. We highly recommend them. Look for a backpack capacity between 40-70L, depending on how much you plan to carry and how long you’ll trek for. If you’re trekking with a porter, you’ll need a comfortable day pack for your water, snacks, camera, warm layers, etc. Ask how your porter would like you to pack the bag for them. Some will carry your own backpack, others prefer you to pack things in a duffel bag. A waterproof cover will help keep dust out of your backpack.

Sleeping Bag

There are always blankets in the guesthouses but we recommend taking your own sleeping bag. We used these 3 season Rab down sleeping bags on our Nepal treks along with these silk liners. Down sleeping bags offer the best warmth to weight ratio, and can really pack down small. Using a compression sack will save even more space in your backpack.

Hiking Poles

Hiking poles are a huge help if you plan to trek the Upper Mustang Eastern route, especially if you’re carrying your own bag. There are some steep ascents and descents on trails with lots of small loose stones that are easy to slip on. Hiking poles can help with your balance and stability, and they’ve certainly saved us from numerous slipcidents over the years. Cork handles are by far the best when it comes to dealing with hot sweaty palms, and carbon fibre will help you keep the weight down. These poles have done us proud on countless treks.

Everything Else

For a full list of everything you might need or want for the trek, click on the drop down menu below.


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TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR TREKKING UPPER MUSTANG

Getting the right travel insurance cover is essential for your Upper Mustang Trek. It’s important to check exactly what is and isn’t covered under the policy.

TREKKING AT ALTITUDE

Not all policies will cover trekking at altitude. You will need cover for trekking up to 4500 m (the highest point on this trek would be Chogo La at 4280 m between Ghar Gompa and Lo Manthang). This isn’t usually covered as standard, but many travel insurance providers will allow you to pay extra to be covered via an activity pack add-on. It’s also wise to ensure you have Search and Rescue and Medical Evacuation cover included. Always check the exclusions of your policy carefully.

TREKKING IN NEPAL

Some travel insurance companies have specific exclusions or conditions when it comes to trekking in Nepal. The excess for helicopter evacuation, for example, may be considerably higher for Nepal than elsewhere. This is due in part to a scam in recent years whereby trekkers who become ill are pressured or encouraged into flying out of the mountains by helicopter for medical attention. Unscrupulous guides, doctors and even some trekkers have profited from this. The result has been more expensive insurance policies, with some insurers threatening to no longer provide cover unless the government takes action.

TRAVEL INSURANCE PROVIDERS

Whether you are already travelling or not, two travel insurance policy providers that you can get cover with for trekking in Nepal are World Nomads and True Traveller (UK/EEA residents only). Both have activity pack add-ons to cover you for trekking up to the required altitude, and can cover you for search and rescue. Get a quote and see what suits you best. Having used World Nomads for a while, we opted for True Traveller for our last Nepal trip as they were significantly cheaper when factoring in the adventure activities we needed cover for.

For the full lowdown on choosing a travel insurance policy check out this post.

CHECK PRICES AND GET A QUOTE HERE



UPPER MUSTANG TREK HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS

There’s no denying this trek was full of both highlights and lowlights for us. But, given that most of the disappointing aspects could have been avoided if we’d researched our trek better (and had a more experienced guide), hopefully you’ll have a largely positive experience.

HIGHLIGHTS OF TREKKING IN UPPER MUSTANG

There are many highlights on an Upper Mustang trek, but a few of them really stood out for us.

The Eastern Route

Scenery and trekking wise, the unequivocal highlight was our three days spent in Eastern Upper Mustang. The route to Yara, Tangge and Chhusang is otherworldly, remote, and (crucially!) devoid of roads. It’s the only part of our Upper Mustang trek that actually felt like a trek, and we’re so incredibly thankful to the tour guide we met in Lo Manthang who told us about it and helped us change our plans. Despite some long and challenging days, we couldn’t wipe the grins off our faces throughout.

A trekker looking out to a vast expanse of colourful mountains and jagged rock formations on an Upper Mustang Trek

Long and challenging trekking days are well worth it when accompanied by views like this



A trekker looking out to a vast expanse of colourful mountains and jagged rock formations on an Upper Mustang Trek

Long and challenging trekking days are well
worth it when accompanied by views like this



The village of Tangge is also our favourite in the region, and we really enjoyed our stay at the Shambala Hotel. We were the only guests, and spent the night playing, laughing, and joking with the young daughter of the family, cuddling with their cat, and enjoying delicious food in the kitchen with the welcoming mother of the household.

Intricately carved prayer script on mani stones beneath the block of chortens in Tangge, a remote village on the Eastern Route of the Upper Mustang trek in Nepal.

Intricate prayer script on mani stones



Chortens grouped together in a row in Tangge, a picturesque village on the Eastern Route of the Upper Mustang trek in Nepal.

A block of chortens in Tangge, overseen by the jagged wall of the above plateau



The surrounding landscape forms a spectacular backdrop to Tangge's many characterful chortens

The surrounding landscape forms a spectacular
backdrop to Tangge’s many colourful chortens



Traditional Tibetan Culture

Experiencing the culture and history of Upper Mustang is undoubtedly another highlight of a trek in this region. Having visited Tibet in 2010, we recognised many of the building styles, dress, and customs, but were also fascinated by the colourful chortens and ‘Triple Protector’ striped walls of the Sakya Buddhist sect that dominates here. We don’t remember seeing anything like that in Tibet. We also got a sense that in some ways, Upper Mustang feels more like ‘Tibet’ than Tibet itself. The former Kingdom of Lo was isolated for so long that many tangible and intangible aspects of Tibetan cultural heritage have been preserved in a way that they unfortunately haven’t in post-1950s Tibet.

A Triple Protector (Rigsum Gonpo) statue in Tsarang with three columns in grey, white and orange, with similarly coloured mountains in the background

Between the monastery and palace in Tsarang, the stones of the ‘Three Protectors’ (Rigsum Gonpo) face the mountains to the east



A Triple Protector (Rigsum Gonpo) statue in Tsarang with three columns in grey, white and orange, with similarly coloured mountains in the background

Between the monastery and palace in Tsarang,
the stones of the ‘Three Protectors’ (Rigsum
Gonpo) face the mountains to the east



We quickly realised how special the villages of Upper Mustang were and made it a priority to spend more time exploring them, rather than ‘trekking’ between them on the roads and carved up trails of the Classic Route. The villages of Ghami, Tsarang, Tangbe, Tangge, and of course Lo Manthang, were all highlights of our Upper Mustang trek.

Staying In Traditional Mustang Homes

On our first night in Upper Mustang we were faced with two choices of accommodation – the aforementioned ‘cold’ and ‘unwelcoming’ exterior of a traditional Mustang home, or a more open and hospitable looking guesthouse. We went with the latter, of course. It wasn’t until our second day that we stepped inside the thick, whitewashed walls of a Mustang home and were immediately enchanted. From then on, we opted to stay in a traditional home at every opportunity.

The Lo Ghami Guesthouse in Ghami was a particular delight, with a wonderful garden, balcony, and incredible artwork adorning the walls of the upstairs dining room. Witnessing a private puja ceremony in the small prayer room of our guesthouse in Lo Manthang was also an incredible experience, a stroke of luck given that the family invited the monks to perform the ceremony only once a year.

The two storey whitewashed Lo Ghami Guesthouse seen from the front garden.

The two storey Lo Ghami Guesthouse, seen from the front garden



Colourful handpainted artwork on the walls of the Lo Ghami Guesthouse in Upper Mustang

Artwork on the wall of the guesthouse’s upstairs dining room



The two storey whitewashed Lo Ghami Guesthouse seen from the front garden.

Lo Ghami Guesthouse, seen from the front garden


Colourful handpainted artwork on the walls of the Lo Ghami Guesthouse in Upper Mustang

Artwork on the wall of the upstairs dining room



LOWLIGHTS OF TREKKING IN UPPER MUSTANG

The lowlights of trekking in Upper Mustang undoubtedly revolve around the construction of the road to Lo Manthang.

Road Walking

If you’re trekking to Lo Manthang there are sections where walking on the road is unavoidable, and plenty of sections where the off-road trail is still within sight or earshot of the motorable road. The ‘road’ is not tarmacked, rather a flattened dusty expanse of loose stones, dirt, and sand. Plumes of dust are spat in your face with every passing vehicle. Diggers and dump trucks litter the trail, the noise of the machinery carrying far and wide, ruining any sense of peaceful remoteness. At least that was our experience.

A hiker on the Upper Mustang trek is forced to wait at the side of the dirt road because of construction vehicles and ongoing work.

We had to put up with a lot of this kind of thing during the early days of our trek



A hiker on the Upper Mustang trek is forced to wait at the side of the dirt road because of construction vehicles and ongoing work.

We had to put up with a lot of this kind of
thing during the early days of our trek



We spent most of our time while pounding these roads wishing we were on a motorbike. It put a real downer on our mood and enjoyment of the trek. In fact, by the time we’d reached Syangboche on our second day (prior to learning about the Eastern Route), we had already decided to take a jeep back from Lo Manthang instead of walking. This allowed us more time to spend in the villages and Lo Manthang itself.

As we’ve mentioned already though, we hadn’t done our research on the best routes (we weren’t even fully aware of the extent of the road), and the guide we (unexpectedly) ended up with had limited experience in the region. He was guiding us along a very standard route, instead of taking advantage of the off-road trails. The fact that you’re reading this Upper Mustang trekking guide shows that you are doing your research, so your experience will no doubt be a better one!

The Cultural and Environmental Impact Of The Road

The impact the road has had on the region goes far beyond the destruction of trekking trails, although many of these changes aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves. Developing the area’s infrastructure can benefit the population on a number of levels, from greater access to schools and hospitals, to increased trade and more economic opportunities. However, the fact is that such development has often been badly managed or poorly thought out, particularly when you consider the long term environmental impact.

Increased Tourism

Domestic and international tourism has increased greatly, with jeep and motorbike tours making access to Lo Manthang easy for anyone, not just trekkers. Demand for accommodation has increased, with more and more hotels springing up outside of the old city walls. These new buildings are not always made of traditional local earthen materials, rather concrete imported (at considerable expense) from China. Their height often exceeds the norm of traditional Mustang dwellings. This construction boom has changed the landscape forever, and threatens the survival of the old city of Lo. Structurally fragile historic buildings, chortens and other cultural assets have been damaged by construction vehicles and the vibrations in the earth caused by heavy trucks. We feel that it’s important to have proper planning with any such development, but unfortunately that seems to be sadly lacking.

A panoramic view of Lo Manthang, as seen from a viewpoint on an Upper Mustang trek

The original walled city of Lo Manthang (where the red buildings are) is practically indistinguishable these days
from the new buildings spreading up and down the valley beyond its walls. Lo Manthang once looked like
this.



A panoramic view of Lo Manthang, as seen from a viewpoint on an Upper Mustang trek

The original walled city of Lo Manthang (where the
red buildings are) is practically indistinguishable
these days from the new buildings spreading up
and down the valley beyond its walls. When it
was just the walled city, Lo Manthang like
this.



Lack of cultural and environmental preservation

With the road comes ever increasing modern influences, and this undoubtedly impacts the traditional way of life in Upper Mustang. Even after the region was opened to tourism in 1992, restrictions on tourist numbers and interactions with locals were strictly enforced, in an effort to minimise external influences on local culture and heritage. In reality, such restrictions can only ever last so long, and in truth, it’s really up to the people of Upper Mustang to decide how they want to approach the future. We would like to see more done to safeguard heritage sites and the wider environment, but over the years, most efforts at preservation seem to have been tossed to the wind. Carving a (poorly built) road through the land and opening up the trade route with China seems to be the main goal now.

Construction vehicles at work carving dirt roads out of the Upper Mustang landscape.

The view from the Chinggel Pass; the road between Ghami and Tsarang snakes up while another one is carved into the hillside above



Construction vehicles at work carving dirt roads out of the Upper Mustang landscape.

The view from the Chinggel Pass; the road
between Ghami and Tsarang snakes up while
another one is carved into the hillside above



It’s a pretty sad situation that after more than 600 years of isolation, the resulting cultural and environmental preservation will likely be eradicated in just a few years’ time. Once the border with Tibet finally opens and Chinese trading trucks start trundling up and down the length of Mustang, the ‘Forbidden Kingdom of Lo’ will be lost forever. Knowing this, a visit to Upper Mustang is somewhat bittersweet; an opportunity to discover a truly amazing landscape and unique way of life, while recognising that the region is on the brink of irreversible change.

THINGS WE WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY

Just about everything we would do differently on our Upper Mustang trek revolves around the chosen trekking route.

We would definitely have added on an extra 2-3 days to our permit, giving us time to trek the western route via Dhakmar and Ghar Gompa, as well as a side trip to Luri Gompa from Yara. We also regret not trekking from Chhusang to Muktinath over Gyu La. A number of reasons led us to retracing our steps back to Kagbeni instead. We’ve taken our mistakes into account when putting together this Upper Mustang trekking guide, suggesting some alternative (better!) routes to what we actually trekked.

A Panoramic view of Ghami village in Upper Mustang

Looking down towards Ghami; the beginnings of the red cliffs and the Western Route via Dhakmar can be seen in the valley behind the village



A Panoramic view of Ghami village in Upper Mustang

Looking down towards Ghami; the beginnings of
the red cliffs and the Western Route via Dhakmar
can be seen in the valley behind the village



Additionally, we wish we’d had a more knowledgeable and experienced guide. That way we could have learned a lot more about the culture and traditions of the Lopa (the ethnically Tibetan original inhabitants of Lo) while actually on the trek. Instead, we had to do a lot of research after the fact to answer the many questions we had. Don’t make the same mistake!

UPPER MUSTANG ADD-ON TREKS

If you are looking to extend your Upper Mustang trek into a longer trip, there are numerous add-on treks that will have you traversing the Himalaya for a month or more. Some you can do independently, others require restricted area permits and a compulsory guide.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK EXTENSIONS FOR INDEPENDENT OR GUIDED LODGE TREKS

Annapurna Circuit + Upper Mustang

Annapurna Circuit
+ Upper Mustang

The most obvious choice for extending your Upper Mustang trek is to add on the Annapurna Circuit trek before and after, with Upper Mustang sandwiched in between. You can trek from Besisahar to Kagbeni, crossing the Thorong La (5416 m), then do a loop trek in Upper Mustang, before carrying on to Kande on the Annapurna Circuit. You could trek the whole route with a guide, or arrange to meet your guide for Upper Mustang in Kagbeni. It would take around 4-5 weeks to complete this combined trek.

Read more about it in our Annapurna Circuit Trek Itinerary, and find out everything you need to know to plan your own trek in our complete Annapurna Circuit Trekking Guide.

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT + UPPER MUSTANG SUGGESTED ROUTE

Besisahar → Ghermu → Tal → Dharapani → Chame → Upper Pisang → Ngawal → Manang  → Yak Kharka → Thorong Phedi → Muktinath (via Thorong La) → Kagbeni (via Jhong) → Chele → Ghiling → Dhakmar → Tsarang → Lo Manthang → Yara → Tangge → Chuksang → Muktinath (via Gyu Pass) → Jomsom (via Lupra) → Marpha (via Dhumba Lake) → Kokethanti (via Chimrang & Sauru)  → Ghasa (via Titi Lake) → Tatopani → Ghorepani → Tadapani (via Poon Hill at sunrise) →  Ghandruk → Pitam Deurali →  Kande


ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT + UPPER MUSTANG SUGGESTED ROUTE

Besisahar
→ Ghermu
→ Tal
→ Dharapani
→ Chame
→ Upper Pisang
→ Ngawal
→ Manang
→ Yak Kharka
→ Thorong Phedi
→ Muktinath
(via Thorong La)

Kagbeni
(via Jhong)
Chele
Ghiling
Dhakmar
Tsarang
Lo Manthang
Yara
Tangge
Chhusang
 Muktinath
(via Gyu La)
→ Jomsom
(via Lupra)
→ Marpha
(via Dhumba Lake)
→ Kokethanti
(via Chimrang & Sauru)
→ Ghasa
(via Titi Lake)
→ Tatopani
→ Ghorepani
→ Tadapani
(via Poon Hill at sunrise)
→  Ghandruk
→ Pitam Deurali
→ Kande


FIND OUT MORE

Upper Mustang + Annapurna Base Camp/Annapurna Sanctuary

Upper Mustang +
Annapurna Base Camp/
Annapurna Sanctuary

You can add on a trek to Annapurna Base Camp (also known as the Annapurna Sanctuary or ABC trek) either before or after your Upper Mustang Trek. It would take around 2 weeks to trek between Kagbeni/Muktinath and Kande (on top of the 10+ days for Upper Mustang). You can shorten the trek by taking a jeep between Jomsom or Muktinath and Tatopani.

A blue roofed trekking lodge surrounded by piles of snow and encircled by snow covered mountains at Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) in 2012.

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) after heavy snowfall back in April 2012



A blue roofed trekking lodge surrounded by piles of snow and encircled by snow covered mountains at Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) in 2012.

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) after
heavy snowfall back in April 2012



Combining these two treks will allow you to experience a huge variety of landscapes. The max altitude on the ABC trek is similar to Upper Mustang, which is ideal for those less keen on tackling a high altitude trek like the Annapurna Circuit.

UPPER MUSTANG + ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP SUGGESTED ROUTE (OR IN REVERSE)

Jomsom → Kagbeni → Chele → Ghiling → Dhakmar → Tsarang → Lo Manthang → Yara → Tangge → Chuksang → Muktinath (via Gyu La) → Jomsom (via Lupra)→ Marpha (via Dhumba Lake) → Kokethanti (via Chimrang & Sauru)  → Ghasa (via Titi Lake) → Tatopani → Ghorepani → Tadapani (via Poon Hill at sunrise) → Sinuwa → Deurali → Annapurna Base Camp → Dovan/Bamboo → Ghandruk → Pitam Deurali → Kande


UPPER MUSTANG + ABC SUGGESTED ROUTE

(or in reverse)   

Jomsom
→ Kagbeni
→ Chele
→ Ghiling
→ Dhakmar
→ Tsarang
→ Lo Manthang
→ Yara
→ Tangge
→ Chuksang
→ Muktinath
(via Gyu La)
→ Jomsom
(via Lupra)
→ Marpha
(via Dhumba Lake)
→ Kokethanti
(via Chimrang & Sauru)
→ Ghasa
(via Titi Lake)
→ Tatopani
→ Ghorepani
→ Tadapani
(via Poon Hill at sunrise)
→ Sinuwa
→ Deurali
→ Base Camp
→ Dovan/Bamboo
→ Ghandruk
→ Pitam Deurali
→ Kande


Upper Mustang + Poon Hill

If you’re looking for a shorter add-on trek, including Poon Hill either before or after your Upper Mustang trek is a good option. Trekking between Kande and Kagbeni would take around 9 days, around 6 days if you start/end at Nayapul. You can cut it even shorter by taking a jeep between Jomsom and Tatopani. Poon Hill (3210 m) is a famous sunrise spot, offering wonderful views of the complete Annapurna Massif.

UPPER MUSTANG + POON HILL SUGGESTED ROUTE

Jomsom → Kagbeni → Chele → Ghiling → Dhakmar → Tsarang → Lo Manthang → Yara → Tangge → Chhusang → Muktinath (via Gyu La) → Jomsom (via Lupra)→ Marpha (via Dhumba Lake) → Kokethanti (via Chimrang & Sauru)  → Ghasa (via Titi Lake) → Tatopani → Ghorepani → Tadapani (via Poon Hill at sunrise) →  Ghandruk → Pitam Deurali →  Kande (alternative shorter route: Ghorepani → Nayapul via Ulleri/Birethanti)


UPPER MUSTANG + POON HILL SUGGESTED ROUTE

Jomsom
→ Kagbeni
→ Chele
→ Ghiling
→ Dhakmar
→ Tsarang
→ Lo Manthang
→ Yara
→ Tangge
→ Chhusang
→ Muktinath
(via Gyu La)
→ Jomsom
(via Lupra)
→ Marpha
(via Dhumba Lake)
→ Kokethanti
(via Chimrang & Sauru)
→ Ghasa
(via Titi Lake)
→ Tatopani
→ Ghorepani
→ Tadapani
(via Poon Hill at sunrise)
→  Ghandruk
→ Pitam Deurali
→  Kande
(alt. shorter route:
Ghorepani → Nayapul
via Ulleri/Birethanti)


UPPER MUSTANG TREK EXTENSIONS FOR GUIDED CAMPING TREKS ONLY (RESTRICTED AREAS)

Upper Mustang + Damodar Kunda

Upper Mustang +
Damodar Kunda

The Damodar Kunda Trek is a little traversed route east of Yara in Upper Mustang. It leads to a sacred Hindu lake, said to wash away the sins of pilgrims who bathe in it. There are two possible trek options: first, a side trek from Yara to Damodar Kunda and back (5 days), continuing on the Eastern Route back to Kagbeni; second, carrying on from the lake all the way to the Nar Phu Valley in the Annapurna region, via a challenging high altitude route crossing the Saribung Pass (6042 m). Either way, this must be done as a fully supported camping trek as there are no lodges beyond Yara. Read more about the Damodar Saribung Traverse trek here.

Upper Mustang + Dolpo

The Dolpo region lies to the west of Mustang. Upper Dolpo is another restricted area with a 500 USD permit fee that only opened to trekkers in the 90s. Tibetan influences are strong here too, and it is much more remote than Upper Mustang. It can be accessed from Kagbeni (or Ghami in Oct/Nov), making it possible to combine both of these spectacular regions into one long 4-5 week trek. It can only be done as a camping trek. Read more about the region here, and check out possible itineraries and Dolpo trek options here.

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TRANSPORT TO/FROM THE TRAILHEAD

Jomsom is the gateway to Upper Mustang and you will likely start and end your trek here. The closest big city is Pokhara so most people travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara before starting the trek. It’s common to then return there to rest for a couple of days at the end before heading back to Kathmandu. Jomsom is accessible by flight from Pokhara (20 mins) or by road (8+ hours).

Your transport to/from the trailhead will be included if you are booking a prepaid package or group tour, either by public bus, private jeep or plane. If you are organising a guide and paying-as-you-go, you will likely meet them in Pokhara and travel to Jomsom together. You will need to pay their transport costs.

TRANSPORT BETWEEN KATHMANDU AND POKHARA

Kathmandu – Pokhara Tourist Bus: 800 NPR / 7+ hours

Kathmandu

Tourist buses between Kathmandu and Pokhara arrive/depart from
Sorhakhutte Bus Stop, just outside Thamel (27.7190, 85.3095).

Pokhara

Tourist buses between Kathmandu and Pokhara arrive/depart from
the Tourist Bus Park (28.2010, 83.9725).

Kathmandu

Tourist buses between Kathmandu and Pokhara arrive/depart from
Sorhakhutte Bus Stop, just outside Thamel (27.7190, 85.3095).

Pokhara

Tourist buses between Kathmandu and Pokhara arrive/depart from
the Tourist Bus Park (28.2010, 83.9725).

Kathmandu – Pokhara Flight: 125 USD / 1 hour

Kathmandu – Pokhara Flight:
125 USD / 1 hour

There are numerous flights throughout the day. Check options on Skyscanner.

TRANSPORT BETWEEN POKHARA AND JOMSOM

Pokhara – Jomsom Public Bus via Beni: 1300 NPR / 10-12+ hours

Buses between Pokhara and Beni run to/from the Pokhara Baglung Bus Park (28.2319, 83.9830), then change in Beni for another bus or shared jeep to Jomsom.

Pokhara – Jomsom Private Jeep: approx $300 one way, $550 return / 8+ hours

Pokhara – Jomsom Private Jeep:
approx $300 one way, $550 return / 8+ hours

Hiring a private jeep to travel to/from Jomsom is significantly more expensive than public transport, but is quicker and offers more flexibility to travel when you like. The total cost can be shared amongst a group, often up to 7 people.

Pokhara – Jomsom Flight: 125 USD / 20 – 30 mins

Pokhara – Jomsom Flight:
125 USD / 20 – 30 mins

Flights between Pokhara and Jomsom are subject to weather conditions and only ever operate in the morning. All scheduled flights stop around 11 am as it gets too windy. Cancellations are common. Baggage is limited to 15 kg. You can check fares and book flights through Skyscanner, or through a local travel agency. You usually get a full refund if the flight is cancelled.

A small propeller plane being loaded with bags on the runway at Jomsom on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

The small plane that plys the route between Jomsom and Pokhara, being loaded up outside the ‘passenger terminal’



A small propeller plane being loaded with bags on the runway at Jomsom on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

The small plane that plys the route between
Jomsom and Pokhara, being loaded up
outside the ‘passenger terminal’



THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT NEPAL TRANSPORT

Public buses and shared jeeps usually depart when full, rather than sticking to a schedule, so you may need to wait a while before you leave.

For long distance buses, it’s best to leave early in the morning (before 8 am or earlier) as departures tend to dwindle as the day goes on. It is not advisable to travel in the dark and overnight buses are not common.

The road between Jomsom and Beni is rough. Journey times can be delayed significantly if the road is muddy or damaged by landslides, which is a common occurrence during or after the summer monsoon. Travelling by jeep is more comfortable than bus, and somewhat safer.

GETTING TO NEPAL

FLYING

The easiest way to get to Nepal is by flying and this is how the vast majority of people arrive. A number of different airlines operate flights out of the country’s only international airport, Tribhuvan International Airport on the outskirts of Kathmandu. However, there are very few long distance flights so you can expect to stop and transfer somewhere in Asia or the Middle East, depending on your direction of travel.

Get your flights organised at the earliest possible opportunity. During busy times, such as the peak trekking season from September – November, flights are often fully booked.

CHECK OUT FLIGHT OPTIONS HERE AND NOW


OVERLAND

The other option is to arrive overland from India, crossing the border at Sunauli. Take a look at this post on Seat 61 to learn how to go about it.

NEPAL VISAS

Tourist visas are available on arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport and at all land border crossings that are open to foreign travellers.

In order to get a visa on arrival you’ll need four things:

      • One passport size photo
      • A passport valid for at least six months
      • At least one blank page in your passport
      • The visa fee in cash (US Dollars is best)
  • One passport size photo
  • A passport valid for at least six months
  • At least one blank page in your passport
  • The visa fee in cash (US Dollars is best)

There are three options when getting a visa:

      • 15 Days – 30 USD
      • 30 Days – 50 USD
      • 90 Days – 125 USD
    • 15 Days – 30 USD
    • 30 Days – 50 USD
    • 90 Days – 125 USD

While this is available for most foreigners, citizens of some countries are required to get a visa prior to arrival, while those from SAARC countries can get their visa free of charge. See this for more details.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK RESOURCES

MAPS & GUIDEBOOKS

There are plenty of shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara selling detailed trekking maps for Upper Mustang. You can easily buy one on arrival.

For planning in advance, this online version of the Himalayan Map House map is a great resource. Your best bet for a dedicated Mustang Trekking guidebook is the Kindle or paperback version of A Trekking Guide To Upper & Lower Mustang. Mustang: The Untrodden Trails is a little outdated, but highlights some lesser travelled routes. For a more general guide book check out Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya.




OFFLINE MAP APPS

Using a mapping app on the trail is a great way to get an appreciation of where you are, distances travelled, elevation gained, etc. You can plot routes in advance, and navigate easily on the go.

Maps.me (iOS/Android) is a good option. You can download maps for the area beforehand and use it offline with the GPS on your phone. It also has lots of useful information marked and includes the hiking trails and basic contour lines, too.

You can get started easily by downloading our bookmarks for Upper Mustang here, with the main villages, sights, and such like marked along the way. The classic route is marked in green, the western route in blue, and the eastern route in red. Points of interest are yellow. Just be sure to download the app first.

More detailed offline mapping apps with free and paid versions include Gaia GPS (iOS/Android) and ViewRanger (iOS/Android).

TOP TIP

Save any online resources you find useful (like this guide!) for offline reading so that you can reference them any time, even without the internet. You can also take screenshots


FURTHER READING

The following are various articles, blog posts, journal entries, book excerpts, etc. about Upper Mustang that we found useful and interesting. Unfortunately, many are outdated when it comes to factual info about the current state of the road building, or its impact on the region.

UPPER MUSTANG TREKKING GUIDE

That’s it for our essential guide to the Upper Mustang Trek. We hope you found it useful.

Don’t forget to check out our Upper Mustang itinerary and day by day account.

Have you trekked in Nepal before? If not does this sound like something you’d love to do?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Have you trekked in Nepal before? If not does this sound like something you’d love to do? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

ORGANISE YOUR TRIP


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Plants and flowers line the back of the Tainan Confucius Temple complex wall
A catamaran sails on the calm water at sunset off the south coast of Jeju Island
A barman makes a cocktail in TCRC , one of the best places to eat and drink in Tainan.
A female Olle Trail hiker standing by a Hallabong mosaic mural, looking out to sea on Jeju Island
Yurts lined up at Tulparkul, in the shadow of Peak Lenin
Two small kids wandering the wide dusty streets of Karakul in northern Tajikistan
The Best Beaches On Jeju Island
A magenta tuk tuk carries passengers on the road past the ruined walls in front of Wat Mahatat in Ayutthaya, Thailand
An intricately arranged motorbike repair shop in Dadaocheng, Taipei, Taiwan
A bowl of delicious Khao Soi, one of the most famous Lanna Cuisine dishes
Looking out from wat Pha Lat over Chiang Mai, reflected in the still water and surrounded by lush green vegetation
San Kamphaeng Saturday Market in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Fann Mountains Trekking Routes And Practicalities
Veniks & Hot Pots: A Morning at Almaty's Arasan Baths
Soviet-era art and architecture in Almaty
Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains: Haft Kul To Alauddin