• 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 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 (3650m) → Tangge (3340m)16 km | 8 hours
DAY 9Tangge (3340m) → Chhusang (2980m)24 km | 10 hours
DAY 10Chhusang (2980m) → Muktinath (3700m)
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 (3650m) → Tangge (3340m)16 km | 8 hours
DAY 9Tangge (3340m) →
Chhusang (2980m)
24 km | 10 hours
DAY 10Chhusang (2980m) →
Muktinath (3700m) 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, along with some side trips and alternative routes. Tap the menu button at the top left for more details, to toggle layers on and off, and switch between satellite and terrain view.

To use an offline version of this map, download our KML file for use with Maps.me (iOS/Android), or the GPX file for use with alternative offline mapping apps such as Gaia (iOS/Android) or OsmAnd Maps (iOS/Android). See our expandable box below for tips on using these apps.

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.


To save this map to use online on desktop or mobile just tap the star symbol at the top. When you open Google Maps on your phone, navigate to ‘Saved’ at the bottom, then swipe along to ‘Maps’ at the top. You’ll find this map in your list of maps.

On desktop, click the three lines at the top left, select ‘Your Places’, then ‘Maps’. Click the map, then scroll down and select ‘Open in My Maps’ to access the interactive version.

Alternatively, just tap the rectangle symbol at the top right of the map in this blog post to view the My Maps version larger on desktop.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to view this version of the map offline, but we’ve created a similar version for offline use as per below.


MAPS.ME

Maps.me is our go-to offline mapping app. We find it straightforward to use for planning routes in advance, as well as navigating on the trail. It doesn’t drain our phone battery, and it’s quick and easy to save and organise ‘bookmarks’. There are many trails already marked on Maps.me, plus you can download and import a KML track of your route to the app. 

To use Maps.me, first download the app (iOS/Android). Hover over the region or country that you want to visit and the app will prompt you to download this map. Once downloaded, it can be viewed offline. 

You can tap anywhere and save it as a ‘bookmark’ by tapping the star symbol at the bottom. Hit ‘Edit Bookmark’ to personalise the bookmark colour, organise your bookmarks into different folders, and rename them. 

You can navigate easily or plan routes in advance by tapping your start point and selecting ‘route from’, then tapping your end point and selecting ‘route to’. Tap the car, walking, or cycling symbol at the top of the screen to indicate your mode of travel. If you want to plot a different route to the one suggested by Maps.me, just tap a third (or fourth, fifth, etc.) bookmark between the start and end points and select ‘add stop’. 

Maps.me shows the distance and travel time, plus elevation profiles for hiking trails. Note that the estimated time isn’t always reliable, but we’ve always found the distance and elevation gain/loss to be largely accurate. It only shows very basic contour lines.

You can track your progress on the trail using GPS. The arrow shows your direction of travel. Tap the compass at the top right of the screen to keep the map in a fixed position (the arrow will rotate). Alternatively, tap the arrow at the bottom right of the screen to rotate the map in the direction of travel (the arrow will stay in a fixed position).

GAIA

Gaia (iOS/Android) is another offline mapping app that is very useful. It shows the contours in much more detail than Maps.me, as long as you have previously viewed the section of map online. With a paid membership you can download various maps in advance for offline use. The app has existing OpenStreetMap trails marked and you can import GPX tracks and view them offline. You can also create new routes online yourself and export them as GPX or KML files. You can navigate easily on the trail using the arrow that shows your GPS location. Unlike with Maps.me, it isn’t possible to quickly check distances between two points (or at least we haven’t figured out a way to do it). There are a lot of useful features in the free version and even more benefits if you have a paid annual membership, so if you spend a lot of time outdoors it is worthwhile learning how to use the app to its full advantage. 

In our experience, Gaia drains your phone battery much quicker than Maps.me, even in flight mode, so it’s best to shut down the app completely each time you finish using it. 

OSMAND MAPS

OsmAnd Maps (iOS/Android) is another great offline mapping app with lots of useful features. In our opinion, it’s not as intuitive as Maps.me, and it has so many features that it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Like Gaia, we recommend checking out the written and video tutorials on the OsmAnd website to learn how to fully use the app. The benefits of the app include being able to plot routes in advance and save them as GPX tracks, and to view detailed elevation and terrain information, including surface types. You can also import GPX tracks. One downside is that the free version does not include contour lines, but these can be added via a paid plugin.


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 hiker trekking in Georgia, descending the rocky shale slope from Atsunta pass and heading towards the green valleys of Tusheti below
A walker on the old military road among the dramatic mountain scenery of the Lairigmor, a real highlight of the West Highland Way
A scene of the mountains and lakes of the Geghama Range in Armenia
A view of Buachaille Etive Mor on the West Highland Way
A hiker stands reflected in Udziro Lake, looking at the distant peak Shkhara
A white horse grazing on the grassy slopes of Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
Two hikers traverse the grassy ridge on Day 2 of the Panorama Trail
A view of Tetnuldi peak from Latpari Pass on the Ushguli to Chvelpi hike
The twin peaks of Ushba and Chatyn-Tau, seen from the trail on Day 2 of the Mestia to Ushguli trek in Svaneti, Georgia
A hiker on the steep final approach to Gul Pass, on the Chuberi to Mestia section of the Transcaucasian Trail in Svaneti
Mountains reflected in Kelitsadi Lake on a still morning
Two hikers and a dog rest on a rock in front of an unnamed lake on the Black Rock Lake trek
A hiker climbs the shale switchback trail to Atsunta Pass on the Shatili Omalo trek, with the layered mountains of Khevsureti behind
Backpacking Camping Gear Featured Image
A hiker descends the switchback ridgeline trail from Chaukhi Pass to Abudelauri Lakes on the Juta to Roshka trek in Georgia
A woman hiking with backpack and poles in front of a glacier wall
The settlement of Abano in Truso Valley, with the old monastery on the right and Zakagori Fortress seen behind
One of the best views of Gergeti Trinity Church, seen from the hiking trail to Gergeti Glacier and Mt. Kazbek
Hikers descend from the viewpoint at Kojori Fortress in Georgia
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
Peanmeanach Bothy on the Ardnish Peninsula in February
Sunrise reflections on the mirror-like surface of Alauddin Lake in the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan.
Hiking Hallasan: South Korea's Highest Peak
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
A hiker trekking in Georgia, descending the rocky shale slope from Atsunta pass and heading towards the green valleys of Tusheti below
A walker on the old military road among the dramatic mountain scenery of the Lairigmor, a real highlight of the West Highland Way
A scene of the mountains and lakes of the Geghama Range in Armenia
A view of Buachaille Etive Mor on the West Highland Way
A hiker stands reflected in Udziro Lake, looking at the distant peak Shkhara
A white horse grazing on the grassy slopes of Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
Two hikers traverse the grassy ridge on Day 2 of the Panorama Trail
A view of Tetnuldi peak from Latpari Pass on the Ushguli to Chvelpi hike
The twin peaks of Ushba and Chatyn-Tau, seen from the trail on Day 2 of the Mestia to Ushguli trek in Svaneti, Georgia
A hiker on the steep final approach to Gul Pass, on the Chuberi to Mestia section of the Transcaucasian Trail in Svaneti
Mountains reflected in Kelitsadi Lake on a still morning
Two hikers and a dog rest on a rock in front of an unnamed lake on the Black Rock Lake trek
A hiker climbs the shale switchback trail to Atsunta Pass on the Shatili Omalo trek, with the layered mountains of Khevsureti behind
Backpacking Camping Gear Featured Image
A hiker descends the switchback ridgeline trail from Chaukhi Pass to Abudelauri Lakes on the Juta to Roshka trek in Georgia
A woman hiking with backpack and poles in front of a glacier wall
The settlement of Abano in Truso Valley, with the old monastery on the right and Zakagori Fortress seen behind
One of the best views of Gergeti Trinity Church, seen from the hiking trail to Gergeti Glacier and Mt. Kazbek
Hikers descend from the viewpoint at Kojori Fortress in Georgia
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
Peanmeanach Bothy on the Ardnish Peninsula in February
Sunrise reflections on the mirror-like surface of Alauddin Lake in the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan.
Hiking Hallasan: South Korea's Highest Peak
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 ca