• UPPER MUSTANG TREK

    Trekkers on a trail approaching a round orange rock formation with a plateau stretched out into the distance in Upper Mustang
  • UPPER MUSTANG

    Trekkers on a trail approaching a round orange rock formation with a plateau stretched out into the distance in Upper Mustang

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

Upper Mustang. The name has a certain ring to it, conjuring images of a remote mountain land steeped in centuries-old complex culture. Once called the ‘forbidden kingdom’, the imagination can run wild picturing what waits to be experienced there.

The reality is of course quite different. Upper Mustang is indeed characterised by starkly beautiful mountain plateaus, with the culture fascinating in so many respects, but the world we find is never quite the one we imagine. Constantly evolving, changing, and developing, even hitherto isolated places like this have to find their way in the modern world.

An Upper Mustang Trek only became possible for foreigners in 1992 and at that time it was highly regulated. However, these days the region is quite different to what visitors experienced then, and much if not most of the regulations have been relaxed. As development continues and new roads are built, careful planning is essential to get the most from this trek, and to make the hefty $500 permit fee worth paying. At times we struggled to come to grips with our own lack of planning, but in the end we left after an unforgettable cultural experience and some of the best trekking days ever.

What follows is an account of our trek, along with daily details on distances, times, elevation and accommodation. For a great way to get a sense of the landscape, you’ll find a short Relive video at the end of each day. We’ve also provided GPX and KML file downloads for you to import our route into a mapping app, such as Gaia or Maps.me respectively.

To get a further appreciation of what the trek is like, be sure to watch our Upper Mustang Instagram Stories (part one/part two/part three), and of course, you can experience the journey through our video below.

Fancy an Upper Mustang trek yourself? Our complete guide will be with you very shortly.

WATCH THE VIDEO

TREKKING UPPER MUSTANG

On the third and final part of our extended Nepal adventure, we entered Upper Mustang at Kagbeni. After a memorable twelve days trekking the Manaslu Circuit and a further ten on the Annapurna Circuit, we were keen to experience something different in this restricted area. We’d already seen the landscape change dramatically after crossing the Thorong La, and the glimpses north from Kagbeni only served to increase our anticipation. On the cultural side, the Sakya Buddhist villages we’d seen in Lower Mustang had made us even more intrigued about the customs and traditions we would learn about in the region.

As with the previous stages of our trek, we’d done very little research. Instead, we were relying on our guide (mandatory for a restricted area), with the expectation being that we’d be able to count on his knowledge, experience and expertise. So, we began our Upper Mustang trek with nothing but a vague outline of the itinerary, but with plenty of excitement for the days ahead.

A note on distances and times. Distances are approximate and often rounded to the nearest kilometre. Total time is the time it took from leaving in the morning to arriving at our destination and includes lunch and other stops. Walking time is the time we were moving but includes time taking photos and shooting video. For your reference, we tend to be on the slower side of average.

Read through our account day by day, or jump to a particular section by clicking on the links below

This Upper Mustang Trek itinerary map shows our route, plus the villages and sights along the way. You can switch between satellite and terrain view. You can also download our Maps.Me bookmarks for offline use here. Be sure to download the Maps.Me app first (iOS/Android).

This Upper Mustang Trek itinerary map shows our route, plus the villages and sights along the way. You can switch between satellite and terrain view. You can also download our Maps.Me bookmarks for offline use here. Be sure to download the Maps.Me app first (iOS/Android).

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 1
~
KAGBENI – CHELE

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 1

KAGBENI – CHELE

DISTANCE

16 km

ELEVATION

2810 – 3050 m

TIME

7 hours (total)

5 hours (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Bishal Guesthouse
Twin Room (shared bathroom)
300 NPR


A taste of things to come.

The first day of trekking from Kagbeni is largely on road, but the spectacular scenery of the Kali Gandaki Gorge overpowers any negative feelings. Plus, a few trail sections do cut across – in between and up and down – adding a bit of variety to the journey. The road gradually gains in height and runs above the village of Tangbe (well worth a look), before reaching Chhusang (also spelt Chhuksang). Chhusang (2980 m) has many guesthouses and is perfect for lunch, with many people staying here at both ends of the journey. Chele (3050 m), a picturesque village set high on a hill with a commanding view, is only a few kilometres further. It has a pleasantly intimate feel and is a good place to stay. Almost 200 m higher than Chhusang, it helps with acclimatisation and gives you a head start for the next day’s trek.

The day had arrived. It was time to start our much anticipated journey into Upper Mustang. Unfortunately, the cold that had been developing in Kim’s chest for two days had reached her head, leaving her choked. But, with permit dates fixed there was no option to wait, we just had to go. After a brief stop to stock up on tissues and toilet roll, we left the shadowed streets of Kagbeni behind.

Although there had been a marked change in the landscape after crossing the Thorong La, a taste of things to come in semi-arid Upper Mustang, the reality left us with eyes wide and mouths open. As we climbed up from Kagbeni, the Kali Gandaki Gorge opened up before us. The river snaked across its flat stony plain – a deep brownish grey, looking slick like oil. Splitting and reforming into many channels, it weaved in and out in complex patterns. Rising either side, the rocky cliffs were a mix of ochre reds, yellows and browns.

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

The early views of the Kali Gandaki Gorge heightened our anticipation for what was to come next



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

Early views of the Kali Gandaki Gorge certainly
heightened our anticipation for the days ahead



We followed the road for the first few kilometres, but unlike previous road days on the Annapurna Circuit, we didn’t mind. It was quiet. There was virtually no traffic, other trekkers were practically non-existent, and the open unobstructed views allowed us to admire the valley at all times. Kim was struggling on but still managed to get excited and blurt out, “This is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen!”

As the trail left the road, we climbed steeply on a path of loose stones, entering pistachio land, sparse grass and low dome-like bushes giving the ground its colour. Descending from a mini plateau, we crossed a small tributary of the Kali Gandaki, looking around delightedly at the Cappadocia-esque rock formations: misshapen lumpen forms showing through tattered garments of loose rocks, eroded by the valley’s strong winds.

Two trekkers walk on a wide road during the first day of the Upper Mustang trek in Nepal, with strange rock pinnacles rising to the side and dramatic mountains seen behind.

Both on and off the road, we were already getting a taste of the weird and wonderful rock formations in Upper Mustang



Two trekkers walk on a wide road during the first day of the Upper Mustang trek in Nepal, with strange rock pinnacles rising to the side and dramatic mountains seen behind.

Both on and off the road, we were already
getting a taste of the weird and wonderful
rock formations seen in Upper Mustang



Back on the road, we passed above Tangbe and were reminded of Tajikistan’s Wakhan Valley. Dry mountains descended to a wide river plain, next to which lay harvested fields, punctuated by trees and a few houses.

By now the road was a bit busier. We stood aside from time to time for passing jeeps, motorbikes, and the occasional colourful bus. We wound in and out, up and down, but soon, topping the final rise, we were stopped in our tracks by an unbelievable view down to Chhusang. The village, jutting into the valley on a spit of land and framed by cliffs on either side, forced the river to flow round it in a perfect curve, before splitting into a myriad of patterns and spreading across the grey blue stones. A few whitewashed buildings popped against the rocks behind, while others of more matching hues blended seamlessly. It was quite the scene.

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, sitting in the middle of the Kali Gandaki Gorge, perfectly framed by the surrounding mountains



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 Upper Mustang village of Chhusang,
sitting in the middle of the Kali Gandaki Gorge,
perfectly framed by the surrounding mountains



Reaching Chhusang, we wandered through a warren of lanes, ducking under old passageways and gates before reaching the guesthouse suggested by our guide for lunch. With a bit to wait the whole process took maybe an hour. Kim didn’t have much of an appetite and couldn’t finish her Thukpa (noodle soup). She could barely taste it and found no less than five black hairs keeping the noodles company. My Dal Bhat was tasty enough.

A narrow lane, half in sun half in shadow, leads between whitewashed mudbrick buildings in the Upper Mustang village of Chhusang.

Walking through narrow lanes among the whitewashed mudbrick houses of Chhusang



A narrow lane, half in sun half in shadow, leads between whitewashed mudbrick buildings in the Upper Mustang village of Chhusang.

Walking through narrow lanes among the
whitewashed mudbrick houses of Chhusang



After lunch we made the short 3 km journey along the flat road to Chele. After crossing the narrowed river under cliffs pockmarked by small man-made caves, we climbed up to the village on a steep trail of loose rock and sand. By now the wind was gathering pace, and we were glad to pass under the gate and find a room at the Bishal Guesthouse, a clean place with decent food, good prices, and excellent rooftop views.

As the afternoon wore on, we watched village life from the rooftop: people taking care of animals and drying buckwheat on their roofs, while prayer flags snapped energetically in the wind and the late sun turned the surrounding cliffs golden.

Above a metal bridge crossing the Kali Gandaki, a long row of cave windows mark the orange coloured cliff below Chele, on the first day of an Upper Mustang trek in Nepal.

Cliffside caves above the Kali Gandaki



Rooftops lined with stacks of wood in Chele, Upper Mustang

Stacked with wood, the rooftops of traditional Mustang homes in Chele



Above a metal bridge crossing the Kali Gandaki, a long row of cave windows mark the orange coloured cliff below Chele, on the first day of an Upper Mustang trek in Nepal.

Cliffside caves above the Kali Gandaki


Rooftops lined with stacks of wood in Chele, Upper Mustang

Stacked with wood, the rooftops of
traditional Mustang homes in Chele



We sat down to wait for an early dinner in the busy dining room, kept company by a group of older Singaporeans, photography enthusiasts on a jeep tour. In their sixties or seventies – apart from one middle aged daughter – most of them had been in Upper Mustang two or three times now.

While we waited, Kim fished out the dog-eared copy of our itinerary to check the schedule for the days ahead, quickly realising that it included an extra day – 10 nights and 11 days instead of 9 nights and 10 days. After checking with our guide, he said we would have to compress two days into one, and anyway, that was the normal schedule. But spreading our foldout map across the table, it was clear that this resulted in longer days with less chance to appreciate the villages along the way – so began the planning headache of our Upper Mustang Trek.

Kim went to bed soon after dinner, hoping to wake up the next morning feeling better, and, in that early-to-bed trekking rhythm, I wasn’t too far behind myself.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 2
~
CHELE – SYANGBOCHE

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 2

CHELE – SYANGBOCHE

DISTANCE

16 km

ELEVATION

3050 – 3800 m

TIME

8 hours (total)

6 hours 30 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Dhaulagiri
Twin Room w/bathroom
500 NPR


A mixed bag of a day.

Whichever way you do it, this is a fairly long and tough day. It involves a mixture of trail and dirt road, plus a fair bit of up and down. The road climbs steeply from Chele before crossing a deep valley on the suspension bridge to Ghyakar. The former trail to Samar, which was shorter, has now been overtaken by road construction and destroyed. After the small but pleasant village of Ghyakar, the route follows a dirt track, climbing steadily across an open landscape. A short switchback descent and ascent takes you back onto the road just above Samar, the perfect spot for lunch.

After lunch there are two choices. The trail descends from the village and soon branches in two. One option is to climb back up to join the road and follow it all the way to Syangboche (3800 m), or possibly on to Ghiling (3570 m). The other option is to follow what is purely a trekking trail, climbing a steep path to cross a ridge, before descending into the valley to Chungsi Cave and then carrying on up to Syangboche.

We left Chele at nine, a little bit late with a long day ahead. The sandy road climbed for a kilometre or so, switching back and forth up the mountainside. Before long we crossed the suspension bridge to Ghyakar, an impressive construction across a deep chasm. On the bridge we said hello to the Singaporeans, happily snapping photos before getting back in their jeeps and following the road.

People cross a suspension bridge over a rocky chasm from the village of Ghyakar in Upper Mustang in Nepal

Looking down on the suspension bridge from the Ghyakar side



People cross a suspension bridge over a rocky chasm from the village of Ghyakar in Upper Mustang in Nepal

Looking down on the suspension
bridge from the Ghyakar side



Ghyakar had a sleepy feel. A few people worked the fields and some were busy in the village itself, but mostly it was quiet. Having only recently become part of the trekking route, there wasn’t much in the way of teahouse facilities.

Beyond the village things were a bit of a slog. The trail climbed steadily on a dirt track. The landscape was open – no shelter or shade – and the sun’s heat was noticeable. Having felt better initially, Kim was now feeling pretty drained and our pace was fairly slow.

Looking up, the scenery was quite impressive. The trail took us past a bizarre, misshapen red/orange rock formation that looked a bit like cartoon He-Man. And in the distance, imposing mountains looked down on us, various shades of orange and brown with a touch of purple.

Two hikers on the Upper Mustang trek, climbing a gentle rocky trail towards towering mountains.

Climbing the track from Ghyakar, watched over by the misshapen orange rock



Two hikers on the Upper Mustang trek, climbing a gentle rocky trail towards towering mountains.

Climbing the uphill track from Ghyakar,
watched over by the misshapen orange rock



We descended sharply to cross a gorge and small stream, before ascending through a narrow rocky gap, a tough but interesting part of the trail. After more gentle but steady climbing across open ground, we rejoined the road, skirted past some diggers, and headed down to Samar for lunch.

A switchback dirt trail descending a steep rock face on the Upper Mustang trek

The steep trail down



A trail of rough steps leads up between two rocky cliffs on the Upper Mustang trek.

The energy sapping trail back up



A switchback dirt trail descending a steep rock face on the Upper Mustang trek

The steep trail down


A trail of rough steps leads up between two rocky cliffs on the Upper Mustang trek.

The energy sapping trail back up



Stopping at the Himali Hotel, we got settled in the dark dining room on the ground floor of the traditional Mustang building. Coming from outside we felt blind at first, but when our eyes adjusted, we relaxed and enjoyed the atmosphere. The room was lit by shafts of white light coming through the window while soothing sounds of monks chanting drifted from the old radio. Kim had her first Dal Bhat for ten days, even taking seconds – a good sign.

During the lunch break, discussions about our route and schedule continued. Having seen it on the map, we were aware that the off-road trekking route went past Chungsi Cave on the way to Syangboche, but we had little more to go on than that. Our guide, inexperienced in the area, was suggesting that this route was steep and difficult, and might be too much for Kim in her weakened state. In truth, we weren’t sure if he’d even been that way before or whether he just wasn’t keen to do it, so given the circumstances, we decided to follow his suggestion and take the more well trodden route. Looking back, it’s certainly a regret of our Upper Mustang Trek that we didn’t take that alternative route via Chungsi Cave.

Our decision made, we left Samar with 9 km and plenty of up and down still to go. From the village we descended to cross a small river, climbed a rocky path, descended to a second river, then had a longish climb on a wide track to rejoin the road at the Bhena Pass (3860 m). The wind was strong here. From this point on it was pretty much road, give or take a few sections where the trail cut across. The views were getting better but we were disheartened by the road walking, and couldn’t help but feel disassociated from the landscape we could see, but weren’t trekking in.

Deep canyons and ridges form a layered Upper Mustang landscape all the way back to the snowy peaks of the Annapurnas

There were impressive views over Upper Mustang, and we could even see the Annapurnas and friends to the south



Deep canyons and ridges form a layered Upper Mustang landscape all the way back to the snowy peaks of the Annapurnas

There were impressive views over Upper Mustang,
and we could even see the Annapurnas to the south



The road wound up and down, in and out, wind gathering dust, grit and sand from the unsealed surface. We passed a few trekkers coming the other way, but mostly jeeps and plenty of motorbikes. Eventually we reached the day’s highest point, the Yamda Pass (3970 m). The views here were spectacular – the afternoon sun hit the mountains, creating shadowed layers as interlocking ridges trailed into the distance.

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

Looking northeast from beneath the prayer flags at Yamda La (3970 m)



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

Looking northeast from beneath the
prayer flags at Yamda La (3970 m)



From the pass we could see the small collection of buildings that was Syangboche below. After continuing down the road for a while we came off to follow the old path, taking care on the loose stones and steep descent. We were glad to be off-road, albeit briefly, but were forced to scramble up a rocky embankment as the trail ran below the new road and there was no other way around.

Construction was ongoing as we passed, with diggers scooping up fresh sand and the wind doing its best to spray it in our faces. We had to stop and wait for a few minutes as a dump truck shed its load – not the views we were anticipating. Soon enough though we were past the construction site and walking up the central (and only) street of Syangboche (also Syangbochen, Syangmochen, etc). After 16 km and more than 1700 m of total elevation gain, it’s safe to say we were pretty worn out.

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.

Delayed by construction on the road above Samar, an issue that occurred throughout the day



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.

Delayed by ongoing construction on the road above
Samar, an issue that occurred throughout the day



We got a decent room with attached bathroom at the Hotel Dhaulagiri, a traditional Mustang house with two floors built around a central courtyard. After getting changed, we sat in the second floor dining room with a portion of ‘finger chips’, discussed our impressions so far, and set about adjusting our plans for the rest of the trek.

Clearly we were not impressed with the roads and ongoing construction. That effect had been compounded by not taking the Chungsi Cave route. We were absolutely sure that we wanted at least to have time to appreciate the culture of the region, not just slog our guts out on long road days. In the end we decided to trek just one way and take a jeep back from Lo Manthang (instead of walking back along much of the same route). This would allow us to have shorter trekking days and spend more time in the villages along the way. It would also give us an extra day in Lo Manthang.

We had some questions about which route to take from here on. In our original itinerary we would have trekked via Tsarang on the way to Lo Manthang, and via the 8th century Ghar Gompa and red cliffs of Dhakmar on the way back. We were drawn to the ‘western route’ via Dhakmar because it was almost entirely off-road. We studied the map, trying to figure out an option to include both Dhakmar and Tsarang, but the input we had from our guide only confused matters*. Whatever decision we made, we realised we had to miss one of them.

At this point our guide managed to contact his boss (our original intended guide). His advice was not to miss the monastery at Tsarang. So with little else to go on, Tsarang it was. We were disappointed to be missing the western route, but finally with a clear plan in mind, we both felt better and were able to relax and enjoy our evening.

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, 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 central courtyard of the Hotel Dhaulagiri,
seen from the upper floor of this Mustang house



The guesthouse was quite busy and we chatted away with some fellow guests. We also got talking with the owners’ son, a guy in his early twenties who spoke pretty good English. He’d spent time in Kathmandu but had come back to help the family and was keen to see the region develop. He could see we were making a video and seemed interested, making suggestions about this shot or that. Dinner was good when it arrived – Dal Bhat for me and veg macaroni for Kim – and the bottle of beer (Gorkha) to wash it down wasn’t bad either.

*It is possible to include Dhakmar, Ghar Gompa and Tsarang on the route north. The best approach is to overnight at Dhakmar, trek to Ghar Gompa the next morning, then head southeast to Tsarang via Saukre and Marang, rather than north over the Chogo La.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 3
~
SYANGBOCHE – GHAMI

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 3

SYANGBOCHE – GHAMI

DISTANCE

11 km

ELEVATION

3800 – 3520 m

TIME

4 hours (total)

3 hours 30 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Lo Ghami Guesthouse
Twin Room (shared bathroom)
500 NPR


A short trekking day to the interesting and welcoming village of Ghami.

On the third day in Upper Mustang most itineraries follow one of two main routes: from Syangboche (or Ghiling) to Tsarang (3560 m), or the western route to Dhakmar (3820 m). Either way it is common to have lunch in Ghami (3520 m).

After climbing the hill from Syangboche, the trail descends to cross the Tama Khola before climbing to the small village of Tamagaon (3710 m). From here the wide valley stretches out, with Ghiling (also Gheling) over to the east and Nyi La (4010 m) to the north. A trekking trail winds along the hillside and joins the road before Jhaite (3820 m). After Jhaite, another trekking trail climbs to the pass while the road switches back and forth. After crossing Nyi La on the road, the route follows it for a while before a trekking trail branches left, up over Ghami La (3765 m) and down towards Ghami (also Ghemi). If continuing from Ghami, a trekking trail to the north leads up to Dhakmar, while a road to the east leads over the Chinggel La (also Tsarang La) and down to Tsarang.

Climbing the hill from Syangboche, we topped the rise and soon passed a colourful roadside chorten, in good condition with a rather curious and interesting design. After briefly following a mixture of trail and road, we shuffled down a sandy path to cross the Tama Khola, then climbed the cliffside path opposite, where we stopped for a few minutes to appreciate the sleepy village of Tamagaon.

A colourful chorten in good condition on the Upper Mustang trek has a design that looks like the face of an owl

This roadside chorten above Syangboche had a bit of an owl face



A wall of prayer wheels in the village of Tamagaon, painted with vertical white, grey and ochre stripes.

The increasingly familiar striped colours on a wall in Tamagaon



A colourful chorten in good condition on the Upper Mustang trek has a design that looks like the face of an owl

We fancied this roadside chorten above
Syangboche had a bit of an owl face


A wall of prayer wheels in the village of Tamagaon, painted with vertical white, grey and ochre stripes.

The increasingly familiar striped
colours on a wall in Tamagaon



For the next while we followed a gently undulating rocky path, across an open landscape with only low bushes growing in the dry conditions. Formidable mountains towered to the west, and to the east, we could make out Ghiling tucked in at the far side of the valley. Continuing north we soon joined the road, wider than any that had gone before. Negotiating our way past various construction sites in the village of Jhaite, the riotous cacophony of heavy machinery drove us on. On the outskirts we stopped to admire a beautiful big chorten, but our enjoyment was hampered by the surrounding debris from ongoing road building.

A large chorten by the roadside at Jhaite, close to a stand of tall, thin, leafless trees.

The impressive big chorten on the outskirts of Jhaite



A large chorten by the roadside at Jhaite, close to a stand of tall, thin, leafless trees.

The impressive big chorten outside of Jhaite



Before long we reached the base of the big climb to Nyi La. While the road snaked up the bare hillside we plodded up the trail – a dirt path covered in loose stones and boulders, the detritus of construction. Looking back down the valley, the scenery was impressive, but we were a little downhearted about the nature of the trail and found it difficult to separate one part of the experience from the other. Kim was also struggling again, her throat and chest made worse by the wind borne dust.

A view of the wide valley to the south, seen while climbing towards the Nyi Pass on the third day of the Upper Mustang trek.

Despite the wind, dust and ongoing construction, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the view back down the valley



A view of the wide valley to the south, seen while climbing towards the Nyi Pass on the third day of the Upper Mustang trek.

Despite the wind, dust and ongoing construction,
we couldn’t help but be impressed by the view



The trail met and crossed the road, but at that point we couldn’t continue. A digger was flinging large stones and boulders onto the path from above, so we followed the road instead. Reaching the top, the construction vehicles stopped to let us pass, along with a jeep coming the other way.

From here we followed the newest and widest of the dirt roads, one of three, the other two seemingly redundant. Around us was a blasted landscape; huge piles of dirt and rocks lay either side. With the road unsealed and embankments unprotected, the windswept environment was becoming even more dry and dusty. We could see interesting rock formations in the distance, but again, we found ourselves unable to appreciate them. It was a low moment for both of us, in which we each separately questioned why we were on this ‘trek’.

Needless to say we were glad to leave the road, climbing a little before winding our way down to Ghami. The expansive views from the pass were fantastic and we instantly felt our mood lift. Strange how the emotions can change so dramatically after such a short distance – the difference your immediate surroundings can have on your state of mind. By the time we walked into Ghami we were feeling pretty cheerful, and when we entered the walled garden of the Lo Ghami Guesthouse, and wandered into the beautiful old Mustang house, our experience on the roads was for the time being, forgotten.

A Panoramic view of Ghami village in Upper Mustang

Ghami nestled on the upper slope of the valley, with the colourful rock formations of Upper Mustang’s mountains on display



A Panoramic view of Ghami village in Upper Mustang

Ghami nestled on the upper slope of the
valley, with the colourful rock formations
of Upper Mustang’s mountains on display



Sitting in the inner courtyard, well lit through the ceiling windows above, we took our time over lunch, chatting to three Poles who’d shared the guesthouse with us in Syangboche. They were carrying on to Dhakmar after lunch, but as per our reformed plan, we were staying the night in Ghami.

After lunch we both had our first shower in around ten days. It was a solar shower (a water tank on the roof heated by the sun), but unlike others we’d experienced which were lukewarm at best, it was actually fairly hot. The guesthouse charged us 200 rupees each for the pleasure but it was well worth it.

Feeling refreshed, we had lots of time to explore Ghami. One of the most interesting villages in the region, it made a lasting impression on us. Wandering narrow lanes past mudbrick buildings and distinctive chortens, we found ourselves in a kind of central square. A long wall ran along one side, filled with prayer wheels and painted in orange, yellow, grey and white stripes. On the other side, a row of water taps with strips of colourful cloth hanging from them, catching the drips. Among it all, kids played and a steady stream of locals went about their business.

The central square in Ghami with its striped prayer wheel wall and community water taps

The whitewashed walls of traditional homes in Ghami

With the days work done, men and women relax in the sfternoon sun on the streets of Ghami in Upper Mustang.

A red ochre wall and old wooden door in Ghami, typical of gompas throughout Upper Mustang.

The central square in Ghami with its striped prayer wheel wall and community water taps

The central square in Ghami with its striped
prayer wheel wall and community water taps


The whitewashed walls of traditional homes in Ghami

The whitewashed walls of traditional homes


A red ochre wall and old wooden door in Ghami, typical of gompas throughout Upper Mustang.

A red ochre wall, typical of Upper Mustang gompas


With the days work done, men and women relax in the sfternoon sun on the streets of Ghami in Upper Mustang.

With the days work done, men and women
relax on the streets in the afternoon sun



Everything was touched by the afternoon sun’s warm glow, and we were treated with good humour by the friendly villagers. One woman stopped us and asked if we’d like to see the monastery and maybe buy some souvenirs. “Sure,” we said, but she went to get the key and I ran back to get some money, and then we never saw her again. But that aside, this was what we’d been missing – a shorter day on the roads allowing us to experience more of the unique culture that made a trip to Upper Mustang so special. And as we wandered down to the fields close to sunset, we were now able to fully appreciate the rocky mountains we’d seen from a distance before.

Upper Mustang mountainscape at sunset, seen from Ghami on Day 3 of an Upper Mustang trek.

Light and shadow on the mountains at sunset, looking north from the fields outside Ghami



Upper Mustang mountainscape at sunset, seen from Ghami on Day 3 of an Upper Mustang trek.

Light and shadow on the mountains at sunset,
looking north from the fields outside Ghami



It was almost dark by the time we got back, and we happily settled into the upstairs dining room, a room which could fairly be described as a work of art. Woven rugs and cushions were complemented by elaborately hand-painted wooden chests, wall paintings recounted fantastical tales, and a huge display altar, lined with candles, was chock full of interesting Buddhist ornaments and trappings.

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

The walls of our guesthouse dining room were painted with colourful legends



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

The walls of our guesthouse dining room
were painted with colourful legends



As we waited for dinner the Singaporean group arrived and soon joined us in the dining room. Like before they were in good spirits, recounting their experiences from the day. It was a good atmosphere, and by the time we went to bed, we were both feeling positive about what was to come next.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 4
~
GHAMI – TSARANG

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 4

GHAMI – TSARANG

DISTANCE

11 km

ELEVATION

3520 – 3560 m

TIME

3 hours 30 minutes (total)

2 hours 45 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Lumbini Guesthouse
Twin Room w/bathroom
500 NPR


More road trekking leading to an atmospheric town with an impressive monastery.

Very few Upper Mustang itineraries would usually allow a whole day just to travel from Ghami to Tsarang (also Charang). Had we started our trek with the knowledge we have now, we wouldn’t have either. Saying that, it did allow us to spend a good amount of time in Tsarang, a place with a lot of interest from a cultural standpoint.

The direct route from Ghami to Tsarang is mostly on road, apart from a few sections on the climb towards Chinggel La (3870 m). After the pass it’s a long gentle descent all the way to Tsarang, an easy but leg-deadening walk on a hard packed dirt road.

Setting off after breakfast we walked through Ghami, down to the river, then up the other side to the longest mani wall in Mustang. At 350 metres long, it fairly stretched off into the distance. Spotting some crumbled chortens at the entrance to the Dhakmar Valley, we headed over to investigate. They were possibly in the worst condition of any we’d seen, but were no less appealing for it. Although the colourful paint was long gone – all that remained were faded patches on their decrepit forms – these half ruined chortens blended seamlessly with the mountains behind, and carried an air of mystery that others couldn’t match. Further up the valley we could see hints of the red cliffs of Dhakmar, and it was with some reluctance that we turned east and joined the road to Tsarang.

A group of old ochre chortens outside of Ghami, their colours blending seamlessly with the mountains in the background

These crumbled chortens seemed to be one with the landscape, man-made creations returning to nature



A group of old ochre chortens outside of Ghami, their colours blending seamlessly with the mountains in the background

These crumbled chortens seemed to be one with the
landscape, man-made creations returning to nature



We wasted no time, pushing our way up the dusty trail as the road switched back and forth to our right. Approaching the top there’s no denying the scenery was impressive, with interlocking layers of hills and mountains forming eye-pleasing patterns of light and shadow, but accompanying it all, was the intrusive and persistent sound of excavators carving yet another scar in the landscape. As we crossed the pass and gazed east, the distant terrain seemed like a rugged paradise, a series of hard ridges, sharp cliffs, deep canyons, and wide plateaus. But, that was way beyond our destination, so, eyes on the road, we headed down the slope to Tsarang.

A colourful orange and white chorten outside of Tsarang

This fine looking chorten welcomes you on the outskirts of Tsarang



A colourful orange and white chorten outside of Tsarang

This fine looking chorten welcomes
you on the outskirts of Tsarang



Making good time, we arrived in Tsarang by midday. After trying one guesthouse, which was very old, ramshackle, and dark inside, we went to try our luck with the next. Our guide said, “Both are the same,” but we’d been hearing that for the best part of a month and knew it was nonsense. Funnily enough, they were not both the same.

The Lumbini Guesthouse turned out to be a pretty good place to stay. A single storey building, this one had a large inner courtyard with bright sunlight flooding through the perspex-type roof. Walking in, we had a laugh to find the Singaporeans waiting to be fed, although they would be moving on after lunch. We got a good sized room with an attached bathroom, but didn’t bother with a shower – two days in a row would be pure luxury. I did however manage to get a few items washed in our faithful Scrubba, much to the interest of various Nepalis in attendance who seemed fascinated with our ‘washing machine’.

The single storey whitewashed Mustang style Lumbini Guesthouse in Tsarang

Lumbini Guesthouse on the main road through Tsarang



People sitting around a table in the light filled inner courtyard of the Lumbini Guesthouse in Tsarang

Lunchtime in the sunny inner courtyard of Lumbini Guesthouse



The single storey whitewashed Mustang style Lumbini Guesthouse in Tsarang

Lumbini Guesthouse in Tsarang


People sitting around a table in the light filled inner courtyard of the Lumbini Guesthouse in Tsarang

Lunchtime in the sunny inner courtyard



After lunch we headed out to explore Tsarang, the second largest settlement in Upper Mustang, after Lo Manthang. It was once the capital, and the former king’s palace still stands dominantly atop a hill, although it’s seen better days. It is also far less eye-catching than the nearby 16th Century Thubten Shedrup Dhagyeling Monastery, a central red building surrounded by striped walls and one of the most impressive in Upper Mustang.

An orange, grey and white chorten, with the tall white ruins of the King's Palace of Tsarang in the background

The King’s Palace, seen on the hill behind this chorten



Looking up the stairs towards the striped walls of the large block shaped 16th Century Tsarang Gompa in Upper Mustang

Looking up the steps to the 16th century monastery



An orange, grey and white chorten, with the tall white ruins of the King's Palace of Tsarang in the background

The King’s Palace, seen on the hill behind this chorten


Looking up the stairs towards the striped walls of the large block shaped 16th Century Tsarang Gompa in Upper Mustang

Looking up the steps to the 16th century monastery



We wandered up to the monastery, enjoying the atmosphere of the narrow streets on the way. The town was quiet but a few locals – and animals – wandered here and there. Near a colourful striped wall of prayer wheels, a few old women warmed themselves in the afternoon sun.

An elderly woman in traditional Tibetan dress spinning prayer wheels along a striped wall in Tsarang

Spinning prayer wheels in Tsarang



Three elderly women in traditional Tibetan dress sitting in the sun on the streets of Tsarang

Local ladies hanging out in the sunny spot



Three elderly women in traditional Tibetan dress sitting in the sun on the streets of Tsarang

Local ladies hanging out in the sunny spot


An elderly woman in traditional Tibetan dress spinning prayer wheels along a striped wall in Tsarang

Spinning prayer wheels in Tsarang



Between the palace and monastery, men and women were gathering what looked like bundles of hay, and one lady came over to give us a couple of small apples. We thanked her for the gesture, munching our tasty apples while appreciating the mountain views 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 the palace, three protective stones 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 the palace, three
protective stones face the mountains to the east



After walking round the monastery grounds and seeing nobody around, we were about to leave when the returning monks passed us on the stairs. We followed them back up to the central building and after a few minutes, the lights were on and we were let in. As is usual in Upper Mustang, no photos were allowed inside. The first thing we noticed was the smell – musty and old, instantly reminding us of the monasteries in Tibet. Light filtered down through narrow gaps in wood slatted windows high above, heavy drapes hung from the ceiling, and a battered painted drum sat at the end before a well used microphone. We were glad that we’d had the chance to visit and paid our entrance fee (200 rupees each) to the monks on the way out.

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

Wandering round the striped walls of the monastery and enjoying westward views over Tsarang



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

Wandering past the monastery’s striped walls
and enjoying westward views over Tsarang



Taking our time, we wandered back a different way, enjoying the street scenes and making the most of the afternoon light. At the guesthouse, we got talking to a Spanish couple. They too were unimpressed with the amount of road walking, and we swapped numbers after floating the idea of sharing a jeep back from Lo Manthang.

A green tin with white Chinese writing repurposed as a plant pot on the window sill of a Tsarang home

Repurposed old tin



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

Washing clothes at one of the communal taps in Tsarang



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

Fetching water from one of the communal taps


A green tin with white Chinese writing repurposed as a plant pot on the window sill of a Tsarang home

Repurposed old tin



It was a full house that night. A group of young Nepalis on motorbikes had turned up and were getting dinner in the courtyard area first. We ate in the kitchen, seated on benches around the walls while the owner (wife) and her helper prepared food at the worktop area opposite. It was quite a different atmosphere from the usual dining room experience. The owner (husband) was watching wrestling (WWE) on a wall-mounted flatscreen TV, while guides, porters and other Nepalis had the air buzzing with their chat as they passed round a plastic jug of local rakshi.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 5
~
TSARANG – LO MANTHANG

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 5

TSARANG – LO MANTHANG

DISTANCE

13 km

ELEVATION

3560 – 3810 m

TIME

4 hours 20 minutes (total)

4 hours (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Tashi Delek Guesthouse
Twin Room w/bathroom
700 NPR


Reaching the walled city of Lo Manthang.

The journey from Tsarang (3560 m) to Lo Manthang (3810 m) is no more than a half day’s walk. After descending to cross the river on trail, the route follows the gently rising road for most of the way. There are a few points of interest enroute – a giant chorten and some cliffside caves – and the distant scenery is as impressive as always, but mostly it’s just a journey to get through.

Our day started where the evening had finished – in the kitchen. We enjoyed the interesting insight into local life. With many Nepalis staying there, it was noticeably different from our experiences on the country’s main trekking routes. After a standard breakfast of Tibetan bread and omelette (Kim) and porridge and two boiled eggs (Del), we settled our bill, packed our bags, and set off for Lo Manthang.

Leaving Tsarang on a sunny November 1st, we had a fine walk down the trail to the Tsarang Khola. A good looking chorten sat astride the trail, its oranges and reds working well with the golden leaves of the nearby trees. A short metal bridge took us across the narrow river beneath crumbling rock pinnacles, before the trail led us up to join the road.

Yellow autumn leaves and an orange and white chorten next to the Tsarang Khola in Upper Mustang

The trail leads through this chorten and across the Tsarang Khola



Yellow autumn leaves and an orange and white chorten next to the Tsarang Khola in Upper Mustang

The trail leads through this chorten
before crossing the Tsarang Khola



After an hour or so, we stopped to admire Sungda Chorten, an island amidst the sandy road. Whatever else used to keep this impressive chorten company, these days it stands alone, a dramatic focal point in the barren landscape.

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

One of the largest in Upper Mustang, Sungda Chorten is all the more remarkable for its solitary situation



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

One of the largest in the region, Sungda Chorten
is all the more remarkable for its solitary situation



Beyond that we pretty much tried to cover the distance as quickly as possible. For long stretches the road was as wide as we’d seen it, with rubble piled high either side. It soon became a patchwork of roads and trails, old and new, criss-crossing each other and strewn with rocks big and small. The cliffside caves added some interest, as did the distant mountains, but we never paused for long.

The road narrowed as it rose towards the pass and our first sight of Lo Manthang. As we neared the top, we passed the Polish trio we’d met before, surprised to find them returning so soon. They’d arrived in Lo Manthang the day before, but a restless night in a room plagued with rodents chewing their electrical gear had been too much for them. For one woman it had been a lifelong dream to visit the Kingdom of Lo, but in the end she stayed just one night in the old city.

At the top we paused for a view down over the valley and city below, then went off-road to scramble down the trail through a narrow gorge. Soon we were climbing again, and before long, walking under the towering glitzy new gate that marked the outskirts of Lo Manthang.

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

Our first view of Lo Manthang after coming over the rise



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

Our first view of Lo Manthang



A kind of main thoroughfare runs around the walled city like a dry moat. It’s here that the guesthouses are found, so we set off to find somewhere that would suit us for four nights. After checking a few places, we eventually settled on the Tashi Delek Guesthouse: a two story whitewashed building done in the traditional style, backing onto the walled city itself. It was our most expensive accommodation in Upper Mustang, but we had a decent room with a bathroom attached, and the sunny dining room looked like a good place to relax. Actually the initial price was even higher – 1000 rupees if memory serves – but we negotiated a discount after stressing we would stay four nights and eat all our meals in house.

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

Our home in Lo Manthang, the Tashi Delek Guesthouse, backing on to the old city walls



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

The Tashi Delek Guesthouse, backing
on to the old city walls of Lo Manthang



After lunch and the best shower we’d had in Nepal so far, we ventured into the streets of the old city, ducking through a narrow side gate close to our guesthouse. Now let’s be clear, Lo Manthang is very much a city in the old sense – it’s not exactly huge, and these days its population stands at around eight hundred. But, it has a warren of tight alleyways, is big enough to get lost in, and it can take a while to get your bearings. So, that’s what we set about doing, wandering past high-sided mudbrick homes, and women chatting in open spots where the afternoon sun still reached the ground.

Women sitting on the ground chatting in a narrow alleyway in Lo Manthang

Afternoon chat in the sun



Red chortens and whitewashed walls in a narrow alleyway in Lo Manthang

Lo Manthang alleyways are a maze of whitewashed homes and ochre chortens



Women sitting on the ground chatting in a narrow alleyway in Lo Manthang

Afternoon chat in the sun


Red chortens and whitewashed walls in a narrow alleyway in Lo Manthang

A maze of whitewashed homes and ochre chortens



After a while, we heard a voice call from on high… “Namaste!” A cheery old man leaned from his second floor window, indicating the door, telling us to come up and saying something about a ‘rooftop’. So, up we went, through the different levels of his home, onto his roof, and up a wooden ladder to the actual city wall. We had a fascinating view over the tops of the houses, nestled among so many chortens and the distinctive red blocks of the city’s monasteries. In the other direction, the outlying buildings and mountains beyond were cast in a golden magic hour glow.

Coming down, he invited us into his souvenir shop, a dark room filled with a huge range of varied items. After much deliberation, Kim decided on a red coral necklace, rough beads strung on a black band. Satisfied all round, we said goodbye and thanked him again for the rooftop view.

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 smiling portrait of an older man and proprietor of a souvenir shop in Lo Manthang

Facilitator of views and seller of souvenirs



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 walls


A smiling portrait of an older man and proprietor of a souvenir shop in Lo Manthang

Facilitator of views and seller of souvenirs



Back at the guesthouse, we were sitting in the dining room waiting for dinner, when we heard drums and soft chanting for the second time that day. We had thought it was coming from inside the walled city but it seemed close, and when we went to investigate, we could hear the sounds coming from behind a door at the back of the guesthouse’s inner courtyard. With the help of our guide, we spoke to the owner and she told us that monks were performing a ceremony in their house. We asked if it would be possible to see, and a few minutes later, were guided through the door, effectively through the city walls, and into the original part of the house.

Gathered in a small room, seven monks from Chode Monastery chanted, banged on a drum, and blasted occasional notes on a small oboe-like instrument. Some read from loose unbound pages of sacred manuscripts, individual sheets neatly piled on top of one another, later to be gathered between two wooden boards and bound with red and yellow cloth. Now and again, the head monk lifted the lid from a ceramic jar, flicking water here and there. Sitting cross-legged on low benches around the room, the monks had blankets draped across their laps, keeping them warm. From time to time, the grandmother of the house filled their cups with hot butter tea, and a young monk made the rounds offering biscuits from a small tray, to us as well.

Sacred manuscripts, teacups, and the round case for a musical instrument sitting on a table while monks perform a puja ceremony in Lo Manthang

The sacred manuscripts from which the monks were chanting, along with cups of butter tea to keep them refreshed



Sacred manuscripts, teacups, and the round case for a musical instrument sitting on a table while monks perform a puja ceremony in Lo Manthang

The sacred manuscripts from which the
monks were chanting, along with cups
of hot butter tea to keep them refreshed



We later found out that this was an annual ceremony. Throughout the year monks are invited to many houses in the city, and over the course of two days, perform a number of ceremonies to bless the household; and in return for the monks’ services, they receive a sum of money to help fund their monastery. We felt lucky to have been there, and this wonderfully unexpected experience was the perfect end to our first day in Lo Manthang.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 6
~
LO MANTHANG – CHHOSER (RETURN)

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 6

LO MANTHANG – CHHOSER (RETURN)

DISTANCE

16 km

ELEVATION

3800 – 3900 – 3800 m

TIME

6 hours 30 minutes (total)

4 hours (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Tashi Delek Guesthouse
Twin Room w/bathroom
700 NPR


A day trip to the caves and monasteries at Chhoser.

It’s fairly standard for most Upper Mustang Trek itineraries to include a day trip to Chhoser. The most notable things to see here are the Jhong Caves and Nyphu Gompa, although the 1000 NPR ticket also includes access to Garphu Gompa and Chema-concholing Cave. There are a variety of ways to reach Chhoser. Many people ride local Mustang horses, others take a jeep or motorbike, and some (like us) simply walk. It’s a 16 km return trip, or you can continue round in a loop on the way back to Lo Manthang to visit the villages of Kimaling, Thinggar, and Namgyal.

We left our guesthouse at half past eight, headed down the trail from Lo Manthang, crossed the Chhosak Dokpa Khola, then climbed the other side and followed the road northeast towards Chhoser. It was an overcast morning but the temperature was pleasant, and light filtering through the grey clouds cast interesting patterns across the land. On the two hills above we could see the lumpen shapes of the ruined King’s and Queen’s Castles, and close to the road itself, we passed a number of interesting, centuries-old mudbrick ruins.

Sandy coloured ruins by the roadside on the way to Chhoser in Upper Mustang

Roadside ruins on the way to Chhoser; the King’s Castle sits behind the prayer flags, high on the hill above



Sandy coloured ruins by the roadside on the way to Chhoser in Upper Mustang

Roadside ruins on the way to Chhoser



The walk was scenic, across a wide valley of patchwork fields, small villages, and variously hued sandy mountains. We’d seen pictures of this area at the height of summer, and imagined being here when these fields were green and full of life. The road was quiet, also smaller and more weathered than the newer sections further south, giving it somewhat of a trail feel and blending more naturally with the surrounding environment. Lighter without our usual bags, we enjoyed the journey and were glad we’d chosen to walk. We had considered riding horses, but the memory of a tough eight hour journey to reach the Tsaatan Reindeer Herders in northern Mongolia was still a little too fresh in our minds.

Two trekkers on a trail towards Chhoser in Upper Mustang

Wide valley vistas and layered mountains on the road to Chhoser



Two trekkers on a trail towards Chhoser in Upper Mustang

Wide valley vistas and layered mountains



Arriving at Chhoser the sun had come out, and we were impressed by what we saw. Before even reaching the famous Jhong Caves, we could see that the cliffside opposite was also peppered with numerous caves. Some of these appeared to have walls built into them, even glass-fronted windows and doors. At the foot of the cliff was the village, those familiar whitewashed blocky houses, and on the rocky outcrop above, crumbled ruins shining bright under the now present sun. In contrast, the pale, almost colourless mountains toward the Tibetan border still lay in shadow.

Blocky whitewashed houses, cliffside caves and crumbling ruins at Chhoser in Upper Mustang

The cliffs, caves, ruins and village at Chhoser, shining bright in the morning sun



Blocky whitewashed houses, cliffside caves and crumbling ruins at Chhoser in Upper Mustang

The cliffs, caves, ruins and village at Chhoser



Turning into the valley where the caves lie, we were stopped at a ticket desk and asked to pay 1000 rupees each. This was the price of admission to see the Jhong Caves, Nyphu Gompa, Garphu Gompa, and Chema-concholing Cave, but we were a little put out because it was totally unexpected and there had been no mention of it before. Our guide said it was new and seemed not to know anything about it. At that point we were tending to view everything through the prism of the expensive permit fees we’d already paid, but when we researched the situation after and discovered that little if any of the trekking permit money goes to the local community, that put things in a different light. Obviously it’s a small price to pay if it helps maintain these sights and provide a few jobs.

A short walk later through a narrow gorge, an off-shoot from the valley, we came out into a wide open space with football goalposts at either end, above which towered the caves themselves. The cliffside had the same melted appearance we’d grown used to, like a Mr. Whippy ice cream gone wrong; scattered cave openings marked the rock face here and there, like wayward shavings of flake. We left our bag with the guy who stamped our ticket and climbed the steps to join the decent sized crowd already inside the caves.

Looking out through a cave 'window' to the mountains and houses below

A commanding view of the area from inside the caves



A cliff face pockmarked with holes, forming the Jhong Caves in Upper Mustang

The Jhong Caves



A cliff face pockmarked with holes, forming the Jhong Caves in Upper Mustang

The Jhong Caves


Looking out through a cave 'window' to the mountains and houses below

A commanding view from inside the caves



Wooden ladders led us up through small openings in the floors, where narrow tunnels connected the many rooms. I still had a small packable rucksack on my back with our photography gear, which made things a little tight while squeezing through some of the more restrictive tunnels. The cave system occupies five levels, but we were satisfied with reaching three. We paused to look at some old pottery in one of the rooms, appreciated the views from the ‘windows’, then made our way back down. While interesting enough, the caves were similar to others we’d seen, in Cappadocia for example, and with no information provided about the history behind them, they could only hold our interest for so long. We asked our guide how old they were, but he just said, “Nobody knows.” Later, we found out they’re around 3000 years old.

Our next stop was Nyphu Gompa. Coming back down the gorge, we crossed to the north side of the valley and arrived at the distinctive old monastery. Nyphu Gompa makes an instant impression. The red ochre block of the main building is built into the rugged cliffside, with the telltale black cave openings pockmarking the rock above; a smaller white building sits beside it, and below, a long accommodation block painted in the usual stripes of ochre, white and grey.

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



We climbed the steps and went inside, but to be honest, the interior couldn’t match the exterior for dramatic effect. It was very small and dark, although we did admire the aged, flaking images painted on walls and ceilings. The oldest part of the monastery is a cave at the back, reached by stone steps, but that area is reserved for monks alone. After just a few minutes, we dropped a donation in the box and made our way back outside.

By this point we were pretty hungry, so we headed down to the nearest lunch place, not far from where we’d bought our tickets. After ordering we sat out in the sunny courtyard with cups of tea, but the wind was getting quite severe so we retreated to the dining room inside.

Aware that the newer Garphu Gompa was without any special interest, and that the other cave was quite distant, we decided to skip them and just start back immediately after lunch. The wind had become ferociously strong and we were keen to return to Lo Manthang before it got worse. As persistent gusts rushed up the valley from the south, it made for an energy sapping journey back, and because the road and surrounding area is mostly dust and sand, we were blasted in the face and eating grit for two hours straight. It was with no small relief that we reached our guesthouse and settled into the cozy dining room with a delicious pot of hot chocolate. And with the wind raging outside, that was the end of our explorations for another day.

The red walls of Lo Manthang and surrounding houses, as seen from the north looking south

Looking across to Lo Manthang from the north on a windy and hazy autumn afternoon



The red walls of Lo Manthang and surrounding houses, as seen from the north looking south

Looking across to Lo Manthang from the
north on a windy and hazy autumn afternoon



Now while the conditions kept us indoors, the circumstances did result in a chance encounter, one that would once more turn our Upper Mustang trek on its head. An international tour group had arrived at the Tashi Delek, mostly French with a couple of Belgians thrown in. As is the case with organised tours operated by big companies, they were extremely well staffed – under a tour leader, there was a senior assistant guide, two junior assistant guides, and a mule handler (all their gear was carried by mules rather than porters).

During the rest of the day, we happened to get into conversation with the group’s leader in the guesthouse dining room. A small, stocky man with a courteous manner, he spoke excellent English as well as French. He told us about the route his group would be taking back from Lo Manthang, and the more he said, the more excited we became.

The talk was of an eastern route, one along ridges and across plateaus that was almost entirely off-road – it sounded like a proper trek and everything we’d been missing. Although we’d seen the dotted line on a map, it had never before been mentioned or discussed as a possibility. Needless to say it threw our already adapted plan into doubt, and we spent most of that afternoon/evening mulling over the possibilities, considerations and implications of such a drastic change. But by the time we called it a day, we’d put together the firm beginnings of a new plan.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 7
~
LO MANTHANG

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 7

LO MANTHANG

ELEVATION

3810 m

ACCOMMODATION

Tashi Delek Guesthouse
Twin Room w/bathroom
700 NPR


Visiting the monasteries of Lo Manthang and planning the ‘eastern route’.

A second day in Lo Manthang is usually spent visiting three monasteries: Chode Gompa, Jampa Gompa, and Thupchen Gompa. The three monasteries are quite different, each with its own unique qualities. A ticket bought in the main complex of Dragkar Thegchen-Ling Gompa (not one of the three) allows entry into all three, where a monk shows you around. The ticket costs 1000 NPR / 10 USD, and the proceeds go directly towards the maintenance and restoration of all three monasteries. You can visit in the morning from 9 am – 12 pm, and in the afternoon from 3 pm – 5 pm. Also on the ticket is the Monastic Museum, but with the building having been damaged in the 2015 earthquake and not yet repaired, it remains closed. Photography is not allowed within the monastery buildings themselves, although it’s not a problem to take pictures in the grounds outside.

Other than the monasteries, there is plenty to explore among the winding lanes of Lo Manthang itself. And for those looking to stretch their legs and spend a couple of hours outside the walled city, the ruined King’s Castle and Queen’s Castle on the hilltops above are a possibility, as is the monastery at Namgyal and the villages beyond.

After an early morning wander, and before our visit to the monasteries, we brought the latest change of plan to our guide. We’d gathered plenty of information from the guide of the tour group about the route, places to stay, number of guesthouses, etc. Moreover, the entire three day eastern route was marked on Maps.me, an open source offline mapping app we’d used a lot, so we knew it would be easy to follow. The only stumbling block was our Restricted Area Permit (RAP) – by choosing to trek the eastern route at this stage in our trip, we would be spending eleven days in Upper Mustang instead of the ten days allowed by the permit. So, what we needed to do was find out if we could pay to extend it.

A man taking his cows to graze wanders under colourful prayer flags strung across the streets of Lo Manthang

Only a few locals and animals on the quiet streets of Lo Manthang at sunrise



A man taking his cows to graze wanders under colourful prayer flags strung across the streets of Lo Manthang

The quiet streets of Lo Manthang at sunrise



When our guide contacted his boss in Kathmandu, a second problem became apparent – it was Saturday. Having never encountered this situation before he personally had no advice to give, and being Saturday, there was nobody for him to contact as all the relevant offices were closed. We were due to visit the monasteries at nine, but we had time to swing by the ACAP permit office beforehand. When we got there it was closed, so realising there was nothing to be done at this point, we headed to the grounds of the Dragkar Thegchen-Ling Gompa, bought our tickets, and waited to start our tour.

On a beautiful sunny morning, the red walls of the monastery buildings were shining bright, and there was a lively atmosphere in the courtyard as young monks chatted during their recreation time. We were there along with the French group from our guesthouse and soon realised we’d be taking the tour alongside them. As it happened, the situation worked in our favour. The monk showing us around spoke only a little English, but the head guide of the French group was very knowledgeable, and as well as explaining things to his group in French, he also explained a fair bit to us in English too.

Young monks sitting in the courtyard of Dragkar Thegchen-Ling (Chode) Gompa in Lo Manthang

Young monks in the grounds of Dragkar Thegchen-Ling Gompa on a sunny morning in Lo Manthang



Young monks sitting in the courtyard of Dragkar Thegchen-Ling (Chode) Gompa in Lo Manthang

Young monks in the grounds of Dragkar Thegchen
Ling Gompa on a sunny morning
in Lo Manthang



First up was Chode Gompa. Set within the grounds of the larger Dragkar Thegchen-Ling Gompa, it is the main Sakya Gompa of Lo Manthang, Sakya Buddhism being the dominant sect within Upper Mustang. There had been a Chode Gompa before this, built in the 13th century during the reign of Lo Manthang’s first King, Ame Pal. However, that monastery was destroyed by an earthquake in the 16th century and any important religious objects were moved to another monastery, which was subsequently destroyed by fire in the 17th century. At that point, all surviving relics were moved to the new (current) Chode Gompa, which had been built in a new location within the city walls.

The relatively small interior of Chode Gompa gave it quite an intimate feel. Lots of old paintings of Bhuddist icons covered the dark walls, and at the end furthest from the door, many statues and ornaments occupied the well lit spaces behind a glass front. Down the middle of the gompa, back towards the door, two lines of cushions bordered the central aisle, and on each one sat a thick ceremonial cloak, erect, as if draped round the shoulders of an invisible monk, or as if its occupant had suddenly vanished – quite a bizarre sight.

After finishing at Chode Gompa, we left the monastery complex and followed the monk through Lo Manthang’s alleyways, until we reached Jampa Gompa. Built in the 14th century, it is the oldest surviving Sakya Buddhist monastery in Lo Manthang. An impressive three storey structure, the ochre painted mud brick walls are a mighty five feet four inches thick. Stairs lead to a walkway around the building’s blocky head, offering views far and wide beyond Lo Manthang.

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

The top of Jampa Gompa has a distnictive look and is also a favourite hangout of the local birds



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

The top of Jampa Gompa has a distnictive look
and is also a favourite hangout of the local birds



Inside Jampa Gompa, the walls are decorated with over one hundred gold and silver mandalas, elaborately detailed and encrusted with turquoise, coral, and gemstones. Perhaps most impressive though is the huge statue of the future Buddha, Maitreya, reaching from the ground floor to the top, sitting in meditation pose and shrouded in shadow.

From Jampa Gompa we walked the short distance to our final monastery, Thupchen Gompa. The entranceway, guarded by the four protector kings, leads through to the huge main hall, called the ‘Dhunkhang’. This open space features tall wooden pillars, supporting a vaulted ceiling of rafters engraved with sacred mantras. Around the walls of the main hall are many paintings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, in excellent condition after having been painstakingly restored, although more remains to be done. At the front of the Dhunkhang are several large statues, chief of which are renditions of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) and the Great Buddha (Thupchen).

It was in Thupchen Gompa that I really wished to use the camera, not for the paintings and statues which were of course impressive, but to capture the scene and mood within the Dhunkhang. Shafts of light illuminating the hall from the central openings above had an ethereal quality, particularly when highlighting the monk’s face as he talked about the monastery. The play of light and shadow, combined with a deep feeling of age and mystery, created quite the atmosphere.

But with that we were done, back into the streets of Lo Manthang under the bright morning sun. We had been impressed with each monastery in its own way, and felt in the end that the price of the combined ticket was more than worth it. Now it was time to get back to the reorganisation of our trek.

A woman in traditional Tibetan dress carrying a woven basket full of dishes through a narrow street in Lo Manthang

Backpack of choice



A woman in traditional Tibetan dress wandering down a narrow alley in Lo Manthang

Most women in Lo Manthang dress in traditional clothing



A woman in traditional Tibetan dress wandering down a narrow alley in Lo Manthang

A woman dressed in traditional clothing


A woman in traditional Tibetan dress carrying a woven basket full of dishes through a narrow street in Lo Manthang

Lo Manthang backpack of choice



On reaching the ACAP office we were pleased to see it now open, but when our guide asked about extending the permit, he was told it couldn’t be done. Unwilling for that to be the end of the matter, we spoke outside and pressed our guide to ask what would happen if we just arrived back late. Would there be a fine? Or some other punishment? Maybe the guy could call someone in Kagbeni to find out?

 By this point the sullen and wholly disinterested ACAP office representative had pulled his chair out onto the flagstones and was warming himself in the sun. Our guide, who wasn’t exactly keen, went over awkwardly to ask our questions, but when he returned, none of them had been answered. The guy himself didn’t know, and he couldn’t call Kagbeni because it was lunchtime. He did say that he would try later, but time was running out for us to commit to the eastern trekking route and we weren’t filled with confidence by this vague promise.

Given the frustrating turn of events our mood was quite low when we returned to the guesthouse, but one more development had everything falling into place. Seeing the guide of the French group in the dining room, we asked if he could shed any light on the permit situation. He said, “Let me call someone.” And so he did. In less than a minute, he’d spoken to an official and solved our problem. At this point we really came to appreciate the difference between a highly competent, connected and experienced professional guide, and a novice guide with a less developed skill set. Anyway, the upshot was that we’d get a letter at the Kagbeni ACAP office saying we were a day late, then have to pay an extra 50 USD each when we reached Jomsom. Perfect. We’d have paid the same for 3 seats in the jeep anyway. 

After lunch we were able to relax. We spent the rest of the day wandering every inch of Lo Manthang, photographing, stocking up on chocolate bars, soaking up the atmosphere, and quietly watching life go by.

Four older men sit in the afternoon sun in Lo Manthang while a younger man plays a three stringed musical instrument.

A group of young monks checking out something interesting on their phone on the streets of Lo Manthang.

Cows block the way on the narrow lanes of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang.

A green and orange wooden window frame with old paint tins with flowers on the window sill in Lo Manthang

Four older men sit in the afternoon sun in Lo Manthang while a younger man plays a three stringed musical instrument.

The best spot to catch the afternoon sun
in Lo Manthang; Grandfather from our
guesthouse is sitting second from the right


A group of young monks checking out something interesting on their phone on the streets of Lo Manthang.

A group of young monks checking out
something interesting on their phone


A green and orange wooden window frame with old paint tins with flowers on the window sill in Lo Manthang

Adding some colour to the whitewashed walls


Cows block the way on the narrow lanes of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang.

A Lo Manthang traffic jam



As the afternoon wore on, we stopped in at the shop of a local painter. Very welcoming and speaking excellent English, the artist told us he worked in the monasteries for three months a year on Luigi Fieni’s restoration team, otherwise spending time producing artwork to sell in his shop. We had a fascinating conversation about the local technique used to make paint, and were interested to learn that all the colours came from natural pigments found in the surrounding landscape. To make the paint these pigments are bound with a glue made from boiling yak skin. According to the artist, artwork produced with this paint, protected inside the monasteries, should still look good in five hundred years.

With the day drawing to a close we returned to our guesthouse to pack, rest up, and get ready for the next stage of our journey. Our Upper Mustang trek was about to take on a whole other dimension, one we knew little about, but one that had us eager and excited for the days ahead.

More Hiking & Trekking Adventures

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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
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UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 8
~
LO MANTHANG – YARA

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 8

LO MANTHANG – YARA

DISTANCE

16 km

ELEVATION

3810 – 3650 m

TIME

7 hours (total)

5 hours 30 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Saribung Hotel & Lodge
Twin Room (outside shared toilet)
400 NPR


A proper trekking day of ridge trails, canyons, and remote villages.

Whatever the return route from Lo Manthang, all leave the same way, descending from the new south facing gate to cross the Dokpolo Khola. From here, the western route leads up to Chogo La before continuing down to Ghar Gompa and Dhakmar. The classic route to Tsarang (the way we arrived) climbs the hill to the south and follows the unmistakable road.

If taking the eastern route, the trail diverges from the road just past the Lo Manthang viewpoint. It climbs away from the road to follow a spectacular ridgeline, before descending steeply to the village of Dhi (3400 m). After Dhi (also Dhee), the ideal place for lunch, the trail crosses the Kali Gandaki and climbs a mostly gradual but slightly rocky path to Yara (3650 m). It’s also possible to continue along the ridge and turn off for Tsarang, instead of descending to Dhi, or follow the river south from Dhi then head up to Tsarang. This would certainly make for a far more spectacular trek than walking along the road.

Bid a friendly farewell by the guesthouse owners, we left Lo Manthang on a cold morning; ice lay in patches on the streets, and the stony path was slick with frost near the river. We soon warmed up though, climbing the combination of dirt road and trail in calm and still conditions, the clouds of the last two days all gone.

After turning for one last look at Lo Manthang, we soon spotted the eastern trail, and once we joined it, our feet never touched road again that day. The sandy path climbed gradually through rolling pastelly green hills – pistachio land once again – the ground covered with sparse, tough grass and those low dome-like bushes. As we began to follow the ridgeline trail, the views to the east revealed themselves – tall mountains, pinnacles and cliffs – with that familiar solidified after melting look. Each layer was a different colour, like a Zoom ice lolly, but instead of garish pinks, purples and reds, these layers were pale oranges, yellows and greys.

Jagged and colourful mountains stretching out across the land in Upper Mustang

Stunning views to the east from the ridge trail’s fantastic vantage point



Jagged and colourful mountains stretching out across the land in Upper Mustang

Stunning views to the east from the
ridge trail’s fantastic vantage point



As the trail continued, narrowing and widening, up and down, hugging the contours of the hillside, we both grinned at each other, content and silently appreciative to be trekking off-road through genuinely, jaw-droppingly stunning landscapes. This was the scenery that had caught our eye on the journey north, and it was great to finally be among it. At one point we saw the road far below, to the west, the wide stretch from Tsarang to Lo Manthang. From a distance it looked more benign, but we well remembered the feeling of being on it and were glad to put it behind us.

A panorama of two trekkers on a narrow trail stretching off into the distance on an Upper Mustang Trek

Our Upper Mustang trek had come to life, with proper trails and amazing scenery all around



Two trekkers on a narrow trail stretching off into the distance on an Upper Mustang Trek

Our Upper Mustang trek had come to life, with
proper trails and amazing scenery all around



The views continued to get better, and by the time we began our descent to Dhi, the sight of the crazily shaped cliffs opposite was quite simply incredible – a real wow moment.

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

Jagged cliffs, rolling plateaus, and rippling ridges marked our direction of travel as we started heading down from the ridge



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

Jagged cliffs, rolling plateaus, and rippling
ridges marked our direction of travel as
we started heading down from the ridge



After an initial winding descent, the trail snaked down through the mountainside itself – a narrow, steep canyon, the sandy path a little slippery underfoot. We took it slowly, enjoying the challenge and the thrill of being in this remarkable place. As the trail opened out we could see the village below, and looking at the towering cliffs behind, we couldn’t quite believe where we’d just come from. We were still high above Dhi but the final stretch didn’t take too long, the deeper sand letting us plunge heel first down the switchback trail at a quick jog.

Two trekkers descending a narrow trail between high sided cliffs towards Dhi village in Upper Mustang

Watching our step on the sandy canyon trail



A trekker descending through a rocky canyon trail towards Dhi in Upper Mustang

Did we really just come down from there?



Two trekkers descending a narrow trail between high sided cliffs towards Dhi village in Upper Mustang

Watching our step on the sandy canyon trail


A trekker descending through a rocky canyon trail towards Dhi in Upper Mustang

Did we really just come down from there?



Dhi was similar to many other villages we’d passed through, all narrow lanes and blocky whitewashed homes with their raggedy crowns of stacked wood. Entering the courtyard of the Hira Hotel, we dumped our bags, climbed to the next floor, and settled into the spacious dining room. Decorated in a pleasingly traditional way, with colourful patterned trimming on the walls and carved wooden chests acting as tables, the sunlit room had a welcoming and restful atmosphere. Grandma was relaxing by the window but soon set up a makeshift loom and began weaving.

A grandma weaving with a makeshift loom by the window in her home in Dhi, Upper Mustang

Grandma working away at her makeshift weaving rig



A grandma's aged hands weaving a traditional Upper Mustang belt on a makeshift loom

Experienced hands



A grandma weaving with a makeshift loom by the window in her home in Dhi, Upper Mustang

Grandma working on her makeshift weaving rig


A grandma's aged hands weaving a traditional Upper Mustang belt on a makeshift loom

Experienced hands



The French group and their entourage arrived soon after, the assistant members of their guiding team helping prepare food in the kitchen. The room got even busier when two more trekkers appeared with their guide and porter, but there was a nice buzz and the conversation was flowing – everyone was in good spirits following the morning’s spectacular hike. The Dal Bhat when it arrived, was excellent.

We got out ahead of the crowds, crossed the Kali Gandaki on a small bridge, and followed the wide stony riverbed to the east. At that point, the river (Puyung Khola) was little more than a stream, perhaps indicative of the increasing water shortages facing many of Upper Mustang’s mountain villages.

The blue-grey Kali Gandaki river with jagged cliffs rising either side

Looking north from the bridge as we crossed the Kali Gandaki, quite a different looking river than the one it later becomes



The blue-grey Kali Gandaki river with jagged cliffs rising either side

Looking north as we crossed the Kali Gandaki



We had missed the first trail after leaving Dhi, but within half an hour we came to a set of stone steps, cut directly into the cliff. Upon reaching the top, the path followed an undulating route across dusty hillocks and the odd strewn boulder, before hitting a honeycomb section where we had to negotiate our way round large holes in the ground.

Two trekkers climbing a crumbling staircase towards the village of Yara on an Upper Mustang Trek

Above the river, the trail leads across the dry and rocky landscape to Yara (3650 m)



Two trekkers climbing a crumbling staircase towards the village of Yara on an Upper Mustang Trek

Above the river, the trail leads across the
dry and rocky landscape to Yara (3650 m)



Looking south, across the valley we’d just walked up, was the strangest cliff face we’d seen yet. It also had a melted appearance, but less crumbly and more smooth, with hard, sharp edges. The surface was pockmarked with numerous caves; eagles soared on the wind, swooping to perch in the openings, looking for food or just having fun.

Soon we sighted Yara, nestled in a dip of this bizarre rocky landscape. Picturesque from a distance, we could see it looked quite rundown as we wandered in. Many of the buildings seemed to be in poor condition, and there was no sign of the electricity pylons seen elsewhere. It definitely felt more isolated and remote.

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



Of the two guesthouses in the village, only one seemed to be open – the Saribung Hotel & Lodge. Most of the rooms had been set aside for the French group by prior arrangement. The other two trekkers we’d met in Dhi were also staying there, two dads, one English and one American, whose respective son and daughter were married. They were visiting Luri Gompa the following day and were staying in Yara for two nights. Although the guesthouse was crowded, we managed to get a basic room, but the guides and porters weren’t so lucky. As it was a full house that night, nearly every available space in the dining room was laid out with blankets for them once dinner was done.

The guesthouse had a nice courtyard and after dumping our bags we took full advantage, resting in the sun, drinking tea, and chatting with the other trekkers. Soon after we’d all arrived a group of local women came by, selling necklaces, bracelets, and other trinkets. They were quite pushy in a mildly entertaining way, but they mostly left us alone, focusing on the French who probably seemed more likely targets. As the afternoon wore on we wandered the village, enjoying the golden, magic hour glow before the sun disappeared. Afterwards we spent an hour or two in the comfortable dining room, had an early dinner, and went to bed looking forward to yet another day of great trekking.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 9
~
YARA – TANGGE

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 9

YARA – TANGGE

DISTANCE

17 km

ELEVATION

3650 – 3340 m

TIME

8 hours (total)

6 hours 45 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Shambala Hotel
Twin Room w/bathroom
500 NPR


Long climbs, steep descents, wide plateaus, and perhaps the most picturesque village of the trek.

The day from Yara to Tangge is an energy sapping one. It may be only 17 km, but the route involves roughly 1000 m of both ascents and descents. The good news is that it’s a lot of fun and the views are spectacular.

An early climb from Yara (3650 m) is followed by the first plateau of the day. After this the trail winds up and down a rocky path, then crosses a further plateau section before reaching the steep descent to Dhye (3400 m). A switchback trail leads to a suspension bridge which in turn leads down to the valley floor and the new village of Dhye. This was where we had lunch but we’re aware that others found the only teahouse closed. If in doubt, it’s wise to take a packed lunch from Yara. It takes around 3 hours to reach Dhye.

Leaving Dhye, a long 500 m climb leads up to the highest point of the day (3900 m). From here a succession of descents, rolling trails, and plateau sections eventually lead all the way down to Tangge (3340 m). Expect a journey of around 4 hours to get from Dhye to Tangge. Read on to discover more, and get a sense of the journey from the Relive video below.

Packed, breakfasted and ready to go, we were out the door by seven thirty. Getting out of Yara proved a bit tricky – dirt tracks went everywhere and there were no signs – but we soon had it figured out. Our guide had only trekked the eastern route once as a porter, years before, and wasn’t sure which way to go. But with the help of Maps.me, we soon identified the right trail. Dropping down from the village, we crossed the narrow valley and climbed briefly. A choice of paths was once more settled by Maps.me, and we were soon climbing steeply and heading south, set for the day. Once again, we were impressed by the panorama of this contorted landscape, and looking back, Yara appeared peaceful in the bright morning sun.

A panorama view of the bizarre rock formations and colourful mountain ridges of the Yara valley in Upper Mustang

The strange cliff face we’d seen from the trail to Yara formed the wall of the plateau we were climbing up to



A panorama view of the bizarre rock formations and colourful mountain ridges of the Yara valley in Upper Mustang

The strange cliff face seen from the trail to Yara
was the wall of the plateau we were climbing to



By this point we were pretty much leading ourselves – with the aid of technology – and it created a bit of an awkward moment between us and our guide. To be fair, it wasn’t really his fault – he hadn’t known that we would be trekking this way. But it was symptomatic of what we felt was the poor planning of our entire Upper Mustang trek. It had become clear that the eastern route was where the best trekking was, so why did the majority of trekking itineraries completely miss it out? Simply because it was more difficult logistically, and more demanding physically? It seems to us that many trekking agencies just take the easy option, and we feel that this route should at the very least be presented as a possible choice for those willing and able to trek it.

Continuing to climb we soon reached the first plateau, stretching away at an almost imperceptible decline until it dropped off the jagged edge. We walked across a stony expanse of sparse grass, dwarf shrubs, and the occasional thorny bush, before climbing the trail up a bare rocky slope.

A detailed shot of a thorny bush with red berries, a flat high plateau stretching out beyond

Crossing the plateau is a strange experience, feeling like you’re at ground level but knowing the valley floor is hundreds of metres below



A detailed shot of a thorny bush with red berries, a flat high plateau stretching out beyond

Crossing the plateau is a strange experience,
feeling like you’re at ground level but knowing
that the valley floor is hundreds of metres below



At the top, before the trail turned, an excellent vantage point allowed us to see down over the whole plateau, and even across to our descent to Dhi the day before. Looking at those distant cliffs, we found it hard to credit the existence of a trail, let alone the fact that we’d trekked it.

A trekker sitting admiring the view of a flat high plateau and colourful mountain ridge beyond whilst trekking in Upper Mustang

Looking across the plateau to the other side of the Kali Gandaki Gorge, we were amazed to see our route down to Dhi from the day before



A trekker sitting admiring the view of a flat high plateau and colourful mountain ridge beyond whilst trekking in Upper Mustang

Looking across the plateau to the other side
of the Kali Gandaki Gorge, we were amazed to
see our route down to Dhi from the day before



Following the undulating path, we continued to admire the views and rock formations as we skirted the hill. When we reached the second plateau, or rather, rejoined the same one, we set a good pace across the tabletop surface until reaching the descent to Dhye.

The view over the valley was breathtaking. A thin grey sliver snaked through the wide chasm, bordered by two jagged edged plateau drop-offs, and in the distance, mighty peaks reached for the sky. The switchback trail down was steep with loose sand and stones, but it was far from the worst. Some of the French group had caught up, along with the two junior guides, and as we neared the bottom, there was some debate about the best way to proceed. Stay on this trail and go straight down the slope to hop across the narrow river? Or follow the trail to the left, cross the suspension bridge, and descend the hairy looking cliffside path opposite? In the end, we couldn’t be sure how deep or narrow the river actually was, so to avoid the possibility of wet feet, we settled on the bridge.

Two trekkers descending a steep and rocky trail towards the riverside village of Dhye in Upper Mustang

Following the trail down to Dhye; the teahouse can be seen across the river, below the route to Tangge



Two trekkers descending a steep and rocky trail towards the riverside village of Dhye in Upper Mustang

Following the trail down to Dhye; the teahouse can
be seen across the river, below the route to Tangge



The bridge itself was a fine example of its kind. New and in excellent condition, a plaque stated that it was built in 2017 and was 171 metres long. It certainly felt like one of the longest spans we’d been on, and it offered a fantastic perspective down the valley. Once across, the very narrow trail down the cliffside was perhaps more challenging than the descent to the bridge – especially with heavy bags – but it was short, probably no more than twenty metres to the valley floor.

A view down the middle of the valley with jagged mountains rising on each side of a wide riverbed, as seen from the suspension bridge before Dhye in Upper Mustang

Crossing the 171 metre long suspension bridge afforded us a great view down the valley



A view down the middle of the valley with jagged mountains rising on each side of a wide riverbed, as seen from the suspension bridge before Dhye in Upper Mustang

Crossing the 171 metre long suspension bridge
afforded us a great view down the valley



We were welcomed warmly by the couple running the small guesthouse and restaurant in Dhye. Well, we say ‘Dhye’, but the original village of Dhye is located around 8-10 km away on a high plateau to the southeast. Due to water shortages, the whole village had to be abandoned and its people moved elsewhere. The new village, called Thangchung, is located a little further down the valley from where this guesthouse sits, just before meeting the Kali Gandaki Valley and close to the confluence of the two rivers. An international effort was helping provide water for drinking and irrigation, as well as a hydropower unit, school and health centre. And with the help of a French organisation, they were using experimental apple growing techniques to develop an income for the community.

Backpacks propped against the faded whitewashed wall of the Dhye Riverside Teahouse

The not so whitewashed guesthouse at Dhye blending with the landscape



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

The friendly owner



Backpacks propped against the faded whitewashed wall of the Dhye Riverside Teahouse

The not so whitewashed guesthouse at Dhye


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

The friendly owner served a mean Dal Bhat



The Dhye Riverside Hotel was a single whitewashed block, although its weathered exterior was certainly no longer white, more closely matching the browns of the surrounding landscape. A table was set up outside with items for sale: apples and various trinkets, including some interesting looking masks. The French group had stopped too, but only for tea and snacks. Their team of guides had packed lunch for them to have later on the trail. This worked in our favour and we didn’t wait long for our Dal Bhat to arrive, enjoying two delicious helpings in the sunny courtyard.

As mentioned above, we’ve seen reports that this restaurant/guesthouse is closed. Whether that’s still true now we don’t know. A knowledgeable guide or trekking agency should be able to provide information on this. It’s also a good idea to ask locally, but expect it to certainly be closed around the winter season.

After lunch we said goodbye and began the long, but not particularly tough climb. The gradual incline of the trail stopped it being too tough, and each time we turned to look back, we were greeted with a succession of great and ever-changing views. The panorama encompassed the valley and new village below, the plateau we’d just crossed, our route to Dhi from the day before, and even the sight of Tsarang and the villages beyond, all the way to Ghar Gompa on the western route. It really helped to put our whole journey in perspective and give us a proper sense of this amazing landscape.

The river and mountain view towards Tsarang from above Dhye on the Upper Mustang trek

This view was made all the more incredible by the fact that we could pinpoint so many different parts of our Upper Mustang trek



The river and mountain view towards Tsarang from above Dhye on the Upper Mustang trek

This view was made all the more incredible
by the fact that we could pinpoint so many
different parts of our Upper Mustang trek



From the pass there was a slightly steep and slippery descent so we had to watch our step, but soon we were down and crossing a bumpy, gullied plateau, passing the French just as they were finishing their packed lunch. We wound our way along the rolling terrain, constantly gaping at the stunning views to our right. The rocks here were a more vivid yellow/orange, the landscape full of dips, curves and cracks. The trail wound its way round a wonderfully sculpted hill before descending to cross a large, almost perfectly flat plateau, looking like it went on forever.

Trekkers on a trail approaching a round orange rock formation with a plateau stretched out into the distance in Upper Mustang

The trail winding round the wind sculpted hill before dropping down to the plateau



Layers of colourful and strangely formed mountains in Upper Mustang

Upper Mustang’s layered landscape



Trekkers on a trail approaching a round orange rock formation with a plateau stretched out into the distance in Upper Mustang

The trail winding round the wind sculpted
hill before dropping down to the plateau


Layers of colourful and strangely formed mountains in Upper Mustang

Upper Mustang’s layered landscape



At the plateau’s edge, a rocky trail led us down to another, smaller plateau where a herd of goats grazed on the sparse vegetation. We barely had any distance to cross before we plunged down through the cliffside, the high-sided rock walls channeling the air and creating a fierce wind tunnel. This part was mercifully short and the wind dropped off completely as soon as we emerged from the tight space and began our final descent to Tangge. A gentle rocky path led us down the sloped side of the valley; below, Tangge was glowing, a golden light filtered through autumnal leaves and reflected from the bright, whitewashed buildings.

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

Descending the long and rocky path down to Tangge



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

Descending the long and rocky path to Tangge



Of the two guesthouses in the village, the French group had already headed to one, so we made our way to the other, the Shambala Hotel. With nobody else on the trail, we were the only guests, getting a good sized room with attached toilet. Our guide was pretty happy to have a room to himself too.

With only so much light left, we dumped our bags in the room and headed back out. Tangge is a remarkable place. Aged chortens with richly toned, ochre spires form the centrepiece of the village, their familiar stripes of orange, white and grey drawing the eye. A distinctive mani wall keeps them company, made with elaborately detailed stones and featuring a time-worn prayer wheel made of yak hide. The tree lined fields complement these cultural treasures perfectly, and the sharp-edged cliffs above provide the perfect backdrop.

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.

One big orange, grey and white striped chorten is surrounded by smaller ones in Tangge, a village on the Eastern Route of the Upper Mustang trek in Nepal.

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

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

One big orange, grey and white striped chorten is surrounded by smaller ones in Tangge, a village on the Eastern Route of the Upper Mustang trek in Nepal.

Tangge’s big chortens


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.

Carved 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 group of chortens overseen by the jagged cliff


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

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



As we wandered the village, two little girls greeted us with “Nama-ju-day”, a variation on ‘Namaste’ that we’d encountered throughout various remote mountainous areas of Nepal.

Curious young girls in the remote village of Tangge, a place to stay on the Eastern Route of the Upper Mustang Trek in Nepal.

The curious girls of Tangge, come to say hello to the strangers in their midst



Curious young girls in the remote village of Tangge, a place to stay on the Eastern Route of the Upper Mustang Trek in Nepal.

The curious girls of Tangge, come to say hello



At the foot of the two big standalone chortens, we stopped to admire a beautiful white mustang horse. Its owner wasted no time in handing us the reins, smiling and gesturing for us to mind his horse while he and his wife gathered the others from the field. Kim took great delight in stroking its incredibly soft hair.

A man in Tangge holds the reigns of his fluffy white Mustang horse next to the village fields.

Having a little chat with his soft and fluffy white horse



A portrait of a smiling, friendly man in the village of Tangge, a special place to visit on the Eastern Route of the Upper Mustang Trek in Nepal.

Happy for us to mind his horse



A man in Tangge holds the reigns of his fluffy white Mustang horse next to the village fields.

Having a little chat with his fluffy white horse


A portrait of a smiling, friendly man in the village of Tangge, a special place to visit on the Eastern Route of the Upper Mustang Trek in Nepal.

Happy for us to mind his horse



Back at the guesthouse we spent the next couple of hours hanging out with the owner’s little girl, seemingly entertaining each other in equal measure. At one point, two women from the community women’s group came round looking for donations. They were collecting money for various local projects and we were happy to help. Upon entering our details and donation amount in their ledger, the list of French names above told us they’d already been to the other guesthouse.

A fun loving young girl, the daughter at one of Tangge's guesthouses, takes great delight in playing with salt and pepper shakers.

This girl knew how to have fun with pretty much anything



A fun loving young girl, the daughter at one of Tangge's guesthouses, takes great delight in playing with salt and pepper shakers.

This girl could have fun with pretty much anything



We’d had a plate of veg momos in the inner courtyard/dining area to keep us going, but when it came time to eat dinner, we were beckoned into the big kitchen. By this time the girl’s older brother had come home, but at maybe 10 years old, he was less interested in the strangers in his house. Their mother made sure we were well fed, and after dinner, took our breakfast and packed lunch orders for the next day. Facing a long journey, we would be getting up in the dark, having an early breakfast, and hitting the trail at daybreak. With that in mind we made sure to be as prepared as possible, going to bed hoping for a deep and restful sleep.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 10
~
TANGGE – CHHUSANG

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 10

TANGGE – CHHUSANG

DISTANCE

24.5 km

ELEVATION

3340 – 4200 – 2980 m

TIME

10 hours (total)

8 hours 30 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Braka Hotel
Twin Room w/bathroom
500 NPR


The longest day.

From a trekking standpoint, the three day eastern route is the most physically challenging aspect of any Upper Mustang trek itinerary. And with each day the demands are more pronounced: greater changes in elevation, longer hours, and further to travel. This combined with the fact that there are minimal facilities along the way, makes it easy to understand why many guides and trekking agencies prefer to stick to the more well trodden route. But, you don’t have to be spectacularly fit, the challenges are not insurmountable, and the rewards speak for themselves – nowhere else in Upper Mustang can you trek through such unspoilt and incredible landscapes.

On this day from Tangge to Chhusang, the lengthy trek involves around 1500 metres of total elevation gain and 1900 metres of total elevation loss. But unlike the previous day’s ups and downs, this day is all about one big climb, a long undulating ridge trail, and a final steep descent.  From Tangge, a long climb to the first pass takes around 3-4 hours. The trail then dips and rises for an hour or two before reaching the highest point, then carries on without any great changes in elevation. Around two hours before Chhusang, the path starts to gently descend. When the descent begins in earnest, it comes in three parts. The first is the steepest and care is needed on loose rocks underfoot. A plateau is followed by a less steep descent, followed by another plateau, followed by the final and easiest part of the downhill trail.

There is nowhere to get food on the trail so you need to carry enough to last the day. It’s a good idea to have enough water too. There may be spring water at Pa – not long after the end of the big climb – but don’t rely on it.

Our alarm woke us well before dawn on what was our tenth day in Upper Mustang. If things had followed the original itinerary we would still be asleep, lying in bed in a Chhusang guesthouse. But instead, despite the early hour, we were out of bed and excited to be starting on one of the most spectacular days of the whole trek.

As is often the case, Kim struggled to eat so early in the morning and could only manage half her breakfast. Not so me. In preparation for the big day, I demolished two bowls of Tsampa porridge, two boiled eggs, and a whole round of Tibetan bread. By six thirty we were ready to go, and soon after, we left Tangge with the first light of day.

A dawn view of the riverside village of Tangge

Tangge was shrouded in shadow, but we could easily make out the trail we’d arrived on the day before, descending from the wall of the plateau



A dawn view of the riverside village of Tangge

Tangge was shrouded in shadow, but we could
easily make out the trail we’d arrived on the day
before, descending from the wall of the plateau



The trail led us over a suspension bridge, round the hillside, and down to cross the wide stony riverbed, all still in shadow on the valley floor. We hopped over icy stones to cross the narrow stream, then climbed a short, steep trail cut into the cliffside. Before long, we were on an open hillside bathed in sunshine and the layers were coming off.

It was around 800 metres from the valley floor up to the pass – the longest single climb we’d done on the trek – but it had plenty of variety to keep things interesting. Steeper sections were mixed with more gradual parts, almost like broken up plateaus or gently sloping valleys. Turning round, sometimes we had expansive views of the landscape below; at other times the trail wound inward or cut through narrow gorges so that our view was obstructed.

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

More great views on this eastern route of the Upper Mustang trek as we continued the big ascent from Tangge



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

More fantastic views on this eastern route
of the Upper Mustang trek, as we continued
the big ascent to the pass from Tangge



The pass was hidden throughout most of the climb, a series of false ‘summits’ giving way to yet more climbing. But, a little more than three hours after leaving Tangge, we finally reached it. The village was now just a collection of dots, and to our amazement, we were still able to pick out Tsarang two or three valleys beyond.

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

Looking back from the pass, Tangge was now a tiny speck far below, and the full extent of the sloping plateau could really be appreciated



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

Looking back from the pass, Tangge was now a
tiny speck far below, and the full extent of the
sloping plateau could really be appreciated



It was time to take the bags off, enjoy the views, and munch down a snickers or two. We had more or less kept pace with the French group the whole way, so it was busy as everyone took time to rest and snap a few photos. They didn’t stop for long though and were back on the trail before us, but their head guide hung back for a quick smoke and a chat. We’d seen him smoke a few times, but never in front of his ‘guests’ – yet another sign of his level of professionalism.

Two trekkers smiling for a photo at the top of a mountain pass in Upper Mustang, surrounded by prayer flags

Time for a rare Going The Whole Hogg photo op beneath the weatherworn prayer flags at the pass



Two trekkers smiling for a photo at the top of a mountain pass in Upper Mustang, surrounded by prayer flags

Time for a rare Going The Whole Hogg photo op
beneath the weatherworn prayer flags at the pass



Back on the trail, the path sloped down from the pass before following an undulating course and winding into a narrow valley towards the abandoned settlement of Pa. From here the trail curved westward, climbing steadily, before heading in a roughly southwesterly direction. Finding ourselves in more open terrain, we cut across a gently inclined slope populated by countless thorny bushes, while the outward views continued to reveal more canyons, layers and sandy hues among the hard-edged landscape. Continuing on, we made good time on the gentle and easy path, at some point passing the highest point of the day (around 4200 m).

The ruined remains of the abandoned village of Pa, surrounded by brown, orange and grey coloured mountains on the Upper Mustang trekking trail from Tangge to Chhusang

The remains of stone buildings at Pa; in the far distance, the road can be seen cutting into the mountainside where we trekked on Days 2 & 3



The ruined remains of the abandoned village of Pa, surrounded by brown, orange and grey coloured mountains on the Upper Mustang trekking trail from Tangge to Chhusang

The remains of stone buildings at Pa; in the far
distance, the road can be seen cutting into the
mountainside where we trekked on Days 2 & 3



Thinking about lunch, we were on the lookout for a good spot. At the top of a slight rise, we saw the perfect place just below, a circular grassy patch free of rocks and bushes. Unfortunately the French group had beat us to it, and as we didn’t want to impose, we backed up over the hill to eat our chapatis and boiled eggs trailside. The wind had picked up a bit, and although not too bad, it was persistent. Sheltering behind a bush, we tried not to let our eggshell fly everywhere. After forcing down a fairly dry lunch, we picked ourselves up and got back on the trail, knowing we still had a long way to go.

For the next couple of hours we were treated to a succession of truly breathtaking vistas. Following the ridgeline, we often had views in every direction: close to the trail, golden sandy coloured rocks burst from the bush-dotted slopes; in the distance, a wall of mountains dominated the skyline; and in between, deep crevasses displayed the many layers of this ancient seabed with bright, vivid, sunlit colours.

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

Following this ridgeline trail, we had a succession of great views and felt far removed from the unpleasant realities of the Upper Mustang road


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

Following this ridgeline trail, we had a succession
of outstanding views and felt far removed from the
unpleasant realities of the Upper Mustang road



At times the trail narrowed hair-raisingly, a gap either side channeling the wind and making the heart race, but also revealing yet more stunning alienesque topography. Other times, over to the west, we could just make out places we’d passed through on the route north. Once or twice we even spotted the telltale clouds of dust that marked the road construction. Thinking back to those early days when we’d walked on that road and looked east, marvelling at the landscape but feeling distant from it, our experiences then and now could not be more different.

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

A gap in the ridge revealed these fabulously layered rock pinnacles and mountain ridges to the east, one of the views of our Upper Mustang trek



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

A gap in the ridge revealed these fabulously layered
rock pinnacles and mountain ridges to the east, one
of the views of our entire Upper Mustang trek



Eventually the descent began, nothing too steep at first; a wide stony slope gave way to a sandy and windswept landscape, where only the most sheltered bushes could survive. We’d heard reports of fierce winds on the descent to Chhusang, but for us, conditions were not too bad. Beyond the ribbed curvature of the bare terrain, we could see the Kali Gandaki, a shimmering ribbon far below.

A hazy late afternoon view down over Chhusang village in Upper Mustang from the mountains high above

As the trail curved around the wind blasted slope, we could see Chhusang on the valley floor, still around 800 metres below



A hazy late afternoon view down over Chhusang village in Upper Mustang from the mountains high above

As the trail curved around the wind blasted
slope, we could see Chhusang on the valley
floor, still around 800 metres below



Cutting through and round the ridge, a view of the Gyu La was revealed, beyond which lay Muktinath and the Annapurna Circuit. A steep drop-off to our left motivated us to hug the inner slope as we followed the curved path to the right. Beyond this, the steep descent began.

Pack mules and their handler traversing a narrow trail around a mountain in Upper Mustang

A final view from the precarious trail before following the mules down into the steepest section of the descent to Chhusang



Pack mules and their handler traversing a narrow trail around a mountain in Upper Mustang

A final view from the precarious trail before
following the mules down the steep descent



The path plunged in a series of short, uneven switchbacks through a narrow gorge. The ground was a mixture of loose gravelly sand, small stones, and larger stones which rolled easily. We took our time, feeling the weight of our bags and the tiredness in our legs. Emerging from the rocky defile, we continued to step with care as we negotiated similar ground on the open hillside, but before long, we were down, stretching our legs on the welcome plateau. We could see some of the French group just up ahead, giving us a little boost to know we weren’t too far behind.

A lone trekker crossing a rocky high plateau above Chhusang in Upper Mustang

Such a pleasure to stride across this expansive sloping plateau after focusing on the steep trail just before



A lone trekker crossing a rocky high plateau above Chhusang in Upper Mustang

Such a pleasure to stride across this expansive
plateau after focusing on the steep trail before



The next part of the descent was still steep although less so, and rather than a switchback trail, the path was a single long line down to the second plateau. There was a bit more depth to the stony sand, allowing us to pick up the pace a little. The valley lay in shadow below, but light striking down from the mountains turned the slope around us a tawny gold.

After crossing the final plateau, we were in shadow too, and the twilight tones of the valley presented a far less colourful picture than the one we’d seen ten days before. The final short slope down was the easiest yet, the deep sandy gravel meaning we could plunge heel first all the way to the bottom. Still, it was a relief to finally reach level ground, and after dropping nine hundred metres in ninety minutes, we shifted our jelly legs onto the road and walked into Chhusang. 

Trekkers descending a steep trail towards a plateau above the Kali Gandaki gorge in Upper Mustang

Getting closer; negotiating the long trail down to the second plateau, with Chhusang just below



Trekkers descending a steep trail towards a plateau above the Kali Gandaki gorge in Upper Mustang

Getting closer; negotiating the long trail down
to the second plateau, with Chhusang just below



Crossing the river to the southern part of town, we bypassed our previous lunch place and checked into the extremely comfortable Braka Guesthouse. We ended up with a triple room, complete with a recently installed modern bathroom, and the comfiest beds we’d had since starting on the Manaslu Circuit more than thirty days before.

Kim decided to get cleaned up but I was too tired to care. Throwing on my evening gear, I headed up to the kitchen area and got stuck into a beer while looking through some photos from the day, and when Kim joined me, we moved next door to the dining room to wait for our meal. The place was busy with a German trekking group, seemingly on an expensive, all inclusive tour – their dinner was being prepared by their own staff in a separate kitchen outside. Before eating they were all served steaming hot towels, and when the food arrived, each dish was on a gleaming platter, covered to keep it hot. Having just spent three days in the remote east, the whole thing struck us as bizarre to say the least.

We didn’t last long after dinner. The exertions of the last few days had taken their toll and the large glass of local rakshi had put the final nail in my particular coffin. Heading back to the room, we set up a few items to charge and crashed out on those oh so comfortable beds, with one final, unexpected day in Upper Mustang still to go.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK: DAY 11
~
CHHUSANG – KAGBENI

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

DAY 11

CHHUSANG – KAGBENI

DISTANCE

12 km

ELEVATION

2980 – 2810 m

TIME

3 hours 30 minutes (total)

3 hours 15 minutes (walking)

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel Shangri-La
Twin Room w/bathroom
300 NPR


Retracing our steps to Kagbeni.

The final day from Chhusang to Kagbeni retraces the route from the first. If missed on the journey north, we recommend coming off the road at Tangbe to wander the village’s atmospheric streets. There are many chortens and much of the village is painted in those familiar colours of orange, white and grey. The narrow lanes and mudbrick buildings are reminiscent of those seen in Lo Manthang itself. For more of a challenge, an alternative trekking route is to head up over the Gyu La (4077 m) and finish in Muktinath.

If you have no wish to walk any further, it is possible to get transport to Kagbeni/Jomsom for this part of the journey, either in the form of a jeep or bus. There are no set schedules with vehicles usually leaving when full.

It was a strange feeling as we left Chhusang. In some ways, it felt like our Upper Mustang trek had already ended. The three day eastern route had been everything we were missing – from a trekking perspective that is. Now, back on the road with its accompanying jeeps, buses and motorbikes, it felt like the spell was broken. Kim was in reasonably good spirits, but speaking for myself, the couple of drinks I’d had the night before had been a bit premature. It hadn’t been much, but it was enough to push me from tiredness to exhaustion.

Just a few kilometres beyond Chhusang, Tangbe was a welcome distraction. It had an appealingly rustic quality that reminded us of all the settlements we’d appreciated in Upper Mustang. The chortens had that worn and aged quality, and we once more relished the opportunity to wander among boldly striped walls. And with only villagers going about their business, there was also an entirely local feel to the place. The road may be just twenty metres above, but getting lost among these shadowy lanes, you would be forgiven for thinking it was much further.

A trekker walking through a prayer wheel tunnel in the Upper Mustang village of Tangbe.

Old tunnels, prayer wheels and chortens in the village of Tangbe



A trekker walking up a narrow lane between mudbrick buildings in the Upper Mustang village of Tangbe.

Winding Tangbe streets



A trekker walking through a prayer wheel tunnel in the Upper Mustang village of Tangbe.

Old tunnels, prayer wheels and chortens in Tangbe


A trekker walking up a narrow lane between mudbrick buildings in the Upper Mustang village of Tangbe.

Winding Tangbe streets



From Tangbe we followed the same route as before, taking the trail where possible. We passed a few large groups coming the other way, trekking tours with teams of porters carrying everything imaginable. Only one week into November, it seemed there was plenty of life left in the trekking season yet. We continued to enjoy the views, but the excitement of that first day was gone, and after a few hours, were both happy to lay eyes on Kagbeni. Pleased to get our previous room at the Hotel Shangri-La, we had Veg Thukpa for lunch, did our laundry, and headed out to spend a little more time in one of our favourite places.

The town of Kagbeni, the start and end point of the Upper Mustang trek, juts out into the Kali Gandaki Gorge.

The welcome sight of Kagbeni, one of the most interesting towns in the Nepal Himalaya



The town of Kagbeni, the start and end point of the Upper Mustang trek, juts out into the Kali Gandaki Gorge.

The welcome sight of Kagbeni, one of the most
interesting towns in the Nepal Himalaya



Back on the Annapurna Circuit, our 35 day Nepal trek wasn’t over yet – we still had a trip to Marpha before catching our flight from Jomsom to Pokhara. But, our Upper Mustang trek was well and truly done.

UPPER MUSTANG TREK

Well, that was our Upper Mustang trek. If you stayed with us to the end, thanks for reading. As you will have gathered, it was a journey which both exasperated and astonished us. We were hugely impressed by the unique landscapes and greatly valued our experiences in the towns and villages, but the road construction and lack of care for the environment often put a real downer on things. It took some time to properly think through our experience, to make sense of both the highs and the lows, but once we did, we recognised it for what it was –  a journey that although far from perfect, was in the end, one that we very much appreciated.

During the trek and after, we debated whether or not the 500 USD permit was worth it, but in the end this probably misses the point. Putting aside the question of where the money goes, or whether it benefits Upper Mustang communities as it was supposed to (everything indicates that it doesn’t), what it really comes down to is planning your trip properly. We didn’t. We relied on our trekking agency to plan an itinerary, and as we’ve discussed at length, that was an itinerary that missed out the best trekking route. It is entirely possible to have a great Upper Mustang trek, but it’s also possible to have a bad one. So if you are willing to pay the price, make sure you get it right.

On that note, we’ve written a thoroughly detailed trekking guide to Upper Mustang, with everything you need to know to properly plan your trip. Watch this space – we’ll be publishing it very soon.

So what do you think, would you like to trek in Upper Mustang? Maybe you’ve done it before? Share any thoughts and questions with us in the comments below.

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