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.
Fancy an Upper Mustang trek yourself? Our complete Upper Mustang Trekking Guide has everything you need to know to plan your own trip.
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. Tap the menu button at the top left for more details, to toggle layers on and off, and switch between satellite and terrain view.
HOW TO SAVE THIS MAP (ONLINE VERSION)
To save this map to use online on desktop or mobile just tap the star symbol at the top. When you open Google Maps on your phone, navigate to ‘Saved’ at the bottom, then swipe along to ‘Maps’ at the top. You’ll find this map in your list of maps.
On desktop, click the three lines at the top left, select ‘Your Places’, then ‘Maps’. Click the map, then scroll down and select ‘Open in My Maps’ to access the interactive version.
Alternatively, just tap the rectangle symbol at the top right of the map in this blog post to view the My Maps version larger on desktop.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to view this version of the map offline, but we’ve created a similar version for offline use as per below.
HOW TO SAVE THIS MAP (OFFLINE VERSION)
Maps.me is our go-to offline mapping app. We find it straightforward to use for planning routes in advance, as well as navigating on the trail. It doesn’t drain our phone battery, and it’s quick and easy to save and organise ‘bookmarks’. There are many trails already marked on Maps.me, plus you can download and import a KML track of your route to the app.
To use Maps.me, first download the app (iOS/Android). Hover over the region or country that you want to visit and the app will prompt you to download this map. Once downloaded, it can be viewed offline.
You can tap anywhere and save it as a ‘bookmark’ by tapping the star symbol at the bottom. Hit ‘Edit Bookmark’ to personalise the bookmark colour, organise your bookmarks into different folders, and rename them.
You can navigate easily or plan routes in advance by tapping your start point and selecting ‘route from’, then tapping your end point and selecting ‘route to’. Tap the car, walking, or cycling symbol at the top of the screen to indicate your mode of travel. If you want to plot a different route to the one suggested by Maps.me, just tap a third (or fourth, fifth, etc.) bookmark between the start and end points and select ‘add stop’.
Maps.me shows the distance and travel time, plus elevation profiles for hiking trails. Note that the estimated time isn’t always reliable, but we’ve always found the distance and elevation gain/loss to be largely accurate. It only shows very basic contour lines.
You can track your progress on the trail using GPS. The arrow shows your direction of travel. Tap the compass at the top right of the screen to keep the map in a fixed position (the arrow will rotate). Alternatively, tap the arrow at the bottom right of the screen to rotate the map in the direction of travel (the arrow will stay in a fixed position).
Gaia (iOS/Android) is another offline mapping app that is very useful. It shows the contours in much more detail than Maps.me, as long as you have previously viewed the section of map online. With a paid membership you can download various maps in advance for offline use. The app has existing OpenStreetMap trails marked and you can import GPX tracks and view them offline. You can also create new routes online yourself and export them as GPX or KML files. You can navigate easily on the trail using the arrow that shows your GPS location. Unlike with Maps.me, it isn’t possible to quickly check distances between two points (or at least we haven’t figured out a way to do it). There are a lot of useful features in the free version and even more benefits if you have a paid annual membership, so if you spend a lot of time outdoors it is worthwhile learning how to use the app to its full advantage.
In our experience, Gaia drains your phone battery much quicker than Maps.me, even in flight mode, so it’s best to shut down the app completely each time you finish using it.
OsmAnd Maps (iOS/Android) is another great offline mapping app with lots of useful features. In our opinion, it’s not as intuitive as Maps.me, and it has so many features that it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Like Gaia, we recommend checking out the written and video tutorials on the OsmAnd website to learn how to fully use the app. The benefits of the app include being able to plot routes in advance and save them as GPX tracks, and to view detailed elevation and terrain information, including surface types. You can also import GPX tracks. One downside is that the free version does not include contour lines, but these can be added via a paid plugin.