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Upper Mustang Trekking – Journey to Nepal’s Hidden Kingdom

Tucked away behind the 8000m peaks of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges lies Nepal’s ancient Kingdom of Lo. Still referred to as Upper Mustang, this remote trans-Himalayan region near the Tibetan border has only been open to foreign trekkers since 1992. For centuries, the high-altitude desert valleys, painted cave monasteries, and walled capital of Lo Manthang were shrouded in mystery. Today, an Upper Mustang trek remains a surreal adventure into one of the last truly forbidden kingdoms on earth.

The only way to explore this unique region is on foot via a challenging teahouse trek. A limited number of expensive permits, rugged trails, and basic infrastructure keeps Upper Mustang’s ancient way of life preserved. The landscape here resembles the high Tibetan plateau more than the verdant hills of Nepal. Trekking through red and grey cliffs dotted with white-washed villages feels like entering a mystical time warp. Deep-rooted Tibetan Buddhist culture still dominates daily life, evident in the colorful monasteries, prayer flags, and the people themselves. For adventurous souls looking to get far off the tourist trail, the epic journey to Upper Mustang is a dream Himalayan trip.

The Best Time to Trek Upper Mustang

Due to its very high elevation and extreme conditions, Upper Mustang has a narrow trekking window:

Spring (March to May)

– Moderate temperatures, though high passes can still be snow-covered
– Fields and hills dotted with wildflowers in bloom
– Less windy than Autumn

Autumn (October to Mid-December)

– Stable weather with sunny blue skies
– Excellent mountain visibility
– Very cold temperatures especially at night
– Higher chance of strong, icy winds

Avoid Monsoon Season (June to September)

– Heavy rain and landslides can block the trails
– Danger of sudden flooding in streams
– Cloudy skies obscure views

Winter Treks (December to February)

– Possible but only for the very hardy trekkers
– Intense cold of -20 degrees C or lower
– Deep snow can make passes impassable
– Many tea houses remain closed

Permits and Regulations for Upper Mustang Trekking

Upper Mustang was once strictly off-limits, but limited tourism is now allowed here. All foreign trekkers must obtain an expensive permit to enter the Mustang region beyond Kagbeni.

Rules include:

– Special permit required at $500 per person for 10 days minimum stay
– Permit issued only in Kathmandu prior to trek start
– Maximum stay allowed is 15 days
– Solo trekking not allowed
– Permit checkpoints at Kagbeni, Tangge, Chhusang and Lo Manthang

Having a recognized guide will make getting the Upper Mustang permit easier. Given the high costs, difficult terrain and basic facilities, this trek still attracts only the most dedicated adventurers. But the reward of exploring one of Nepal’s last hidden lands makes it worthwhile.

The Classic Upper Mustang Trek Route

The traditional route starts with a flight to Jomsom, the main gateway to Mustang. An alternate option is the longer trek from Beni through the world’s deepest gorge along the Kali Gandaki River.

From Jomsom, the standard loop itinerary is:

Day 1 – Drive from Jomsom to Kagbeni (2800m), mark the entry into Upper Mustang

Day 2 – Trek from Kagbeni to Chele (3050m) via Tangbe village

Day 3 – Chele to Geling (3570m) via Samar

Day 4 – Geling to Charang (3500m) via a high pass and Syangboche

Day 5 – Acclimatize at Charang, explore local villages

Day 6 – Charang to Lo Manthang (3700m)

Day 7 – Rest and explore Lo Manthang

Day 8 – Lo Manthang to Drakmar (3820m) via Ghami

Day 9 – Drakmar to Ghiling (3806m) via the Nyi La pass (4010m)

Day 10 – Ghiling to Chhuksang (3050m)

Day 11 – Chhuksang to Jomsom; fly out

The main highlight is Lo Manthang, the walled capital of the ancient Kingdom of Lo. Take time to tour the medieval palace, centuries-old monasteries and admire the views from the city ramparts. Side hikes can be done to villages like Tingkhar and caves at Chhoyo Thakmar.

Despite being remote, there are basic guesthouses in main villages like Kagbeni, Chele, Ghami, Charang, Lo Manthang, and Chhuksang. Lodges have central dining halls but rooms are primitive with common long-drop toilets. Carry snacks, water filtration and warm sleeping gear.

Is Upper Mustang Trek Difficult?

This is a strenuous high-altitude teahouse trek with the following challenges:

– Harsh, dry, windy climate with extreme temperatures
– Altitude up to 4010m at Nyi La pass
– Basic accommodation and lack of modern facilities
– Long days hiking up to 8 hours over uneven terrain
– Isolated area with little medical assistance
– Limited communication and electricity access
– Permit restrictions and high costs

You need to be in excellent physical shape and have plenty of prior mountain trekking experience. Have proper altitude acclimatization before crossing high passes like Nyi La. Be prepared for very basic conditions in Upper Mustang compared to popular trails like Everest Base Camp.

Travel Tips for an Upper Mustang Trek

To have a safe and successful trek in this remote region, follow these tips:

– Obtain permits early as only limited are issued per day
– Hire an experienced guide familiar with the area
– Have proper insurance coverage
– Travel in spring/autumn; avoid monsoon season
– Follow all permit rules and regulations
– Take enough Nepalese Rupee cash
– Check on peak weather conditions and trail status
– Pack adequate warm layers, waterproof gear etc.
– Carry a comprehensive first-aid kit
– Walk slowly; altitude sickness is a real risk
– Respect local culture and etiquette
– Drink only purified water and be hygienic

Upper Mustang’s Ancient Tibetan Culture

The main allure of this trek is the chance to experience a traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture long vanished in other parts of the Himalayas. Fortified villages, centuries-old monasteries and red rock caves adorned with ancient art exist in a time warp. The language, clothing, festivals and way of life here have barely changed for generations.

Some cultural highlights include:

– Lo Manthang – The walled capital with a Royal Palace dating to 1400s
– Thubchen Gompa – Founded in 1385, contains priceless statues and murals
– Jampa Lakhang – 15th century Buddha temple with exquisite woodcarvings
– Namgyal Gompa – Perched on a hilltop, offers panoramic views
– Chhoyo Thakmar Cave – 10th century cliffside caves painted with deities
– Dhakmar Caves – Impressive cliff caves that served as shelter for locals
– Tingkhar Fort – Small but strategically located fort north of Lo Manthang
– Choni Lakhang – ‘Temple of the Red Cliff’ with sacred statues and art
– Traditional villages like Tsarang, Chhusang, and Chhoyer

The people here trace their roots back to Tibet and continue practicing the ancient pre-Buddhist Bon faith alongside Tibetan Buddhism. Prayer flags flutter across the arid landscape accompanied by the chanting of monks. Trekking through the hidden Kingdom of Lo is literally a walk back through time!


The road less traveled often leads to epic adventures, and Upper Mustang epitomizes this. Trekking here feels like stumbling upon a lost world that modernization forgot. Travel back to the 8th century amidst caves, cliffs and colorful gompas while surrounded by the mighty Himalayas. Come prepared for the challenges of this ultimate off-the-beaten-path teahouse trek to discover Nepal’s hidden Buddhist kingdom. Let Upper Mustang’s mystical charm and warm hospitality win you over like the countless adventurers before.