Upper Mustang is a dry and mountainous area just north of the Annapurna region that encompasses what was once an ancient Tibetan kingdom. Closed in the past, the region was finally opened to foreign trekkers in 1992 in a limited capacity, and today foreign trekkers are still required to obtain a special permit to enter this restricted area. The permit however is well worth it to experience this land like no other. Trekking through Upper Mustang can feel like going back in time to an ancient Tibetan land. Old customs and traditions are alive and well, and many of the villages scattered throughout the region contain centuries-old monasteries and religious structures. Tibetan Buddhism is the primary religion in the region and it is visible in almost everything in Upper Mustang – from the stupas that line every village’s main street to the prayer flags that decorate almost all high passes on the trekking trails. In Upper Mustang, trekkers can experience many aspects of an ancient Tibetan culture, something that is no longer possible in many parts of the world.
Upper Mustang’s main trekking routes lie west of the Kali Gandaki River that runs down the middle of the region. The region is so dry that all of its villages lie either along the river itself or close to its tributaries.
As the region became a more popular travel and trekking destination, guesthouses and lodges were established in villages along the main trail in the west – and that trekking route is possible to do entirely as a teahouse trek. There are fewer lodge and guesthouse options per village than in the Annapurnas or Everest, but these are often equipped with all the necessary basics. In popular trekking periods – namely for the Tiji festival in May – some villages can get full, so many trekkers choose to either bring camping equipment with them as an option or do the whole thing as a camping trek. A new almost-finished road has made access and transportation in this rugged region much easier, and since it runs along the western trekking trails many choose to jeep directly up to Lo Manthang, the region’s capital. In Lo Manthang there are many more lodges to choose from – many equipped with hot showers, wifi, and western toilets. As Upper Mustang becomes more popular, some trekkers are looking for alternative routes. Upper Mustang’s little-known eastern trekking route – leaving from the Muktinath area – is an excellent alternative to the main trekking trail. Mixing camping with teahouse trekking, the trail offers spectacular views and fewer crowds, as well as a stop in the famous Luri Gompa. Though more challenging than the main route, the eastern route is a rugged and adventurous trek almost completely devoid of crowds.
Upper Mustang Post-Earthquake
While the earthquake was devastating for Nepal, the loss of tourism revenue over the next year due to bad press and a political gas crisis were much more severe and cost the country almost four times as much in GDP earnings. Now more than ever Nepal is ready for tourists – and needs them in fact.
Apart from some slight damage to a few buildings in Upper Mustang, the region did not experience extensive damage due to the earthquake. All trekking trails in the Annapurna and Upper Mustang regions were largely unaffected: any damage to the trails has been repaired and the bridges checked. In Upper Mustang both the eastern and western route are ready to receive tourists this fall 2016.
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