Nepal – The ancient Kingdom of Lo

The ancient Himalayan kingdom of Lo in Upper Mustang with its walled villages, wind eroded, arid mountains and high wall caves is one of the most remarkable places in Nepal. We went on a 10-day trek to Lo Manthang`s Tiji Festival and found the journey to get there as interesting as the festival.

For details on the trek click here.

The area of Upper Mustang is in northern Nepal bordering Tibet. The villagers are of Tibetan heritage and have maintained their Tibetan traditions. To get to Mustang, we flew from the mountain town of Pokhara to the small town of Jomsom. Our trek began from the Jomsom airport and followed the deep Kali Gandaki (River) Valley for the first 2 days. Mustang is in the rain shadow of the Annapurna Mountain Range and is therefore very arid. As far as we could see were brown, barren mountains and a near dry river bed. We passed many hoodoos of rock pinnacles and mountains with interesting features made from years of erosion by the strong afternoon winds.

The Kali Gandaki river valley
The Kali Gandaki river valley
The village of Tangby below weather worn mountains
The village of Tangby below weather worn mountains
Wind worn rock features on the Upper Mustang trek
Wind worn rock features on the Upper Mustang trek

Every 10 kilometers or so we saw an oasis in the desert. Green fields of wheat, barley, buckwheat and potatoes along with willow and apple trees surround small ancient villages. The first 3 villages we visited were Kagbeni, Tangby and Chele. These old towns felt like medieval villages. The mud houses are built condo-style with shared walls and roofs between homes and doors leading out to the maze of narrow sidewalks.  The flat roofs are covered in dried branches and are a sign of wealth. There are a few open courtyards that now have communal taps for villagers to collect cooking water, bathe or do laundry. Calling the villages rustic is a large understatement.

Oasis town of Kagbeni with the Dhaulagiri Range behind
Oasis town of Kagbeni with the Dhaulagiri Range behind
View of Annapurna Range from Upper Mustang trail
View of Annapurna Range from Upper Mustang trail
Typical homes of Kagbeni
Typical homes of Kagbeni
The narrow streets in Kagbeni
The narrow streets in Kagbeni
Typical house in Kagbeni
Typical house in Kagbeni
Protector of Kagbeni
Protector of Kagbeni
Laundry day in Kagbeni
Laundry day in Kagbeni
A 'Namaste' from this little girl in Kagbeni
A ‘Namaste’ from this little girl in Kagbeni
Streets in the village of Tangby
Streets in the village of Tangby
The village of Chele
The village of Chele
The village of Chele
The village of Chele
Buddhist prayer wheels in the village of Chele
Buddhist prayer wheels in the village of Chele
The oasis village of Chele
The oasis village of Chele
The oasis village of Chele below with the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Ranges in the background
The oasis village of Chele below with the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Ranges in the background

Further along in our trek, the villages had more room to grow crops and spread out but still provided the oasis feel in the brown landscape. The higher we trekked we also had more amazing mountain views.

The Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Ranges from Chele La (Pass)
The Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Ranges from Chele La (Pass)
Village of Charang
Village of Charang
Village on the Upper Mustang trek
Village on the Upper Mustang trek
Pack mules above the village of Ghemi
Pack mules above the village of Ghemi
The village of Ghemi
The village of Ghemi
The Dhaulagiri Range seen from the Upper Mustang trek
The Dhaulagiri Range seen from the Upper Mustang trek
The Dhaulagiri Range seen from the Upper Mustang trek
The Dhaulagiri Range seen from the Upper Mustang trek

Over the days we trekked higher and higher, crossing many high mountain passes with amazing views of the nearby Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Ranges. The trail also often droped down to cross rivers and gorges only to climb back on the other side. Even though this area is desert like, it snowed overnight on our third night. The fresh snow made the landscape even more stunning for the 4 high passes we crossed that day.

Annapurna Range after snowfall
Annapurna Range after snowfall
Buddhist chorten in front of the snowy Annapurna Range
Buddhist chorten in front of the snowy Annapurna Range
Annapurna Range after a fresh snowfall
Annapurna Range after a fresh snowfall
River valley on the Upper Mustang trek
River valley on the Upper Mustang trek
A deep gorge on the Upper Mustang trek
A deep gorge on the Upper Mustang trek

The Tibetan influence in this area became stronger the further we trekked. The chedis, mani walls, prayer wheels and Gumbas (Monasteries) are elaborately painted and decorated in the typical Upper Mustang colours of red, yellow, black and white.

Buddhist chorten along the Kali Gandaki
Buddhist chorten along the Kali Gandaki
Buddhist chortens in the village of Tangby
Buddhist chortens in the village of Tangby
Buddhist chortens in the village of Tangby
Buddhist chortens in the village of Tangby
Buddhist chortens on the Upper Mustang trek
Buddhist chortens on the Upper Mustang trek
Buddhist chortens on the Upper Mustang trek
Buddhist chortens on the Upper Mustang trek
Buddhist chorten in the village of Chhuksang
Buddhist chorten in the village of Chhuksang
Buddhist structures in the village of Ghemi
Buddhist structures in the village of Ghemi
Entrance to the village of Charang
Entrance to the village of Charang
Stupa and Gumba in Charang
Stupa and Gumba in Charang
Chorten on the Upper Mustang trek
Chorten on the Upper Mustang trek
Buddhist chortens on the Upper Mustang trek
Buddhist chortens on the Upper Mustang trek

Almost every village has at least one Gumba and we visited a few of them. In Kagbeni we attended the morning monk chant (puja). It was different than others we have seen as the monks not only chanted mantras, but also, at times, played oboes, dung chens and bells, and snapped their fingers. Other monasteries had interesting exteriors painted with red, yellow, black and white stripes.  The interiors were very similar to other Buddhist monasteries we visited. We stopped at one old Gumba built into a cave in the village of Chele.

Old Gumba (Monastery) in Kagbeni
Old Gumba (Monastery) in Kagbeni
Gumba in Charang village
Gumba in Charang village
Cave Gumba (Monastery) at Chhuksang
Cave Gumba (Monastery) at Chhuksang
Cave Gumba (Monastery) at Chhuksang
Cave Gumba (Monastery) at Chhuksang

Throughout the trek, we saw many man-made caves high up on the rock walls. Some were used for burials, some for shelters, and all appeared to be impossible to reach. Archaeologists are still not sure how people climbed to the cave entrances.

Caves high above the Kali Gandaki
Caves high above the Kali Gandaki
Caves in the red mountains below Ghar Gumba
Caves in the red mountains below Ghar Gumba

Above the village of Ghemi is a very long mani wall, it is the longest in Nepal. Beyond the mani wall are bright red mountains which made a beautiful contrast to the brown landscape.

Longest Mani Wall in Nepal
Longest Mani Wall in Nepal
The longest mani wall in Nepal as seen from above
The longest mani wall in Nepal as seen from above
Chortens in front of red mountains
Chortens in front of red mountains
Red mountains below Drakmar
Red mountains below Drakmar
Red mountains at the village of Drakmar
Red mountains at the village of Drakmar
Red mountains at the village of Drakmar
Red mountains at the village of Drakmar
Red mountains below Ghar Gumba
Red mountains below Ghar Gumba

Further up the valley, past the town of Drakmar, is the oldest monastery in Nepal and the second oldest in the Himalayas. Ghar Gumba was built in the 8th century after a Guru came to the area from Tibet to slay a demon. The legend says that the long mani wall below the Gumpa is the demon`s intestines and the red rock is it`s blood. The inside of this ancient monastery is very basic but the main room`s stone walls are intricately carved and then painted with hundreds of Buddha figures.

Ghar Gumba
Ghar Gumba
Chortens at Ghar Gumba
Chortens at Ghar Gumba

The first 5 days of the trek took us through interesting landscapes, incredible villages with interesting architecture and past beautifully decorated Buddhist monuments. The Tibetan influence can be seen and has made us excited for Lo Manthang and the Tigi Festival.

Coming up next, Lo Manthang’s Tiji Festival.

For pictures from our Annapurna trek go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGL5XQNaWm8 

For pictures from Richard’s Everest Summit click  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFmsecd6yN0 

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Nepal. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

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