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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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