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Upper Mustang Overland Tour

Abhishek Subedi June 16, 2020

The Upper Mustang Overland Tour is a perfect leisurely excursion of Upper Mustang that presents a new alternative way of touring the region. It is also ideal for people who are short on time and want to experience the mystical region’s best elements and aspects the quickest way possible. Experience the wonders of Upper Mustang while travelling on a luxurious jeep and see fleeting sights of natural beauty and local people all while seated on a comfortable vehicle. The guided tour through the region includes some of the most stunning and variegated valleys of corroded hills and mountains with spectacular Himalayan views accompanied by rich ethnic villages and far-off isolated settlements on the crevasses and foothills of tall Himals.

The former kingdom of Lo in Upper Mustang is a mesmerizing region that is heavily concentrated with traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture that remains one of the most pure forms of Tibetan Buddhism on the planet that spans millennia and goes back centuries. The Upper Mustang Overland Tour  takes you to various monasteries and Gompas that are located at different settings, and lets you fully immerse yourself in the tale and legends of the region’s history, its present culture and the people’s customs and rituals that are deeply tied to their ancestral traditions and preserved remarkably well till date. Explore the ethereal Ghar Gompa, walk on ancient village surroundings and get to see the Buddhist culture’s beautiful dexterity and artistic integrity closely as you follow the path on your vehicle going from village to village and from one site to the next.

Delve into the religious ambiance of the holy Muktinath Temple and wander around the mystical Luri Caves that are situated on the desert-like terrain that consists of distinctly tall and fascinating rock-formations. Visit monasteries where ancient tantric practices and shamanistic rituals were performed and practiced at ancient times. It is a fun and exciting adventure tour that does not lack in amazing landscape, barren ridges, deep canyons, eroded cliffs and moraine valleys. The Upper Mustang Overland Tour is a one-of-its-kind package that truly captures the beautiful elements of what makes Mustang so appealing and presents them in a comfortable and gracious way. The journey and its many marvelous features are sure to leave you spell-bound. Let yourself enjoy Mustang’s sheltered tranquility and pious sacerdotal Tibetan culture in the best way possible.

Day 1 Kathmandu to Pokhara

The journey starts with the ride to the second largest city of Nepal, Pokhara. The drive presents you the opportunity to see wonderful landscapes of terraced farmlands- green and wet with the sowing of rice and barley by the farmers, the frisky rush of the meandering rivers by the highway and the isolated valleys low- lying among the gargantuan hills and rocky gorges. The journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara takes about 6 hours, and upon arrival at Pokhara, we shall check into a hotel, which the city has an abundance of. In the evening, you shall be able to enjoy the respite of a beautiful boat-ride at Fewa Lake and on a clear day, you can see the lucid reflection of Mount Machhapuchhre and the Annapurna Range on the crystalline surface of water as well. 

Day 2 Pokhara to Kagbeni

A beautiful drive to Kagbeni commences in the morning, where the journey is filled with amazing landscapes. The village of Kagbeni is located in the valley of the Kali Gandaki River and it is usually the entry point to Mustang. That is why Kagbeni is also called the main gate to Upper Mustang. Kagbeni used to be a check post for traders in Nepal. There is a checkpoint at Kagbeni that controls groups departing for Muktinath and Mustang. Trekkers are required to show their permits here for further entry.  As you drive further into Kagbeni, you will notice the difference in the change of the landscape from lush green winding hills to hills that become consistently barren and ashy white.

Upper Mustang Overland Tour

The Tibetan culture and its features also become quite prominent at Kagbeni, and it feels more and more like Tibet itself. The village of Kagbeni is designed as a fortress town, and was quite important during the famous salt trade times between Tibet and Nepal. Upon arriving at Kagbeni, you can wander around the village’s cobbled streets laden with prayer wheels on the walls of the chortens and small Gompas. At Kagbeni, you can also visit “the Red Monastery” that has red washed walls and is a giant block of a building built around 1429. The village’s solidarity is felt on the dry watered-grey color of its environment and the highly oxidized hills.

Day 3 Kagbeni to Tsarang

Driving from Kagbeni to Tsarang is the journey of white hills and a terrain that resembles the badlands. Tsarang lies just south of the walled town of Lomanthang- the capital of the Kingdom of Mustang. It is made up of several buildings and structures outlined with numerous stupa structures, a monastery and a Dzong (fortress). Upon your arrival at this beautiful village, you will visit the monastery at the village. The monastery’s inner walls are painted with murals depicting the deities of the Medicine Buddha Mandala. These depictions and rituals of the Medicine Buddha are special objects of devotion in the Kingdom of Mustang and can be found in the temples of almost every Mustang village.

Upper Mustang Overland Tour

Day 4 Tsarang to Hike to Luri Cave

From Tsarang, you will have a hike to the Luri Cave. The Luri Gompa lies south-east of Lomanthang and is considered an ancient cave system that has very little known about its establishment. The Luri Cave is pitted with sandstone cliffs and bluffs fluted by wind and weather into fantastical formations, like serried, tapered pillars or organ pipes. These cliffs are pitted with caves, and such a cave forms the inner sanctum of the Luri Gompa, a small jewel of Buddhist art. The Luri Gompa is a Cave Monastery that sits high above the crumbling landscape like an eagle’s nest.

 It is also sometimes referred to as “the Sky Cave”. One of the last cave monasteries in Lomanthang and Tibet, the Luri Gompa has no written records that exist regarding its construction. Covered with a red wash, perched on a ledge on a one hundred-meter high cliff, the Gompa stands out against the sand and bone-colored sandstone pillars. Affiliated with the Kagyu sect of Buddhism, the Gompa dates all the way back to the13th to 14th century. 

Upper Mustang Overland Tour

A part of the Luri Gompa is visible from the valley below; its mud-brick superstructure perched on a ledge on one of the sandstone pillars. At first, it seems like the entrance to the cave is obtained only by scaling the pillar itself, but a winding footpath climbs one hundred meters to a door in a lower cave, inside which is a notched log that climbs to the Gompa itself. The treasures of the Gompa lie in its inner chambers that are hollowed-out or enlarged rooms with smooth walls. Natural light trickles in through a small window, making the space look ethereal. After exploring the cave, you will be returning back to Tsarang.

Day 5 Tsarang to Lomanthang

From here your journey will set off to the capital of the Mustang Kingdom Lomanthang. You will get a chance to indulge in the scenic views of beautifully unique acreages of badland- like terrain with high corroded hills. Once you arrive at Lo Manthang, you can explore the village on foot. Lo Manthang has a lot to explore and offers a marvelous taste of Tibetan Buddhist tradition and custom that is considered one of the best preserved traditions on the planet. Occupied by ethnic Lhoba and Bon people, Lo Manthang is noted for its tall white washed mud brick walls, Gompas and the Raja’s Palace- a nine-cornered, five story structure built around 1400. You will visit Lo Manthang’s monasteries, the King’s palace as well as many other places of significance. 

Upper Mustang Overland Tour

Particularly, there are four major temples at this area; the Jampa Lhakhang or the Jampa Gompa- the oldest, built in the early 15th century and also known as the ”God House”. The Thubchen Gompa- a huge, red assembly hall and gompa built in the late 15th century and located just southwest of the Jampa Gompa.  The Chodey Gompa- now the main city gompa; and the Choprang Gompa which is popularly known as the New Gompa. Recently, a series of at least twelve caves were discovered north of Annapurna near the villages as well, decorated with ancient Buddhist paintings and set in sheer cliffs at 14,000 feet elevation.

Day 6 Lo Manthang and Explore the Chosar Cave and the Chosar Village and Return back to Tsarang

You will walk from here to Chosar Village. The Chosar village is a quaint village of stone walls and bone white hills. While here, you can visit the Chosar caves. From Lomanthang, the canyon trail continues past dry gullies to the ancient ruined fortress, across a bridge through small cultivated areas to reach Chosar. You can get the sight of the deep red Nyphu Gompa at chosar. The Gompa looks like the rock face with an elegant architectural manifestation. 

Upper Mustang Overland Tour

The ethereal white-washed hills that surround the village looks like they have been carved out of petrified milk and fudge. A range of spectacular mountains mark the border with Tibet in the foreground, and small gurgling streams like the trail. The valley itself used to be the main trading point and lay on the trading route between Tibet and Lhasa and Chosar is peppered with the ruins of old fortresses strategically guarding the valley. After exploring around the village and the Chosar caves, you will drive back to Tsarang.

Day 7 Hike to Ghar Gompa and return back to Tsarang

On this day, you will be hiking to the famous Ghar Gompa from Tsarang. It lies approximately 3 hours away from Tsarang and is the oldest monastery in Mustang. The monastery dates back to the 8th century and was built by Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The Gompa is said to cover the heart of Balmo, the ogress conquered by Guru Rinpoche after a mythical battle in the 8th century. It lies just past the settlement of Lo Gekar.

Upper Mustang Overland Tour

Ghar Gompa is decorated magnificently with paintings that display intricate stories and legends of Gods and Demons. The entrance of the Gompa is flanked by the Four Guardian Kings and the inside of the gompa is filled with excellent painted carved stones and statues of Guru Rinpoche, Palden Lhamo on horseback and Vajrapani. There are many Tsa Tsa carvings as well surrounding the prayer wheels on the side of Ghar Gompa. After exploring around the Gompa, we will then hike back to Tsarang.

Day 8 Tsarang to Chhusang

A pleasant drive from Tsarang to Chhusang is a matter of more desert-like terrain with frequent dotting of colorfully corroded hills. A village located between Tangbe and Chele, Chhusang lies at the junction of Narsingha River and the Kali Gandaki. Surrounded by gigantic red, orange and silvery grey cliffs spotted with cave dwellings, the village of Chhusang consists of three different hamlets. An active farming community, the hamlets of the Narsingha River are used for irrigation. Much like the rest of Mustang, Chhusang has a very strong Tibetan influenced society blending with Nepali culture.

Upper Mustang Overland Tour

Still untouched and isolated, it remains secluded and flourishes in the perseverance of its tradition. The people here are very slowly moving towards modernization. Till a few years ago, the only way to get to Chhu Song was on foot and the only way to transport goods was by pony or yak caravans. Life is peaceful and serene at the village and moves on slowly like it has always done over the years. You can explore the village and see sights of amazing rock formations. 

Day 9 Chhusang to Muktinath

Driving to Muktinath includes a journey that is speckled with a sparse green of light vegetation on frequent intervals along the road. En route to Muktinath, you will also stop to visit the Jarkot Monastery. You will have a great time exploring the Muktinath temple, which is one of the most famous highlights of the region. Muktinath is a sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists located in Muktinath Valley at an altitude of 3,710 meters at the foot of the Thorung La mountain pass. Muktinath’s literal translation in Hindu means ”the Place of Liberation or Moksha”. Although the temple of Muktinath has a Vaishnava origin, it is also revered in Buddhism.

Upper Mustang Overland Tour

 For Tibetan Buddhists, Muktinath is a very important place of Dakinis, goddesses known as “Sky Dancers”, and the temple is one of the 24 Tantric places. The small temple of Muktinath contains a human-sized golden statue of Lord Vishnu as Shree Mukti Narayana. In addition to the statue, the temple also has a bronze image of BhooDevi (The Earth-Goddess form of Lakshmi), the Goddess Saraswati and the princess Janaki (Sita). Statues of Garuda (the mount of Lord Vishnu) are also present. The statue of Lava-Kusa, the sons of Lord Rama and Sita are beautifully sculpted and present a daringly haunting ambiance to the temple. You can also explore the wall of 108 faucets behind the temple that spouts ice-cold water of the Kali Gandaki River from bull-headed mouths.

Day 10 Muktinath to Pokhara

Now he will drive back to Pokhara leaving behind the gentry of rocky hills. The winding road back presents changing terrains and fascinating landscapes of layered moulds and rice plantations. Contrasting colors of the land under the blue sky present a melancholic feel to the journey.

Day 11 Pokhara to Kathmandu Valley

It is time to bid farewell to the Pokhara valley and take a bus ride back to the Kathmandu valley. You can enjoy the beautiful landscapes, river valleys and clear sky through the window of the bus before reaching the city. 

This tour let you explore the beautiful gompas, monasteries and stupas of the Mustang. It also provides an opportunity to experience the ancient Tibetan tradition, rituals, culture and religion. 

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