Mustang: The Ancient Hidden Kingdom of Nepal

The word ‘Mustang’ is derived from a Tibetan word möntang, meaning ‘plain of aspiration’. It conjures up ideas of remoteness and seclusion, a region lost amongst the mountains. Carrying a rich history, with unproven claims of the caves throughout the region to be dated back to thousands of years ago, Mustang for sure is one of the most fascinating sites in Nepal.

Mustang, although tied by culture of Tibet, was originally an independent country well-known for its commercial trade route where the Lobas (the ethnic community of upper Mustang) and others traded Tibetan salt in exchange of grain from the lowlands. The region of Mustang lies north of the main Himalayan range known as the trans-Himalaya. A vast high valley, arid and dry, it has a barren desert-like appearance similar to the Tibetan Plateau and is characterized by eroded canyons and colorful stratified rock formations.

It is stated that Ame Pal, a fierce soldier was the founder king of ‘Lo’, the Kingdom of Mustang in 1380. He was responsible to develop the territory of upper Kali Gandaki, and many gompas throughout the area of Mustang capital – Lo Manthang. Upper Mustang remained a restricted area with hardly any visitors until 1992. Even though the kingdom was consolidated to Nepal at the end of the 18th century and the Kingdom of Nepal turned into a federal republic in 2006, the Mustang raja or king was still recognized and revered by the Lobas.

Travelling to Mustang

Discovering Lo Manthang on a horseback

Although the capital of the Mustang district is actually Jomsom, but the Tibetan influenced area north of Kagbeni that leads to Lo Manthang, is popularly known as the walled capital of Upper Mustang. The Trek to this mystique kingdom which requires a special permit begins at the airstrip of Jomsom after flying up early from Pokhara. The trek is rather easy as most of the route goes along the bank of Kali Gandaki River and eventually leads you to Lo Manthang at 3,730 m/ 12,238 ft., which is the highest point on the trek.

As Mustang lies in the Himalayan rain shadow formed by the Annapurna & Nilgiri Himalayas with very little rain, this makes the area ideal for trekking even in the mid monsoon while the other areas of Nepal remain unsuitable for trekking due to heavy monsoon rains.

The area is filled with wonders of the architecture, language, Tibetan culture and traditions, all amidst picturesque villages, monasteries, and unique landscapes, which usually leave the visitors mesmerized by the once-upon-a-time mystical kingdom.

This is among the very few adventure trips in Nepal which can be done throughout the year, yet with very less trekkers. Joining the Upper Mustang Trek is not only a road to discovering the ancient hidden kingdom, but it is also being a part of a small privileged minority to visit the remote outpost of Nepal.

Mustang’s only luxury accommodation: Royal Mustang Resort

There are quite a few simple lodges/ tea houses in Mustang offering basic food and shelter along the trekking routes. A recently opened new luxury hotel in the capital of Lo Manthang, is giving rise to more and more tourists in the area in the otherwise remote and restricted region. The Royal Mustang Resort was opened in June 2017 and is run by the region’s former king’s son. With about 20 rooms and suites, all offering tremendous views of Lo’s naturally gifted landscape, the resort is a blissful luxury after several days of hard trekking. This two-storey resort has boosted employment in the locality on a large scale. Boasting wooden floors, simple artworks, a private organic farm, its smiling local staff go about offering their high end services with utmost pride and pleasure. One is bound to get a touch of modern luxury with a blend of traditional royalty at this tranquil sanctuary.

Traditional Attires of the Himalayas

Blessed with one of the richest cultures of the world, these power places of the Himalayas proudly embrace their traditional attires as an integral part of their daily lives.

Bhutan, ‘the last Shangri – La’, is known worldwide for their brilliance in being able to guard their cultural values. The Bhutanese people are bound by a strict rule of national dress code in their day to day lives. Even today, Bhutanese people can be seen in their colorful traditional Bhutanese attire – Gho worn by men and Kira worn by women, which is believed to be a 16th century old custom. Their national costume adds to their national pride and serves as a unique identity.

Gho is a knee-length dress, identical to the Japanese kimono and the Scottish kilt. It is tied up at the waist with a hand woven belt called kera, forming a pouch in the front. The sleeves are usually made of raw silk, cotton or polyester, which are neatly folded to form white cuffs called lagey. The costume is complete with long socks or stockings and traditional handmade boots. Men also can be seen wearing Kabney, a long scarf made of raw silk, worn from left shoulder to opposite hip; especially when visiting dzong or a temple, or even when appearing before a high level official. The locals, regional officials, ministers and the King, wear significant coloured Kabney, indicating varied status on its own.

Kira is an ankle – length long skirt piece, made with fine woven fabrics and beautiful colour patterns. Inside the kira, a long sleeve blouse called wonju is worn. The set is completed with a short open jacket called as tego worn over the dress. Rachu, an embroidered woven scarf, also made of raw silk and rich patterns is hung over the shoulder.


Nepal is a multi – ethnic country with over 100 ethnic groups, each having unique cultural values, practices, traditional attires, accessories and jewelries different than the others. While the national dress of Nepal is Daura – Suruwal or Labeda Suruwal for men and Gunyo-Cholo for women, the Nepalese are greatly influenced by clothing styles of the neighboring countries which have led to significant variations in the costumes.

Daura is a double breasted sleeved shirt of knee length, which is tied up at the sides. It is worn with Suruwal, a loosely fitted trouser, with a long cloth called Patuka wrapped around the waist. The set is complete with Dhaka Topi, a traditional cap made of fabric – Dhaka, which is a symbol of national pride. Some also wear a waist – coat over the shirt and carry a khukuri, the national weapon and the symbol of the brave Gurkha soldiers of Nepal. The Nepalese men proudly wear their traditional costume during festivals and special occasions as it holds a religious importance for the Hindu and Buddhist practitioners of Nepal.

Cholo is a top or blouse which is tied at the sides and Gunyo is a sari (skirt like), woven from cotton or silk fabrics, draped around the waist. On top of the Gunyo, a long cloth called Patuki is wrapped around the waist. The costume is complete with traditional jewelries.

Nepalese women can mostly be seen in elegant Sari, a five to nine yards length fabric, draped around the waist with one end draped over the shoulder. The sari is worn with a fitted crop blouse having short or long sleeves. A matching petticoat or inner skirt is worn under the sari. The sari is linked with grace and is widely popular as traditional attire worn during various festivals and special occasions of Nepal.


Tibet also has several ethnicities each with their own set of customary attire. The main costume is the chuba, a distinctive piece of ankle length robe tied around the waist with wide elongated sleeves, worn by both men and women differently. Women wear dark-colored wrap dresses over a silk blouse called wonju, and a colorfully striped, woven wool apron, called pangden signifying the marital status of a woman. Men wear the unique woolen hat while ladies adorn their crowns with ornaments made of precious stones. The dress originated as a clothing to protect themselves in the high altitude and from the cold temperatures of the Himalayas.