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.