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For centuries, the small Tibetan influenced village of Kagbeni in Mustang has been a 'passing through' place. Lying on the once major trading route between Tibet and India, trading caravans have been stopping off at Kagbeni after crossing the arid Tibetan plateau or before descending the Kali Gandaki Valley. Both Muktinath and Kagbeni are welcome sights for adventurous trekkers whom have just crossed the Thorung La on the Annapurna Circuit. Muktinath is also an important pilgrimage site in Nepal for both Buddhists and Hindus alike.
Kagbeni lying at an altitude of just over 2800m is also as far as you can go into Mustang without a (costly) "Upper Mustang permit". The mighty Nilgiri peaks look down on Kagbeni, yet Kagbeni is 'behind' the Himalayas and protected by the mountains from the monsoon. You can literally see for yourself where the Himalayas end and the arid, desert landscapes of the Tibetan plateau begin. This 'other worldly' landscape is nothing short of spectacular. The hills are a multitude of shades, and the strong winds carve the steep sides of the Kali Gandaki into fascinating, natural sculptures. This is the land of the Lammergeir and Golden Eagle. The former is readily seen, particularly in the mornings riding the thermals. As this is also one of the lowest natural crossing points of the Himalayas, birds migrating from India to Tibet use this route in large numbers. Good news for the Golden Eagles.
At 3800m, Muktinath is the first (or last) settlement before crossing the Thorung La. The views up here in Muktinath are seriously fantastic and being a pilgrimage place, there are a number of fascinating gompas and temples.
Up until recently both Kagbeni and Muktinath were 'out of reach' to all but the dedicated (and fit) trekker, and so the only chance of seeing this very different part of Nepal, as well as gaining an insight into Tibetan influenced Mustang region wasn't really practical. Nowadays it is!
From Pokhara it's a mere 18 minutes by air to the landing strip up at Jomsom (2700m). From Jomsom we can take you to Kagbeni by 4WD vehicle. The 'road' depends on the river levels, so sometimes you'll be driving across the flat river bed, other times on a track that skirts the hillside. All the same it means you can reach the edge of 'forbidden' Mustang in about an hour from Jomsom. From sub-tropical Pokhara to the Tibetan plateau in under two hours! You'll certainly notice a couple of things up here. It's going to be colder for starters, although the sun can feel very strong so high up. It's an altogether different landscape too.....arid and barren. It looks wild and it is wild. The Tibetan influence will be obvious as you reach Kagbeni itself. Here you'll find the people are most definitely Tibetan in origin, with a 'weathered' look about them. Kagbeni certainly retains it's authentic, traditional air and is a real gem of a place to just walk around and explore. Certainly as you've gained 2000m from Pokhara you have to take it easy to get used to the altitude. Somewhat surprisingly at the northern edge of the village awash with traditional Tibetan homes etc, is a proper 'Italian' coffee shop, and with wifi too! How about that? Sit outside on the terrace with a capuccino and gaze at the outrageous valley and the mountains of Mustang. Don't forget to look up for the Lammergeirs. Hmmm.....an enterprising local has his own cafe called YakDonalds!
As well as exploring Kagbeni at a leisurely place, you can also venture onto the river bed and look for fossils of sea creatures. We're serious. This river bed at 2800m was once the bottom of the Tethys Sea. We can't promise, but usually your guide will be able to take you into the 'forbidden zone' for a day walk to a tiny Mustang village an hour or so further up the valley. It's on the 'other' side of the valley and as it's neither on the trekking or jeep route to Lo Manthang it's anything but touristy and thus a great place to observe Mustang life unchanged. Chances are your guide will also be able to gain an 'invite' into a locals home for a brew and biccies.
We can also arrange a day excursion for you up to Muktinath. By default this will be by jeep. It would be asking for trouble to consider trekking up to Muktinath as part of a 'short' Mustang visit. Taking you up by jeep (and back down by jeep) and therefore without physcial exertion means you are less likely to be bothered by the additional height gain and will also descend back down the same day....quickly.
At the end of your 'Mustang excursion' you can jeep back to Jomsom and take the short flight back to Pokhara, or you could trek down the 'back half' of the Annapurna Circuit, descend even faster by mountain bike, or even do the 'first half' of the Annapurna Circuit in reverse and cross the challenging Thorung La and descend via the Marsyangdi Valley route to Manang. The choice is yours.
The previously unthinkable is now entirely possible. Lo Manthang the fabled walled capital of Mustang is now reachable by jeep!
Even we still have to pinch ourselves at the reality that the remote, isolated capital of the forbidden Kingdom Of Mustang can now be reached by a dirt road. On foot it's still several days of tough trekking over high mountain passes to reach Lo Manthang, but by jeep you can be there in just two days by flying to Jomsom and then taking a 4WD vehicle across the arid, spectacular landscapes of Upper Mustang. It's a bumpy, rough ride and (at the time of writing) special permits are still required, but what a journey it is.
If you'd like to visit Lo Manthang in a private 4WD vehicle, we are now arranging private Mustang Jeep Safaris. You can spend as much time in Lo Manthang as you would like and essentially will need to allow two days each way for the journey from Jomsom. Accommodation still remains pretty basic with simple Mustang teahouses in some places.
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Mustang Treks & Activity Adventure