Upper Mustang features many attractions. The most famed one is Lo-Manthang, known as a walled city and the Upper Mustang capital. It features many monasteries, a courthouse, and also a royal palace. High man-made caves up in the cliffs near Lo-Manthang are yet another attraction. Gumba such as Luri Gumba and Ghar Gumba are also attractions of this trek. Then the striking beauty of Damodar Kunda is yet another attraction. Moreover, experiencing the stronghold of Tibetan Buddhism and Trans-Himalayan Landscape provides an otherworldly experience. Likewise, adventurous passes: The Taklam La Pass at Dajori La Pass and Chogo La Pass at 4,280 m/ 14,042 ft will also be chartered during this trek.
Lo-Manthang, the walled city or city within a wall, is Upper Mustang's capital. It culturally and linguistically resembles Tibet. It is situated on a hilltop, Namgyal Gompa, which serves a local courthouse. It has major social and religious importance. It is beautiful and quaint.
A large Buddha statue is also located decorated with intricate Mandalas. This is known as Jampa Lhakhang. Likewise, ancient Gompas and monasteries are found here, such as Nyuphu monastery and Thupchen Gompa. An endemic festival called the Tiji festival, which symbolizes prayer for peace, is also celebrated here. Lo-Manthang also boasts snow-capped mountains like Tilicho, Nilgiri, and Annapurna I.
What is the Forbidden Kingdom in Nepal?
Lying at the northernmost boundary of Nepal and remaining closed to westerners until 1992 lies the Forbidden Kingdom of Lo. Now it is known as Upper Mustang with its capital, Lo Manthang. Due to its isolation, it has changed very little even in this day and age. Ancient Tibetan culture still prevails here.
What is Upper Mustang famous for?
Upper Mustang is famous as a bastion of ancient Tibetan culture. Until the early 1990s, its isolation let the people follow their ancient beliefs and quiet life. Likewise, the natural desert landscape with red-colored cliffs, beautifully painted man-made caves, and close-up views of the mountains provide an unbelievable ambiance.
Why is Mustang one of the major tourist destinations?
Mustang is famous for both cultural and natural beauty. Monasteries, chortens, Mani walls are spread throughout Mustang. Buddhist culture has a stronghold here, with Tibetan culture at its core. The trails lead to beautiful caves, ever-flowing rivers with views of snow-white peaks.
Towering at 3,800 m/ 12,467 ft in Lo-Manthang is the Royal Palace of Upper Mustang. Also known as the Tashi Gephel Palace, it constitutes an impressive structure of 15th-century architecture. The five-storied palace is constructed in mud, stone, and wood. It measures 45 m/ 150 ft east-west and 30 m/ 100 ft north-south. It has a sloping stone that supports serving a strong foundation against earthquakes.
Its main entrance is in the east and opens to the only public square in Lo-Manthang. The entrance boasts a four-storied timber gallery. On the first two floors, this is carved with a Tibetan-style column. The two upper floors have a simple wooden frame infill. Over 130 rooms, shrines, and statues are found in the palace.
The palace's wings still serve as living quarters for the royal family. The palace is painted in white lime and boasts a collection of wall paintings, inscriptions, and texts. It is surrounded by walls that act as a fortress. Twelve chortens, three red monasteries, and a Mani wall are found near the palace.
Who built the Lo-Manthang Palace in Mustang?
The Lo-Manthang Palace was built by King Amad Pal, the first king of Mustang. It was built in 1440 AD as a four-story palace. Initially, he had built a fortress wall around the settlement.
The Chhoser Cave is a collection of around 10,000 man-made caves built high up in cliffs near Lo-Manthang. It is dug into the sides of valleys and provides a mystical charm to Upper Mustang. Since 1996 the site has been listed as a UNESCO tentative site.
The Chhoser Cave use has been divided into three periods. The earliest use has been considered to be burial chambers. Later, in the 10th century, the caves served as living quarters for ensuring safety. By the 1400s, the caves had been thought to function as military lookouts, storage units, and even meditation chambers.
The remains of partially mummified human bodies and skeletons have been found in the cave. These remains date back to Buddhism's introduction in Mustang and feature cut marks on the bones. It is believed to be related to the Bon religion, where sky burial is practiced. Likewise, the 12th and 14th-century artifacts have been found here. These include ancient Buddhist decorative art and paintings, pottery, precious manuscripts. The manuscripts containing writings of both Buddhism and Bon have been found.
Some of these caves are the Jhong caves which are five-storied high and built on a cliff. It features 40 rooms and can be reached by climbing steep stairs. The windows through these caves provide stunning views of Chhoser valley.
The caves have also enabled advanced tantric yoga and Tummo – a form of Tibetan breathing allowing heat generation at high altitudes.
Who built the Mustang sky caves?
It is yet to understand who built the Mustang sky caves and why. Only speculations have been floating regarding its use as burial chambers, living quarters seeking safety, and lookouts.
How old are Mustang caves?
The Mustang caves are estimated to be at least 2000 years old.
Beyond the walled city of Lo-Manthang, near Yara village, there lies Luri Gumba. It is an isolated monastery, covered in the red wash and lying 100 m high above the ground. It is associated with the Nyingma Kargyupa Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is estimated to be around 700 years and is taken care of by Yara villagers. A gatekeeper opens up the door to the cliff temple.
It is supported by natural sandstone structures and consists of two interconnecting chambers. The outer chamber consists of shrines, while the inner chamber consists of mural paintings of Mahasiddhas, who are saints that have achieved enlightenment. The Gumba also contains chortens, mandala paintings, and Buddhist deity statues. The Luri Chorten rises three meters from the floor, crowned by a canopy. It is ornate with small paintings, and the upper dome has four large frescoes.
Luri Gumba is only accessible through a dirt trail and requires climbing a wooden ladder to access lower caves. Near the Luri Gumba, monks also have living quarters in separate caves. On the way to Luri Gumba, another Gumba called Tashi Kabum. It is almost a twin to the Luri Gumba. But Luri Gumba is more ornate and more preserved than Tashi Kabum. The Gumba hosts a local puja during winter for the residents. It consists of procession and dance, and little is known about this.
Situated at an elevation of 3,931 m/ 12,897 ft lies the ancient Ghar Gumba. It consists of colored chortens in the slope, providing a spiritual experience. The chortens are linked with prayer flags. Mani walls greet the entrance, which has Om Mani Padme Hum carvings. Breath-taking rock paintings adorn Ghar Gumba.
On the way to the Gumba, views of mountains such as Nilgiri and Annapurna provide a feast for the eyes. Likewise, irrigated land contrasting sharply with red-colored rock formations provides a colorful landscape. Herders with large flocks of goats can be found along the trail.
The Ghar Gumba was built in the 8th century by Guru Padmasambhava and is related to the Nyingma sect of Buddhism. It is the oldest monastery in Upper Mustang and is still active today.
Situated at an elevation of 4,890 m/ 16,043 ft, and the base of Mt. Damodar is a lake. The lake is yellow-colored and crescent in shape. It is surrounded by many small lakes which are red, blue and white. The whole area is Charang, meaning the land of the hilly lakes.
The lake is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. The lake is believed to be a manifestation of Lord Bishnu. A holy bath in this lake is believed to remove all sins committed in a previous life and wash away sorrows. Taking a bath in this lake is also believed to secure heaven after death.
The way to Damodar Kunda consists of different Buddhist monasteries. The view from the lake itself is spectacular offers views of the Himalayas. A bit higher hike from the lake provides great viewpoints of the Tibetan plateau and Damodar Himal in the north and Annapurna Himal in the south.
The full moon of August is a time of pilgrims of both Hindus and Buddhists in this lake. A big festival is held which is visited by thousands of pilgrims. The lake can be visited from April to September. The lake is also a good place to find ammonite known as Shaligram.
Tibetan Buddhism has a stronghold in Upper Mustang. Since the Chinese conquering Tibet, a religion in exile has been practiced in the purest form in Upper Mustang. Tibetan Buddhism teaches Mahayana Buddhism with Tantric, Shamanic, and materials from the ancient Bon religion. A religion predating even Tibetan Buddhism called Bon religion is also practiced here.
Legends tell the story of the great founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava, who has come to Mustang to guard against evil powers trying to destroy Buddhism. He is known to have done so before building Samye, the oldest monastery in Tibet. Lo Gekar in eastern Mustang is said to have been built by Padmasambhava after his triumph. It is the oldest monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. A family has been standing guard to the monastery for 15 generations.
Many small to large monasteries adhere to Tibetan Buddhism in Upper Mustang. Prayer flags, Mani Walls, and Chorten adorn the trails that reflect Tibetan Buddhism. The caves found in Upper Mustang are also grounds of ancient Buddhist art. It housed entire communities and monks, providing a place for practicing Tibetan culture.
Tiji festival celebrates Tibetan Buddhism, which is only celebrated in Lo Manthang. Likewise, according to Tibetan Buddhism, Muktinath is considered a sacred place of Sky Dancer or Dakinis Goddesses. Hence, Mustang is one of the last places with pure Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Trans-Himalayas, meaning beyond the Himalayas, offers a unique landscape. The northern frontier of Nepal lying north of the Greater Himalaya attached to the Tibetan Plateau lies the Trans-Himalayan Landscape. Mustang and Manang are the biggest blocks of the Trans-Himalayan. It is geographically a part of Tibet, although lying in Nepal.
The Trans-Himalayan Landscape falls on the rain shadow as the Himalayas block monsoon advancement. The snow-peaked mountain views lie a unique experience in Nepal to the south. Beautiful views of the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna Mountains Ranges adorn the place. In the region, its dry and desert-like condition persists. Tree-less conditions with steppe flora are found in the region.
The rock formations in the Trans-Himalayas are unique. Beautifully red-colored cliffs provide a unique landscape along with grey rolling hills.
Taklam La Pass, Dajori La Pass and Chogo La Pass
The Upper Mustang also consists of adventurous passes: The Taklam La Pass at 3,634 m/ 11,923 ft, Dajori La Pass at 3,735 m/ 12,254 ft, and Chogo La Pass at 4,280 m/ 14,042 ft. The first two passes are crossed while trekking from Chele to Syangboche, while the latter is passed from Drakmar to Lo Manthang. Chogo La Pass is the highest altitude in the Upper Mustang trek.
Taklam La Pass and Dajori La Pass are crossed on the same day with the first ascent to Taklam La Pass followed by a descent and again ascent to Dajori La Pass. The trails are beautiful and carved into the rock. These passes provide amazing views of the gorge and greenery. From Taklam La Pass especially, breath-taking views of Tilicho peak, Yakawa Kang and Damodar Danda are seen. From Chogo La Pass, one gets amazing views of the landscape, mountains, and Lo-Manthang.