Nepal & the Fabled Kingdom of Mustang
I'd read about the lost kingdom of Mustang, one of the world's last enclaves of Tibetan Buddhism, snuggled between the mighty Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges in the high mountains of north central Nepal. For decades the upper kingdom has been off limits to any outsiders, and even today was only accessible with a local guide. So, I rode out to Jomsom, Lower Mustang, teamed up with a guide I'd arranged (on a mountain bike), and rode up to Lo Manthang, the tiny capital of Upper Mustang.
This was a high elevation trip, long days up to and over 4,000m. The riding was notable by how often I had to push my bike and gear (partly, this was as I was still adjusting to the high elevation). But it was so worthwhile. Upper Mustang has rich history, but is sparsely populated, in tiny villages along the streams and rivers fed by glacial run-off. Lo Manthang, the ancient capital, was a delight. One could see it poised between the old and new, with a coffee shop beside a monastery school, and a new road south from China far better than the rough track north from central Nepal.
Scarcely a week after I left, this area of Nepal was badly hit by the horrific earthquake, with massive destruction and loss of life.
Check out the SLIDESHOW
If you hover over the picture below, you'll see forward/backward arrows for navigating. Some of the comments were packaged after my visit, and may no longer be current.
I'm still exploring the use of video. Alas, it seems I cannot get sound without buying another plug-in (so you'll have to imagine). Here's a couple of short videos from my Nepal trip. There are (dim) forward/back page navigation arrows at the sides of the box. The quality may be a little low, but I suspect you'll find them interesting
Here come the goats - and it's another narrow mountain road. That's Prakash, my guide into Upper Mustang (required to get the permit). Great guy. The dog at the start travelled with us a few days. Alas, we cannot hear the belly- aching
racket these goats raise
Nepal & the fabled kingdom of Mustang - Route
I flew into Kathmandu (wow!), then bussed to the adventure and spiritualism tourist destination of Pokhara to the west. Biked on pretty decent road (hot and hilly, though) to the town of Beni, on the lower stretches of the holy Kali Gandaki River, which calls out to Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims. I followed the Kali Gandaki for much of my ride - it is the only source of holy fossils called shaligrams, without which no temple to the god Vishnu can be consecrated. The ride north to Jomson followed part of the famous Anapurna trekking circuit, and I met hikers overnighting in tiny Tatopeni. The ride was tough, rugged road and lots of climbing.
Jomson, altitude 2,700m, is the gateway from Lower to Upper Mustang. I met up with Prakash (and mountain bike), my guide, in Jomson. I got really lucky with Prakash, as he was able and patient, even when I was dragging along for a few days until I acclimatized to the high altitude.
Lo Manthang was worth the all the effort, a modest (one can walk about the main town in half an hour) walled city from an earlier age, a number of ancient monasteries, and the critical barley harvest underway.
Then, Prakash and I turned around and rode back, with a notable side trip along high altitude trails to Gar Gompa, which calls itself the first ever Tibetan Buddhism monastery, and the remote village of Dakmar, situated under red cliffs which local legend has it were stained when the illustrious Padma Sambhawa killed the demon which led to the founding of Gar Gompa.