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The Last Forbidden Kingdom Annapurna Region (Mustang)

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Day 1    Pokhara - Jomsom (2730m) - Kagbeni (2850m)
This morning we take a spectacular flight to Jomsom up the deep Kali Gandaki river valley. There are great views of the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna massifs either side of the aircraft. It is from here that the trek begins. Jomsom is the administrative district headquarters of Mustang and has a police check-post, radio communication with Kathmandu, an army camp and the STOL airstrip that we touch - down on. One can immediately notice the change in scenery from Pokhara - it is trans-Himalayan - arid and rocky. The barrenness is relieved by splashes of green cultivation.

After crossing the wooden bridge to the east bank of the river Kali Gandaki through the town, the trail continues to the north end of the town and follows the gravel river bed before ascending gently and descending to a couple of houses (Eklaibhatti). The trail may follow the river bed or higher on the east bank depending on the season and flow of the river. Continuing along the east bank we bypass the villages of Phalyak, Dakarjong and Panga, and finally reach Kagbeni. The village is located at the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and the Jhong Khola (river) coming down from Muktinath. The village is a community of mud and stone houses enclosed by walls. Flat roofs hold stacks of firewood. The red coloured gompa situated on a raised stretch of land dominates the village. The monastery belongs to the Sakya sect and can be identified as such by the uniformly spaced grey stripes on its outside walls. Kagbeni was once ruled by a gyalpo (king) form his castle which is now in ruins. The dynasty has died out but during its time it was powerful much like the barons of the Rhineland. There are good close-up views south to Nilgiri and Tilicho from here.
Overnight Camp (LD)

Day 2    Kagbeni – Chaile (2950m)
The trail passes through the village to the mani walls at the north end. Here we pass the police check-post, descend briefly and then begin a steep climb up to join the broad, loose trail that contours along the east bank of the river. A little later on and we bypass Tiri where the route from Charkabhot (Dolpo) joins the village. Further up the Gyalungbo river drains into the Kali Gandaki and before lunch the village of Tangbe is sighted. A descent then a climb leads to Tangbe where a lunch stop is made.

The trail continues through the village and further up to a group of settlements known as Chusang. Ruins of castles litter the hill-tops behind the village, and prehistoric cave dwellings can be seen on the west side of the river. The Narsinga Khola joins the Kali Gandaki here; the stream is crossed and the trail follows a stretch of the river bank, skirting the edge where the river has eroded the banks. A steel iron bridge spans the Kali Gandaki just as it emerges from a natural tunnel. Amongst the cliff walls a great many caves can be seen. A steep climb out of the valley leads to the village of Chaile. Overnight Camp (BLD)

Day 3     Chaile - Gheling (3660m)
There is a distinct change here, not only in the topography, but there is a world of difference also in the culture, lifestyle and people. Settlements are more scattered, smaller and more basic. The people of Lo or Mustang do practice agriculture, but because of lack of rain and fertile soil, cultivation is in sheltered plots of land making the landscape a pattern of brown, with scattered patterns of shaded greens. Immediately on leaving Chaile, the path climbs steeply up to a plateau region through a small tunnel-like gully. Climbing more gradually, the village of Ghyakar appears to the west as the path rounds a corner. A tremendous canyon opens out between the trail and the village, surrounded by patchwork fields of rich red buckwheat and brilliant green. The trail winds upward hugging the north wall of the canyon and in places is literally carved into the cliff-side. As we continue upward, the village of Ghyakar comes into view across the canyon. Ghyakar is a small village with numerous terraced fields that spread down the canyon; abruptly stopping at the edge of a large cliff-face, which drops off into the canyon. We approach the end of our climb and our first mountain pass at 3320m. From the pass it is a short descent to Samar, a pleasant settlement in a grove of willows with good running water in irrigation channels. This is a major stopping place for horse and mule caravans. The village has a commanding view of the valley below it.

Leaving Samar we descend steeply into a small canyon before climbing back up the other side to the Bag La pass (3745m). In Mustang and other Buddhist regions of the Himalaya, a large pile of stones, topped by numerous prayer flags, marks most passes. Buddhist believe that the act of carrying stones up to these passes and building a pile by the path will be rewarded with spiritual merit.  Centuries of this practice have left significant piles of stones. From the pass we descend and ascend again before arriving in the very small town of Yemdo (3800m). We continue from Yemdo gently down and on up to Yemdo La (4000m) where we are rewarded with another even better view over all of Mustang.

We descend down a relatively steep trail to Syangmochen (3600m) with its two-three houses. The section of trail between Samar and Syangmochen is surprisingly wet and forested. Juniper trees (woefully missing most of their branches, which have been removed for firewood), dot the lower slopes while the higher slopes are virtually fully forested, as they are inaccessible to local woodcutters.

The trail climbs gently from Syangmochen to a pass at 3700m and enters another huge east-west valley. There is a trail junction here. The left trail is the direct route to the Nyi La bypassing Gheling. We take the right fork and descend to Gheling with its extensive fields of barley at 3600m. As in all the settlements of Mustang, most houses are constructed out of mud and stones with roofs cast out of twigs, straw and a mixture of mud and pebbles, usually painted in bright white or ochre colours. On the north side of town are the active Monastery and Gompa, as well as the remains of one of the oldest Gompas in Mustang. Although its age is unknown, this Gompa houses some very old Tibetan artefacts as well as numerous oddities. These include a 500+ year old prayer book, a 1000+ year old suite of armour from an ancient king of Tibet, numerous weapons from the Khampa resistance, and the centuries old mummified hand of a local thief who stole from the Gompa. (6 to 7 hours walking). Overnight camp (BLD)

Day 4    Gheling – Charang (3820m)
From Gheling the trail climbs gently through fields, up the centre of the valley, passing below the settlement of Tama Gaun and an imposing Chorten. There is an awesome view southward of the ruins of the Gheling nunnery with a backdrop of the snowy steep faces Nilgiri and Tilicho towering above. We rejoin the direct trail and start an unrelenting climb across the head of the valley to the Nyi La Pass (3950m). This pass marks the official entrance into Upper Mustang.

From here are spectacular views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges to the south as well as the impressive Tibetan plateau to the north. The descent from the Nyi La is nice and gentle and takes us down to Ghami. Ghami is the first town under the rule of the King of Mustang and is a small village sheltered by overhanging cliffs and next to a clear stream. As with all of the significant towns in Upper Mustang, there is a royal house from where a relative of the King watches over the town. During the day you will pass many chortens along the way. Always keep to the left, as it is bad 'Karma' to go the wrong way round. The trail climbs onto a gently sloping plateau and passes beside a very long Mani wall about half an hour from Ghami. From the end of the wall the trail heads north to cross the ridgeline and begins a one-hour traverse Charang. (5 to 6 hours walking). Overnight camp. (BLD)

Day 5 – Charang - Lo Manthang (3820 metres)
After crossing a small Khola we head north and start ascending, eventually reaching the top of the cliffs after 1 hour. From here we continue to head north over rolling hills edged with 6096 metre mountains to the west, arriving at Lo Ghekar. Lo Ghekar is a small town with lovely grassy meadows usually inhabited by local yaks. It is also home to the oldest Gompa in Nepal.

The trail continues out of Lo Ghekar to the north with a short descent to a wooden bridge and then a steep ascent up the other side. The entire Mustang Valley is visible from here and we will be rewarded with numerous fabulous views across Mustang as the day progresses. After around 2 hours we begin our last long uphill before Lo Manthang. At 4200 metres this is the highest point on our trek! From here the trail winds its way slowly down to a pass at 4095 metres where we get our first views of Lo Manthang far off across the ‘Plain of Aspiration" below us. The trail descends moderately steeply to the base of the hills and then sets out across the plain towards Lo Manthang. We will camp not far from the main entrance gate outside the walls of the city. (6 to 7 hours walking).  Overnight camp (BLD)

Day 6    Lo Manthang - exploration day
Lo Manthang - This is the capital city of the kingdom of Mustang. The town sits in a broad valley filled with fields, horses, and yaks and contains about 150 houses, plus many cells for lamas. There are four major temples within the city and there is a caretaker and key, which are available at certain times. These really are very impressive, with huge clay statues of various Buddhas. The king's palace is an imposing 4 storey building in the centre of the city and is presently occupied by the current king and queen.

Lo Manthang means the "Plains of Prayer". The whole city is walled with houses closely packed together, narrow alleys run between them. Built on a plain, the walls were essential for defence against bandits and invaders. The king lives in his palace which is the largest residence and easily noticeable among the other houses. The Tibetans referred to the king as "Lo Gyalpo" meaning King of the South, but his name is Jigme Bista. The name Bista was conferred on him by the King of Nepal as an honorary title (Bista is a high caste title in Nepal). The queen is from a noble family in Shigatse, Tibet.

The summer palace of the King is in Trenkar. Lo Manthang has three monasteries -the Chamba Lakhang which houses the massive 45ft statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha; the Thugchen Lakhang with several large images of Sakyamuni, Avolokitswara, and Maitreya. Sakyamuni is of gilded bronze with the rest terracotta. The third monastery is Chodi of the Sakya sect which has several monks in residence and this is the site of the annual Mani Rimdu festival in May (called "Tegi" in Lo Mantang). Chodi monastery contains numerous small statues and thankas and the monks are often engaged in prayer and chanting. Overnight Camp (BLD)

Day 7   Lo Manthang - day excursion to the north
A day hike to the villages of Garphu and Nyphu north of Lo Manthang is worthwhile. There are some interesting cave monasteries and numerous caves with dwellings inside them. On the way back a hike up to the ruins of Ketcher Dzong is recommended for wide panoramic views of the valleys to the north and south. Horses can be hired in Lo Manthang for those that wish to ride and with a horse it is possible to make a circuit of the villages in the east and west valleys. Starting from Lo one begins by heading towards the northwest, passing the villages of Trenkar and Namdol, before crossing a pass to the Choser (east valley) down to Nyphu and Garphu and returning to Lo Manthang.
Overnight Camp (LD)

Day 8  Lo Manthang – Dhakmar (3820 metres)
Beginning our return trek out of Mustang we retrace our route crossing the Marang La (4230m) and Mui La (4170m) to Dakmar where we camp. Dakmar is a split town, with 4-5 houses set in a stand of poplar trees in the lower village and 8-10 houses in the upper village about 20 min further along the trail. The Dakmar area is beautiful with large tracts of terraced fields set against blood red cliffs with numerous ancient cave dwellings. These once housed monks who wished to devote their lives to prayer. (5 to 6 hours walking). Overnight camp. (BLD)

Day 9 Dhakmar – Samar (3660 metres)
Crossing the Nyi La (4010m) we trek out to Samar. En route, we have good views southwards to the Annapurna Massif. Overnight camp. (BLD)

Day 10 Samar – Kagbeni (2810 metres)

Trekking steeply down to Chele, we cross the upper Kali Gandaki on a metal bridge, then meander through Chukksang and Tangbe to finally reach Kagbeni. Overnight camp (BLD)

Day 11  Kagbeni
Option: excursion to Muktinath (3600 metres)

Relax in Kagbeni or visit the Hindu Temple at Muktinath. From Kagbeni the trail climbs to Jharkot, which dominates a ridge on the eastern side of the valley and continues to Muktinath. Muktinath, located in a poplar grove, is a sacred shrine and pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists. The Mahabharata, the ancient Hindu epic written about 300BC, mentions Muktinath as Shaligrama because of its ammonite fossils called shaligrams. Brahma, the creator, made an offering here by lighting a fire on water. You can see this rmiracle (burning natural gas) in a small Buddhist shrine below the main Hindu temple. Springs are piped into 108 waterspouts in the shape of boars’ heads near the temple dedicated to Vishnu, the focal point for Hindus.

Muktinath is set in a true desert of brown rolling hills. The local ladies are canny traders, so be aware that these persuasive sales people can soon talk you into buying a few necklaces or woven belts before you know it. Overnight Camp (BLD)

Day 12 - Jomsom

Heading west from Muktinath, through the village of Jharkot, the route is now part of the more frequented Annapurna Circuit trek, following the rock strewn valley floor to Jomsom. (3 hours walking). Overnight camp. (BLD)

Day 13 - Fly to Pokhara
After breakafst, we fly to Pokhara.  Meet upon arrival in Pokhara and transfer to hotel.
GPO Box: 771, Lazimpat, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: 4415754 | 4414250
Fax: 977 1 4420239

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GPO Box: 771, Lazimpat, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: +977 1 4421328 | +977 1 4434251
Fax: +977 1 4414184


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