An unforgettable Upper Mustang trek with Nara

In November 2012, I was fortunate to trek in the Upper Mustang region. I had already been trekking in Nepal before – the Khumbu, the Annapurna circuit, Langtang. But I was particularly attracted to Mustang because of its remoteness and the limited number of tourists going there (according to Wikipedia 2000 a year).

At that time I did not know Nara yet. It just happened that my trekking partner – a French blind “date” contacted through the VoyageForum website – knew an agency in Kathmandu. The boss organized out trek and chose Nara as our guide. We would also have a porter, Nickass.

The day after we left to Pokhara by bus, where we were brought in a fine hotel.

The flight Pokhara – Jomsom was scheduled in the morning, as usual. This is to avoid the strong winds that appear every afternoon in the Kali Gandaki valley. This was a spectacular flight, for sure! After the landing in Jomsom, a short and flat hike brought us to Kagbeni where we stayed in a wonderful hotel, the Yak Donalds. Despite the strong winds (very common in Kagbeni) I enjoyed the free time at the hotel terrace and in the village.

The next day was the first day of trekking in Upper Mustang. We crossed the checkpoint into the “forbidden” region of Upper Mustang. I say “forbidden” since it requires an expensive permit to enter it. While Kagbeni sees many trekkers doing the Annapurna circuit as well as Hindu pilgrims visiting the Muktinath shrine, Upper Mustang is very peaceful. We followed a track for 4 hours and spent the night in Chuksang.

One has to say that in 2012, the bus track was not yet completed. Buses were already running, but there were only few only and on specific sections. Even though we walked sometimes on the track, we were never annoyed by traffic. Things may change in the future.

We continued our trek towards the capital of the Upper Mustang (Lo) kingdom, Lo Manthang. A spectacular trail in the cliff brought us from Chele to Samar. Then from Samar to Geling. Our pace was slow, which was fine. We could fully immerse ourselve in the amazing ladscape and culture. For lunch, lodges provided us with simple meals, similar to the ones offered along the Annapurna circuit trek. I remember the lunch the Syanboche lodge was especially good.

The slow pace meant that we were getting late on our program. We would probably reach Lo Manthang one day later as planned. This bothered me a bit, since our permit allowed us only a short stay in the region and I wanted to explore the mountains around Lo. Nara stayed very flexible and managed to find solutions. In the end we decided to continue at our rhythm and use the bus for a part of the return trip to shorten it.

The village of Ghemi was supposed to be our spot for lunch. But the lodge was excellent and the surrounding worth exploring. We decided to overnight here, changing our plans again. Now we were 2 days behind schedule! However I did not regret it for a second, as Ghemi was to become the highlight of the trip. Since we spent the afternoon and the evening in the village, we we able to attend a puja at the local gompa. We had all the time for a stroll to the long mani wall and the beautiful valley North of it. The sunset behind the old chörtens was amazing.

The following Nara I was ready for a longer hiking day, and Nara agreed to split our group of two at the village of Dhakmar. We would all hike to Tsetang but Nara and I would be passing the Mui La, a 4000 meters pass that is not the normal route. It was a wonderful day: we saw blue goats and visited a small gompa before the long descend to Tsetang.

From Tsetang, the trail became less interesting and we reached Lo Manthang on the 14th of November.

My feeling while preparing the trek was that there was a lot to do in Lo Manthang, besides the village itself: caves, tiny villages, gompas, old paintings… But it was mid-November, late in the trekking season. The archeologists staying in Lo Manthang had already left and there were few people in the town except some locals. After two days exploring the surroundings on my own, we jumped in a bus which drove us somewhere past Ghemi.

We hiked again the exposed but broad track down to Chele. In Chele, Nara showed me his flexibility again by letting me taking an alternate route for the remaing days. I was in no hurry to leave the restricted area of Upper Mustang. So instead of following the track to along the Kali Gandaki, he joined me to Tetang and up a pass – the Gya La – before descending to Jhong and Muktinath. The views towards the Dhaulagiri from the pass were stunning. We spend the night in Jharkot before returning to Kagbeni.

I warmly recommend Nara for any hike in Nepal. Always smiling – like all Nepalese – he managed our Upper Mustang trip very professionally. This was not so easy as it looks, because there were conflicting ideas among the two of us hiking with him. You can contact him by using the e-mails and phone number he provided on this blog.


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