Mustang - Kingdom on the Edge

Trip Date
  May 2 - 18, 2018

Trip Details
Ride on horseback through breathtaking terrain north of the Annapurna Himalaya, above snow peaks. Mustang is known as the Grand Canyon of the Himalayas for its fantastic geology revealing the creation drama of these youngest mountains on the planet. It is one of Nepal’s most mysterious and least known kingdoms. We will be riding on trade routes that once linked Tibet and India, traversed by pilgrims, Buddhist saints, traders and Tibetan freedom fighters alike. An ancient Buddhist kingdom on the edge of borders and change, we traverse through Mustang’s frontier kingdom filled with cave city complexes and cave hermitages dotting the landscape and some of the finest mural art paintings in the region, belying its rich past, stopping in oasis-like villages surviving on glacial silt fields that have been tilled for over a millennia. Discover how the people of Mustang have adapted and must continue to adapt to this wild landscape in this climate change hotspot they and their ancestors have called home for over a millennia. We will also experience Tiji festival. Tiji consists of three-day of Tibetan rituals. The Tiji centers around a myth, which tells of a deity named Dorje Jono who must battle against his demon father to save the Kingdom of Mustang from destruction…. Tiji comes from the word “ten che” meaning the hope of Buddha Dharma prevailing in all worlds and is effectively a spring renewal festival.

This trip can be challenging--need to be in good physical shape. Suitable for any energetic walker, horse rider, adventurer looking for a challenge. Does not require any previous trekking, mountaineering or horse riding experience, although daily jogging or walking exercise is necessary and you need to be in good physical condition able to walk 5-6 hours daily at high altitude in steep terrain.

Trip Highlights
•    Horse riding through deepest gorge in the Himalaya
•    Explore the old Tibetan Khampa Guerrilla encampments
•    Follow an ancient trading route towards the Tibetan plateau
•    Experience high Himalayan Tibetan culture
•    Explore traditional villages, learn about traditional textiles
•    World heritage finest restored art murals in the Himalaya
•    Experience Tiji Festival
•    Discover creation theories and the geology of the Himalayas
•    Explore issues of snow leopard conservation and livestock depredation
•    Inhabitation of the Himalayas: recent DNA and archeological cave research
•    Explore indigenous traditional medicine
•    Learn about climate and environmental change in the Himalayan scape

Limited to 16 Pax
Trip Cost USD 5000


Included in price
Hotels  (double  occupancy);  in-country  transportation;  entrance  fees  to  museums;  meals (B, L, D); in-country guide; leaders; porters; airport transfers; internal flights; all camping supplies except sleeping bags.
* Single supplement =USD 500


Not included
International  Airfare;  visa  fees;  insurance;  items  of  a  personal  nature;  over  weight baggage  to  Jomsom (limited  to 22  pounds  Check  in  Baggage  +11  Pound  Hand  carry) tips, alcohol; sleeping bag; and emergency evacuation. Alcohol, and tips to Sherpas. If  you  should  get  sick  and  need  a  change  of  accommodation  or  travel  plans  while  in Nepal, you will need to cover any additional costs outside of the regular trip plan. Those who would like to stay after trip dates will do so at their own expense.

Please note: We require that you purchase travel insurance. This is just a smart thing to do for overseas travel, and if there is a medical emergency, particularly an evacuation needed, you will need to have this coverage.


Daily Itinerary



Daily Itinerary

Day 1 – May 2 –Wednesday – Kathmandu (1400 m, 4671 ft)

Arrive in Kathmandu by 2:00 p.m.! Our representative will meet you outside the customs and immigration area at the airport. He or she will answer questions, brief you on the immediate arrangements, and escort you to your hotel.

This trip begins with a rendezvous in Kathmandu at Manaslu Hotel at 3:30 p.m. The trip leaders will hold a meeting and orientation in the hotel regarding trek arrangements and stay in Kathmandu. View: Raid into Tibet, directed by Adrian Cowell, film of the Tibetan guerilla fighters who carried on their resistance efforts in Tibet from the remote Mustang area of Nepal from 1960 to 1964. 
Leave hotel for group dinner at James Giambrone’s house to hear his lecture on “Lost wax process and Thangka painting”.  James is the owner of the Indigo Gallery and has worked with master craftsman of the Kathmandu valley for over 30 years. He has opened his treasure house for us.

Hotel Manaslu (D>Le Sherpa)

Day 2  – May 3 – Thursday – Kathmandu (1400 m, 4671 ft)

Early morning visit to Boudnath, to join the hundreds of Buddhist pilgrims circumambulating the stuppa. Meet renowned Buddhist Rinpoche for a pilgrimage blessing. Afternoon visit to the Kingdom of Patan, home to some of the most beautiful Hindu Pagoda temples in the world and world-class bronze repose casters.  Dinner at Thomas and Carroll’s home.

Hotel Manaslu (B, L> Summit Café, D>Thomas and Carroll’s House)

If we are delayed due to weather, and cannot fly Kathmandu to Pokhara, participants will need to cover additional costs as this is out of the control of the trip guides. This means, airport transfers, room and board at hotel.

Day 3 – May 4 – Friday – Pokhara (827 m, 2759 ft)

Early morning visit to Pashupatinath, a Shiva temple complex filled with Himalayan yogis and where the last death rites are performed by Brahman Priests alongside the funeral ghats. Meet Himalayan yogis to discuss sacred tilaka body painting of chakra points.  Group lunch at Thomas Kelly’s house. Garden is in full glory!

We’ll take a 35-minute flight to Pokhara, capital of West Nepal. We settle into the Temple Tree Resort, a charming locally inspired resort conveniently located near Phewa Lake. Group dinner at Temple Tree Resort and Spa.

Manaslu Hotel (B, L> Thomas and Carroll’s House, D>Temple Tree Resort and Spa)

If we are delayed due to weather, and cannot fly Kathmandu to Pokhara, participants will need to cover additional costs as this is out of the control of the trip guides. This means, airport transfers, room and board at hotel.

Day 4 – May 5 – Saturday – Pokhara (827 m, 2759 ft) – Jomsom (2730m,9110 ft) – Kagbeni (2800 m, 9343 ft)

After a very early breakfast, we depart for the national airport and fly west to Jomsom.

If we're lucky the weather will be clear revealing a spectacular spread of the Himalayas. We are met at the tiny airstrip in front of Nilgiri Himal  (9,085’) by our horses and trek crew. After some initial preparation of loads, we begin our trek to the village of Kagbeni. Just out of Jomsom by the riverbank of the Kali Gandaki we ride past exposed tectonic plates where the Indian plate rises beneath the Tibetan plateau. The trail is flat, barren, following the Kali Gandaki riverbed. Magnificent views of huge peaks such as Dhaulagiri, Tukuche, Nilgiri, and the entire Annapurna massif rise up to the south. We will detour to Lubrak, an ancient pre-Buddhist Bonpo settlement.  Lunch at Lubrak.  Check out Thomas and Carroll’s picture book: Sacred Landscape and Pilgrimage in Tibet: In Search of the Lost Kingdom of Tibet. There’s a chapter about Lubrak. Order from Thomas or Amazon.   After lunch, continue horse ride to Kagbeni with its narrow alleyways and tunnels, irrigation canals, fields of wheat and barley and a large red Gompa, give us a preview of scenes that we will discover in Upper Mustang.

Rooms at Asia Lodge (B, L, D)

If we are delayed due to weather, and cannot fly Pokhara to Jomsom participants will need to cover additional costs as this is out of the control of the trip guides. This means, airport transfers, room and board at hotel.

Day 5 –  May 6 – Sunday – Kagbeni (2800 m, 9343 ft)– Chumpa, Former Khampa Guerilla Camp (3300 m, 11012 ft ), Gykar village (3562 m, 11886 ft)

Today is an adventure as we enter the once forbidden kingdom of Mustang. After completing the necessary procedures for entering the national park we ride up the valley, sometimes on the wide riverbed and sometimes along the river terraces before veering off the main trail to Lo, to a side valley to the west. We head up a steep incline. Few have taken this route since Nixon shook hands with Mao in the 1970's, ending CIA funding of Tibetan freedom fighters. We cross over rivers on horseback, un-crossable except at this time of year and make our way through wild, raw and steep terrain reaching a plateau where communities bring their animals to graze in the summer- an abandoned guerilla settlement melting back into the landscape.  Off the beaten trail, with its own unique local history, we descend to Ghykar village, 7 hours alternating horse riding and walking according to terrain. This is a tough day.

During the 1960’s, after the Dalai Lama had fled to India and Chinese armies established control over Tibet, Mustang was a center for guerrilla operations against the Chinese. The soldiers were the Khampas, Tibet’s most fearsome warriors, who were backed by the CIA (some Khampas were secretly trained in the USA). At the height of the fighting there were at least 6,000 Khampas in Mustang and neighboring border areas. The CIA’s support ended in the early 1970s when the USA, under Kissinger and Nixon, initiated new and better relations with the Chinese. The government of Nepal was pressed to take action against the guerrillas, making use of internal divisions within the Khampa leadership, a bit of treachery and the Dalai Lama’s taped advice for his citizens to lay down their arms, it managed to disband the resistance without committing to action the 10,000 Nepali troops that had been sent to the area. The Khampas were subdued and marched south to Pokhara where some to this day, are settled in Tibetan refugee camps.

Ghykar village, (Camping, L, D)

Day 6 – May 7 – Monday – Samar (3500 m, 11679 ft)

We saddle up and wind our way through this wild barren landscape on horseback, views of the Himalayas, -- before making our way across a canyon and up to the village settlement of Samar “Blood Earth”, where we can hear stories from elders who remember when a unit of 100 Khampa freedom fighters lived nearby for 14 years and tales of 8th century Buddhist tantrika Padmasambhava and his battle with a wily local demoness.

Explore village, visit new monastery, and take in spectacular scenery. In Samar, hot showers will be available. 4 hours alternating horse riding and walking according to terrain.

Camping in a garden grove, Samar. (B, L, D)

Day 7 –  May 8 – Tuesday – Chhungar (3750 m, 12513 ft)

After breakfast we descend to a deep ravin and stream and up to the most sacred pilgrimage site in all of Mustang: Chusi Rangjung, “Self Produced Place of Promenade”-- a cave where the great tantric Buddhist saint Padmasambhava meditated before he traveled to Tibet. A natural cave with a small temple, the sides of the cave in the rear is studded with emanating rocks “self produced” and sacred waters of the goddess Manasluvahari are scooped from an underground salt spring.

We remount our horses and make the last final ascent out of this spectacular hidden heart of Mustang, climbing up to grazing pasturelands of Shangboche for lunch before continuing our journey over a 12,500-foot pass. We round the mountain and descend to a river canyon and up along a trail to Chunggar, a small settlement, with a magnificent Buddhist chorten overlooking the broad valley with the village of Ghiling below. 6 hours alternating horse riding and hiking.

Chhungar Camp (B, L, D)

Day 8 – May 9 –  Wednesday – Ghemi (3510 m, 11713 ft)

Our morning begins passing through a beautiful classic Mustang chorten- symbolic of Buddha mind, before ascending the Nye La (12,720’). From this pass, you'll have incredible views of the Annapurna’s and Nilgiri himals as well as sweeping views of Mustang. Ghemi village, built on the edge of a steep cliff, appears in the distance and we make it there for lunch. An oasis of green, red and gold in the mountainous desert of brown and grey. A massive castle dominates Ghemi and a monastery recently repaired and repainted. Some may choose to explore the 13th century monastery. 5 hours alternating horse riding and hiking.

Ghemi Camp in apple orchard or optional lodging (B, L, D) 

Day 9  – May 10 –  Thursday – Lo Ghekar (3919 m, 13074 ft)

Leaving Ghemi, we pass magnificent mani walls (the demonist’s intestines!) and chortens before arriving at Drakmar, “Red Blood” village (a great place for lunch!) where Padmasambhava flung the blood of the earth spirit demoness. We will enjoy the cave complexes built into fantastical red rock formations above the village.  David Snellgrove wrote in 1956 Himalayan Pilgrimage: “Dragmar presented a most lovely blend of pastel shades: the great red cliffs against a clear blue sky and at their foot the red and white buildings amidst the green of the trees; nearby rushed a milky-colored stream and all around was an expanse of golden corn and the pink bloom of buckwheat.” After lunch, we will continue to ascend up bare brown Tolkeinesque fluted landscape before reaching Lo Ghekar. 

Known as Gar Gompa or “the Pure Virtue of Lo”, the oldest Manasluyana monastery in the Himalayas. According to local tradition the great tantric saint Padmasambhava traveled through Mustang on his way to Tibet in the 8th century, invited by the Tibetan King to subdue wrathful local spirits.  Encountering difficulties building Samye, Tibet’s oldest and first Manasluyana temple, Padmasambhava was instructed in a dream to construct Gar Gompa on the heart of the earth spirit demoness, dispelling obstacles everywhere including in Tibet.  Visit spectacular monastery. 5 hours alternating horse riding and walking.

Lo Ghekar, lodging inside Monastery meeting hall (B, L, D)

(Note: We could set up base camp in Tsarang, if you do not feel comfortable at the Lo-Gekar altitude. It takes 45 minutes horse ride to reach Tsarang from Lo-Gekar.)

Day 10  – May 11 –  Friday – Lo Monthang (3840 m, 12814 ft)

After a circumambulation of  Lo Ghekar monastery, we mount our steeds for the ascent up the Marang (Chogo) la pass (13,874’). We traverse down and join families of nomads for lunch and to learn about their way of life before continuing to historic Lo Monthang, the walled city of ancient art treasures, home of the former King of Mustang. Due to its proximity to, and long association with, Tibet, Tibetan Buddhist lifestyles, religion, art, and culture remain intact for the moment. But for how long?  In the 15th and 16th centuries Lo was a rich and flourishing independent kingdom. This can be seen today from the magnificent monasteries, palaces, and the remains of massive rambling forts known as dzongs.

During the 15th and 16th centuries the acquisition of immense fortunes from the salt trade made Mustang a highly prosperous kingdom. With the decline of the salt trade, agriculture and animal husbandry grew in economic importance for subsistence. During our visit in Lo explore Himalayan Foundation’s spectacular 15th century Himalayan Buddhist art murals in Jhampa and Thupchen Chode monasteries, meet with snow leopard conservationists, Khenpo of Chode monastery to learn more about Buddhism and explore the question of Mustang’s future, here on the edge bordering its dragon neighbor. 5 hours alternating horse riding and walking.

Sharing double rooms in Mystic Lodge. (B, L, D)

Day 11 – May 12 –  Saturday – Lo Monthang (3840 m, 12814 ft)

Today, those who want can get up early and sit in the shafted light of Thupchen monastery as monks perform rituals for the Tiji festival which begins today. Meet Amchi Gyatso head of Lo Kunphen Traditional Medical School. For the adventurous, today is a day to explore some of the cave complexes north of Lo in the Choshar area –Tingkar, Garphuk and Niphuk, perhaps Konchokling for the intrepid. While the 6,000-year-old caves carved in cliffs where 15th century texts and wall paintings were recently discovered (2007) are open to the intrepid.  We will get to explore similar caves, some still in use. The findings of mixed Buddhist and Bon texts found in the caves suggest they were either stored and used 100 years after the conversion in the region to Buddhism in the 8th century, or that they were deliberately hidden. Recent funerary masks similar to masks found in western China were recently discovered in upside down popsicle funerary caves inside ceramic urns with bones recently dated as 3,500 years old.

Lo Monthang.  Lodging at Mystic hotels (B, L, D).

Day 12  – May 13 – Sunday – Lo Monthang (3840 m, 12814 ft)

Some may choose to join the monks at Thupchen monastery in early morning ritual, prayers and chants. Tiji Festival, actually called Tenpa Chirim, is the most important festival of Lo, celebrated by all 7 provinces in a courtyard by the palace. Tenpa Chirim literally means "the hope that the Buddha's Dharma will prevail in all places and among all people of the world". The festival is based on the myth of deity Dorju Shunu (Manaslukila) who was reborn in order to defeat the demons and evil forces that created hell and suffering on earth bringing peace and prosperity to the country. During the three day masked dance festival, Dorje Shunnu reveals his various forms, and an ancient thangka of Padmasambhava is unfolded. It is believed that simply attending Tiji will bring merit to those who observe. An accomplished monk is chosen as the key dancer and leader of the ceremony, regarded as the deity Dorje Shunu who slays the demon and wards off all evil. He must have special initiations, be well versed in scripture and particular dance steps and recite passages during the trance. He must go on a three-month solitary retreat play, remaining in isolation to prepare his mind and purify himself reciting mantras.

Like an ancient passion brilliant masked dancers leap in brocade costumes, as the mesmerized audience watches on rapt as evil is defeated.

Lo Monthang.  Lodging at Mystic.  (B, L, D)

Day 13  – May 14 –  Monday – Lo Monthang (3840 m, 12814 ft)– Tsarang, Mustang (3560 m, 11878 ft)

On the final afternoon of Tiji Festival, the ritual master offers ritual offerings of nectar to appeal for help from all the gods. Before and after the effigy is cut, animal masked dances are performed by the monks. An effigy of dough is made and as the ritual master faces northeast, pierces the effigy with the symbolic dagger. The cut head of the effigy is buried in front of the palace entrance. As the dances end, a raucous procession forms led by the masked dancers followed by members of the royal family to the outskirts of the town.  Members of the Royal family and his aides fire a few rounds from a musket into the air. The ritual master prays to the gods and to different symbols of protection from evil: bow and arrow, sling and other instruments for defeating evil. The offerings are flung to the ground, the demon is declared banished amidst loud cries and firing of muskets as the community joyously shouts Lha Gyalo! Victory to the gods! Signifying the end of the festival until next year. At the end of the ceremony, after a cup of tea, we jump in jeeps and make our way to the former capital of Tsarang for the night.

Tsarang. Maya Lodge. (B, L, D)

Day 14  – May 15 –  Tuesday – Jomsom, Lower Mustang (2730m,9110 ft)

Intrepids prepare! We awake in Tsarang, the first capitol of Mustang, established by Lo's first king Amapel (1388-1447). Tsarang's ancient crumbling palace sits nearby Tsarong's distinctively earthen striated monastery, restored in 1427 by the famous Sakya saint Kunga Zangpo who consecrated the temple and 12 mandalas of the yoga class. From a state of decay in 2008, the monastery is reviving with new income into the region and many more young monks are studying Buddhist doctrine, filling its halls once more. We explore the old palace filled with ancient weaponry and a nearby flourishing nunnery. We wrap ourselves in scarves and masks like desperados for a rugged yet spectacular adventurous jeep ride down to the Kali Gandaki River--the Himalayan Grand Canyon--an earthen birth canal back to Jomsom. The jeep ride is challenging, yet necessary- a life rite of sorts. We stop for lunch in Chusang and make it to Jomsom in time for hot showers to watch the sunset on the snow capped Nilgiri Himal. 6-hour jeep ride. Farewell dinner for crew. Put on your dancing boots!

Om Hotel, Jomsom (B, L, D)

Day 15 – May 16  – Wednesday – Jomsom – Pokhara – (1400 m, 4671 ft)

If the gods and winds are with us, we will depart by morning flight, and fly down to Pokhara, then again on to Kathmandu with a free afternoon for shopping or exploring. We have scheduled an extra day if flights are delayed due to weather. If so, we will explore the Thakali town of Marpha, a little “Greek-like” community famed for its unique architecture blending Tibetan and Nepali styles. If we are delayed due to weather, participants will need to cover additional costs as this is out of the control of the trip guides. If we reach Kathmandu—you are on your own for lunch and dinner- we will make suggestions.

Hotel Manaslu (L & D>On your own) 

Day 16  – May 17 – Thursday –  Kathmandu (1400 m, 4671 ft)

Rest day or early morning guided optional tour of Bhaktapur.  A 30-minute taxi ride from Kathmandu, the Hindu city of Bhaktapur, has preserved its traditional character and is an enchanting display of medieval Nepalese town life architecturally based on Hindu cosmology. A highlight is Durbar Square, with its many temples, remains of an ancient palace, and intricate Sun Dhoka (“Golden Gate”), a gilded copper gate crafted in 1753. Possible to visit potters square, throw a pot and head to the traditional music school. There’s plenty of shopping to be had as you stroll around.

If you sign up for the recommended tour, a contribution towards transport and guide is appreciated, Rs/ 1500 each USD$15. Ticket entrance fee to Bhaktapur is Rs/ 1500. (USD$15) is extra.

After tour, we’ll make suggestions where you can have lunch.

Alternative to touring Bhaktapur, visit Kathmandu on your own. By western standards, the city is intimate. You can visit the many interesting sights, shrines and markets, or stroll in Kathmandu's fascinating Asan Tole bazaar. Don't miss the Durbar Square… then there’s Thamel:  backpacker’s area, many deals to be had.  Located just east of Thamel is the magnificent Garden of Dreams, restored to its previous splendor, show cases the Rana period, 1850-1950.  Lunch in the Garden or, choose Fire and Ice Pizzeria across the street. For the early bird, visit Swayambhunath (the “Monkey Temple,” overlooking the entire Valley; go at sunrise if you want to take in ritual time with the many Buddhist pilgrims.

You could also hire a driver or take a taxi to the nearby traditional city of Patan, visit the world class Patan Museum and lunch behind Museum at the Summit Café.  For shoppers, Millennium: whole sale jewelry/ Thamel.

Sustain your Body/Sustain the Earth… visit Wild Earth Pvt. Ltd, Dhapasi Marg, Bansbari, tele#977-1-4374178 / 4650240 handcrafted soap, massage oil, essential oils, aromatic amulets and pillows, incense, balm and cream, herbal sachets. A perfect gift might be a signed picture book by Thomas and Carroll: The Hidden Himalayas, Tibet: Reflections from the Wheel of Life, Sacred Landscape, Himalayan Pilgrimage to Tibet or, Himalayan Style. We gather for a final farewell dinner, with a new respect for the extraordinary geography we have traversed and a greater understanding of the Himalayan Kingdom.

(B> Hotel Manaslu, L>Patan, D>Thomas and Carroll’s House)


Day 17 – May 18 – Friday – Departure

Bid farewell, Himalayan style. Depart Nepal on flights back home.