In a rain-shadow region of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges lies one of Nepal’s last Tibetan utopias, unknown by the masses as the Upper Mustang.
With stellar vistas of Himalayan peaks on the trails and semi-arid moonscape terrain, getting your Himalayan trek on is a Mustang-do. The weather-beaten residents are mostly Gurung and Thakali, inhabiting dwellings close to the Kali Gandaki River, 12,800 feet above sea level.
Other ethnic groups, such as the Kami/Damai, Magar, and Thakuri, also comprise Mustang District’s populace. Although come winter, when conditions become even harsher, the locals tend to migrate to areas lower down.
Upper Mustang, formerly the Kingdom of Lo, is the northern part of the Mustang District of Gandaki Province. The province encompasses three rural municipalities of Lo-Manthang, Dalome, and Baragung Mukichhetra. During our hike in September 2022, life in Upper Mustang revolved around animal husbandry, tourism, and trade.
The further we ventured, the more we craved the ancient monasteries, centuries-old sky caves, and Tibetan-style villages from a bygone era home to whitewashed dwellings with firewood stacked upon the roofs. Adding in the traditionally clad people tending their cattle, horses, and mules, it was like nowhere else.
Yup, it’s a little pricey to enter this region of Nepal. As a formerly restricted kingdom and demilitarized area — due to the presence of the CIA-trained guerillas — it was opened up to the world in 1992.
Gloriously, this is exactly what makes it one of the most geologically and culturally preserved places on Earth, by the respective isolation of the area from the external world. Needless to say, the rewards from your investment and hefty footslog will come at you tenfold. Here’s how.
Trekking in the Upper Mustang
Quick Facts About the Nepal Upper Mustang Trek
- Elevation: 9,200-14,107 ft.
- Hiking season: March to early November
- Minimum group size: Two (including a certified guide)
- Transportation to Kagbeni: Tourist bus or a private jeep from Kathmandu/Pokhara, or a flight to Jomsom plus a half-hour taxi ride.
- Ten-day trek duration: 100 miles, averaging 10 miles per day.
Difficulty of the Hike
The hike is moderate to stenuous, where you will be climbing from 9,200 to 14,107 feet. Overall, the trails are in good condition, and no technical skills are needed more than putting one leg in front of t’other.
Expect 6- to 8-hour days of steep ascents and descents mixed with “Nepali flat” (undulating gradients). Take extra care to negotiate scree-covered terrain where the path can narrow with vertiginous drops.
The footslogs (especially the 17-miler) are worth every step due to striking landscapes set high against a Himalayan backdrop — all of which hit you with a uniquely commanding view.
10-Day Trek Itinerary
Good to Know
- The itinerary has been customized to keep you on a more remote trail circuit.
- Hit the trails by 7:30 am to finish mid- to late afternoon when the wind picks up.
- Find your souvenirs on the river beds — black-colored ammonite fossils.
The Itinerary: Distances and Timings Below Are Approximate
- Travel Day: Pokhara to Kagbeni
- Day 1: Kagbeni to Chele – 9.5 miles, 6 to 7 hours, and 10,006 ft.
- Day 2: Chele to Sangboche – 9.7 miles, 6 to 7 hours, and 12,600 ft.
- Day 3: Sangboche to Dhakmar – 10 miles, 6 to 7 hours, and 12,532 ft.
- Day 4: Dhakmar to Lo-Manthang – 10.6 miles, 7 to 8 hours, and 12,600 ft.
- Day 5: Jhong Sky Caves, Chhoser – 9.5 miles, 5 hours, and 13,025 ft.
- Day 6: Exploration of The Last Forbidden Kingdom of Lo-Manthang – 12,600 ft.
- Day 7: Lo-Manthang to Yara – 10.5 miles, 7 to 8 hours, and 11,833 ft.
- Day 8: Yara to Tange – 11.5 miles, 7-8 hours, and 10,630 ft.
- Day 9: Tange to Chhusang – 17 miles, 8-9 hours, 11,676 ft.
- Day 10: Chhusang to Kagbeni – 7.5 miles, 3 hours, and 9,200 ft.
- Travel Day: Kagbeni to Pokhara
- Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit: $500 per person for 10 days. The permit starts and ends from Kagbeni in Mustang.
- Annapurna Conservation Area Project fee: $23
Nepal Upper Mustang Packing List
- Solar panel/external power bank
- SteriPEN Ultra (USB chargeable) and a filter, a LifeStraw, water bottle/hydration bladder, Water-to-Go, Squeeze Water Filtration System, or water-purifying tablets
- Maps.me app: offline trail map
- Sunglasses (polarized)
- Sewing-repair kit and superglue
- Flip flops
- Toiletries and high-SPF sunscreen for the body, face, and lips
- First-aid kit: Altitude sickness tablets such as Diamox, Compeed (blister second skins), electrolytes, cold and flu capsules, and diarrhea tablets
Nice to Have
Topography and Climate
Notably, the altitude of this itinerary rises from 9,200 feet to 14,104 feet above sea level. Upper Mustang boasts a barren moonscape. Wind-sculpted sandstone and irregular moraine terraces define the steppe landscape.
Blessed in a rain shadow, the trans-Himalayan climate of Mustang experiences a lot less rain than other tropical areas of the country. It’s cool and semi-arid.
Food and Accommodation
Of course, you will lunch en route at teahouses along the way. But it’s the etiquette to dine for your evening meal in the guesthouse where you’re overnighting.
The guide will know the best teahouses and lodges, depending on your budget and needs. Twin rooms with an attached bathroom are from $4 to $12.
Valuable Tips for Visiting the Nepal Upper Mustang
- On-arrival Nepal Upper Mustang tourist visa: 15 days is $30, 30 days is $50, and 90 days is $125.
- Bring in unmarked, new US dollar bills for a visa/trekking permit (Nepalese rupees are not accepted).
- The Department of Immigration issues permits to non-Nepalis in a minimum hiking group of two (including the guide plus a trekker) for Mustang.
- To be granted a trekking permit, an application form with your passport (travel insurance covering the maximum elevation gain, two photos, Covid vaccinations, and passport) will be submitted to the Department of Immigration via a registered Nepalese trekking agency.
- Find a trekking partner(s) if traveling solo or advertise your trip for others to join here.
- If inclusive package treks are unappealing, DIY – guides charge $25 to $50 daily.
- The agency we used for a guide and permits: Essence Treks & ExpeditionPokhara.
- Reputable female guides are available at 3Sisters Adventure TrekkingPokhara.
- Also, consider hiring a porter (around $25 per day) if you would rather manage a daypack. The less weight you carry in the Nepal Upper Mustang, the easier the through-trekking, particularly at higher elevations.
- ProceedNamaste,” the local greeting for hello, with “Dai” (means “big brother” when addressing an older male than you),”Bai(“little brother” when addressing a younger male than you),”Didi” (“big sister” when addressing an older woman than you), or “Bahini” (“little sister” when addressing a female younger than you), and the locals will think you’re a native!