Trekking the Upper Mustang Trail

Only opened to tourists in the 1990s, the Last Forbidden Kingdom, or the Upper Mustang Trail as it is more commonly known, is a wonderful trek for any alpine hiker. Typically done in eleven days (excluding travel days), this magnificent walk takes you slowly up the long Mustang Valley along an ancient salt caravan route into one of the least travelled areas of Nepal. Stunning moonscape views across expansive plateaus and of gorgeous 8000m peaks await around every switchback.

The Basics
Kathmandu
Kathmandu

Closest Major City: Pokhara, Nepal

Start: Jomsom Airport

Accommodations: Teahouses, small hotels

Costs: $1,750 – $3,000 including guide porter, food, accommodations and $500 visa

Length: 11 Days + Travel days

When to Go: March through October

This is a remote trek, and much less visited than many other treks in Nepal. The remoteness of the hike comes at a cost, however, as anyone attempting to complete this trek requires a permit and a guide. We booked our tour from a Kathmandu travel agent and it included all flights, food, guide, porter and accommodation. The permit to hike the Mustang cost approximately $500 US per person.

Starting into Mustang from Jomson
Starting into Mustang from Jomson
Barrier for paying the $500 tracking fee
Barrier for paying the $500 tracking fee

The Nepalese government’s reasoning for requiring guides and fees is to limit access to such a pristine environment in order to protect the wilderness and the Buddhist culture. Though the price can seem steep at first, the solitude on the trail is very welcome and allows you the opportunity to better experience the local villages. It is also worth noting that many of the guiding services include porters and hotel bookings.

Typically, parties will begin by flying into the capital of Nepal, Katmandu. Spend a few days to enjoy the town and all the experiences it offers. Next fly or drive to Pokhara, then fly to Jomsom. The Jomsom airport is tiny with a fanatic view. In fact, the flight to Jomsom is almost worth the money itself, as the views of the Himalayas are stunning. The trek starts in Jomsom, at approximately 2800m elevation, and reaches a maximum of approximately 4000m when you get deepest into the valley.

Health
Walk out of Kagbeni
Walk out of Kagbeni
Chucksang
Chucksang

A major concern in any trip to the Himalaya is health. Trekkers should focus on two aspects of health: elevation and stomach bugs.

For many people the elevation will be quite difficult to deal with. Though you may not be covering an immense distance each day, the kilometers you do feel harder due to the elevation. It is hard to stress how important is it to take time and listen to your body when on this trek. Consider budgeting extra time for the trek so you can hike slowly and not gain too much altitude each day, ideally not more than 300m gain from bed to bed each day. We also recommend going to a doctor before the trek and getting medication for altitude sickness. These drugs only help with symptoms of elevation, and don’t make your body acclimatize faster.

Hike from Chucksang to Samar
Hike from Chucksang to Samar
En route to Samar
En route to Samar

Altitude can impact your trekking plans. It is worth noting that guides have connections to jeeps in the area that can get you from one village to the next. If you have to take a day off, you can always catch up with your group by a bumpy ride the rocky roads.

While in Nepal, it is worthwhile to be very careful of what you eat and drink to minimize the chances of stomach problems. We focus on ensuring everything is cooked thoroughly and served very hot and this has worked well in the past for us. We like fresh dal bhat, fried eggs and piping hot french fries. On our last trip to Nepal this is what we ate every day and we didn’t get sick once.

The Route
Elevation Chart (only one-way shown)
Elevation Chart (only one-way shown)

The trail starts at the base of the Upper Mustang Valley and winds its way up the gorgeous valley. Most views are that of a moonscape; as vegetation is sparse in the desert-like climate. As a product of the lack of the shrubbery, the high winds, and the great plains which surround much of the trek, dust becomes a serious annoyance. Though there is little one can do to eliminate the sands’ annoyance, a head scarf does help.

Walking through the oases which you pass through along the trail are a real treat! The classic Mustang view is of dozens of kilometers of extremely sparse rocky hills, totally contrasted by shimmering white peaks jutting up high in the distance. Though these 7000m and 8000m peaks do not provide the immediate scenery to the Mustang, their overshadowing presence still provides a stunning backdrop to the impressively bleak immediate surroundings.

Monks in Samar
Monks in Samar
Monastery in Samar
Monastery in Samar

A highlight of this trek is visiting small traditional Nepalese villages and seeing the monasteries along the way.

Day 1: Fly to Jomsom and trek to Kagbeni [units unit="m" value="2780"] around 3-4 hrs

Day 2: Trek to Chhuksang around 5-6 hrs

Day 3: Trek to Samar around 4-5 hrs

Day 4: Trek to Geling around 5- 6 hrs

Day 5: Trek to Charang around 5-6 hrs

Outside Lo Manthang
Outside Lo Manthang
Heading back from Lo Manthang
Heading back from Lo Manthang

Day 6: Trek to Lo Manthang around 2-3 hrs

Day 7: Rest day and explore Lo Manthang

Day 8: Trek to Lo Gekar

Day 9: Trek to Ghami [units unit="m" value="3460"] around 6 hrs

Day 10: Trek to Chhuksang around 5-6 hrs

Day 11: Trek to Jomsom around 5-6 hrs

Accommodation
Tiny towns in Mustang
Tiny towns in Mustang
Oasis town in Mustang
Oasis town in Mustang

Accommodation on the trek is very primitive. Typically, you will be staying in dormitory style rooms with little to no heating. In the most of these hostels you are required to bring your own sleeping bag. When we did the trek in the fall, our sleeping bags where rated to -10 degrees Celsius, and we were right on the brink of being cold. Especially if you have porters, we recommend bringing a slightly warmer sleeping bag. In addition, a large down jacket (or two!) will increase your comfort in the mornings and evenings. The best time to do the trek is in the spring and the fall, due to the monsoons in the summer.

Food
Buddhist prayer wheels in Mustang
Buddhist prayer wheels in Mustang
Mustang view from highest pass
Mustang view from highest pass

Food-wise, the trek is also very primitive. All of the teahouses along the trail have joined a standard cooperative, where they all have set prices and relatively set menus. This means that you are ensured to have a safely prepared meal, and a menu in English! They all make various kinds of imitation western foods (spaghetti, french fries, omelets), but if you are really hungry we recommend the Dal Baht. It is a traditional Nepalese dish (thus is usually better than the western stuff) and is usually all you can eat! We had no food poisoning issues while on the trail.

The Mustang Trek is one of the great treks in Nepal, and allows modern travelers the experience of what trekking in Nepal must have been like decades ago. Around every corner lies a new vista to be discovered, and in every new village another nugget of Tibetan culture.