Journey to Mustang

Posted in 15th Aug, 2019

Full of anticipation for our trip to Mustang, we flew with our guide Sonam, from Pokhara to Jomsom and were not disappointed with stunning views from the aircraft. We were met at the airport by driver Tenzing and piled into 4WD with our luggage. From this point on, the scenery was amazing and like nothing, we had ever seen before. Stark bare mountains, some snow-capped with incredible colours in the formation of sculptured cliffs from beige, red, orange, grey to hues of purple and many shades in between. Around each bend another breathtaking vista with brilliant blue sky.

Our first stop for the morning was YakDonalds at Kagbeni for a most unexpected delicious cappuccino. We then wandered around the village and visited the local Sam- phelLing Monastery. The old Monastery is 585yrs old and the newer one is a very fine building. The monk who was showing us around wanted to know where we came from and when we said Australia, he said there was visiting Australian teaching the boys and took us to meet him. He is from Melbourne and visits each year teaching English and giving classes in simple science projects, a great hit with the young monks. All in all an interesting stop. Then drove on to Chuksang for an overnight stop, driving through a very wide river bed. By this time the wind had picked up and not particularly pleasant outside. If you could get out of the wind, the sun was still lovely and warm. This is where we saw for the first time, orchards of Mustang apples – quite delicious. Most lodges had apple pie on the menu.

Next morning we set out for Ghami. Not far out, we had a crossing of Kali Gandaki River at Chele, a huge river bed with fast-flowing silted water in 2 areas. Tenzing could not judge the depth of the water because of the silt colouration, so-called in a local ranger who came and showed the best path through. Still scary but we made it OK. Again stunning scenery but the road not great, plenty of bumps, water crossings, hairpin bends with great drops to the side. The road goes from China, Tibet, Nepal and into India and is a 5-year project funded by China and India. Apparently, they are into the third year of the project but there is still so much to be done. Sometimes we drove UP with a waterfall coming DOWN! Tenzing was an amazing driver and we felt quite safe with him at the wheel!

The barren landscape is broken up by small villages with trees and fields of green, beside the many rivers. Irrigation from the rivers supplies the only water for crops of wheat, millet, apples, barley, potatoes, buckwheat, peas. Virtually no rain falls in Mustang. The mud-built houses with packed earth floors are built close together for protection from the weather and they appear to be dark with very small windows and doors. The villages have many narrow alleyways with walled enclosures for animals. Villagers loved it when we greeted them with “tashidalek”. Our lodge in Ghami was originally a Royal household (where we ate) and a newer building across the alleyway where we slept most comfortable especially with the afternoon sun streaming in through large windows and out of the wind.

Next day we drove to Lo Manthang (3810M) again with dramatic scenery along the way with caves seemingly blasted out of the cliff faces. Lo Manthang is the capital of the region and the largest settlement we visited.  By the time we arrived, the wind was strong and villagers were huddled in sheltered sunny spots to get the last of the day’s warmth. The walled town is an assortment of houses, grouped together by narrow winding alleyways. We had been told Lo Manthang was colder than previous places we had stayed and this was certainly true. Very strong Tibetan Buddhist culture. Did find a WiFi cafe that served good cappuccinos.

Next morning we visited the old 14th-century Jempa Monastery and 15th-century Thupchen Gompa. Then drove the 15k to the Tibetan border (4660M) at Kora Pass – this was the best road we had encountered so far! Border area very bleak with Chinese guards on duty on another side of gate and fence. On the way back we drove to Chosercaves which are 6 stores inside – didn’t go in as the ceilings appeared not to be too high and not great for tall people. We then drove back to Ghami and Royal lodge again stopping at Tsrang visiting the monastery situated on the edge of a gorge and quite stunning.

Dr John G Niven and Helen Niven