Friday, September 4, 2015

Mustang and Lo Manthang | The Itinerary Part I

The sky caves of Mustang
April 19  2015

 South Col had a group of eight trekkers to Mustang and Lo Manthang last April 2015. The morning dawned clear in Pokhara and all the peaks were visible after the rain the previous evening.  Our 7 am flight to Jomsom was bang on time and I was sitting on the left side so I had splendid views of the peaks including Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri and Tukuche. I could also clearly see below me the route we had taken on so many treks - Austrian camp, Poon hill and the valley of the Kali Gandaki . On the right side of the aircraft was visible the Annapurnas and Machapuchare.

Dhaulagiri from the flight between Pokhara and Jomsom

The Kali Gandaki valley near Jomsom
We had breakfast at Windy Valley Jomsom and left around 8- 50am for Kagbeni. The current road followed the right bank of the Kali Gandaki though for most of the way there were a large number of jeeps ferrying Indian pilgrims to the holy temple of Muktinath. We reached Eklai Bhatti in about an hour and a half as it was the first day and we were not yet acclimatised. We entered Kagbeni around noon and stayed at the Yakdonalds hotel which had good food but poor dark rooms which also had a peculiar smell!  We also visited the interesting Kag Chode monastery with a monastery school for young lamas.

Jomsom airport and Nilgiri

April 20 2015

Shyam our sirdar and I were at the permit office by 6 am and we finally got the permits stamped and completed by 6.45am. Next to the permit office is Cafe Applebee's with a dress circle view over the Kali Gandaki and the entrance of Upper Mustang. Standing there in the early morning light and watching the Kali Gandaki flowing gently through the gorge with the first rays of the sun lighting up the red and ochre cliffs was a breathtaking experience.

The Kali Gandaki before Kagbeni
We left for Chuksang in a jeep as we wanted to gain some time on the first day and make better progress into Mustang. The jeep ran on a dirt track road and in forty minutes reached Chuksang - what would have taken us four hours on the trail! Chuksang is a very impressive village with green fields of freshly planted vegetables backed by sheer cliffs in a myriad of shapes and patterns. The sculpted rock canyons of upper Mustang start here and many have the famous sky caves of Mustang built into the rocks!

The village of Chuksang

We had breakfast at the Brakpa guest house where the omelette and toast was excellent!  We left Chuksang at around 9 05am and the trail crossed a small stream and then followed the right bank of the Kali Gandaki.  In about fifty minutes the trail crosses two bridges up ahead and above we saw the village of Chele.  We then climbed a slope for about 20 minutes and stopped at Hotel Mustang Gate for a welcome cup of tea. Nilgiri dominates the view back across the Kali Gandaki .

Some members of the South Col group to Mustang
From Chele the trail continues to climb gently up the hillside and passes a school in about 15 min. It then continues for another 35 minutes and across the valley the village of Gyekar can be seen.  The trail then starts a steep climb clinging to the side of a canyon and in a series of hairpin bends gains altitude heading up to the pass of Chele la 3630 m.  In around 75 to 80 min from the start of the climb the pass is reached and from there is a gentle 20 min stroll down to the village of Samar.

Samar which is around 3600 m boasts an excellent view of the Trans Himalaya. Nilgiri dominates the view but there is a long line of peaks to the east most of them possibly unnamed and to the west is Tukuche and possibly the summit of Dhaulagiri as well. We stayed at Hotel Himali in Samar which is a basic facility like most of the tea houses in Upper Mustang.

April 21 2015

We left Samar at 7 15am. The morning was clear and there was a splendid view of the mountains. As we left the red and ochre chortens were getting the first light - ponies were grazing below the chortens while an old woman with grizzled features turned prayer wheels below the chortens. The trail left the main gate of Samar and then descended into a gorge. It crossed a small stream and then started climbing steeply up the hill side for about 30 min and reached a clearing with another great view of the snows. The trail then followed the side of the hill climbing steadily in the hot sun.  In about one and a half hours we reached the pass of Bhena La and a 15 min stroll down the hill brought us to the one house of Bhena where we stopped for a cup of tea.

Typical Mustang chortens at Samar
From Bhena the trail to the Yamdo La is clearly visible across the hill.  The trail initially follows the jeep able road and  begins a climb up the hill side for about 40 min. It then rejoins the jeep able road and makes a gentle climb to the pass of Yamdo La 4010m. Yamdo La is reached about 75 min from Bhena and has an almost 360 degree view starting from the peaks on the Tibetan frontier  to  the peaks above Thorung La and then towards the North face of Nilgiri. From the pass Shyangbochen is seen below and is around  40 min down the hill on the jeep road.

Heading down from Yamdo La to Shyanbochen
We had lunch at the Hotel Nilgiri and left after lunch around 1.15pm. A ten minute walk uphill reaches a small pass from where the village of Ghelling could be seen about 75 minutes away.

April 22 2015

We left Ghilling at around 7 40 am.  We stayed the night at a small guest house which had minimal facilities and as we got only three rooms I used my tent for the night.  I found that the tent had iced up at night and the inner wall was damp with condensation. The trail initially travelled north climbing gently and reaches the bottom of the Nyi La pass in about 90 minutes. A half hour climb to the top brings up another spectacular view of the peaks including Annapurna 3 and Nilgiri. The trail then drops from the pass and joins the jeepable road . It then follows the road for about 45 minutes and then joins a walking trail marked “way to Ghemi”. The trail reaches another small pass in about 15 minutes and then drops steeply down the valley from where the village of Ghemi can be seen.

We stopped for lunch at the Royal Mustang hotel which had an excellent apple pie which was finished by our group. We left Ghemi at 1.10 pm and the trail  goes through the village and down to the river. Cross the river and start climbing up the other side gradually to reach another pass in about an hour. From the pass looking down the longest Mani wall in Nepal can be seen below as well as the bends of the jeep road. From the pass the trail levels off and reaches Drakmar in an hour. This part of the walk is spectacular as it  snakes its way  below the red cliffs of Drakmar.

The red cliffs of Drakmar

..... to be continued next week on  12th  September 2015 at


  1. Savor one of the most beautiful landscapes in the rain-shadow of Mt. Dhaulagiri while treading along the trails to the long lost kingdom of Upper Mustang.

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