Susan's Bucket List Destinations: Nepal
Nepal is an incredible destination offering so much - adventure, jaw-dropping beauty, World Unesco sites, excellent cuisine, off-the-beaten-track exploration, fabulous accommodations, history, culture, and eight of the world's largest mountains including Mount Everest. Animal lovers can observe Bengal tigers, rhinos, crocodiles, take part in an elephant safari, and more. Adventure seekers can get their adrenaline rush with bungee jumping, microlight flights, zip lining, luxury hiking, and beyond. Spiritualists will find peace in the mantras of the monasteries,
Considered the most authentic Tibetan culture still remaining, the village of Mustang is one of the most special places I have visited in the world. Located on the top of the world, this hidden gem is north of Nepal and surrounded on three sides by Chinese-held Tibet. The stories of Mustang's history are extensive and filled with intrigue and superstition, a culture characterized by myths and spirituality. As I see it, Mustang has a similar state as that of Bhutan...and much more. It's culture is even more fragile and needs to be handled with care, and responsible tourism to the area plays an important role. I was fortunate enough to visit, and I wanted to share my experience with you.
From Pokhora we traveled by helicopter for a 30 minute flight to Jomsom, the gateway and administrative center in the lower Mustang region. There are views of mountains all around as you trace the great Kali Gandaki River and fly over the deepest gorge in the world.
Jomsom is a mix of an ancient trading town and also the beginning and end of many treks...from Pokhara or Muktinath, the important pilgrimage site for both Buddhists and Hindus. This is the region of the Thakali speaking people, natives of Mustang, who also speak Tibetan due to their ancient business contacts with merchants across the border. Politically we may still be in Nepal, but geographically, climatically, and ethnically we are essential in Tibet.
The helicopter then flew from Jomson to Lo-Manthang, the capital of Mustang. The flight follows the Caravan Route used when people of Mustang traded with Tibet, and the views are incredible. Yellow, barren, wind-eroded cliffs and spires stand tall above gorges, with little villages scattered throughout.
After about 30 minutes, we came to the medieval walled city of Lo-Manthang, located in the upper Mustang region. UNESCO sums it up perfectly – ‘there is no comparison to this unique settlement’. This isolated Tibetan settlement is still the main salt, food and clothing trading route between Nepal and Tibet, with everything still transported by mule. Entering the city, we were surrounded by with Mustang horses & hundreds of goats herded through narrow lanes, women sitting around spinning Tibetan aprons in its open courtyard and Buddhist Monks praying and performing ceremonies in the former King's palace.
In "Lo", rulers used their immense wealth to build monasteries and libraries filled with giant prayer books written in gold. Of the four major temples, Jampa Lhakhang or Jampa Gompa is the oldest, built in the 15th century and dominated by a three story high Buddha statue. We also visited Thubchen Gompa with its huge red assembly hall and breathtaking preserved ancient Buddhist art.
We then proceeded via helicopter to Caves of Mustang - undoubtedly the best kept secret of the Himalayas. We flew past hundreds of caves that are carved into the fragile, sandy colored cliffs, some 155 feet high and more than thousands of years old!
In a word, this trip was stunning. We saw no other tourists while on our journey, and it truly a mysterious destination with cultural depth, interesting stories, history, and people.
Are you interested in experiencing this remote corner of the world? Contact me for details.