Best Time to Do the Upper Mustang Trek in Nepal
7 Jul 2023 Santosh Gauli
Table of Content
- Introduction to Upper Mustang Trek
- Why Choose October and November for the Trek?
- Geographical Overview of Upper Mustang Region
- Permits and Regulations for Upper Mustang Trek
- Essential Trekking Gear and Equipment
- Physical Fitness and Training Tips
- Weather and Climate Conditions in October and November
- Cultural Highlights of Upper Mustang
- Ancient Monasteries and Caves along the Trek
- Sample Itinerary for Upper Mustang Trek in October and November
Introduction to Upper Mustang Trek
Upper Mustang, a hidden gem nestled in the majestic Himalayas of Nepal, offers intrepid adventurers a unique and awe-inspiring trekking experience. October and November, the autumn months, are an ideal time to embark on this extraordinary journey, as the weather is mild, the skies are clear, and the landscape is adorned with vibrant hues. With its mystical aura and preserved Tibetan culture, Upper Mustang entices trekkers from around the globe, promising an unforgettable expedition into a remote and fascinating land.
Located in the north-central part of Nepal, Upper Mustang is a restricted region that was opened to foreigners for trekking only in 1992. This untouched corner of the world presents a rare opportunity to witness a harmonious blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage. The region’s arid landscape, characterized by rugged cliffs, deep canyons, and barren deserts, creates a surreal backdrop that contrasts against the snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges. This distinctive topography, reminiscent of the Tibetan Plateau, adds an air of mystique to the trek.
October and November, known as the post-monsoon period, mark the beginning of the trekking season in Upper Mustang. During this time, the weather is stable, with clear skies and moderate temperatures. The monsoon rains have washed away the dust, leaving the terrain clean and offering trekkers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The autumnal palette adorns the landscape as golden hues spread across the vast valleys, creating a picturesque spectacle that is a delight to the eyes and soul.
Moreover, the cultural aspect of the Upper Mustang trek is equally captivating. The region, often referred to as the “Last Forbidden Kingdom,” is deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism. The trail meanders through ancient villages, where whitewashed houses, adorned with colorful prayer flags, dot the arid landscape. These settlements are home to warm and welcoming locals who have preserved their traditions and way of life for centuries. Exploring monasteries, witnessing vibrant festivals, and engaging with the local communities provide an enriching cultural experience that adds a profound depth to the trek.
In conclusion, undertaking the Upper Mustang trek in October and November promises a mesmerizing journey through a hidden paradise. The combination of surreal landscapes, vibrant autumn colors, and the captivating Tibetan culture makes this trek a truly exceptional adventure for nature and culture enthusiasts alike. It is an opportunity to traverse an off-the-beaten-path destination, immersing oneself in the untouched beauty and spiritual heritage of Upper Mustang.
Why Choose October and November for the upper mustang Trek?
October and November are considered the prime months for embarking on the Upper Mustang trek for several compelling reasons.
Firstly, the weather during these months is generally stable and pleasant. The monsoon season, which brings heavy rains and obstructed views, concludes in September. October and November offer clear skies, making it ideal for trekkers to enjoy unobstructed views of the stunning Himalayan peaks that surround the Upper Mustang region. The moderate temperatures during the day and cooler nights provide comfortable trekking conditions, allowing adventurers to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area.
Secondly, the post-monsoon period cleanses the landscape, leaving the trails less muddy and more manageable. The rain showers wash away the dust, making the terrain cleaner and more enjoyable to trek on. This means that trekkers can traverse the rugged cliffs, deep canyons, and arid deserts of Upper Mustang with greater ease and safety, appreciating the unique topography that characterizes the region.
Moreover, October and November offer a visual spectacle in Upper Mustang as the autumn season unfolds. The landscape bursts into vibrant colors, with golden hues sweeping across the valleys, creating a picturesque and awe-inspiring ambiance. The contrast between the golden fields and the snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges is truly mesmerizing, providing trekkers with breathtaking panoramic views and unforgettable photographic opportunities.
Another advantage of trekking in October and November is the cultural experience it offers. Upper Mustang is deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, and during these months, various festivals and religious ceremonies take place in the region. Trekkers may have the opportunity to witness and participate in these vibrant celebrations, providing a deeper understanding of the local culture and traditions.
Geographical Overview of Upper Mustang Region
The Upper Mustang region is a remote and captivating area located in the north-central part of Nepal, bordering Tibet (China). It is known for its rugged landscapes, ancient monasteries, and rich Tibetan cultural heritage. This geographical overview will provide insights into the physical features, climate, and notable landmarks of the Upper Mustang region.
The Upper Mustang region is situated in the rain shadow of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges, resulting in a unique and arid landscape. The region encompasses the upper Kali Gandaki River valley, which is surrounded by towering Himalayan peaks, including Annapurna and Nilgiri. The terrain is characterized by deep gorges, eroded cliffs, and vast stretches of barren hills.
Due to its location in the rain shadow, the Upper Mustang region experiences a semi-arid climate with limited rainfall. Summers are generally mild with temperatures ranging from 10 to 25 degrees Celsius (50 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit). Winters, on the other hand, can be extremely cold, with temperatures dropping below freezing point. The region is known for its strong winds, especially during the afternoon.
Lo Manthang: The capital of the former Kingdom of Lo, Lo Manthang is a walled city situated at an altitude of 3,840 meters (12,600 feet). It is renowned for its ancient monasteries, royal palace, and unique architecture. The city holds great religious and cultural significance for the local inhabitants.
Ghar Gompa: Located near the village of Ghar, this monastery is one of the oldest in the region. It is built into the face of a cliff and houses ancient Buddhist murals, scriptures, and artifacts.
Chhoser Cave Dwellings: In the village of Chhoser, there are ancient cave dwellings carved into the cliffs. These caves were once used as meditation chambers and storage facilities by monks. Exploring these caves offers a glimpse into the traditional way of life in the region.
Chosar: Chosar is a small village known for its red cliffs, which contain numerous caves and ancient burial sites. The cliffs provide a stunning backdrop to the village and offer opportunities for hiking and rock climbing.
Mustang Caves: Also known as the Sky Caves of Nepal, these cave complexes are located in the Annapurna Conservation Area. These caves are famous for their ancient Buddhist paintings and carvings, some dating back over 2,000 years.
Permits and Regulations for Upper Mustang Trek
The Upper Mustang Trek is a popular trekking route located in the Mustang region of Nepal. It is a restricted area that requires special permits and has certain regulations in place. Here is the information regarding permits and regulations for the Upper Mustang Trek, based on the knowledge available up to September 2021:
Restricted Area Permit:
To enter Upper Mustang, trekkers need to obtain a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) from the Department of Immigration in Kathmandu, Nepal. The RAP is issued for a minimum of 10 days and can be extended with an additional fee for each extra day. As of September 2021, the permit fee was USD 500 per person for the first 10 days and USD 50 for each additional day.
Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP):
Since the Upper Mustang region lies within the Annapurna Conservation Area, you will also need to obtain an Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP). The ACAP can be obtained either in Kathmandu or in Pokhara. As of September 2021, the permit fee for ACAP was NPR 3,000 (about USD 30) per person.
Registered Trekking Agency and Guide:
It is mandatory to trek in Upper Mustang with a registered trekking agency and a licensed guide. Independent trekking is not allowed in the region. The trekking agency will assist in obtaining the necessary permits, provide a guide, arrange accommodations, and ensure compliance with the regulations.
Minimum Group Size:
As of September 2021, a minimum group size of two people was required to obtain the permits for the Upper Mustang Trek. Solo trekkers were not permitted to enter the region. The group members must be of the same nationality.
Trekkers are also required to obtain a Trekker’s Information Management System (TIMS) card. However, for the Upper Mustang Trek, a TIMS card of the Annapurna region is sufficient. The TIMS card can be obtained in Kathmandu or in Pokhara. The fee for the TIMS card was NPR 1,000 (about USD 10) for individual trekkers and NPR 2,000 (about USD 20) for trekkers in a group, as of September 2021.
It’s important to note that regulations and permit fees might change over time. Therefore, it is recommended to check with the Department of Immigration or a registered trekking agency in Nepal for the most up-to-date information and requirements before planning your Upper Mustang Trek.
Essential Trekking Gear and Equipment
When embarking on an Upper Mustang trekking adventure, it is crucial to have the right gear and equipment to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are the essential items you should consider:
- Sturdy hiking boots: Provide ankle support and grip on rugged terrain.
- Layered clothing: Including a waterproof jacket, fleece or down jacket, and thermal base layers.
- Trekking pants: Lightweight, quick-drying, and comfortable.
- Backpack: A spacious and durable pack to carry essentials.
- Sleeping bag: Warm and suitable for colder temperatures.
- Trekking poles: Aid in stability and reduce strain on knees.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses: Protect against high-altitude sun exposure.
- First aid kit: Includes basic medications and supplies.
- Water bottle and water purification tablets: Ensure access to safe drinking water.
- Headlamp and extra batteries: Essential for navigating in low light conditions.
Physical Fitness and Training Tips for upper mustang trekking
When preparing for an Upper Mustang trekking adventure, physical fitness and training are crucial to ensure you have an enjoyable and successful experience. Here are some tips to help you get ready:
- Cardiovascular Fitness: Trekking in Upper Mustang involves long hours of walking at high altitudes. Focus on cardiovascular exercises like running, cycling, swimming, or brisk walking to improve your stamina and endurance. Aim for at least 30 minutes of cardio activity, three to five times a week.
- Strength Training: Strengthening your muscles will help you tackle the challenging terrain and carry your backpack. Incorporate strength training exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups, and core exercises like planks and mountain climbers. Include both upper and lower body workouts two to three times a week.
- Hiking Practice: If possible, go on regular hikes in your local area to simulate the conditions you’ll encounter during the Upper Mustang trek. Gradually increase the distance and difficulty of your hikes, including uphill and downhill sections.
- Endurance Training: Work on building endurance by gradually increasing the duration of your cardio workouts. Start with shorter sessions and progressively extend them to match the duration of an average day on the trek.
- Stair Climbing: Utilize stairs as a training tool. Incorporate stair climbing into your routine by going up and down stairs repeatedly. This exercise helps prepare your leg muscles for the uphill and downhill sections of the trek.
- Core Strengthening: A strong core provides stability and balance while trekking. Include exercises like planks, Russian twists, and leg raises to strengthen your core muscles.
- Flexibility and Stretching: Improve flexibility and prevent injuries by incorporating stretching exercises into your routine. Focus on your legs, hips, back, and shoulders. Yoga or Pilates classes can also be beneficial.
- Altitude Training: The Upper Mustang region is at a high altitude, so acclimatization is crucial. If possible, consider training at higher altitudes or using an altitude training mask to help your body adapt to lower oxygen levels.
- Weight Management: Maintain a healthy weight for the trek, as excess weight can increase the strain on your joints and reduce your endurance. Combine regular exercise with a balanced diet to achieve and maintain an optimal weight.
- Hydration and Nutrition: Stay well-hydrated throughout your training and during the trek. Practice carrying a backpack with some weight to get used to the load. Pay attention to nutrition, consuming a balanced diet with adequate carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.
Weather and Climate Conditions in October and November
Upper Mustang, located in the Trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, experiences a unique climate due to its high altitude and geographical features. In October and November, which fall during the autumn season, the weather and climate conditions in Upper Mustang are generally favorable for trekking. Here’s what you can expect:
- Temperature: In October, the average daytime temperatures range from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F) at lower altitudes and can drop to around 0°C (32°F) at higher altitudes. In November, temperatures gradually decrease, and daytime temperatures range from 5°C to 10°C (41°F to 50°F) at lower altitudes and can drop to around -5°C (23°F) at higher altitudes. Nighttime temperatures can be significantly colder, often reaching below freezing point.
- Precipitation: October and November fall within the dry season in Upper Mustang. While there may be occasional light showers, rainfall is minimal during this time, and you can expect mostly clear skies and dry weather conditions. However, it’s always wise to be prepared for unexpected weather changes in the mountains.
- Sunshine: Both October and November offer plenty of sunshine, with clear and blue skies being common. This allows for excellent visibility of the surrounding landscapes and mountain views, including the stunning views of the Himalayas.
- Wind: Upper Mustang is known for its strong winds, particularly during the spring season. In October and November, the wind speed usually decreases compared to the earlier months, but it can still be moderately windy, especially in open areas. It’s advisable to pack windproof clothing to protect yourself from the chilly winds.
- Trekking Conditions: The weather conditions in October and November make it an ideal time for trekking in Upper Mustang. The trails are generally dry and more stable, and the temperatures are comfortable for walking during the day. The scenery is beautiful, with colorful autumn foliage adding to the charm of the region.
Cultural Highlights of Upper Mustang
Upper Mustang, also known as the Kingdom of Lo, is a culturally rich region located in the Mustang District of Nepal. It is known for its unique Tibetan-Buddhist heritage and stunning landscapes. Here are some cultural highlights of Upper Mustang:
- Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries: Upper Mustang is home to several ancient Buddhist monasteries that date back to the 14th century. The region’s isolation and historical ties to Tibet have helped preserve these monasteries and their religious traditions. The monasteries of Lo Gekar, Ghar Gompa, and Tashi Kabum are among the most significant and beautiful monastic complexes in Upper Mustang.
- Lo Manthang: The walled city of Lo Manthang is the capital of Upper Mustang and the cultural center of the region. It is an ancient town with narrow alleys, traditional mud-brick houses, and a palace that has been home to the King of Mustang for centuries. The town is rich in Tibetan art, architecture, and cultural practices.
- Tibetan Festivals: Upper Mustang celebrates various Tibetan Buddhist festivals that offer a glimpse into the local culture and traditions. The Tiji Festival, also known as the “Chasing of the Demons,” is one of the most popular festivals in the region. It is a three-day event that involves colorful masked dances, rituals, and celebrations to mark the victory of good over evil.
- Cave Dwellings: Upper Mustang is famous for its ancient cave dwellings carved into the cliffs. These caves were once used as meditation chambers by Tibetan Buddhist monks and hermits. Some caves contain religious murals, ancient manuscripts, and statues, providing insights into the region’s spiritual history.
- Thangka Art: Thangka painting is a traditional Tibetan Buddhist art form, and Upper Mustang is known for producing exquisite Thangkas. These intricate paintings on cotton or silk depict various deities, religious scenes, and mandalas. The town of Lo Manthang is a great place to explore and purchase Thangka artwork.
- Trans-Himalayan Trade Route: Upper Mustang was historically an important part of the trans-Himalayan trade route between Tibet and India. The region’s strategic location facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultural influences between the Tibetan Plateau and the Indian subcontinent. The remnants of this trade route, including ancient salt caravans and trading posts, can still be seen in Upper Mustang.
- Unique Architecture: The traditional architecture of Upper Mustang is distinctively Tibetan. The houses are made of sun-baked mud bricks and have flat roofs with religious symbols painted on them. The intricate woodwork, decorative motifs, and ornate doorways reflect the region’s cultural heritage.
Exploring Upper Mustang provides an opportunity to witness and experience the unique Tibetan-Buddhist culture that has thrived in this remote region for centuries. However, please note that Upper Mustang is a restricted area in Nepal, and visitors require a special permit to enter. It is always advisable to check the latest travel regulations and guidelines before planning a visit.
Ancient Monasteries and Caves along the Upper Mustang trek
The Upper Mustang trek in Nepal is a fascinating journey that takes you through a remote and culturally rich region. Along this trek, you can find several ancient monasteries and caves that hold great historical and religious significance. Here are some notable monasteries and caves you may encounter during the Upper Mustang trek:
Lo Gekar Monastery: Also known as Ghar Gompa, Lo Gekar Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Mustang. It was built in the 8th century by the famous Tibetan Buddhist philosopher Guru Rinpoche. The monastery houses beautiful murals, statues, and ancient artifacts.
Tashi Kabum: Located near the village of Tsarang, Tashi Kabum is a unique three-story monastery built into a cave. It contains several small chapels adorned with colorful frescoes and ancient Buddhist scriptures.
Choser Cave: Situated close to the village of Choser, this cave is believed to be an ancient meditation site for Buddhist monks. Inside the cave, you can find meditation cells, prayer flags, and ancient paintings.
Nyiphu Cave Monastery: This monastery is situated above the village of Ghara and is carved into a cliffside. Nyiphu Cave Monastery is renowned for its intricate rock paintings, prayer rooms, and meditation chambers.
Luri Gompa: Located in the valley of Luri, Luri Gompa is a sacred monastery that dates back to the 15th century. It is known for its beautiful murals depicting the life of Buddha and other Buddhist deities.
Chungsi Cave Monastery: Nestled in a secluded canyon, Chungsi Cave Monastery is an impressive complex of caves and temples. It is believed to have been used by Buddhist monks for meditation and spiritual retreats.
These are just a few examples of the monasteries and caves you may encounter along the Upper Mustang trek. As you explore the region, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the rich cultural heritage and spiritual traditions that have been preserved in these ancient sites for centuries.
Sample Itinerary for Upper Mustang Trek in October and November
Here’s a sample outline itinerary for the Upper Mustang trek in October and November, along with the approximate altitudes of the major stops. Keep in mind that this is just a general outline, and you may need to adjust it based on your fitness level and preferences:
Day 1: Arrival in Kathmandu (1,400 meters)
Spend the day exploring the vibrant city and make necessary preparations for the trek.
Day 2: Kathmandu to Pokhara (820 meters)
Travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara by bus or flight. Enjoy the scenic beauty of Pokhara and prepare for the trek.
Day 3: Pokhara to Jomsom (2,700 meters) to Kagbeni (2,810 meters)
Take a scenic flight from Pokhara to Jomsom, the starting point of the Upper Mustang trek.
Trek from Jomsom to Kagbeni, a beautiful village on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River.
Day 4: Kagbeni to Chele (3,050 meters)
Trek from Kagbeni to Chele, passing through beautiful landscapes and crossing several small streams.
Day 5: Chele to Syanboche (3,475 meters)
Trek from Chele to Syanboche, experiencing the dramatic change in the landscape as you enter the restricted Upper Mustang region.
Day 6: Syanboche to Ghami (3,520 meters)
Trek from Syanboche to Ghami, passing through the village of Samar and enjoying panoramic views of the Himalayas.
Day 7: Ghami to Tsarang (3,560 meters)
Trek from Ghami to Tsarang, visiting the ancient monasteries and exploring the unique cultural heritage of the region.
Day 8: Tsarang to Lo-Manthang (3,840 meters)
Trek from Tsarang to Lo-Manthang, the capital of Upper Mustang. Explore the historic monasteries, palaces, and the walled city.
Day 9-10: Explore Lo-Manthang and surrounding areas
Spend a couple of days in Lo-Manthang, exploring the cultural sites, interacting with the locals, and enjoying the breathtaking views.
Day 11: Lo-Manthang to Dhakmar (3,810 meters)
Trek from Lo-Manthang to Dhakmar, passing through scenic landscapes and ancient Buddhist caves.
Day 12: Dhakmar to Ghiling (3,806 meters)
Trek from Dhakmar to Ghiling, visiting the Ghar Gompa (Lo Gekar Monastery) along the way.
Day 13: Ghiling to Chhusang (2,980 meters)
Trek from Ghiling to Chhusang, retracing your steps through the beautiful Mustang landscape.
Day 14: Chhusang to Jomsom (2,700 meters)
Trek from Chhusang to Jomsom, where you can celebrate the completion of your trek.
Day 15: Jomsom to Pokhara (820 meters)
Take a flight from Jomsom to Pokhara and enjoy a well-deserved rest in Pokhara.
Day 16: Pokhara to Kathmandu (1,400 meters)
Travel back to Kathmandu from Pokhara, either by bus or flight.
In conclusion, embarking on the Upper Mustang trek in October and November presents a remarkable opportunity to explore the stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage of the region. The dry and stable weather during this time makes it an ideal period for trekking, with comfortable temperatures and clear skies. From the barren desert-like terrain to the ancient Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, the Upper Mustang trek promises a truly mesmerizing experience. So, if you’re seeking an unforgettable adventure amidst breathtaking scenery and a glimpse into an ancient civilization, October and November are perfect months to embark on this remarkable journey.