The hidden world of the ancient Buddhist kingdom, Upper Mustang is a remote area in Nepal with highly preserved Tibetan culture. Due to military unrest in the late 80s, it was not until 1992 that this region was reopened to foreign trekkers. Tucked and hidden from the outside world, the culture, mostly of Tibetan origin, has been well preserved. The region boasts of unspoiled nature with a landscape unlike any other places in Nepal.
Although it lies in the Himalayas, the terrain is a mixture of snow-capped mountains and desert lands. The people of Mustang strive to preserve the beauty and culture of the place, and hence, trekking in this region is a privilege. The local government has imposed very strict policies, and expensive fees to limit the entry of the outside world to this secret kingdom in Nepal. And therefore, this place is not very known to many tourists and very much less traveled.
To those who love exploring the unknown, and not being trapped in touristic places in Nepal, this hidden kingdom is definitely a place you would like to get into and experience, not just the unique landscape of the region, but also the culture of its people. You don’t want to miss this short video, this is much powerful to convince you how Upper Mustang would look like than in my word.
While it is restricted, it is not impossible to trek in the area. Upper Mustang trek requires at least 12-14 days of trekking days. As mentioned above, what makes this the most expensive trek in Nepal is the cost of the permit. Therefore, it is worth knowing more about the region first before embarking on a journey! While it is expensive, I can assure you that it is worth every penny! Hopefully, the short introduction above has enticed you to visit the area!
I have been in the region a couple of times and in this article, I hope to share my experience with Upper Mustang to help you plan your trekking itinerary. I encourage you to read on until the end as there are quite a few relevant tips about Mustang including our suggested itinerary. If you have any questions about this article, please do not hesitate to post a comment at the bottom of this page. If you enjoy reading, we would also appreciate giving us a rating at the bottom of the page
Where does the trek start?
Let’s start off with where you should plan to arrive in Nepal. The only international airport in Nepal is in Kathmandu, therefore, you should plan to arrive here. You are then required to travel to Pokhara from Kathmandu. Pokhara is the second-largest city in Nepal and also a popular tourist destination in the country. Since you are required to be in Pokhara anyways, you may want to explore the city as well and do some tours in Pokhara. If you are after the acclimatization and some practice day hikes, there are several short hikes available around the Pokhara valley, depending on how many spare days you may have.
From Pokhara, you should plan to either fly or drive to Jomsom. We would recommend traveling by plane unless you have plenty of days to spare. Jomsom is where you would want to start the trek.
Local transportation: If you don’t mind traveling a long distance via overland, there is a direct local bus to Jomsom from Kathmandu as well. The bus departure 15:00 hour and arrives at Jomsom early next day which takes roughly about 13-14 hours to reach Jomsom for the local bus. Yes, it is a long journey but it is the cheapest option to reach the trailhead. The journey might not be very safe during monsoon(June-September) but during the dry season (November-May) it is doable. You can make a stopover in Pokhara and spend a night and follow the destination on the next day if you want to make it a short journey.
Upper Mustang Trek would require roughly 10 days in the restricted area. You will also need to allow around 3 days for traveling to/from Kathmandu.
14 Days Mustang Trek Itinerary
|Days||Day to Day Itinerary||Elevation||Trek hour|
|1||Kathmandu to Pokhara on (Tourist Bus, flight,)||853m||2,113 ft||7 hr. Bus/30 min Flight|
|2||Fly to Jomsom from Pokhara and trek to Kagbeni||2,847m||9,340 ft||4 – 5 hours|
|3||Kagbeni to Chele||3,050m||10,006 ft||5-6 hours|
|4||Chele to Zhaite||3,730m||12,237 ft||7-8 hours|
|5||Zhaite to Charang (via Dhakmnar and Lo Gekar)||3575m||11,729 ft||5-6 hours|
|6||Charang to Lo Manthang (explore the ancient city)||3820m||12,532 ft||5-6 hours|
|7||Lo Manthang (Namgyal Gompa and Thinggar Valley)||3780m||12,532 ft||Rest day|
|8||Lo Manthang rest day and Explore around||3780m||11,729 ft||Rest day|
|9||Dhakmar via Lo Gekar||3730m||12237 ft||6-7 hours|
|10||Gekker to Geling||3,570m||11,729 ft||7-8 hours|
|11||Geling to Chuksang||2,950m||9,678. ft||5-6 hours|
|12||Chuskang to Jomsom||2,750m||9,022 ft||5-6 hours|
|13||Jomsom to Pokhara||853m||2,798 ft||25-minute flight|
|14||Pokhara to Kathmandu||1,300m||4,265 ft||7 hr. Bus / 30 min Flight|
14 Days Detail Itinerary
Day 01 Travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara (Tourist Bus, flight,) 853m 2,113 ft 7 hr. Bus / 30 min Flight
The first leg of your journey is in Kathmandu. To reach the trailhead to Upper Mustang, you are required to travel Pokhara and then to Jomsom. Depending on your budget and the comfort you need, you can choose different options. While the tourist bus to Pokhara is the budget option takes 6-7 hours, you can also take a 30-minute flight to Pokhara if you decide to get the convenient options.
Day 02: Fly to Jomsom from Pokhara and trek to Kagbeni 2,847m 9,340 ft 4 – 5 hours
Since there is no direct flight from Kathmandu to Jomsom you are required to travel to Pokhara and the following day fly again to Jomsom. Jomsom is where you would want to start Upper Mustang trek. Today we will walk about 4-5 hours and spend overnight in Kagbeni. Based on history Kagbeni was abandoned by the demon, was the ancient capital of Mustang. Late in the afternoon, we will go for a walk around the abandoned area and visit Buddhist monasteries. Kagbeni is the border that splits between the upper and lower part of the Mustang. Up to Kagbeni, you can visit without a special permit but above then that you have to issue a restricted permit to enter upper parts of the Kagbeni.
Day 03: Kagbeni to Chele 3,050 /10,006 ft 5-6 hours of hike
The actual upper Mustang hike starts towards the bank of the river of Kaligandaki. Today you will pass by villages Tangbe and Chusang. Made with mud and white painted narrow alleys, you will pass through apple garden and colorful buckwheat field.
Day 04: Chele to Zhaite 3,730m 12,237 ft 7-8 hours
Leaving behind the dirt road, today we will make two of the high passes of Upper Mustang to enter another high valley of Lo. Total time of 7-8 hours of hike, we will cross the Taklam La pass (3,624m) and Dajori La pass (3,735). If the sky is clear, the trail offers the view of Tilicho, Yakawa Kang and Damodar Danda and passes by Ramchung Cave. Despite the fact that it might be difficult days due to the two high passes, It is also considered to be the best day so far you have made it.
Day 05: Zhaite to Charang (via Dhakmnar and Lo Gekar) 3575m 11,729 ft 5-6 hours
This day is the continuation of gaining high altitude through constant changing up and down. We have one other high passes to conquer ahead of us call Yamda La pass at 3,850m. We will pass by several villages which brings a tone of Tibetian lifestyle. After the two high passes, this region gives more Tibetian vibes, while below Syngbouche it is more of a Gurung and Thakali culture influence from lower Mustang and Manang area (District next to Mustang)
Day 06: Charang to Lo Manthang (explore the ancient city) 3820m 12,532 ft 5-6 hours
Upper Mustang is also known as the grand canyon of trans-Himalaya. Today is the day you will realize why they call Upper Mustang as a Grand Canyon. The trail goes through the deep red rock canyon that gives the look of Arizona in the United States. From Charang, you will hike descend to the base of Kaligandaki river and cross another side of the river before you ascend again to another high pass of 3950m (Lola-La Pass). It allows you to enjoy the dynamic view of the Lo-Manthang valley and several other red rock mountains with towering snow cap Tilicho peak right above you.
Day 07: Lo Manthang (Namgyal Gompa and Thinggar Valley) 3780m 12,532 ft Rest day
This is the day we were waiting to accomplish. Completely hidden from outside world Lo-Manthang (3,800m) is the capital of the last Buddhist kingdom of Nepal built in the 15th century. The Buddist capital of Lo-Mangtang has a lot to offer. Today we will explore 3 of the major ancient monasteries namely Jhampa, Thupchen, Chooser, and Chhoeda in Tinggar Valley. It will be the most exciting day you been waiting for.
Day 08: Lo Manthang rest day and Explore around 3780m/11,729 ft Rest day
Since Lo-Manthang and it’s surrounding is a major attraction, We design two buffer days in order to give you more time to explore in the secret land. Today we will let you experience the pony ride to the border of Tibet China and later in the evening hike to Tingkhar. It is located north-west of Lo-Mangtang offers overlooking views of the valley and ancient Gomba from the top.
Day 09: Lo-Mangtang to Dhakmar via Lo Gekar, Ghar Gomba 3730m /12237 ft 6-7 hours
This day we will make decent down to Dhakmar, via Ghar Gomba. Ghar Gomba is the main attraction today. Among the locals this Gomba is famous, and it believes anything you wish will be fulfilled. After a quick Gomba sightseeing, we will continue our journey towards Dhakmar and spend our night.
Day 10: Dhakmar Geker to Gelling 3,570m 11,729 ft 7-8 hours
From today the trail connects to the same path as we hiked up. For 14 days itinerary, you can’t extend via Yara Gomba due to the short time. If you wish to make an alternative circuit route, you may need to add two extra days. The journey in midday might be harassing due to the strong wind against us. However, the panoramic view of Nilgiri, Dhaulagiri is still worth on the south side.
Day 11: Gelling to Chuksang 2,950m 9,678. ft 5-6 hours
It is basically the same way back. You will be able to enjoy the view we missed on the way up. We will continue our journey to Chuksang. Due to the strong wind after midday, we usually start our trip early so skip the wind and later in the evening we will have time for a village sightseeing.
Day 12: Chuskang to Jomsom 2,750m/9,022 ft 5-6 hours
Walking through the river valley, today we will exit the restricted area. We spend an exact ten days in a forbidden area. Leaving behind all the memories of Upper Mustang we are ready to set off for Pokhara. It is our last night in the Mustang area. This is the last camp before we leave this region. You may want to enjoy the last toss of local Marpha alcohol cider or apple brandy from the area with your guide support crew.
Day 13: Jomsom to Pokhara 853m 2,798 ft 25-minute flight
Early in the morning, we will catch the flight to Pokhara and head back to Kathmandu. If you wish to fly again or take the local bus/ private car to Kathmandu, you may reach Kathmandu on the same day. But if you are traveling on a tourist bus, you must wait until the next day. Please note, during the extreme weather condition flight may delay or even canceled. Alternatively, you can also take the local jeep to Pokhara. The journey might take 6-7 hours, but it is worth spending a long hour in such a small size vehicle as the trail down is also scenic.
Day 14: Pokhara to Kathmandu 1,300m 4,265 ft 7 hr. Bus / 30 min Flight
Tiji Festival Itinerary For 2020
Tiji Festival the most celebrated festival in the region, which literally means, ‘prayer for world peace’. This festival is a three-day event characterized by the dancing of monks to commemorate the incarnation of Buddha. It is normally held in the third or last week of May. If you are ever in the region around this time, it is highly recommended to include this in your itinerary. For 2020 Tiji festival starts on Sat 19 May 2020, – 21st, 6:00 pm. (3 days) Each of these days is very important and exciting to participation. However, 20 May is the Main day.
If you are particularly visiting Mustang for a Tiji festival, you may want to allow at least 18-20 days. 14 The itinerary below is the extended itinerary via Yara and Luri Gomba. Here is the plan for Tiji Festival 2020. First things first, let’s check out the quick video of Tiji festival
11 May 2020: Day 01: Arrival day in Kathmandu (At most)
12 May 2020: Day 02: Trekking permit and equipment preparation day
13 May 2020: Day 03: Drive or fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara
14 May 2020: Day 04: Fly from Pokhara to Jomsom 2720m and trek to Kagbeni 2800m/3-4 hours
15 May 2020: Day 05: Trek from Kagbeni to Chele 3100m/5-6 hours. Overnight at Lodge
16 May 2020: Day 06: Trek from Chele to Syngbouche 3570m/7-8 hours via Chuksi Cave. Overnight at Lodge
17 May 2020: Day 07: Trek from Syngbouche to Drakmar 3450m/5-6 hours. Overnight at Lodge
18 May 2020: Day 08: Trek from Drakmar to Lo-Manthang 3840m/6-7 hours via Ghar Gompa and Marang-La Pass.
Tiji Festival Starting Day
19 May 2020: Day 09: First-day observes Tiji Festival Lo-Manthang 3840m. Overnight at Lodge
20 May 2020: Day 10: Second day celebrate Tiji Festival Lo-Manthang 3840m. Overnight at Lodge
21 May 2020: Day 11: Final observe Tiji Festival Lo-Manthang 3840m. Overnight at Lodge
22 May 2020: Day 12: Trek Lo Manthang (3750m) to Dhi (3580m). 5-6 hours
23 May 2020: Day 13: Rest Day at Dhi and visit Yara and Luri Gompa. Overnight at Lodge
24 May 2020: Day 14: Trek Yara to Tange (3320).5-6 hours. Overnight at Lodge
25 May 2020: Day 15: Trek Tange (3320) to Chhuksang (3310m). 9 – 10 hours
26 May 2020: Day 16: Trek from Chhusang to Muktinath 3,710 m / 6-7 hours
27 May 2020: Day 17: Trek Muktinath to Jomsom 2720m/5 hours. Overnight at Lodge
28 May 2020: Day 18: Fly from Jomsom to Pokhara 820m and rest time at Pokhara. Overnight at hotel
29 May 2020: Day 19: Drive back Pokhara to Kathmandu 1340m/5-6 hours. Overnight at Hotel
30 May 2020: Day 20: Final departure from Kathmandu
Early morning at 7: 30 we will take the tourist bus and go back to Kathmandu.
Upper Mustang is most recommended to be visited between February and November. As it is located in the rain shadow part of the Himalaya, it is still the perfect destination during the monsoon season in Nepal of June – August.
You may want to avoid the cold season (end of December and January). Even the residents of Lo-Manthang leave the capital to avoid the freezing temperature and snow.
You may also want to time your visit during the most celebrated festival in the region, called “Tiji Festival” which literally means, ‘prayer for world peace’. This is a three-day event characterized by the dancing of monks to commemorate the incarnation of Buddha. This is normally held in the third week of May but exact dates vary and determined by the Buddhist calendar. If you are ever in the region around this time, it is highly recommended to include this in your itinerary.
Permit and Regulation
Most important to know as well as the Upper Mustang trekking permit. As mentioned above, this is considered the most expensive permit you are required to get in Nepal. Just in the restricted area alone, you are required to pay USD 500 per person. On top of this, as you are also entering Annapurna restricted area, you are also required the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) for USD 20.
As with other restricted areas in Nepal, individual trekkers are not allowed in the region. This means you must find a reliable and experienced local trekking agency based in Nepal, in order to process the permit and necessary arrangements for you. By Nepali law, you are also required to be accompanied by a guide and/or porter. If you really want to make it as cheap as possible, I would recommend simply hiring a porter guide for Upper Mustang trek. There are several checkpoints in the region, so this is definitely a must!
Is it really expensive to go to Upper Mustang? This is often the question from several clients interested to visit the region. The legend around Upper Mustang trek cost is true! But this is mostly due to the restricted permit. However, all other costs, such as food, accommodation, and transportation are comparable with other treks including Everest Base Camp Trek or Annapurna trek.
Several internationally-based travel companies prices this trek at least 3 times higher than the actual cost of what local company offers. You may want to consider looking at local operations as you could get the prices slashed by at least 30-40%!
One way to also reduce the cost is to find trekking partners to at least share the cost of porter or guide! And it is always fun to travel with a group as well!
It is indeed an expensive trek compared to other base camps trek in Nepal, and largely due to the restricted permit (as mentioned, this alone is USD 520 including ACAP). As they always say, you always get your money’s worth and there is a reason why this is the most expensive permit set by the government.
More and more trekkers are being drawn to the mystery that this region has to offer and we encourage you to find out for yourself. Please comment here if you would like us to organize or find a trekking partner/group for you. We are a locally based company and you can read the reviews from other clients and fellow travelers here.