Mustang's culture and landscape are Tibetan, but the area was incorporated into the modern kingdom of Nepal in the eighteenth century. We arrived tired and dirty in the ancient fifteenth century walled city of Lo Manthang, the capital of the kingdom. It really was, as Michel Peissel described, "the mythical fortress of a lost planet; in a lunar landscape of barren crests with jagged contours...a fortified town, whose rectangular bastion enclosed in its shelter a whole city."
We had hoped to meet King Jigme Palbar Bista, but learned that he was planning to leave at six o'clock the following morning. It was a now-or-never opportunity, so, grabbing ceremonial katas (scarves), we rushed to the palace. We were ushered into a meeting room, served Tibetan tea by the Queen's niece and we talked to the King through an interpreter. We learned a great deal about the problems of the people of Lo, the status of their schools, and his expectations for the future. Our audience with the king was the highlight of a trek through a dry and dusty but magnificent land, with its rocky ravines and high passes.
The trek followed the ancient salt route between Tibet and India - still used today, but not for salt. Now modern goods are carried by the Tibetan ponies, including jeans and other manufactured items coming from India, and wool products and goats going south in return. This is not the Nepal of lush green valleys, but of dry dun-coloured rolling hills and high plateaus. Tibetan is the spoken language, and the villages are dominated by large monasteries and forts.
Travelling from Kathmandu by helicopter we arrived in the administrative village of Jomson at 8,900', to acclimatize prior to starting our climb to higher elevations. Here we met our support staff of cooks and sherpas, and the nine ponies that were to carry all our food and camping gear. Moving up the Kali Gandaki valley, we passed through villages with strange sounding names like Kagbeni, Tangbe, and Chhuksang. Then the work started, as we followed the Golden Staircase, a tough climb carved out of the side of a great gorge. Our reward was a delightful campsite and fine food, at the village of Samar.
At Tsarang we pitched our tents on the roof of a house owned by the King's nephew, Tsewang Bista, a twenty-eight year old who gave us our first understanding of how life was changing in Mustang. The landscape, however, is eternal, and a few more hours of walking led us to a magnificent view overlooking the medieval city of Lo Manthang, and the prospect of tea with the King.
|The 13 day MUSTANG trek (150 km.- rated 'Challenging') is a custom trip. Permits are limited and a government liaison officer is required. Air transport is used from Kathmandu to Jomson near the Mustang border.|