The Last Forbidden Kingdom – MUSTANG

Posted By : caravanahimalaya/ 1278 0
Dear Guest:

When you enter the restricted area, you enter an ancient land with its own distinct history and tradition. Part of Nepal for two hundred years, Upper Mustang remains one of the few areas in Tibet’s original sphere of influence where Tibetan culture continues to survive.

The numerous monasteries, chortens, mahne walls and caves of Upper Mustang are manifestations of our rich cultural heritage. I hope that efforts to conserve and renovate them will help promote our culture and foster sustainable tourism that ensures our economic wellbeing.

To bring happiness and joy to the lives of the lobas is my greatest wish. The challenge we face today is to improve our living conditions, and at the same time to strengthen and keep alive our unique culture.

ACAP is here for us, an important supporter on that difficult middle path. Please be interested not only in our environment, lifestyle and culture, but also how you can help us to protect them.

Welcome & Tashi Delek !

Mustang Raja Jigmi Palbar Bista


Area and Inhabitants:

Tibet dialect (Loke). The area of Bahragaon, meaning ‘Twelve Villages’ in Nepali, extends from south of Ghiling to north of Jomsom and also falls largely inside Upper Mustang. Tibet dialect (Pheke) prevail here, too. However, the people of tangbe, Chhuksang, Tetang, Tsaile and Ghyaker instead speak Seke, a language closely related to Thakali.

The Buddhist society of Upper Mustang is divided into groups comparable to the castes of Hindu culture. The occupational castes, regarded as the lowest, comprise the Ghara, Shemba and Emeta (blacksmiths, butchers and musicians respectively). The highland nomads, called Drokpa take an outsider’s position of slightly higher status. The middle class consists of the Phalwa, who now often prefer to call themselves Gurung. The Kudak, who have adopted the Nepali name Bista for their clan, make up the nobility and royal family of Lo Tsho Dyun.


Daily Life:

Before the closure of the border, winter was the time for trade with Tibet. Now a days, the greater part of Upper Mustang’s village trek south after the October harvest and spend the cold months earning livelihood in Pokhara, Kathmandu or India. Still, there is also some barter with the Tibetan neighbours, but heavily regulated by the Chinese. Only few locals profit from the controlled influx of foreign tourists.

Livestock is the most important source of cash income. In the villages, cattle is kept for milk, meat, and fuel. Large herds of goat and sheep are driven south for sale at the end of summer. Dzopa (a crossbreed of Yak and Cow) plough the fields. Horses and mules carry people and loads. On the pasture lands at the rim of the Tibetan plateau, nomad families tend goats, sheep and yaks all year long.

In this dry climate, agriculture is impossible without irrigation. Women, men and children work together on the fields. Barley, buckwheat, peas, and potatoes are the crops that ripen here, and the seasons are marked by festivals. A household usually spans several generations, and children are cared for by everyone. Marriage of the women with two or more brothers, to avoid the splitting of the family’s farmland, is still in practice. A husband may take a second wife if the first one proves infertile. But like all traditional ways, these are changing too, under the influence of outside culture and values.


Monasteries and Festivals:

Religion plays a central role in the life Upper Mustang’s people Festivals like Losar (Tibetan New Year, Jan/Feb), Saka Lug Ka (rites of timely rains and a good harvest, Feb/March) or Duk Chu (monk’s dance and prayers for a prosperous next year Nov/Dec) structure the passing seasons. On various occasions, lamas are called to perform rites in individual houses. The costume and mask dances of the famous three day Tenchi Festival take place in front of the raja’s  palace in april/May, and on a more modest scale inside Chhodhe Gompa (Monastery) in May/June. They are ment to bring prosperity to Lo tsho Dyun and the entire world.

Most gompas in Upper Mustang belong to the Ngor subsect of Sakya Buddhism. These living monasteries, some of which are attached to caves, harbor great treasures of religious art. Unfortunately, occasional thefts have occurred in places, and there is a general lack of finance to undertake necessary renovations.

Traditionally, monasteries (Gompa) are maintained by the people of associated villages, whose unmarried sons and daughters are in return accepted into the religious community. But presently, there is only one monastic school in Upper Mustang. The Great Compassion Sakyapa Monastic School, Lo Manthang, was newly founded in 1994. Here, supported by the American Himalayan Foundation through ACAP, about 65 young monks study Buddhist teachings and rites, as well as untraditional subjects like science and English.

Legend and History:

The caves all over Mustang bear testimony of prehistoric settlers. However, little is known about their origin and life.

Tibetan and Ladakhi chronicles have mentioned Lo since the seventh century AD. Its history as an independent kingdom began after 1380, when Ame Pal, a warrior and devout Buddhist from western Tibet, built the fortress of Ketcher Dzong. With his sons, he defeated the local warlords and constructed a walled capital, Lo Manthang. The king, Jigmi Palbar Bista, is believed to be his twenty-first descendant in the direct line.

Ame pal’s son Angun Sangpo provided funding and leadership, while his minister kalun Sangpo organized and oversaw the building of the walled city and the first monasteries. Ngorchen Kunga Sangpo, a renowned teachers of the Sakya sect, was invited from Tibet to bring religious life to the new kingdom. Angun, Kalten Chhewang and Ngorchen Kunga are therefore known as the Three Holies.

Because the passes on its northern border are relatively easy to cross, the small kingdom occupied a strategic position on the trade route between Tibet and India. The lamas of Lo went to Tibet to study, and religious teacher from all directions crossed the land. Economy and culture thrived. Of course, the kingdom’s wealth attracted frequent attacks from Tibet Bandits. The resulting custom of closing the gate of Lo Manthang every night was observed until a few years ago.

At the end of the sixteenth century, Lo Tsho Dyun came under the power of Ladakh, and around 1760, the kingdom of Jumla in western Nepal finally succeeded in making Lo its vassal. At the end of the 1700s, Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Gorkha King who founded Nepal, annexed Jumla’s vassal states in the course of his conquests. Under the new powerful rulers in Kathmandu, Lo largely retained autonomy in its internal affairs, but the central government regulate the revenue of the area. The economy of Lo, Bahragaon and Panchgaon suffered since the Thakali’s gained control over the salt trade along the Kali Gandaki in 1862.

The interdiction of a constutional monarchy in Nepal in 1951 resulted in Mustang becoming a district, and took away much of the king’s power. Following the Chinese exaction of full control over Tibet in 1959, the Khampa gerillas based their resistance moments in Lo. The Nepal government declared the Mustang District a restricted area. After the Khampa moment was ended in the mid 1970s, the government started its customary development activities. Lower mustang opened for tourism but upper mustang was left in economic isolation.

When parliamentary democracy was introduced in Nepal after 1990 revolution, the new government decided to reopen Upper Mustang partially for foreigners. The first trekking groups entered Upper Mustang in 1992. In the same year, the Annapurna Conservation Area was extended to include Upper Mustang.


Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP):

The project was established as part of the National Trust for National conservation’s (NTNC) Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) in 1992. We try to bring together natural conservation and sustainable community development and key to this is People’s participation at all level of our work: the villagers themselves must identify the need for the project in there community, contribute money or labour to conduct it, and take responsibility for its management.  However, this can be very difficult in an area where the weather makes the work impossible during winter, and people are busy on the fields during most of the summer. Conservation education, tree plantation, monastery restoration, bridge construction, solar energy support, and lodge management and cooking baking training are a few examples of our activities.

If you would like to find more about ACAP and our work, please visit our information centers at Kagebeni and Lo Manthang and Mustang Eco- Museum, Jomsom, or contact ACAP, Pokhara.


Regulations for your Journey

·         Foreign nationals who wish to visit Upper Mustang must organize their journey through a registered trekking agency. The agency will take care of trekking permits and other formalities.

·         Before entering Upper Mustang, your group must complete a food items checklist at the ACAP checkpost in Kagbeni. On your return, the list will verify if you carry out all non-biodegradable packaging material (cans, bottles, plastics e.t.c) that you brought with you. Thus, we hope to keep pollution at a minimum.

·         To avoid additional pressure on the area’s scarce fuel resources (bushes and dung), trekking groups must use kerosene or gas for cooking and heating during their entire journey. Bring enough warm clothes.

·         Once inside the restricted area, you are allowed to visit only those places indicated on the trekking permit. Trekkers are also requested to respect the local norms and values.

·         You must registered at ACAP and police checkpost along the route.

·         Filming in Upper Mustang without permission is strictly prohibited. Filming is allowed with prior approval. The permit is issued from Ministry of Information and Communication, Kathmandu.

·         You must not purchase antiques, although you are encouraged to buy non-antique local handicraft products. Non-antiques are defined as modern handicraft products that are less than one hundred years old.

·         Disturbing wildlife, removing animals and plants, or buying wildlife products is also illegal.

·         Upper Mustang lies in Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) which has both protected and restricted area status. Therefore, a special permit is required to get there. Department of Immigration, Kathmandu, issue Special Permits. It costs us$ 500 for 10 days and US$ 50 for each additional day. In addition to that, ACA Entry Permit is also required that costs NRs. 200/- per person to SAARC nationals and NRs. 2000/- per person to other foreign nationals. The ACA Entry permits are available from the ACAP Entry Permit Counters at- NTB Building, Bhrikutimandap in Kathmandu or from Nepal Tourism Board, Tourist Service Center, Pardi, Dam Site, Pokhara. Every individual is required to show their Entry Permit at the Check Post located in Jomsom, Kagbeni and Lomanthang. In special circumstances Entry Permit can be purchased from the Check Post for NRs. 400/- per person to SAARC nationals and NRs. 40000/- per person to other foreign nationals.




Want Numbers?


Size of restricted area: 2567 sq.km.

Population: about 6000 people

Households: 1168

Settlements: 31

Foreign Visitors per annum: limited to 1000

Number of Known wildlife species: more than 250 plants, 28 mammals, 2 amphibians,                                                                 63 birds, 2 reptile

Major Monasteries: 13

Major Cave Site: 5




Be a Guest !

The Minimum Impact Code

Awareness and responsibility are the most important things to take with you on your journey. Your behavior has an effect on the locals’ attitude towards their culture and environment. Therefore, please not only keep to the legal rules (see Regulations for your journey), but give the best example you can. Check your agency’s preparations and practices, and comment in time. Remind other guests of their responsibility for the land and people – your hosts.




Stop Pollution:

·         Burn Paper waste. Bury food waste properly, or feed to stock animals. Carry out all other non- biodegradable garbage. Return batteries to your home country for proper disposal.

·         Purify drinking water yourself, instead of buying it bottled.

·         Use only biodegradables soaps. Wash well away from water sources.

·         Use local toilet facilities wherever possible. Carry a toilet tent, and make sure the pit is covered properly when you leave. On the trail, stay at least 50m away from water sources, and bury your waste.



Respect People & Culture:

·         Adopt local custom: speak Nepali and local languages to the best of your ability. Don’t wear revealing clothes. Save caresses for private moments.

·         Respect Privacy: Ask before photographing people or religious sites. Don’t enter houses uninvited.

·         Respect local management; Gompas and caves may be closed for outsiders, or accessible for a small fee or donation.

·         Discourage begging and encourage fair dealing.


Protect Wildlife & Landscape:

Remember that it is illegal to disturb wildlife, to remove animals or plants, or to buy wildlife products.


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