The Last Forbidden Kingdom – MUSTANG

Posted By : caravanahimalaya/ 1102 0

The Buddhist society of Upper Mustang is divided into groups comparable to the castes of Hindu culture. The occupational castes,

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

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.

Mythical Tantrism KATHMANDU Valley

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The Kathmandu Valley civilization is around 3000 years old. It has been claimed that the valley was a large lake in the early geological

The Kathmandu Valley civilization is around 3000 years old. It has been claimed that the valley was a large lake in the early geological period and it was only when the lake was drained that the valley was ready for human settlement.  There is also a legend which reinforces the story that a certain Bodhistav called Manjushree came to Kathmandu Valley and cut the gorge in Chobar with his flaming sword and drained the water out of the valley making it ready for human settlement.

History & Culture

The discovery of a life-size statue of King Jaya Verma in 1992 at Maligaon in Kathmandu, with an inscription dated 185, is the earliest recorded evidence about Nepal’s history.

The discovery of a life-size statue of King Jaya Verma in 1992 at Maligaon in Kathmandu, with an inscription dated 185, is the earliest recorded evidence about Nepal’s history. Before the conquest of the Nepal (Kathmandu) valley by Gorkha’s King Prithivi Narayan Shah in 1769, Nepal Mandal, or Kathmandu Valley, was known as ‘Nepal’  to the outside world. According to recorded history, which dates back to early Christian era, Nepal has been ruled by the Lichchhavi, Thakuri, Malla and Shah dynasties. The Lichchhavis ruled the country from the beginning of the 1st to 9th century. The Lichchhavis were followed by the Thakuris, who ruled the country from the 9th to the 14th century. However, the architectural excellence of the Kathmandu Valley reached its zenith during the later Malla Period from the fourteenth century to the eighteenth century. The UNESCO heritage monuments that are scattered throughout the Kathmandu valley are the ingenuity of this period.

It was during the Malla Period that Newari culture and architecture reached their pinnacle, and is known as the era of “renaissance”. Malla rule came to an end when the Kathmandu Valley was conquered by the Gorkha King, Prithvi Narayan Shah, in 1769, and the Shah dynasty was established. But in 1846, taking advantage of a weak King embroiled in intense palace intrigues, Jung Bahadur Rana seized absolute power through the brutal court massacre and started the Rana oligarchy. The Ranas de facto ruled the country as their fiefdom until they were ousted from power by a popular revolt in 1951, and democracy was established in the country.

What we identify as Nepalese culture today germinated and developed in the Kathmandu Valley at the beginning of the 1st century or probably even earlier. But it was only after the country opened to the outside world with the advent of democracy in 1951 that the world was able to see the grandeur and opulence of Nepalese culture. No doubt, the different ruling dynasties patronized it, but in essence, it has been a people’s culture- a culture nurtured by the people through the ages. No cultural event takes place in Nepal without the people’s mass participation. One can see the spectrum of a vibrant cultural rainbow in the multitude of festivals and rituals that are celebrated almost every other day in some part or the other of the country. In the capital city of Kathmandu, the Newars who make up the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley and are best known for their artistic creativity and skilled craftsmanship, culture has held a paramount position in their everyday lives.

Cultural tolerance has been the quintessence of Nepalese way of life. Nepal remains one of the most peaceful multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural countries in the world. The ethnic unity and religious harmony maintained by the Nepalese against such diversity are truly remarkable and have been acknowledged internationally. Undeniably, this plurality of culture is what has given Nepalese society its vibrant and lively character.

World Heritage Monuments of Kathmandu Valley:


Kathmandu Durbar Square

Kathmandu Durbar Square lies in the heart of the Kathmandu city. The locals know this area by its old name Hanuman Dhoka – an ancient seat of the Nepalese Royalty. The Royal Palace during medival timese were not merely for Royal Activities but also used as the center of Administration, cultural activities and festivals.

The Historical buildings and temples in the area were erected from the time of King Ratna Malla (1484-1520 AD) to Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah (1875-1911 AD) covering the Malla, Shah and Rana period of Nepalese history. The entire palace complex here is named after a monkey god called Hanuman. One can see a huge stone statue of Hanuman painted all red next to the main entrance (the golden gate) of the palace. Hanuman here is regarded as a powerful protector of the entire Durbar Square.


Patan Durbar Square

Patan is also known as Lalitpur which means the city of arts. It is located across the river Bagmati which is 5 km south of central Kathmandu. This city founded in 3rd century A.D. by King Veera Dev has a distinction of being the home of the finest crafts and is considered oldest of all three cities of Kathmandu Valley. Most of the monuments in this square date back to the Medieval Malla period from 16th to 18th century and the monuments in the area are mostly created to King Siddhi Narsingha Malla, Shri Niwas Malla and Yog Narendra Malla.


Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Bhaktapur meaning the city of devotees was founded by King Ananda Dev in 1197 A.D. according to the Gopal Raj Vamsabali even though the existence of the city could be traced back to the Licchavi period (185-750 A.D.). There are many monuments including pagodas, palaces, shikhara style monuments, courtyards and Buddhists shrines and monasteries. The Durbar Square was the seat of the Malla Kings and the present structures were erected from the 12th to the 18th century A.D. Bhaktapur is located at around 12 Km away from Kathmandu city.


Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath :Situates 5 km east of Kathmandu city center, Pashupati literally means “Lord of Animals” and is considered to be the patron deity of Nepal. Pashupatinath is regarded as one of the holiest sites for Hindus all over the world. Pashupatinath temple is a pagoda style two-tiered golden roof with exquisitely carved four silver doors containing in its sanctum a phallic idol with four faces facing each direction and the other fifth one is looking up toward the zenith. A temple dedicated to shiva was constructed at the present site by Licchavi King Supushpa Verma according to an ancient chronicle. However the present temple is claimed to have been built by King Bhupatendra Malla in 1697 A.D. legend has it that a cow would frequently escape from its herds and offer milk on a jyotilinga (phallic symbol of Shiva) which denotes the point where the temple stands today. It is said that a certain cowherd much to his surprise found the self-generated jyotilinga when he dug the spot where the cow would give milk. The spot immediately became the center of worship that has been continued till today.


Swayambhunath Stupa

Located on a lovely hillock, Swayambhunath Stupa lies 4 km west of central Kathmandu. There are 365 steps leading all the way to the top commanding a magnificient view of Kathmandu valley and the breath-taking panorama of the snow-clad Himalayan Range. The tradition in the Stupa follows the Vajrayana for of Buddhism which is a tantric variation of the Mahayana Buddhism (the great vehicle). The stupa seem to have been constructed during the Licchavi Period. Religious and literally sources give numerous accounts of the establishment and the patronage of the Swayambhunath premises. It is also interesting to note that the stupa went a series of renovation during the Malla period in the medieval times with donations made by the merchants, monks, pilgrims and Buddhist followers.


Boudanath Stupa

Boudanath is the biggest stupa of Nepal, is located 5km east of central Kathmandu. The stupa stands on a three-tiered platform raised over the crossed rectangles in order to bring out the yantra form.

The claims made in various religious and literary texts regarding the erection of the stupa is varied and conflicting. However, the stupa is believed to have been built in the 5th century A.D. during the reign of the Licchavi kings.

As in other stupa architecture, this stupa also has Vairochana at the center followed by Aksobhya, Ratna Sambhava, Amitabha and Amogha Siddhi in east, south, west and north directions respectively. Similarly, there are one hundred and eight small niches around the stupa accommodating the icons of Buddhas, Bodhisatavas and other female deities along with conjoint figures in erotic poses. Likewise, at the bottom level, it is surrounded with the praying wheels embossed with the famous mantra Om Mani Padme Hum fixed in more than hundred and forty niches.

The stupa along with the monasteries are centers of learning, cultural activities, prayers and meditation.


Changu Narayan Temple

Located on a magnificent hill top commanding a fantastic view of Kathmandu Valley, Changu Narayan – a temple of Lord Vishnu – lies 6 km north of Bhaktapur. The temple is full of magnificent art works in metal and wood. In fact, it is one of the finest examples of Nepalese architecture. The first epigraphic evidence of Nepalese history found in the temple premises during the reign of the Licchavi King Mandeva dating back to 464 A.D. shows that change had already been established as a sacred site in the 3rd century A.D. the present structure was probably constructed in the 17th century, though older elements have been incorporated during the restorations. The pagoda style temple has several masterpieces of 5th and 12th century Nepalese art.


The living Goddess – KUMARI

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The myths and legends surrounding the Kumari, the living Goddess of Kathmandu, is fascinating. Historical records show that the

The myths and legends surrounding the Kumari, the living Goddess of Kathmandu, is fascinating. Historical records show that the worship of Kumari as a living goddess has been prevalent since at least the 10th century. But popular folklore relating to the kumara as the incarnation of Taleju Bhavani, the patron deity of the royals, and the king conversing and playing dice with her are linked to certain kings who ruled Kathmandu, like Trailokya Malla (16th century) and the last Malla ruler of Kathmandu, Jaya Prakash Malla (18th century). According to the legend, it so happened that one night while playing dice with goddess Taleju, or Kumari, the king was aroused by her celestial beauty and was overcome with lust. The Kumari, a goddess as she was, at once visualized the amorous thoughts in the king’s mind. Showing her utter displeasure, she declared that she would henceforth never come to him and disappeared. The king was filled with profound remorse and begged for forgiveness. The Goddess later relented and said that she would enter the body of a virgin girl, a Kumari, which the king was to worship.

Another version of the legend has it that the king and Kumari used to play dice every night on condition that no mortal would see them doing so. Accordingly, the king had strictly instructed the queen and his daughter not to enter or peek into the certain room while he was inside. But curiosity got the better of the women, and they peeped inside. The angry goddess then disappeared. The king repented and prayed for the Goddess’ forgiveness. Goddess kumara then came in his dream and told the king that she would henceforth not come in person. Instead the king was to worship a Shakya virgin girl who would possess her divine power. Since then, a Shakya virgin girl is worshipped as the Kumari, and once a year during the month of September, the Living Goddess is taken around the old quarters of Kathmandu in her chariot during the Indra Jatra Festival.

Lumbini- The Birth place of Lord Buddha

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As the birthplace of Lord Buddha, Lumbini is one of the holiest places of one of the world’s greatest religions. It has remained a hallowed

Outside the Kathmandu Valley, Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, has been enlisted in the world Cultural Heritage site. Siddhartha Gautama, who later attained enlightenment as the Buddha, was born in Lumbini in the spring of 623 B.C. An inscription on a stone pillar erected by Maurya Emperor Ashoka in 249 B.C. authenticates that the Buddha was born at this spot. Recent archaeological excavations have discovered the “marker stone” at the basement of the Maya Devi Temple, believed to have been laid there by Emperor Ashoka to denote the exact sacred spot where the Buddha first put his foot on earth. This further enhanced the importance and sanctity of the site. The stupas built during different periods dating from 3rd century B.C. to 15th century A.D., the Maya Devi Temple and Pushkarni Pond where the baby Siddhartha was given his first bath after birth are some ancient edifices of Lumbini.

A Master Plan for the development of Lumbini was initiated in 1978 as per the design of world-renowned architect Professor Tange of Japan. The Master Plan segregates the Lumbini area into four main components: the Sacred Garden which includes the Maya Devi Temple and the Ashokan Pillar; the monastic zone; the cultural center; and the Lumbini village. Since the early 1980s, many countries with significant Buddhist populations have contributed in its infrastructural development. Monasteries reflecting the architecture of the individual countries have been constructed in the monastic zone. But much still remains to be done to give final shape to the Master Plan.

As the birthplace of Lord Buddha, Lumbini is one of the holiest places of one of the world’s greatest religions. It has remained a hallowed Buddhist pilgrimage spot since very early times. Lumbini has been designated as the “Foundation of World Peace and the Holiest Pilgrimage Centre of Buddhists and peace-loving people of the world”. The site remains a place of pilgrimage for both Buddhists and Hindus alike from all over the world.

Besides the existing World Heritage sites in Nepal, there are many other natural and historical monuments and sites in the country which merit inclusion in the World Heritage list.