In one of the most remote, inaccessible, most beautiful, unique and inimitable corners of the Himalayas, on the Tibetan plateau behind impassable passes, far from tourist routes, there is the Tibetan kingdom of Mustang, which is called the “lost kingdom” for a reason. Remote from civilization, it is part of Nepal and is geographically isolated from the rest of the country. It is the last land of pristine Tibetan traditions.
The Kingdom of Lo (which everyone calls Mustang, although it is more correctly to say “Monthang”), is translated from the Tibetan “Moon Tan” as “fertile plain”, but this is not true at all. Life here is possible only along the channel and tributaries of the Kali Gandaki River, along which from the 15th to the 17th centuries a trade route passed between Tibet and India, which lost its significance after the opening of the so-called “Friendship Road”. As a result, the local population was so impoverished that it was forced to go down the riverbed into the depths of Nepal in order to feed itself. And today, the inhabitants of this region survive mainly due to rare tourists, so you should not skimp and bargain when buying souvenirs, and charity is welcome here. The entire population, represented by the Thakali and Tibetans is about 10 thousand people living in three cities and about 3 dozen villages. there was royal authority, leading a centuries-old genealogy, which in fact no longer has administrative significance in Nepal.
The entrance to this amazing Buddhist region was opened for foreign tourists only in 1991. And I was very lucky to be the first motorcyclist in the world to enter this area with a group of motorcyclists from Ukraine in the spring of 2012. It was me who came up with, organized and conducted such an unusual, unique and amazing expedition. At that time, roads through the Himalayas in this region did not exist at all, and a weak likeness of rocky dirt roads appeared only in 2016. That is why off-road vehicles are necessary for the expedition to the Upper Mustang.
I always choose spring for motorcycle tours because in winter months, due to the harsh climatic conditions, the passes are simply impassable. Our guide in Lo Manthang is a terrific person, a real Buddhist monk, my close friend Phuntchok Gurung. He is a real monk of Tibetan Buddhism from Lo Manthang – Phuntchok, Khyentse Lama. A gorgeous and unique person. Such meetings happen once in a lifetime. And Phuntchok will accompany us the following days throughout the Mustang.
Before telling about our motorcycle expedition, I’ll go a little ahead and tell you about its culmination – the forbidden city of Lo Manthang, which is located at an altitude of 3800m. above sea level. The northern gates are decorated with brass rings, polished by the callused palms of Buddhist monks, which sparkle in the rays of the sun that is especially bright in the highlands. The city is an impregnable fortress and is surrounded by a stone wall. We were the first motorcycle riders in this area and the local residents had never seen motorcycles before. For many hundreds of years, nothing has changed here, the harsh conditions of existence have made this region an ideal place for those who want to retire from the “benefits” of civilization. Even the Chinese Communists’ invasion of Tibet in 1949 and the 1950s did not affect the Kingdom of Mustang, and after the suppression of the anti-Chinese uprising in 1959, the entire Tibetan government, led by Dalai Lama XIV, was forced to find political refuge in India. Then, in the 50s, Mustang was formally annexed to Nepal and this action contributed to the preservation of the existing Tibetan way of life for centuries.
The capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, is the starting and finishing point of our motorcycling expedition to the Kingdom of Mustang. We will also visit the famous tourist region of Kathmandu – Thamel. Our city tour will begin here. We will visit the Pashupati temple complex, where cremations are held, we will see the magnificent stupas of Bodnath and Swayambhunath, as well as golden Buddhas. On the same day, we will receive all necessary permissions before the motorcycling tour that is scheduled for the next morning.
We will set off from Kathmandu and take a 200-kilometer road along the paths at the foothills of the Himalayas to the tourist mecca – the tropical city of Pokhara. We will definitely get a stunning panoramic view of the majestic Himalayan ridge there. In fact, before I conducted the world’s first motorcycle expedition to Lo Manthang, one could reach the remote areas in one of two ways – on foot by mountain trails and this way takes weeks to conclude, or by helicopter, while the flight conditions here are considered one of the most difficult in the world due to strong winds, clouds of sand and dense clouds in the afternoon. As a result, all flights are carried out exclusively in the early morning.
The next morning we will rise to Sarangkot, an overwhelming observation point. We will also cross one of the longest suspension pedestrian bridge in the world. In the evening we are going to bathe in the thermal springs.
The next day will be very eventful and will please our eyes with the views of the eight-thousander Daulagari and the seven-thousander Nilgiri. We will cross the Himalayan ridge along the deepest gorge in the world, moving along an extreme mountainous dirt road. After a really hard enduro trip along the full-flowing channel of the Kali Gandaki River, we will arrive in the village of Kagbeni, which is the starting point of our off-road motorcycle tour to the Upper Mustang.
In Kagbeni, the Tibetan monk Phuntchok Khyantsa Lama will join and accompany us in Mustang. Everywhere we will meet eerie charms over the entrances to the houses – goat heads and horns of yaks, brooms and clay seals. People actually live mainly on subsistence farming, meat is dried hanging down from the ceilings, and tsampa based on flour and tea with butter from yak milk make up a meager food ration. A checkpoint is located here, warning black and yellow shields are installed with the warning: “Attention! You are entering a closed territory! ”
On the sixth day, we will arrive at the beginning of the trail to the Torangla Pass at an altitude of 4500m and from this point, we will take the road to Muktinath. But first, we will have a walking tour around the village of Kagbeni and visit a temple. We will ride up to the Torang La hiking pass at an altitude of 5450m. and cross another pedestrian bridge over a deep gorge. We will spend the night with friends Maitreya and Nira in their guest house.
On the last day of the first week of our motorcycle tour, we will ride through the territory of the Upper Mustang. The mountains around are amazing, and the sky is so blue that you begin to doubt the reality of what you see. Little has changed over the past centuries. At the kilometer depth of the gorge, the Kali Gandaki river runs. The road is difficult as there are a lot of steep ups and downs, cliffs, rocky tali. We will see clear signs of an ancient ocean floor. You can even find fossilized mollusks (100 million years old) there. In the evening we will reach the village of Gami and stay overnight in the best guest house available.
Early in the morning we will be on our way to the capital city of the desired kingdom. Militarized patrols will check our documents, permits and passports carefully, and also warn us about the consequences of unauthorized entry. The Windy pass at an altitude of 4000m. is ahead. At the pass we will get the magnificent view of the forbidden city of Lo Manthang. We will spend the night in the best hotel in Lo Manthang. It is going to be a relaxing and peaceful evening.
Our next day we will devote to excursions and communication with local residents and our steel horses will be serviced by mechanics. It is one of the few places where you can buy authentic Tibetan culture items, amulets, various medicines based on herbs and resins that cannot be found anywhere else. Night in the royal palace of Lo Manthang.
On the tenth day, we will reach the border with China. We will ride up to the Tibetan plateau with stunning panoramas of the Himalayas. Our friend Phuntchok will perform an ancient Tibetan ritual ceremony. And we will take part in this mystical rite. On the way back we will visit Chhoser village with the temple and school of young monks. And our group will also ascend to the oldest man-made multi-storey complex of caves which dates back over 2800 years! We will stay overnight again in the royal palace of Lo Manthang.
It might seem that we have already seen everything possible, but it is not without reason that our motorcycle expedition is the most extensive and long-lasting one.
On the 11th day, we will reach the yak shepherds’ camp and there we will be treated with real Tibetan medicinal tea, dairy products and meat of these majestic artiodactyls. And the culmination of the day will be one of the most mystical rites on the planet – Heavenly burial (jhator or bya gtor). It is also called “giving charity to birds,” because according to Tibetan beliefs, at the time of death, the soul of a person leaves the body, and since a person at all stages of life should benefit the outside world, the body of the deceased is dismembered and fed to birds as the last manifestation of true charity. This is the only possible burial rite for most Tibetans, an exception is made only for Dalai and Panchen Lamas, whose bodies are embalmed and covered with gold.
It will not be the last surprise of the day as in the evening the monk will present a unique experience to each member of the group – he will conduct an individual ritual of Puja that will fill our bodies and souls with a stream of great grace.
On the twelfth day, we will leave this highly spiritual and mystical land. We will say goodbye to Phuntchok and set off. Despite the fact that we will ride along the same road we will see the surrounding beauty of nature from a different angle. On the following days, we will visit 108 holy sources and a huge statue of Buddha.
We will end our motorcycle journey in Pokhara. There we will have enough time for activities which are not included in our motorcycle tour cost – paragliding, flights on small planes to the Himalayas and others. We will visit the mountain museum in Pokhara and enjoy the views of the highest mountain peaks in the world again. Then we will fly back to Kathmandu and have souvenir shopping in Thamel’s shops. You have done it. And a tiny part of the Himalayas and Tibet will stay in your mind and your heart forever…