You may have heard quiet whispers, unconfirmed claims at truth, about the mystical Mustang region on your travels, but most likely you haven't heard much. It was Nepal’s best kept secret until it opened its doors to tourists once again in 1992.
The Mustang region lies beyond the Annapurna Massif and stretches out into the vast Tibetan Plateau. It has been a part of Nepal since the 18th century but its location and its forced status as a ‘forbidden kingdom’ has protected it from the influences of the western world.
It is packed full of culture and tradition and the Upper Mustang is one of the best preserved regions in the world, with most still communicating in traditional Tibetan languages.
There's no other place on Earth that can offer you the same experiences that you’ll find in Mustang. Here we’ll tell you all you need to know about the region itself, including its history and climate, and some of the things you can do there. If you're keen to learn more about what it's like to go trekking there specifically, then check out our Himalayas Hiking & Adventure Tours.
For a relatively small area, the Mustang region packs a punch in terms of history. It was once a forbidden kingdom, cut off from China, and with foreign entry banned by the Nepali government. The exclusion began in 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet as the Chinese occupation became violent.
In the early 1960’s the famous warriors of the Khampa people joined with other local forces in the Mustang region and began fighting against the Chinese government. As a result, China requested the Nepali government to forbid entry of any foreigner to the Mustang region as it was a link to Tibet. In 1962 all foreigners were banned from entering until 1992, when the doors were reopened to tourists.
For a long time, Mustang was an independent kingdom with its own monarchy, it held a strategic spot on the trade route between the Himalayas and the plains of India. It was claimed by Nepal and annexed in the 18th century and the monarchy was disbanded in 2008 by order of the Nepali government; meaning that the Mustang Region lost its title as a 'kingdom', but many in the region still recognize the monarchy today.
The once unsullied pocket of cultural is, unfortunately, slowly beginning to feel the influences of china and the outside world - a new road is currently being built through Mustang to connect China and Nepal. Change in the region is inevitable which makes now a great time to start planning a trip.
You might be aware that Nepal is in a climate zone which means it has a monsoon season. Monsoon hits the Himalayas hard and runs from July until late September or early October. Luckily the Mustang Region doesn't receive the same monsoon rains, it sits in the rain-shadow of the Annapurna Massif and is sheltered from the downpours which fall to the south/south-east. In fact, monsoon is a great time of year to travel in the Mustang Region as temperatures are lower and more comfortable for trekking.
Here's a quick look at the seasons in the Mustang Region - for more detailed information check out Best Time to Visit Nepal.
- Spring (March-May) – Temperatures are pleasant in both the Upper and Lower Mustang regions during the day, hitting between 15-21°C (60-70°F) and much cooler at night.
- Summer (May – July) – The Mustang Region during summer can be very hot, and although trekking is still possible in the Upper Mustang, it may be a little uncomfortable. It ranges between 28-31°C (82-88°F) during the day, and in the lower areas the temperature stays warm throughout the night.
- Monsoon (July – September) – Monsoon season doesn't hit Upper Mustang, but Lower Mustang does get a little wet, so rain gear is advisable, whilst temperatures are a little more comfortable than the height of summer.
- Autumn (September – November) – Temperatures are relatively high at around 22-26 °C (72-79°F) and slightly cooler in the Upper Region. Winds from the north tend to buffet the trails during these months so the right gear is essential.
- Winter (December – February) – In the Upper Mustang temperatures are very cold at 0-5°C (32-41°F) in the day and much lower at night. The locals leave these areas and head south for warmer weather so many of the tea houses are closed and the trails deserted. Lower Mustang temperatures range from 17-22°C (63-72°F) whilst the surrounding mountains are topped with snow.
Things to do
As travelling the world becomes accessible to more people, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find truly untouched gems of cultural significance, and particularly ones which are safe to visit. The Upper Mustang Region is still one of those places, with welcoming locals and a strong sense of tradition. It is a haven for trekkers and will spoil you with unimaginable views and peaceful trails.
To enter the region there is a charge of $50USD per day, and an annual quota (currently) of 1,000 people, so the numbers passing through remain low.
There are countless treks you can undertake, ancient man-made caves to discover, and a rich Tibetan Buddhist culture to get lost in. There are guesthouses dotted around which make for a comfortable stay, and treks can even be completed on horseback if you have concerns about distance.
If you love to mountain bike then you may already be familiar with the world-beating trails of the Upper Mustang. The diversity of the trails, in both terrain and difficulty make this place a must for mountain bikers of all levels. There are tours available out of Kathmandu and Pokhara, to explore this amazing region on two wheels with guides who will help you find all the hidden gems.
It’s hard to name a place with a more authentic culture than that of the Mustang region. Lo Manthang is the capital and here you’ll find Gompas, a royal palace, traditional houses and narrow streets. In Upper Mustang you can visit the Mukinath temple which is a place of religious importance for Hindu followers. The great thing is, if you don't make it to one of the Gompas or temples, you'll still feel the strong sense of culture through the people, the food and the vibe as you explore this beautiful region.