Exploring the Upper Mustang, Nepal

Getting married is great in many ways… Aside from the whole marriage thing, you get to throw a sweet party, invite all your favourite people, get some lovely presents and take one hell of a holiday after it all! Whats not to love about a wedding!? I was pretty darn excited about the prospect of taking a ‘dream’ holiday; to do something that we’ve always wanted to do but never set aside the time or money. With no kiddies in tow yet, it was our chance to go explore. Ever since I visited Kashmir back in 2007 I’ve had a burning desire to go back to the Himalayas and to visit a country top of my to go to list. Nepal. As it was our honeymoon and we were supposed to be ‘relaxing’ we decided to do it the easy way. We booked a trek with my good friends at Adventure Consultants in Wanaka. It says it all in their name really. They were going to be our adventure planners. And boy did they do a 5 star job! From landing in Kathmandu, to taking off again 19days later, we didn’t have to worry about a thing, apart from enjoying every experience & soaking up our adventure. PERFECT.

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The entrance into the Forbidden Kingdom of Lo in the Upper Mustang – Nepal

After a day in the crazy streets of Kathmandu, a night in the most lovely Tiger Mountain Lodge in Pokhara it was time to get into those mountains. We flew in a tiny Twin Otter plane, that was straight from the 1970’s, from 800m Pokhara to the airport in Jomsom at 2800m. We went up and up and up and hardly came down… I was a bit nervous as Jomsom is dubbed one of the most dangerous airports in the world, surrounded by 8000m peaks and volatile weather. With a thumping heart we landed smoothly down in the heart of the Himalayas.

Our first day we walked up to the small town of Kagbeni, and the entrance to the Upper Mustang National Park. Formally known as the ‘Forbidden Kingdom of Lo’ for it was illegal for any tourists to enter until 1991, and as a result this area hugely unaffected by western influence. The route we were to take was the ‘Old Salt Route’ up to the ancient walled city of Lo Manthang, right on the boarder of ancient Tebet. This Kingdom sets itself apart from the rest of Nepal and has its own monarchy and King.

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The faces of Kagbeni 

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Looking back to Kagbeni & Jomsom

For the past several years the Nepalese Government have been building a road up to Lo Manthang, and through to Tibet (China) This road has just been completed. It has had a lot of controversy as it has opened up jeep access all the way to China. It can be seen as a good thing, as the previously extremely isolated villages, and Lo Manthang are now able to get access by vehicle to bring in supplies, access for medical needs and teachers for the schools, and begin to develop their ways with machinery etc.

On the other hand its seen as sad as these ancient villages, previously untouched by western influence, are being exposed to change and development and may lose their ancient culture and routine as more of the young move down to the cities. Before the road, it would take 5-7 days to walk to Jomsom from Lo Manthang. Walking or horseback was the only option. Not many people can afford the jeep fair, so walking still is the main method of transport. It takes 2 days by jeep to get to Jomsom from Lo Manthang. It took us 6 days walking. We camped along the way, being guided by Nema Sherpa and his team.

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The ‘road’ to Lo Manthang carved into the side of the mountain.  

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We were lucky to have a team of donkeys to carry our food supply

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This wee girl was at one of our lunch stops. She was just so gorgeous. 

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This is her and her brother in their kitchen. He could speak a little English. One of the benefits of the road, being able to get teachers in to the schools. 

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Our boys cooking us a feed at one of our camp spots! 

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The boys washing up – each village had some sort of water supply, which would usually consist of a bit of pipe being fed by a near by stream. Washing clothes, dishes and ones self would happen at these water stations! 

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This was one of my favourite camp spots en route to Lo Manthang! 

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Donkey man on his way 

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Arriving at Dhakmar (3820m), one of our village camp spots. 

Each day we were blown away with how much the landscape changed. It was truly stunning. From areas looking like New Zealand, to feeling like we were walking through the Grand Canyon, this part of Nepal was remarkable. We were walking between 3000-4200m of altitude, and whilst you very much felt it, we were lucky enough never to get acute altitude sickness. We were camping in small villages along the way, each one as different as the next. It was so wonderful to meet the characters and locals in each town.

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Camping in Dhakmar

We visited a Lho Gekkar Ghar Gompa monastery which is said to be the first Buddhist monastery in the world. Built during the 8th Centrury and at an elevation of 3934m it was quite amazing to visit. We were privileged enough to enter into the actual monastery and check out the ancient paintings, as well as invited to hear monks reading their holy books. They would read these out loud, some shouting quite loudly! for 7/8hrs a day for weeks on end.

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The girls at the monastery work hard feeding the monks and supplying them endless quantities of  Yak butter tea. 

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We were invited in to have some Yak butter tea with the girls, who giggled shyly! This is their kitchen. 

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My husband being presented a special white scarf as a blessing and thank you for our donation to their monastery.

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We stayed in Charang and visited another monastery

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Tim turning his prayer wheels… I wonder what he is praying for??

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Charang (3560m)

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Another awesome Mustang kitchen

After 6 days walking, we finally arrived at the ancient walled city of Lo Manthang. After 6 nights of camping in reasonably remote villages, it was a bit strange to arrive somewhere with some electricity and ‘paved’ streets! buildings that were not just made of sticks and mud, and the odd satellite dish on a roof! This city was truly beautiful and absolutely fascinating. I could have walked around narrow the streets for days watching the life of the cities inhabitants. It was much smaller than I expected, but totally enchanting. This area has huge Tibetan influence, with many Tibetans now living here since the take over by China. Upper Mustang is said to be very similar to old Tibet.

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Many of the ladies didnt want to have their photo taken, as they believe it takes a part of their soul. It was pretty disappointing not to be able to capture photos of them, as they were so wonderful, but I tried to respect their wishes. They all would sit in the streets hand spinning their yak wool to make skirts and scarves. 

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 We visited a few more monasteries in Lo Manthang and it was so wonderful to be invited to see the young monks learning. 

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We were not allowed to take photos inside any of the monasteries, apart from this one to my absolute delight as there were 4 monks performing a ceremony!

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The practising Monks of Lo Manthang. 

 

HUGE thanks to Marmot NZ for their support, keeping us warm and dry for our trek. Thanks to Goal Zero Australia for my Sherpa 50 solar power kit, an absolutely vital piece of gear for this trip, keeping our batteries charged at all times, as there was no electricity along the way! And thanks to F-Stop Gear for our camera bags, which stood up to the test of the harsh climate and being thrown around in the Upper Mustang. And Peak Design for allowing me fast access to my camera! Lastly to Adventure Consultants for organising our dream holiday…

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The Goal Zero Sherpa 50 hard at work as we walked.

 

PART #1 of 2 blog posts on this trip… Check back soon for #2!

 

Winter