Ancient Monasteries, Mysterious Caves, Lifestyle and History of Upper Mustang

  • Sanga Rai
  • Last Updated on Sep 24, 2023

The ancient name of Upper Mustang is Lo-Manthang, which means remote, hidden, the land of happiness and beauty, and the last forbidden Himalayan Kingdom.


1, The ancient History of Upper Mustang

Upper Mustang Blog
The Ruins of ancient Palace at Tsarang
  • The legendary history of Upper Mustang began after 1380 AD, when Ame Pal, a Tibetan warier and Buddhist devout from Western Tibet made Mustang an independent Kingdom by defeating local warlords and constructing a walled city capital Lo-Manthang Then he extended Lo’s rule until the Purang village of Western Tibet.
  • Once upon, Mustang was under the rule of the Yarlung Dynasty of central Tibet, and later on Mustang was under the rule of Western Tibet Ngari.
  • At the end of the sixteenth century, Lo-Kingdom came under the power of Ladakh, and around 1760, the kingdom of Jumla in western Nepal finally succeeded in making Lo its vassal. Then Mustang was forced to pay levies (taxes) to the Kingdom of Jumla and came under their extended Kingdom.
  • In 1795 Jumla was defeated by the Gorkhas and the Kingdom of Lo (Mustang) transferred its allegiances to Gorkha.
  • In 1855 Lo supported Nepal against the Tibetans (Khamba) war. The King of Nepal thus allowed the King of Lo- Manthang and honored him as the military’s coronel post.
  • In 1862, The Thakalis from the lower Mustang gained control over the salt trade along the Kaligandaki valley then the economy of Lo-Manthang, Bahragaon, and Panchgaon badly suffered
  • In 1951 there was a big revolution against the Kingdom in Nepal that introduced constitutional monarchy in Nepal and took away the power of the King However, the King of Lo-Manthang was distinctively respected around the area because of socioeconomic attributes

Tsaranga Village

  • Following the Chinese exaction of full control over Tibet in 1959, the Khampa guerillas based their resistance movement on Lo and the Nepalese government declared the Mustang District as a restricted area.
  • Arising parliamentary democracy in 1990, the new government of Nepal decided to partially re-open Upper Mustang for foreigners.
  • In 1992 Nepal allowed foreigners to visit the Upper Mustang with a restricted permit issued by the Department of Immigration of Nepal. However, visitors were not allowed to go beyond the small River stream flows near Lo-Manthang. Visitors had to hire a government officer for a trip as a liaison officer who took a dog eye at foreign visitors.
  • In the same year, the Annapurna conservation area was extended into Upper Mustang.
  • Hiring a government liaison officer for Upper Mustang was ended during the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. Also, the restriction of visiting beyond Lo-Manthang was freed for foreigners.

2, Geography of Upper Mustang


Upper Mustang is situated on Nepal’s northern border with China which was previously Tibet. Upper Mustang, a rain shadow, falls under the region of the Tibetan Plateau and the elevation ranges from 2,800 meters to 6,500 meters. Upper Mustang is semi-arid and has extremely low rainfall with a desert-like climate. The temperature of Upper Mustang has been rising at a higher rate than that of other regions as well as that of the global average over the last 100 years (Gentle & Maraseni, 2012). The constant wind (because of low pressure up in the plateau), low rainfall, and intense sunshine make this part of the Tran-Himalayan zone very arid, harsh, and rugged.

3, People and Religion in Upper Mustang


The people of Upper Mustang speak Tibetan dialects, practice Tibetan Buddhism, and oftentimes identify themselves as “Historically from Tibet, but politically from Nepal”. Before the invasion of Tibet by China in 1949-1950, Upper Mustang maintained a close relationship with Tibet politically, economically, and culturally. Upper Mustang falls along the salt trade that established a strong economic relationship. There are two different ethnicities settling in Mustang. Tibetan language speakers are known as Mustangees and they inhabit in Upper Mustang region: Lo-Manthang, Bahragaun (12 villages), Panchgau (5 villages).

The lower part of the Mustang is known as Thak Khola, where Thakali ethnics are inhabiting. Thak Khola region is more populated than Upper Mustang. Thakalis have their own language that is not similar to Mustangees. Thakali practices both religion Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism.

4, The lifestyle in Upper Mustang


The people of Upper Mustang subsist on only three occupations: there is a long tradition of trading salt, animals, and other commodities from Tibet which is known as Trans-Himalayan trade, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Because of low annual rainfall, low temperature, and single growing season, agricultural productivity is extremely low in Upper Mustang, In addition to the harsh environment and unfavorable geographic conditions, there is the provisional problem of infrastructure like irrigation canals. Furthermore, there is a limitation to agricultural products that can be grown. Buckwheat, barley, and wheat are the major crops with some vegetables farming like potatoes and radish.

Mustang is one of the most remote, extremely isolated, and economically impoverished regions in Nepal. The literacy rate of Upper Mustang is listed at 33% which is well below the national average of 54.1%. Limited livelihood options, lack of infrastructure, unfavorable geographical location, and isolation from the central government, resulted in Upper Mustang being an impoverished region.

5, Festivals


There are several Buddhist festivals and Ceremonies in Upper Mustang. However, they have the most popular annual event festival called Tiji. The Tiji festival celebrates for praying peace in the world. Also, they believe that Upper Mustang celebrates Tiji for the myth of a son who had to save the Mustang Kingdom from destruction. Accordingly, the Tibetan Lunar calendar Tiji festival lies normally in May and is celebrated for three days.

There is another popular festival celebrated mainly in the Lo-Manthang and Muktinath area called Yartung Festival. They celebrate this festival during the full Moon of August every year. It is a multi-day festivity commended with horse races, drinking, and cultural dances from the Thakali and Tibetan people.

6, The ancient Monasteries in Upper Mustang


There are several very important monasteries in Upper Mustang. However, there are more than 18 ancient monasteries that are the most special and important. Among these monasteries, Niphu Gompa, Garphu Gompa, Luri Gompa, Ghar Gompa, Tsarang Monastery, Thubchen Gompa, Jampa Lhakang Chode Gompa and Namgyal Gompa etc are the most popular.

7, Mysterious Sky Caves in Upper Mustang

Sky Caves

The Caves in Mustang are a fascinating experience, as they allow visitors to witness the ancient architecture and artistic heritage of the area. These caves are notable for their historical, cultural, and religious significance. Though it is still not clear as to who built these caves, it is speculated that the Mustang Caves were more burial caves or caves of religious importance or residential ones.

The Mustang Sky Caves or the Cave Temples of Mustang, men-made caves are found on steep valley walls. More than two decades ago, a group of archaeologists unearthed more than 20 human remains from the Sky Caves in the Samdzong area in Upper Mustang. Interestingly, these remains (bones) had several cut marks, which were similar to the unique Buddhist burial tradition known as Sky Burial. Along with the remains, archaeologists also found some relics and statues related to Buddhism. The fascinating parts—these remains and relics (older than 7 century BC) predate the arrival of Buddhism in the area. In simpler terms, there is archaeological evidence that states that Buddhism was present in the Himalayan region. There are uncountable Caves all around Upper Mustang among them Chungsi Cave, Jhong Caves, Chele Caves, and Dhakmar Caves are spellbound.

8, Tells about Upper Mustang

Dhakmar Hill

Lo-Manthang, which means remote, hidden, the land of happiness and beauty, and the last forbidden Himalayan Kingdom. Mustang is rich in Buddhist culture, similar to the area of Tibet. It is an alternate way to experience the Tibetan culture and landscape. There are so many different sayings about different landmarks in Upper Mustang. Such as the longest Mani wall of Ghami, the Red Cliff of Dhakmar village, Niphu Caves, Chhosser Caves, etc.

As a local telling: the longest Mani wall of Ghami was created by the intestine of a Demon, and the Red Cliff of Dhakmar was pouched up by his blood while was defeated by the magical power of a Buddhist Monk. Niphu caves were formed for Buddhist meditations and Chhosser has a different telling.

9, Passes with rocks and prayer Flags in Upper Mustang


Passes in the Upper Mustang region are decorated with Prayer flags and piling rocks. Prayer flags are hanging on poles or tied on rocks. They believe in non-stop flapping prayer flags as the homage and myths of chanting. While the pedestrian passes through collects rocks and sets on piles, which means offering divine blessing from God. Except for prayer flags and rocks, Khatak is also placed on the passes, Buddhists believe that the Khatak they receive by greetings or for well-wishing should be disposed of at suspension bridge or on the hilltop passes for continuous flapping.

10, Korola pass in Upper Mustang

Korola Border

Korala is one of the oldest routes between the two regions. It was historically used for the salt trade between Tibet and Nepalese kingdoms. Up until 2008 when the Nepali monarchy was abolished, Upper Mustang was the Kingdom of Lo, an ethnic Tibetan kingdom that was a suzerainty of Nepal. Now it is going to a big customary gate between Nepal and China.

11, isolated trek from Yara & Ghara in Upper Mustang

Yara Ghara

Upper Mustang is widely connected with rough road facilities. The road facility is extended only up to Yara village where the famous Luri Gumba is situated. Kaligandaki River separates Yara-Ghara, Tangbe, and Tetang villages. Villages beyond the Rivers are still isolated from basic amenities. The landscape on these sites is similar to the Lunar and demands a lot of uphill and downhill but the culture, tradition, and way of life are still primitive.

12, Special Permit and conservation permit for Mustang

Visitors should have restricted permits and Annapurna Conservations permit. Restricted permit costs $ 500 for 10 days and per day $ 50 for additional days. The Department of Immigration does not allow permits for less than 10 days. You can visit up to the Korola Pass within the permitted period. In the former time, visitors were not allowed to go beyond the River stream from Lo-Manthang where the main ancient things remain. Even visitors had to hire a liaison officer for the tour from KTM, which was pretty expensive including a restricted permit, and a liaison officer was used to control visitor's activities during the entire itinerary. A hiring liaison officer has been avoided during the Maoist insurgency period in Nepal.

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Sanga Rai

Sanga Rai

Mr. Sanga Rai:  is involving in tourism since 1995. At the beginning of his tourism career, Tea house or lodge trekking was barely possible, they used to provide tented treks almost all around in Nepal.  Mr. Rai started his tourism career as a porter, Kitchen helper, cook helper, cook man, assistant guide, and guide at many reputed trekking companies. Meantime, he had several chances to visit and collect adventure experiences around the whole mountains- east ranges to west ranges in Nepal. As a tour leader, he has traveled countless times around world heritage sites, jungle safari, religious sites, and off-the-beaten places. We are pretty sure that his advice may make it easier for every traveler to determine the right destination planning according to the right season whether for trekking or hiking or adventure trip or peak climbing or safari or sightseeing and tour in Nepal.


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