Adventure to the “Last Forbidden Kingdom”: Trekking in Nepal’s Upper Mustang

In a rain-shadowed region of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges lies one of Nepal’s last Tibetan utopias, unknown to the masses as Upper Mustang.

With stellar views of Himalayan peaks on the trails and semi-arid moonscape terrain, getting your Himalayan trek it’s a Mustang-do. The weather-beaten residents are mostly Gurung and Thakali, inhabiting dwellings near the Kali Gandaki River, 12,800 feet above sea level.

Other ethnic groups such as Kami/Damai, Magar and Thakuri also make up the population of Mustang district. Although in winter, when conditions become even harsher, people tend to migrate to lower areas.

Upper Mustang, formerly the Kingdom of Lo, is the northern part of Mustang District of Gandaki Province. The province comprises three rural municipalities of Lo-Manthang, Dalome and Baragung Mukichhetra. As we hiked in September 2022, life in Upper Mustang revolved around ranching, tourism, and commerce.

The further we ventured, the more we craved ancient monasteries, centuries-old sky caves and Tibetan-style villages of a bygone era with whitewashed dwellings with firewood piled on the roofs. Adding in the traditionally dressed people tending their cattle, horses and mules, it was like nowhere else.

Yes, it is a bit expensive to enter this region of Nepal. As a once restricted kingdom and demilitarized zone – due to the presence of CIA-trained guerrillas – it was opened to the world in 1992.

Gloriously, this is precisely what makes it one of the most geologically and culturally preserved places on Earth, through the area’s respective isolation from the outside world. Needless to say, the rewards for your investment and your footslog will be tenfold to you. Here’s how.

Trekking in Upper Mustang

(Photo/Jason Spafford)

Quick Facts About Nepal Upper Mustang Trek

  • Elevation: 9,200-14,107 feet
  • Hiking season: March to early November
  • Minimum group size: Two (including a certified guide)
  • Transportation to Kagbeni: Tourist bus or private jeep from Kathmandu/Pokhara, or a flight to Jomsom plus half an hour by taxi.
  • Duration of the 10-day trek: 100 miles, average 10 miles per day.

Difficulty of the hike

Difficulty of Upper Mustang trek, Nepal
(Photo/Jason Spafford)

The hike is moderate to strenuous, where you will climb from 9,200 to 14,107 feet. Overall the trails are in good condition and no technical skill required more than putting one leg in front of the other.

Expect 6-8 hour days of steep ascents and descents mixed with “flat Nepalese” (undulating slopes). Take extra care when negotiating scree-covered terrain where the path can narrow with dizzying drops.

The footslogs (especially the 17 mile) are worth every step due to striking scenery set high against a Himalayan backdrop – all of which hit you with a unique and awe-inspiring sight.

10 day hiking itinerary

view of Upper Mustang, Nepal
(Photo/Jason Spafford)

Good to know

  • The route has been customized to keep you on a more remote trail circuit.
  • Hit the trails at 7:30 am finishing mid to late afternoon when the wind picks up.
  • Find your memories on the riverbeds – black colored ammonite fossils.

The itinerary: the distances and times below are approximate

heights reached while trekking in Upper Mustang, Nepal
(Photo/Jason Spafford)
  • Travel day: Pokhara to Kagbeni
  • Day 1 : Kagbeni to Chele – 9.5 miles, 6-7 hours and 10,006 feet.
  • Day 2: Chele to Sangboche – 9.7 miles, 6-7 hours and 12,600 feet.
  • Day 3: Sangboche to Dhakmar – 10 miles, 6-7 hours and 12,532 feet.
  • Day 4: Dhakmar to Lo-Manthang – 10.6 miles, 7-8 hours and 12,600 feet.
  • Day 5: Jhong Sky Caves, Chhoser – 9.5 miles, 5 hours and 13,025 feet.
  • Day 6: Exploring the Last Forbidden Kingdom of Lo-Manthang – 12,600 feet.
  • Day 7: Lo-Manthang to Yara – 10.5 miles, 7-8 hours and 11,833 feet.
  • Day 8: Yara to Tange – 11.5 miles, 7-8 hours and 10,630 feet.
  • Day 9: Tange to Chhusang – 17 miles, 8-9 hours, 11,676 feet.
  • Day 10: Chhusang to Kagbeni – 7.5 miles, 3 hours and 9,200 feet.
  • Travel day: Kagbeni to Pokhara

Permit required

Permit required for trek Upper Mustang, Nepal
(Photo/Jason Spafford)
  • Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit: $500 per person for 10 days. The permit begins and ends at Kagbeni in Mustang.
  • Annapurna Conservation Area Project Fees: $23

Nepal Upper Mustang Packing List

What to bring for a trek in Upper Mustang, Nepal;  (Photo/Lisa Spafford)
(Photo/Jason Spafford)

Essential

do not forget

good to have

Hide from the rain;  (Photo/Lisa Spafford)
(Photo/Jason Spafford)

Topography and climate

topography and climate of the region;  (Photo/Lisa Spafford)
(Photo/Sarki Raj Rai)

Notably, the elevation of this route increases from 9,200 feet to 14,104 feet in elevation. Upper Mustang has a barren moonscape. Wind-sculpted sandstones and irregular morainic terraces define the steppe landscape.

Blessed with a rain shadow, Mustang’s trans-Himalayan climate experiences much less rain than other tropical regions of the country. It’s cool and semi-arid.

Food and accommodation

Meals you can find while hiking;  (Photo/Lisa Spafford)
(Photo/Jason Spafford)

Of course, you will have lunch en route at teahouses along the way. But that is dinner etiquette for your evening meal at the guesthouse where you are staying the night.

The guide will know the best teahouses and lodges, depending on your budget and needs. Double rooms with attached bathrooms cost between $4 and $12.

Valuable tips for visiting Nepal Upper Mustang

Make friends while hiking the trail;  (Photo/Lisa Spafford)
(Photo/Sarki Raj Rai)
  • Nepal Upper Mustang tourist visa on arrival: 15 days costs $30, 30 days costs $50 and 90 days costs $125.
  • Bring new, unmarked US dollar bills for a visa/trekking permit (Nepalese rupees are not accepted).
  • The Department of Immigration issues permits to non-Nepalese in a minimum trekking group of two (including guide and one trekker) for Mustang.
  • To obtain a trekking permit, an application form with your documents (travel insurance covering the maximum elevation gain, two passport photos, Covid vaccinations and passport) will be submitted to the Immigration Department via a registered Nepalese trekking agency.
  • Find one or more trekking partners if you are traveling alone or advertise your trip for others to join you here.
  • Whether package included hikes are unattractive, DIY-guides charge $25-$50 per day.
  • The agency we used for a guide and permits: Gasoline Treks & ExpeditionPokhara.
  • Reputable female guides are available at 3Sisters Adventure TrekkingPokhara.
  • Also consider hiring a porter (about $25 per day) if you prefer to manage a backpack. The less weight you carry in Nepal Upper Mustang, the easier the trek, especially at higher elevations.
  • Proceed “Namaste», the local greeting for hello, with «Dai(means “big brother” when talking to a man older than you), “Bay“(“little brother” when addressing a man younger than you), “Have I got(“big sister” when addressing a woman older than you), or “Bahini(“little sister” when addressing a woman younger than you), and the locals will think you are a native!

All photographs by Jason Spafford


Hiking in Upper Mustang, Nepal
Adventure to the “Last Forbidden Kingdom”: Trekking in Nepal’s Upper Mustang
In a rain-shadowed region of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges lies one of the last Tibetan utopias, unknown to the masses as Upper Mustang, Nepal. Read more…

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