Upper Mustang is a restricted area that remains quite a challenge to get to from other parts of Nepal. But, the journey there is part of the fun. From Pokhara, you'll first need to get to Jomsom in Lower Mustang, and then continue overland to Upper Mustang. Here's what you need to know.
First Leg: Pokhara to Jomsom
Duration: 30 minutes
Flying is the easiest way to travel from Pokhara to Jomsom. The journey takes less than half an hour, and travels through the deep Kali Gandaki Gorge to the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, in the rainshadow of the Himalayan range. From Jomsom Airport there are incredible mountain views.
Flights to Jomsom leave Pokhara airport early in the morning, to beat the winds that whip through Mustang in the late morning. Even so, flights are still often canceled or delayed if the winds or other weather conditions make it unsafe to fly, and in the mountains you really don't want to risk it.
For more information on flying in Nepal, check out the following article: Domestic Flights in Nepal.
Duration: 8+ hours
Going overland from Pokhara to Jomsom should really only be considered as a last resort. The 96 mile (155 kilometer) journey is long, uncomfortable, and dangerous in places, as much of the road is unsealed or in poor condition due to frequent landslides. However, in the busy season flights between Pokhara and Jomsom sell out quickly, and at other times they can be canceled due to the weather, so going overland to Jomsom may be necessary.
If you must go by road and aren't on a tight budget, take a private vehicle. Tour companies can arrange these, and having a comfortable vehicle will really help the journey. If you're on a tight budget, buses and shared microbuses/Jeeps also travel this route but are slow, hot, crowded, and generally less safe than taking a private vehicle.
Landslides can block the road at any time of year, but particularly during the monsoon. Accidents can also back up the traffic for hours.
Second Leg: Jomsom to Upper Mustang (Lo Manthang)
For many travelers, the ancient walled town of Lo Manthang is their ultimate destination in Upper Mustang, so the following suggestions relate to Lo Manthang. Most international visitors to Upper Mustang require a special permit to enter the region, which must be obtained before you arrive, and have to travel with a guide. Permits should be shown before leaving the town of Kagbeni, the last town in Lower Mustang.
Duration: 5 days (not including return trek)
Although not the fastest way to get to Upper Mustang, many travelers come to this part of the world for the trekking experience. Trekking from Jomsom to Lo Manthang takes about five days—it could take more or less time depending on your fitness, prior acclimatization, and whether you want to make any side trips. It's important to take your time and be well acclimatized, however, as Lo Manthang is at 12,401 feet (3780 meters).
A standard trek to Upper Mustang passes through Kagbeni, Chele, Zhaite, and Charang before reaching Lo Manthang. The landscape is very different from most other parts of Nepal as there is little to no rain in Upper Mustang. And, the culture is primarily Tibetan Buddhist, so there are dramatic forts, temples, stupas, and meditation caves dotted around.
An alternative to trekking on your own two feet is to take a horse trek to Upper Mustang. These aren't any faster than a regular trek as galloping to Lo Manthang isn't the point. But, this can be a fun way to travel if you have kids or other people in the party who may not want to walk the whole way themselves.
Duration: 2 days (not including return trip)
For travelers who don't want to trek, or to save some time, it's also possible to take a Jeep between Jomsom and Lo Manthang. There are various places where you stop overnight, but Zhaite and Charang are good options. The road is quite challenging as it's bumping and winding, but the views are spectacular.
Be aware that most foreign visitors to Upper Mustang will need to buy a permit that costs US$500 for ten days. Permits aren't issued for a shorter period. So, if your reason for going to Lo Manthang overland is to save time, you won't necessarily be saving money as well, as you'll need to pay the full permit fee regardless. There are a lot of things to see and do around Lo Manthang, however, so you can base yourself there for a few days and go exploring.