- Explore the well-preserved Tibetan culture of Upper Mustang
- Visit Muktinath, one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage sites in Nepal
- Views of the north face of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri
- Fly over the deepest gorge in the world, the Kali Gandaki
- Visit the pre-Buddhist Bon village of Lupra
|Min. duration||5 days|
|Max. elevation||3710m (Muktinath)|
Nepal’s Mustang region was a semi-autonomous kingdom until 2008, and still retains one of the best-preserved Tibetan Buddhist societies in the world. Flying to Jomsom and then trekking around Lower Mustang—through Kagbeni, Muktinath, Jharkot and Lupra—is an ideal way of getting a taste of fascinating Mustang without needing to pay for the expensive Upper Mustang permit.
Mustang is in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, so the landscape here is arid. Flying from Pokhara takes you through the Kali Gandaki Gorge, the deepest in the world. On the other side, a completely different landscape opens up that is like few other places in Nepal.
Treks around Jomsom reveal Tibetan Buddhist monasteries perched on ridges and cliffs, the holy Hindu pilgrimage site of Muktinath, and the old fortress town of Kagbeni, the frontier between Lower and Upper Mustang. Greenery is sparse and provided only by the irrigated fields around settlements. The unique landscape and culture combine to create a fascinating trekking experience.
Getting there & away
The preferred method of transportation to Jomsom is a half-hour flight from Pokhara.
Roads built in the last few years have opened up access to Jomsom and the Mustang area. It used to be popular to trek all the way along the Kali Gandaki Gorge to Jomsom (or vice versa) as part of the Annapurna Circuit. Since the completion of the road this is no longer ideal as the road is dusty and trekkers have to share it with vehicles.
As an alternative to flying, you can get a jeep from Pokhara or a bus from Beni (3 hours from Pokhara) all the way to Jomsom. This takes a full day and lowers the transport cost, but be prepared for a bumpy ride.
Permits & regulations
An Annapurna Conservation Area permit ($20) and TIMS card ($10) are required for trekking in and around Jomsom. These can be arranged in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
An extra, expensive permit is required for entry into Upper Mustang, past Kagbeni ($500 for 10 days) (see ‘Variations’ section, below). It is necessary to trek with a guide in Upper Mustang.
|Day 1||Fly to Jomsom (round-trip hike to Dhumba Lake)||2760m|
|Day 3||Jharkot (visit to Red Gompa)||3519m||4 hours|
|Day 4||Jharkot (visit to Muktinath at 3710m)||3519m||1.5 hrs|
|Day 5||Jomsom (via Lupra)||2790 m||3 hrs|
|Day 6||Fly to Pokhara||30 min.|
As Jomsom and Mustang are in the rain shadow of the Himalaya and receive little rainfall, this is one of the few places in Nepal that is ideal for trekking in the monsoon months (June to August). However, flights from Pokhara to Jomsom are frequently delayed at this time of year due to bad weather, so best to have a buffer of a couple days on either end to avoid missing any important connections.
Like elsewhere in Nepal, spring (March-May) and fall (September to November) are also good times to go to Jomsom.
Visiting in winter is not advised, as temperatures here get very cold, and many resources (including running water) become scarce in Mustang. Many locals shut their businesses and leave.
What to bring
As well as the usual provisions for a multi-day trek (good boots, a waterproof layer, and many layers of clothing), it’s especially important to carry a face mask/scarf and sunglasses on this trek. Mustang often experiences fierce winds in the late morning and afternoon, which whip up a lot of dust and grit.
The treks around Jomsom are moderately difficult. The highest elevation is Muktinath at 3710 metres, but all nights are spent below 3000 metres. It is suitable for both first-time and repeat visitors to Nepal, though a reasonable level of fitness and good health is required.
Accommodation & meals
The trekking infrastructure in this region is good compared to other parts of Nepal. There is a variety of accommodation in Jomsom and Muktinath, with higher-quality hotels in Jomsom (such as Jomsom Mountain Resort, with an indoor swimming pool) and lodges catering to pilgrims in Muktinath. Teahouses/lodges in this region are usually basic but provide blankets and running water (though not always hot).
Food in teahouses/lodges is generally of a good standard, with plenty of fresh vegetables (when in season), noodles, rice and other healthy and filling dishes available. It is not advisable to travel to Jomsom in winter as many facilities close for the season, making food supplies scarce.
Continuing into Upper Mustang
Instead of heading east to Muktinath from Kagbeni, you can continue on to Lo Manthang, the capital of Upper Mustang. This adds another 8-10 days to this itinerary. Highlights include exploring the narrow streets of the old city of Lo Manthang, and seeing the meditation caves cut into rock faces. Permits for trekking in Upper Mustang cost $500 for 10 days, and trekking must be done with a guide.
Connecting with the Annapurna Circuit
From Muktinath, you can join the Annapurna Circuit by crossing the Thorong La (5416 m), thus joining the circuit in a clockwise direction. The Annapurna Circuit is one of Nepal’s classic treks, but fewer trekkers are making the full circuit these days due to road construction and unpleasant hiking along the dusty road between Beni and Jomsom.
Crossing the Thorong La is very strenuous, and should only be attempted with proper preparation. When crossing from Muktinath (3710 m) the increase in altitude will be rapid, so it is important to make it down to Thorung Phedi (4540 m) the same day. There is often snow at the pass, and weather conditions can change rapidly. Usually Thorung La is crossed from east to west, given a more gentler climb to the pass.