- Explore the Kathmandu Valley and a trio of sacred sites
- Visit the charming lakeside city of Pokhara
- Traverse the Mustang region by foot and by jeep
- Discover medieval temples, ancient chortens, and a cave village
|Day 1||Welcome to Kathmandu: Bazaar Walk and Kathmandu Durbar Square||Kathmandu|
|Day 2||Explore Kathmandu: Patan, Boudhanath, and Pashupatinath||Kathmandu|
|Day 3||Fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara||Pokhara|
|Day 4||Fly from Pokhara to Jomsom, Trek to Kagbeni (9,514 ft/2,900 m)||Kagbeni|
|Day 5||Drive from Kagbeni to Ghami, visit Geling||Ghami|
|Day 6||Trek from Ghami to Tsarang (11,762 ft/3,585 m)||Charang|
|Day 7||Drive from Tsarang to Lo Manthang (12,533 ft/3,820 m)||Lo Manthang|
|Day 8||Lo Manthang: Namgyal Gompa & the Thinggar Valley||Lo Manthang|
|Day 9||Lo Manthang & the Chosar Valley||Lo Manthang|
|Day 10||Drive from Lo Manthang to Yara, Trek to Luri Gompa||Yara|
|Day 11||Drive from Luri Gompa to Jomsom (8,924 ft/2,720 m)||Jomsom|
|Day 12||Fly from Jomsom to Pokhara||Pokhara|
|Day 13||Fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu||Kathmandu|
|Day 14||Depart Kathmandu|
Day 1: Welcome to Kathmandu: Bazaar Walk and Kathmandu Durbar Square
As you fly into Kathmandu, you'll have beautiful views over the city, the Himalaya, and the terraced fields below. After you make your way through customs, you'll meet a representative who will guide you through the initial culture shock of Kathmandu's narrow, winding streets and get you settled into your hotel.
Depending on your arrival time, you can head out on a walking tour of the city's vibrant, ancient bazaar. Explore old Kathmandu's secret alleys and courtyards, dotted with Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples. Weave your way through the lines of tiny stalls selling fruit and vegetables, spices, fabric, brass kitchenware, and more. Visit the nearby Kathmandu Durbar Square, a storied center of royal and religious power. Here you'll see an eclectic mix of architectural styles, the centerpiece being the Hanuman Dhoka Palace.
In the evening, consider grabbing the first meal of your trip in Thamel, a tourist hub whose eateries offer a variety of Western and local Nepali dishes.
Day 2: Explore Kathmandu: Patan, Boudhanath, and Pashupatinath
Get to know the incredible Kathmandu Valley with a full day of guided sightseeing. You'll meet your expert in your hotel's lobby and be chauffeured to three incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites by private car.
Your first stop is Patan (also known as Lalitpur), the ancient city of fine arts. You'll visit Patan Durbar Square, which showcases stunningly preserved temples and palace complexes. Next is Boudhanath Stupa, one of the biggest stupas in the world. The structure is embellished with four pairs of eyes, each looking out in one of the cardinal directions, keeping watch for righteous behavior and human prosperity. The stupa is constructed on an octagonal base inset with prayer wheels and is ringed by houses of Lamas (Buddhist priests), monasteries, and shops.
Your final destination on today's tour is one of the holiest temples in the Hindu religion: Pashupatinath. The temple is revered as the birthplace of the Hindu god Lord Shiva and is therefore dedicated to him. You're bound to be joined by a constant stream of sadhus, Hindus making the pilgrimage to this important site by way of India and other regions in Nepal.
Pashupatinath rests on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River, which serves as an access point for cremation. Note that this is the main cremation site for Hindus in the Kathmandu Valley, and you'll notice cremation ghats lining the edge of the water.
Day 3: Fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara
This morning, you'll be taken to the domestic airport and then fly to Pokhara. This is a stunning half-hour flight along the Himalayan Range, and you'll see four of the world's fourteen giant mountains over 26,247 feet (8,000 m): Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I, Manaslu, and Shishapangma. You'll land in the charming lakeside town of Pokhara and have the rest of your day to either explore the town or just relax by the lake or in your hotel.
Pokhara offers an abundance of activities to fit every mood. You can go for a leisurely boat ride on the lake; walk up to the World Peace Pagoda with its incredible views of the Himalayas; visit one of the Tibetan refugee villages that dot the area, where Tibetan carpets and other handicrafts are available; or rent a bike and cycle along the lakeside. If adventure is calling, try tandem paragliding with a professional pilot, zip-lining, mountain biking, or sightseeing on classic Enfield motorbikes!
If you're interested in a jaunt around town, there are plenty of great shops, yoga studios, and a bevy of lakeside cafés where you can relax and take in the surroundings. You'll have lunch and dinner on your own, and if you're interested in ideas of where to dine, your local specialists are happy to provide their favorite recommendations.
Day 4: Fly from Pokhara to Jomsom, Trek to Kagbeni (9,514 ft / 2,900 m)
You'll head to the airport early this morning for your spectacular mountain flight to Jomsom, the district headquarters of Mustang. Once on the ground, you can explore the town and then trek up the windy Kali Gandaki valley to Kagbeni, where you'll stay tonight. The wide trail along the sandy riverbed provides views of the surrounding peaks of Dhaulagiri, Tukuche, Nilgiri, and the entire Annapurna Massif to the south. The walk is just a few hours, so no need to rush out of Jomsom if you want to explore a bit.
Kagbeni, situated atop a cliff overlooking the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and the Jhong Khola rivers, is the last village in Lower Mustang and guards the entrance into Upper Mustang, visible across the Kali Gandaki riverbed. It is an oasis of green fields in rocky, arid mountains, with Niligiri looming grandly behind it. This ancient, partially ruined citadel town provides a taste of scenes to come in upper Mustang, with its narrow alleyways and tunnels, irrigation canals, green fields of barley, and its massive, newly-restored 800-year-old brick-red Sayka Gompa. You can also wander past the ancient, crumbling 100-room King's Palace.
Walking time: Approx. 3-4 hours
Day 5: Drive from Kagbeni to Ghami, Visit Geling
You'll spend most of the morning enjoying the drive out of town upriver in the restricted area of Upper Mustang. When you reach Chuksang at 9,678 feet (2,950 m), dominated by a crumbling dzong (fortress), you'll see clusters of ancient cave dwellings high up on the dramatic rock face across the Kali Gandaki river.
You'll cross a small river below Tsaile on a narrow bridge below a naturally-formed tunnel through which the Kali Gandaki flows. As you continue on, you'll notice how the culture becomes noticeably more Tibetan: sheep horns adorn the houses, and Zor, protective cross-shaped amulets, on the walls of the houses. These Zor are said to capture evil spirits and protect the household's inhabitants.
You'll take the new trail to Samar, formerly a staging post for Khampa raids into Tibet. You'll have some good riding across the passes and into the small hamlet of Shyangmochen (aka "the Truck Stop") and then a short climb to the Shyangmochen La. The trail intersects a wide east-west valley, and you'll finish your ride traveling down to the picturesque village Geling. Some interesting landmarks here include an old gompa above the village, ancient meditation caves in the eroded cliffs above, and traditional Mustangi houses surrounded by barley fields.
From Geling you'll climb up to the Nyi La and then contour down and around to the large village of Ghami, admiring the red oxide and silver hues of the towering cliffs across the valley. This is yet another stunning village, with tiny streets and high walled houses creating this region's 'fortified' feeling. You'll spend the night here, and tomorrow will continue on foot.
Walking time: Approx. 9 hours
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 6: Trek from Ghami to Tsarang (11,762 ft / 3,585 m)
This morning you'll head down to a bridge crossing the Tangmar Chu river. From here, the trail looks across the valley to ochre, blue and steel-grey cliffs and leads you past the tri-colored stupas of the Kingdom of Lo to what is said to be the longest mani wall in Nepal. Looming ahead of you is a cluster of gigantic, ancient chortens, backed by dramatic, sculpted cliff faces.
From here, you'll pass a sky burial site as you turn up the river toward Dhakmar. You'll trek past an ancient set of huge chortens and on past the red, ochre, and yellow cliffs up along the stream to the gorgeously set village of Dhakmar, nestled under the huge red cliffs. The color of the cliffs, the chortens, and the mani wall are all critical landmarks inseparable from the story of bringing Buddhism to Tibet – it is said that Guru Rinpoche came to this place to defeat a demoness who was preventing the construction of Tibet's first monastery. The red hue represents her blood spilling across the landscape; according to legend, the mani wall holds down her intestines.
From Dhakmar, you have an incredible climb up through a steeply eroded and tunneled landscape to a crest overlooking the Dhakmar Valley. The scenery on this steep, stunning walk is truly wild. From the crest, the trail levels out somewhat with a much more gentle ascent to the Mui La at 13,681 feet (4,170 m). You'll have great views down to Marang and Tsarang, which you will visit on your return journey south.
You'll drop down toward the Tsarang Khola and approach Lo Gekar (which means "pure virtue of Lo") and the Ghar Gompa, built by the Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Tibet. The first monastery was to have been Samye in modern Tibet; however, the building was supposedly disturbed by demons, so the Guru came here to subdue them. Ghar Gompa was built to pin down the demon and clear the path for what we now know as Tibetan Buddhism. It's truly humbling to visit this Gompa, knowing it was the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery.
After lunch, you'll head down the valley toward Tsarang, whose views you'll enjoy along the way. You'll cross the river and pass through a chorten as you make your way up into the old town of Tsarang. In this large village, built on top of the Tsarang Khola canyon, you'll find stone walls separating the houses and forming tunnel-like paths, with willow trees and an irrigation ditch, its own hydroelectric plant, and quite a few guesthouses.
The village is dominated by the huge, five-story Tsarang Dzong, a Tibetan-styled fortified palace constructed in 1378; the large, ochre-hued Tsarang Gompa is said to have the greatest library in Lo. The dzong has a wonderful, old prayer room with a gold-printed prayer book and a fascinating array of statues, thanks, and large Buddha paintings. Legend has it that the withered 500-year-old hand of the palace's master architect is there.
In the afternoon, take a walk through the maze of paths to the dzong and friendly gompa before dinner and watch the local women herding their sheep through the narrow, walled paths as dusk falls.
Walking time: Approx 6-7 hours
Day 7: Drive from Tsarang to Lo Manthang (12,533 ft / 3,820 m)
This morning you'll leave Tsarang on a trail that heads down and across the Tsarang Khola. You'll climb steeply up a rocky trail to a cairn on the opposite ridge and then follow the Thuling Khola on the new dirt road toward Lo. The multi-hued canyons spread around you, and the landscape becomes very Tibetan in character; take in the sights of the high desert expanses north of the Himalaya.
You will also start to see a few snow peaks ahead of you as you near the Lo La ('La' means pass), at 12,992 feet (3,960 m). The pass leads through a partial tunnel of rock, flanked by the bright strings of Tibetan prayer flags. Climb the ridge to the right for wonderful views down to Lo Manthang and the aptly named "Plain of Aspiration" below.
After, you'll take another short drive today to explore Lo Manthang. This famous walled city has a single entrance through which only the King, Queen, and Kempo (Abbot) are allowed to enter — all others must walk to pay their respects to the statue of Chenrezig, the most revered of all Bodhisattvas.
There are four major temples within the medieval walls of Lo Manthang: the red Jampa Lhakhang (built in 1387) with its striking 50-foot tall clay statue of 'Jamba' (or Future Buddha); a 15th-century Thubchen Gompa; Chhoede Gompa (where the Khempo lives); and Choprang Gompa. There is also the Raja's Palace, home to the present King Raja Jigme and Queen Rani Sahib, and an interesting maze of a village to explore.
Driving time: 1 hour
Day 8: Lo Manthang: Namgyal Gompa & the Thinggar Valley
This morning you'll visit the monasteries in the old city — morning light is the best time to see the religious artwork, as it gets much darker once the sun is high in the sky. Bring a flashlight with you, but please note that photography is forbidden inside monasteries (unless express permission has been given).
In the afternoon, explore the amazing land and culture around Lo. See the land by horseback or just relax or wander the city's intriguing streets. Check out the town's Tibetan herbal medicine clinic (run by an Amchi), two schools, new stores, and a coffee shop.
You can also head up along the valley northwest of Lo to the active Namgyal Gompa (the Monastery of Victory), set spectacularly on top of a desolate ridge. You'll notice that the design here differs from the gompas in Lo. There are some ancient ruins, gompas, and old fortresses worth visiting if you head down to the stream, then up through an extensive, irrigated system of fields to the sprawling village of Thinggar, where the King also has his summer palace.
Day 9: Lo Manthang & the Chosar Valley
Today you'll head out of Lo Manthang on a wide canyon trail, past dry gullies and an ancient, ruined fortress. Your destination: the cave village of Chosar and its deep-red Gharphu Gompa built into the rock face. This particular gompa is devoted to young initiates learning the foundations of monkhood, so get ready to meet some adorable, tiny students! Past the gompa is the ancient Jhong Cave, a 2,500-year-old dwelling site that you can navigate by climbing down ladders and through small tunnels.
Today's trail is full of gurgling streams, green meadows, and a view of the small peaks that mark the border with Tibet. As you return to Lo, take in views of the Himalaya, particularly Annapurna, Tilicho, and Nilgiri.
Walking time: Approx 4-5 hours
Day 10: Drive from Lo Manthang to Yara, Trek to Luri Gompa
You'll leave Lo Manthang for a new adventure on your route south; you'll drive back toward Tsarang, where you'll take a much smaller alternative trail down to the Kali Gandaki and up a side valley to Yara.
From Yara, you'll begin the next leg of your trek descending back to the Puyang Khola on a narrow trail; you'll head east past fantastic, sculpted canyons where you can see the remains of a network of ancient caves. About two hours later, you'll reach the amazing Luri Gompa and its complex caves, some of which are accessible.
You may be able to visit a small gompa in the lower section, as well as the upper prayer room, and the famous Kabum Stupa, which is filled with caves and wonderful murals. The Luri caves are filled with simply stunning Buddhist frescos and large, intricately painted chortens. Historians estimate them to be from the 13th or 14th century and linked to the Tashi Kumbum caves, one of a group of connected cave dwellings throughout this region. The painting style is similar to the Newar tangka style (of the Kathmandu Valley). Art historians speculate that the work was done by Nepali (possibly Newar) artisans, and commissioned by Tibetans.
On the way back, you'll take the high trail through the interesting village of Ghara, surrounded by terraced fields, before returning to Yara.
Walking time: Approx 3-4 hours
Day 11: Drive from Luri Gompa to Jomsom (8,924 ft / 2,720 m)
Today you'll start your journey back to Jomsom, first heading south toward Ghami. Although you'll be retracing your earlier route, you'll be treated to great views of the Himalaya in front, so keep an eye on the road and enjoy the drive.
As you return to the Kali Gandaki river, brace yourself for the local afternoon winds, as the deep Kali Gandaki gorge is a wind tunnel that channels the warmer air from the lowlands up to the heights above. You'll reach Jomsom in the late afternoon; unwind with a great celebratory dinner and enjoy your last night here in the mountains.
Day 12: Fly from Jomsom to Pokhara
Bid farewell to the Mustang as you head back to the greenery of the middle hills. You'll have an early start to prepare for your spectacular 30-minute flight to Pokhara. After you land, spend the day however you like: there are water activities (boating, kayaking, paddle-boating), yoga studios, and funky shops. Try paragliding if you're feeling fearless, or relax with a cocktail during happy hour at a café overlooking Phewa Lake.
Day 13: Fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu
Enjoy the morning in Pokhara until you head to the airport for your flight back to Kathmandu; when you land in the capital, you'll be picked up at the airport and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is yours to relax or head out for some final exploration in the colorful city of Kathmandu. Your specialists can always give you some great ideas on how to spend the day:
- Vespa Tour: Take a unique tour on the back of a vintage Vespa, traveling in style. The Street Art Gallery tour and Nepali Food Safari are highly recommended.
- City Sightseeing Tour: Kathmandu is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, and in a day, you can visit three to four of them.
- Mountain Flight to Everest: This is the flight with the closest possible aerial views of Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga (the world's highest and third highest mountains, respectively). This unique and awe-inspiring 1-hour flight also takes you past Dorje-Lakpa, Chhoba-Bhamate, Gauri Shankar, Cho-Oyu, Pumori, Nuptse, Lhotse, and Amadablam.
Day 14: Depart Kathmandu
It's time to say farewell to Nepal. Enjoy your last moments in Kathmandu with breakfast in a café, a city stroll, and/or souvenir shopping. A representative will meet you at your hotel and drive you to the airport for your return flight home. It's good to be at the airport at least 2 hours before departure.