Venture out on a timeless and breathtaking journey through the Kingdom of Lo; this off-the-beaten-path region was until recently a hidden Tibetan Buddhist enclave forbidden to foreigners. From the trail, expect incredible sights like sculpted canyons with wild rock formations, deep gorges, medieval villages, ancient fortresses, palaces, and mysterious, ancient cave hermitages. You'll also see the Tibetan Buddhist gompas and soaring snow-peaks that characterize this spectacular region, the "thumb" sticking up from Nepal into the Tibetan plateau.

Highlights

  • 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

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
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  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Kathmandu: Bazaar Walk and Kathmandu Durbar Square

The cityscape of Kathmandu and Boudhanath Stupa
The cityscape of Kathmandu and Boudhanath Stupa

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 the secret alleys and courtyards of old Kathmandu, dotted with Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples. You're sure to be dazzled by the lines of tiny stalls selling fruit and vegetables, spices, fabric, brass kitchenware, and more.

If you're out and about, be sure to 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

Gentlemen at Patan Durbar Square
Gentlemen at Patan Durbar Square

After breakfast, you'll 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 will be chauffeured by private car to three incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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 up 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

Terraced hillsides with the Himalaya beyond
Terraced hillsides with the Himalaya beyond

This morning, you'll be taken to the domestic airport, then will 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 you'll 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 to 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!

During the main season, there are also phenomenal helicopter sightseeing tours to the breathtaking Annapurna Base Camp. Although this option can be a bit spendy, it offers one of the most spectacular views you will ever see!

If you're interested in a more low-key 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)

Ancient ruins and a storied stupa
Ancient ruins and a storied stupa

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 a bit and then trek up the windy Kali Gandaki valley to Kagbeni, where you'll stay tonight. The wide trail along the sandy, saligram-filled riverbed provides views of the surrounding peaks of Dhaulagiri, Tukuche, and Nilgiri, and to the south, the entire Annapurna Massif. The walk is just a few hours, so no need to rush out of Jomsom if you want to explore a bit. You will also be back here on your way home again, but will probably just want to relax then!

Kagbeni, spectacularly 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 the midst of 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.

At the police check post at the north end of the village is a sign reads "Restricted area, tourists please do not go beyond this point;" there you will complete your paperwork to enter Upper Mustang tomorrow.

Walking time: Approx. 3-4 hours 
Accommodation: Local Teahouse

Day 5: Drive from Kagbeni to Ghami, visit Geling

Giling village with the Gompa above
Giling village with the Gompa above

This morning make sure you get a hearty breakfast as you have a big day ahead of you! 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 or 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 just 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 there Zor, protective cross-shaped amulets, on the walls of the houses. These Zor are said to capture evil spirits and protect the inhabitants of the household.

You'll take the new trail up to Samar, which was 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 will have a short climb to the Shyangmochen La. Here the trail intersects a wide east-west valley and you'll finish your ride traveling down to the picturesque village Geling. There are some interesting landmarks here, including 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 the 'fortified' feeling so characteristic of this region. You'll spend the night here and tomorrow will continue on foot.

Walking time: Approx 9 hours 
Accommodation:
Teahouse

Day 6: Trek from Ghami to Tsarang (11,762 ft / 3,585 m)

Stunning colors of the cliffs at Drakmar
Stunning colors of the cliffs at Drakmar

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 so characteristics of the Kingdom of Lo to what is said to be the longest and most spectacular mani wall in Nepal. Looming ahead of you is a cluster of gigantic, ancient chortens, backed by dramatic, sculpted cliff-faces... truly an awesome sight!

From here you'll pass a sky burial site as you turn up the river towards Dhakmar. You'll trek past an ancient set of huge chortens and on past the stunning 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 the bringing of 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 here represents her blood spilling across the landscape and, 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 by 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). From here you'll have great views down to Marang and Tsarang, which you will visit on your return journey south.

You'll drop down towards 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 towards Tsarang, whose views you'll enjoy along the way. You'll cross the river and pass through a stunning 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 hydro-electric 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, thankas 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 
Accommodation: Local Teahouse

Day 7: Drive from Tsarang to Lo Manthang (12,533 ft / 3,820 m)

The Royal Palace of Lo Manthang and the roof tops of the walled city
The Royal Palace of Lo Manthang and the roof tops of the walled city

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 towards Lo. The multi-hued canyons will spread impressively 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 on the right strings of Tibetan prayer flags. Climb to 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.

Within the city's walls are 180 houses inhabited by the Lhoba (people of Lo), although many other Lhobas now live outside the wall. Much of the community here still practices polyandry and it is well worth asking (sensitively) how this system works.

Driving time: 1 hour 
Accommodation:
Teahouse

Day 8: Lo Manthang: Namgyal Gompa & the Thinggar Valley

Lo Manthang from a distance
Lo Manthang from a distance

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 those of 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.

Accommodation: Local Teahouse

Day 9: Lo Manthang & the Chosar Valley

Gharphu Gompa
Gharphu Gompa

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.

The trail today 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 
Accommodation: Local Teahouse

Day 10: Drive from Lo Manthang to Yara, Trek to Luri Gompa

The spectacular landscape en route to Yara

You'll leave magical Lo Manthang for a new adventure on your route south; you'll drive back towards 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 of 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 style of painting is said to be similar to the Newar tangka style (of the Kathmandu Valley) and art historians speculate that the work was done by Nepali (possibly Newar) artisans, commissioned by Tibetans. Please note the photography is strictly forbidden here in order to protect these priceless relics.

On the way back, you'll take the high trail through the interesting village of Ghara, surrounded by terraced fields, before returning to Yara.

Driving time: 2 hours 
Walking time: Approx 3-4 hours 
Accommodation: Local Teahouse

Day 11: Drive from Luri Gompa to Jomsom (8,924 ft / 2,720 m)

The amazing landscape near Samar
The amazing landscape near Samar

Today you'll start your journey back to Jomsom, first heading south towards 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.

Accommodation: Local Teahouse

Day 12: Fly from Jomsom to Pokhara

Boats on Phewa Lake
Boats on Phewa Lake

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 myriad 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

Locals posing for a photo in Patan
Locals posing for a photo in Patan

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. Of course, 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. Let your specialists know if you have any special interest and they can custom design something for you. 
  • Customized Shopping Tour: There are some fantastic designers and produces of homewares, clothing, accessories, pashminas, Tibetan carpets/furniture, trekking/outdoor gear, art (religious and contemporary), and much, much more. If retail therapy is right up your alley, your specialists can design a day according to your personal interest or can point you in the right direction of some of their favorite stores to explore on your own. 
  • Mountain Flight to Everest: This is the most spectacular flight with the closest possible aerial views of Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga (the highest and the third highest Mountains in the world, respectively). This unique and awe-inspiring 1-hour flight also takes you past to Dorje-Lakpa, Chhoba-Bhamate, Gauri Shankar, Cho-Oyu, Pumori, Nuptse, Lhotse, and Amadablam. 

Day 14: Depart Kathmandu

The watchful eyes of Boudhanath Stupa

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 prior to departure.