Walled Capital of Kingdom of Lo | Upper Mustang
A Tibetan warrior, Ame Pal, ventured into the seemingly desolate fertile plains of Upper Mustang where he founded the walled capital Lo Manthang. Situated in the vastness of the desert-like area, Lo Manthang bore a breathtakingly enchanting area of civilization which thrived in tranquility. Ame Pal was then responsible to overlooks the construction of the high walls around the village and the fortress of Ketcher Dzong which due to his devout Buddhist heritage led to it being highly influenced by Tibetan architecture.
Upper Mustang is one of those only destinations you could label as heaven on earth. With the cloudless azure sky bestowing the lone sun above and the backdrop of the Annapurna range in the distance; it is an ideal area of the ancient civilization which till date has not been tarred by the advancement of time or the attack of the foreign culture. The serenity of this mountainous region will revitalize your senses and bring a sense of peace from within and a calming effect on your tired mind and body. This particular area of the Upper Mustang is blessed with several historic remnants of the ancestral properties. There are a number of caves in the mountains which shows apparent signs of once being the shelter of the earlier predecessor.
One of the most amazing features of Lo Manthang remains its sheer amount of monasteries scattered all over the area. The white walls of these religious structures are an abode for humble monks clad in prominent colors of yellow and red who can be seen in every corner chanting mantras. The hums of these enlightened beings fill the place with an eerily captivating aura while the life-sized Thanka arts bring out the complexity of the modest Buddhist art and lifestyle of Lo Manthang. Walking through the village is like taking a walk into a silent maze of incredible reserved culture, each step leading you into new unexplored paths.
The mystery of this enchanting place is reserved due to the only a limited number of travelers along the way. The passes that are crossed are often crossed alone with no other walking the same trail as you. This very feature allows you to get a look at the conserved culture from an intimate perspective. If lucky, the monks willingly allow the few travelers to get a glimpse of their day to day life with private tours around the monasteries. The antique inscriptions and scriptures can be found in these places that provide another testimony of prehistoric settlers.
The atmosphere that surrounds Lo Manthang is automatically clean due to the absence of pollution creating mechanisms. An environment so strictly protected bears the fruit of rich culture flourishing in its own bubble. Upper Mustang celebrates auspicious festivals like the Tiji festival which marks the triumph of good over evil. Tiji festival is usually celebrated in honor of Dorje Jono who fought an evil demon who used to wreak havoc in the past, destroying the water sources and bringing diseases. Dorje Jono is considered to be a deity in Vajrayana Buddhism.
The festival which started in the 17th century showcases religious dance performance by the monks of Chode Monastery every year over three days in the courtyard of Mustang Royal Palace of Lo Manthang. A special Vajrakila ritual is also performed which focuses on lifting the curse of negativity and spreading wellness for every living creature in Mustang. This festival brings together the Mustang royal family and the villagers of the seven provinces of Mustang who participate in the dance and the following rituals.
Lo Manthang can be experienced with the full bloom of buckwheat fields from August. It can be visited during the rainy season since it remains behind the glorious Annapurna. The winter, however, becomes too cold and the villagers migrate to moderate places like Kathmandu which makes it difficult to experience the village life. The rest of the months remain moderate and the temperature is just right to trek to about anywhere.
Unless you want to experience the true natural beauty of Lo Manthang in solitude, it is best to visit the place during on-season to get a closer look into the bustling village life and the full preview of cultural festivals conducted by the monks of the monasteries.
With serious steps to initiate sustainable tourism development, Upper Mustang was only open to tourists from 1992. The Nepalese Department of Immigration requires foreign visitors to obtain a special permit, which costs $50 per day per person, and liaison (guide) to protect local tradition from outside influence as well as to protect their environment.
In this post-modernist world where preserved societies are seen as relics, take a moment to get away from the hustle and experience peace along the roads of a historical utopia in Lo Manthang.