Reaching Nepal’s Mustang region is like arriving at the fabled valley of Shangri-La. Cut off from the world on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, Mustang has been part of Nepal since the 18th century, but its traditional Tibetan culture has survived in isolation. The route carved through mountains by the Kali Gandaki River was used for centuries by caravans carrying salt from the Tibetan plateau to the plains of India. Today Upper Mustang is open for anyone who has obtained a special permit, but the ones who travel on a lower budget can also trek in the spectacular Lower Mustang on the same permits as for the rest of Annaurna region.

Formerly the independent Kingdom of Lo, Mustang, or Upper Mustang as it’s sometimes called, is a high altitude desert of rich red and ocher land and deep gorges set against an infinite blue sky.

For centuries, traveling ascetics of the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism have wandered the valleys of Mustang, using its caves to perform advanced tantric yoga. The deep gorges are the perfect setting for those wanting to practise tummo, a form of Tibetan breathing that allows a person to generate heat at high altitude or tackle negative emotions.

Visitors can hike along narrow cliffs and climb into a cave and absorb the silence and mesmerizing views of the sky and mountains. Most caves are empty but some have frescoes and statues inside. Formerly a vibrant center of Buddhist scholarship and art, Mustang’s temples also feature amazing Tibetan art. Many of these display the full teachings of Buddhist doctrine: frescos with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, tantric Mandalas, sacred books written in gold, silk Tangka and statues of Indian yogis in bronze, copper or clay.

Mustang hosts a full calendar of festivals and religious ceremonies. The Tiji festival in Lo Manthang, held in the third month of the Tibetan lunar calendar (between April and May), see monks engage in spectacular dances telling a Buddhist tale of good versus evil. Every August across Mustang, but particularly in Muktinath, the Yartung festival involves horse racing, drinking and dancing. During February’s Saka Lhuka seed-sowing ceremonies, monks recite religious books and new village leaders are appointed.

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