Mustang, a northern district of Nepal, is one of the most beautiful place in Nepal. It is distant from rest of the Nepal that it is often called himal pari ko desh (literally means kingdom beyond the Himalayas). Yet most tourists, foreign or domestic, focus on visiting Kathmandu or Pokhara more than they do Mustang. Well there’s a reason for it – this place is hard on your body and wallet alike 😉
Purpose of this post: Before I made my travel to Mustang I had trouble finding latest up-to-date information and even a basic visual guideline of what to expect. The purpose of this trip report is to fill that basic void. If you want something more advanced like trekking in upper Mustang, then you’re better off looking elsewhere.
above imgur picture dump includes most pictures below
How to get to Jomsom?
You can fly from Pokhara to Jomsom. Do note that flights in Nepal, particularly ones that fly North, occasionally face cancellation and are then scheduled for the following day.
In order to get to Pokhara you can take a flight from Kathmandu or you can make a road trip to Pokhara in a “deluxe” bus (Rs 500), “coach” bus (Rs 450), or a HiAce van (Rs 470). I’ll write more on this later but for now I’ll say that our preferred road choice is the “deluxe” bus.
Up until few years ago road tip to Johmsom required changing 1-2 local buses after Pokhara. At best you would end up with Pokhara – Beni – Johmsom. But now there are significantly better options:
- All thanks to the initiative to run buses from capital to every district in Nepal, we now have a bus that goes directly from Kathmandu – Jomsom.
- Morning buses also run from Pokhara to Jomson (Rs 1000). They leave at round 8 AM and get you to Jomsom at around 6-8 PM.
First if you’re in Nepal during rainy season then I highly recommend you do not take a road trip in this route. That said here are two tips for you:
- book 1-2 days in advance. We got to Pokhara late in the evening and were unable to book any seats next day seat for Jomsom. During “good” (i.e. not cold or rainy season) a lot of pilgrims take this route to Muktinath so seats do tend to fill up fast.
- make sure you book for front seats!
Getting to Jomsom
We took a bus from Pokhara and unfortunately despite early booking our seats were booked on the back. The road after Beni (roughly 3 hours from Pokhara) was extremely bumpy and our body felt every inch the road. We found ourselves holding the back of the front seat for vast majority of the time. This road is extremely dusty so hopefully nearby windows around you do work. All these reason
We were dressed lightly in Pokhara and I only felt the need to put on jacket and shoe when we got to Tukuche. Obviously it helped that we were travelling in April. Tukuche was the first stop where we started to see Himalayas.
Only 1 hour or so before Jomsom we started to see typical “no trees and bushes” look of Mustang. I’ve traveled to various parts of Nepal but I had never seen mountains that bare and dry.
Jomsom is a rather small town that is in the bank of the Kali Gandaki river. Believe it or not the town you see below pretty much covers all of Jomsom. In the right of the picture you can see the Jomsom airport.
Now because this is a touristic place Jomsom is fairly accommodating. A decent hotel can be had for Rs 1000 while an okayish can be easily for Rs 500.
If you want cheaper lodging then you may want to checkout hotels across the bridge. A large amount of governmental offices exist across this bridge. Furthermore, buses for Muktinath also line up across this bridge.
Speaking of Muktinath, if your goal is to visit Muktinath and minimize your stays in Mustang then you may want to travel to Muktinath the very evening you get to Jomsom. There are fair amount of hotels in Muktinath area. Do note that buses to Muktinath stop are not scheduced after some point in the evening, I think 6 PM. However, if you’ve enough people who’re willing to make this trip (hint: do a poll in the bus you’re travelling and you’ll find more than enough people) then you can reserve a jeep.
On your way you’ll see some apple orchard.
How is Jomsom?
This place is harsh to live in in pretty much all fronts imaginable. It gets super windy around noon, there is even a popular song bara bajai hawa sararara (literally means 12 O’clock wind blows) noting that fact. You ought to sit on that bridge around noon at least once. It is also obviously a rather cold place. I’ve been told, by an ex-driver in Pokhara to Jomsom route, that he, alike many other drivers in the route, used to drink and drive during winter season. Last but not least, this is a rather expensive place. A fruit punch that can normally be had for Rs 25 costs Rs 60 in Jomsom. Fruits shops are almost non-existent and if there is one, fruits are sold at outrageous cost.
Getting to Muktinath
Early in the morning we took a routine bus to Muktinath. One bus leaves every hour and I believe they start as early as 6-7 AM. In a good season the total trip will last about 1 – 1.5 hour.
The route to Muktinath is one of the most mesmerizing ones I’ve ever seen. I don’t care if you’re not a Hindu or a Buddhist, it is still a must take trip for anyone who makes it to Jomsom. If you’re the type who likes to click a ton of pictures then you should seriously consider walking this route.
Sometime in between you’ll see a small town and a greenery for a change – that town is Kagbeni.
Off the bus and on a horse
As you might expect the bus won’t take you all the way to Muktinath. It will still be around 30-45 minute uphill walk from the bus stop. You can walk or you can pay Rs 300 for a horse ride. Note that if you’re young and fit you’ll not be allowed to book a horse ride on your way back down.
As I said previously, instead of staying a night at Jomsom and travelling to Muktinath in the morning, you could have potentially traveled to town seen above on the very evening you got to Jomsom.
Once we got off the horse, we walked up a few minutes and finally at an altitude of 3,710 meters there was the Muktinath temple. The literal meaning of mukthi is “freedom, release, or liberation” while that of nath is “God”.
The temple itself isn’t anything grand like that of Pasupatinath. This is understandable because of how far out this temple is.
Getting Back to Jomsom
Nearby the temple (left while walking down) there is a huge Buddha’s statue, supposedly it is the largest stone Buddha in Nepal.
Walking a bit further down you’ll see a helipad. I imagine it costs good amount of $ for that heli ride.
Then we came further down to the village mentioned above and got a closer look the souvenirs, Shaligram being the most notable one. Devotees may want to buy some of them, take it to the temple, do the rituals, and take it home as an offering from Muktinath temple.
Shaligram are fossilized seashell stone that act as a symbol for Hindu god Vishnu. You can, if you spend enough time, find Shaligram in the banks of Kali Gandaki.
Then after we took a bus ride back to Jomsom. This time around I sat in the front cabin (next to the driver) and snapped some easy pictures.
Getting Back to Pokhara
This time around we knew better and made sure we got front seats. As a result the ride back to Pokhara was pleasant enough that we were able to notice and snap a picture of this waterfall.
It is very different than rest of the tourist destination in Nepal (ex Chitwan, Pokhara, and Kathmandu). The most important thing to do before going to Mustang is to prepare and plan your trip well. If you’ve very strict food choices then do carry some with you. Also, as always, do carry basic medicines with you. Last but not least book bus early so as to avoid layovers and bumpy seats.