Explore Mustang: the Forbidden Kingdom

Friday, 26 April 2015 1:13 PM

Trekking holidays in Nepal are about more than the spectacular mountain scenery and the challenge of completing difficult walks - there's a lot of history and culture that's well worth discovering in the nation too. Lo Manthang, in Upper Mustang, is just one example of a culturally rich destination.

Several tour operators, including Walks Worldwide, offer trips to this part of Nepal and will allow you to explore the enchanting city of Lo Manthang.

Lo Manthang: a bit of history

Lo Manthang was once the capital of the former Kingdom of Lo, which is how Mustang was previously known. It is actually part of Tibet, which makes it a fascinating place to visit from a cultural and historical point of view. You'll find it to the north of the Annapurna mountains on a plateau 3,800 m above sea level.

The city was constructed in the 15th century and is situated on an ancient trade route that follows the path of the Kali Gandaki River. The thing that makes Lo Manthang really stand out is the 6 m high earthen walls that surround the settlement, with square towers positioned at each corner.

Within these walls is a selection of palaces and monasteries, among other buildings, many of which date back to the original construction of Lo Manthang.

Monasteries and palaces of Lo Manthang

Once you step within the walls of Lo Manthang, you can discover some of the historical buildings that make the settlement so special. Among them are the monasteries and palaces, which provide an insight into the region's history and rich culture. Jampa Lakhang and Thupchen Lakhang date from the 15th century.

Jampa Lakhang is the older of the two, with this Buddhist Gompa famous for its stunning mandalas. A mandala is painted within a circle, with the images created representative of the Buddhist universe. There are many mandalas on the interior walls of Jampa Lakhang, which means it is worth allowing a bit of time to fully appreciate the well-preserved artworks. Choede Lakhang is a newer monastery, having been constructed in the 18th century, and is now the main place of worship in Lo Manthang.

In addition to the monasteries, you should visit the King's Palace - an unassuming building that stands taller than the surrounding houses but that is still a white-washed earthen structure. This is where the current king lives and, although his role is predominantly ceremonial, he is still very well respected by the locals. The monarchy in Lo Manthang dates back 25 generations to around 1380.

Lo Manthang's culture and heritage

The people of Lo Manthang (known as Lobas) still adhere to many Tibetan traditions. Should you be planning to visit Nepal towards the end of May, you could be lucky enough to be in Lo Manthang during the Teechi festival. This annual event takes place over the course of three days each year. The celebrations are typically held in the main square in the city, where you can see monks from the Choede Monastery performing complex dances that tell the story of Lord Buddha's victory over a demon called Man Tam Ru. All the monks dress in colourful costumes and wear elaborate headdresses and masks during the performances associated with Teechi.

Even if you aren't in Lo Manthang for the Teechi festival, you can still see how people here live on a day-to-day basis. Their homes are very simple, with firewood stacked on all the roofs. Outside the walls of the city, you'll notice farmland where crops such as wheat and peas are grown, with these fields typically providing just one harvest per year.

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