Mustang - probably the most Tibetan influenced trek in Nepal?
Mustang, also known as â€œhimal pariko jillaâ€ or â€œdistrict beyond the mountainsâ€, is arguably the most Tibet-influenced region in Nepal. Mustang, formerly known as the â€œKingdom of Loâ€, is isolated from the rest of the country, especially because of the lack of proper roads there. Because of its isolation it is one of the most remote places in the world. Indeed, the remoteness and inaccessibility of the Himalayas is also the main reason behind why Mustangâ€™s ancient Tibetan culture is almost completely unaltered. Despite the abolition of monarchy in Nepal, Mustang even has its own ceremonial king, who is now 80 years old.
The people of Mustang identify themselves as Nepalese citizens, but culturally and ethnically, they are heavily influenced by Tibet, which lies immediately to the north. It is one of the last strongholds of ancient Tibetan culture, especially in the present situation where Tibet is under constant threat of Chinaâ€™s occupation.
Mustang is a magnificent repository of ancient Tibetan art, dating as far back as the 15th century. The Buddhist monasteries, the ancient Tibetan paintings, the culture of the local people, all make Mustang one of the last remaining Tibetan kingdoms in the world.
Only opened in 1991 for the outside world, Mustang was a place shrouded in mystery for a very long time. However, the first foreign visitors into Mustang had to endure a disheartening sight: The remaining monasteries were direly in need of repair, the priceless paintings and statues were being pilfered almost every day, and the people of Mustang were very poor and illiterate. The ancient Tibetan culture in Mustang was under the threat of extinction because of theft, disrepair, and migration of the native people.
Fortunately, due to continual efforts by international organizations such as AHF, the local people of Mustang have begun revamping their ancient art and bringing their priceless heritage back to life. This has had a very positive effect on the number of tourists going to Mustang every year â€“ a number that directly affects Mustangâ€™s economy and prosperity. However, its environment and culture are protected by the government from the ill-effects of overcrowding, by only granting Mustang trekking passes to a certain number of tourists every year.
What makes the trek to Mustang absolutely unique is the combination of pure Tibetan culture and breathtaking views of the neighbouring Nilgiri, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and other Himalayan peaks. Lo Manthang, the capital of Mustang, is an ancient walled town in the heart of the region, which has had very little contact with the outside world over the centuries. Due to this isolation, the lifestyle and culture of the people here has remained almost the same since the 7th century. The trek to Lo Manthang is a truly magnificent experience: you get to wander around the town on horseback, visit rural villages, and experience Tibetan culture at its purest.
The Namgyal Gompa, the village of Tenger and the Nyamook Gompa are the special attractions of this place. The caves near the village of Guruk and Sija contain magnificent pieces of ancient art, and are inhabited even today. The most beautiful and ancient part of Mustang lies between the Kaligandaki and Kagbeni rivers, and is known as Upper Mustang. From here, one can trek to Lo Manthang through a barren treeless trail.
Buddhism is a major driving force behind this historic culture. The art, music, monasteries, cuisine and lifestyle in Mustang all contain a strong hint of Buddhist beliefs and traditions. The Tibetan culture here encompasses a unique form of Buddhism that has subtle nuances from mainstream Buddhism.
Scattered throughout the monasteries of Mustang, you will find beautiful Buddhist prayer wheels, prayer flags, and mani walls. The prayer wheels typically have the mantra â€œOm Mani Padme Humâ€, a deeply spiritual Buddhist chant, carved on them. The carvings also sometimes include the auspicious symbols of Buddhism. It is believed that spinning these wheels has the same beneficial effect as orally reciting the prayer.
The rectangular, multi-coloured prayer flags are exclusive to Bon Buddhist culture, which is practiced in this region. These flags are used to bless the surrounding with peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. People here believe that as the wind passes over the surface of these flags, it is purified by the prayers written on them.
Along the trek through Mustang, you will also encounter several mani walls, which are stone tablets with intricate inscriptions on them. Like the prayer wheels, most of these stone structures have the words â€œOm Mani Padme Humâ€ on them. According to Buddhist doctrine, these walls are to be passed from the left side, that is, the clockwise direction â€“ the same direction in which the earth itself rotates.
The prayer wheels, flags, and mani walls are considered sacred and should be treated with utmost respect. The ancient art in Mustang has a heavy religious influence, depicting Buddhist teachings, various deities, and astrology.
Mustang is a time-capsule of Tibetan heritage, sheltered from the political turmoil in Tibet because it is located within the borders of Nepal. For anyone who wishes to visit a pristine historic culture still alive today, the trek to Mustang is a must.
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