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Myths and mountains

By Edward Wong | China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2013-02-17 13:28
Myths and mountains

Trekkers' camps dotted the high grasslands.

Myths and mountains

A closer view of Lo Manthang, the walled capital of Mustang, where visitors should proceed slowly and explore some of the hidden corners.

Myths and mountains

Chortens, or samll Buddhist stupas, stand in the village.

The southern brae of the Himalayas in Nepal offers trekkers landscapes and glimpses of faith that resonate across time, Edward Wong discovers.

Mustang was a caldron of myth, as I discovered on a 16-day trek in September. Modernity was creeping in to the area, but the stories that people told had evolved little over centuries. As I walked through the valleys and white-walled villages, I heard tales that brought alive the harsh land, a place of deep ravines and stinging winds and ancient cave homes. I had longed to visit Mustang ever since I got a glimpse of it while trekking the nearby Annapurna Circuit 12 years ago.

On the northern arc of the circuit is the village of Kagbeni, with its red-walled monastery. To the north is an expansive gorge carved by the Kali Gandaki River in Nepal.

Beyond lies Upper Mustang, or the Kingdom of Lo, forbidden to those who did not have a permit from the Nepalese government.

As a boy, I had seen my mother embrace certain Buddhist beliefs, and later I began walking paths in the Himalayas in search of something transcendent in the landscape and the abiding expressions of faith.

Last year, nearly 3,000 tourists entered Upper Mustang, according to statistics at a government office in Kagbeni, an increase of more than 25 percent from about three years earlier.

The permit fee for entering Upper Mustang - $500 for 10 days, and $10 for each additional day - deters many travelers. The low numbers, though, are welcomed by those trekkers looking to avoid the busy trails.

After a week in the Katmandu Valley, we flew north. Many trekkers rush from Kagbeni to Lo Manthang, the walled capital of Mustang, and back in 10 days. We decided to go more slowly and explore some of the hidden corners along the way.

Summertime in Nepal is when some of its last remaining nomads set up camp in the high grasslands west of Lo Manthang.

In that area, too, are peaks of more than 6,100 meters beckoning to be explored.

The eastern half of Mustang is more remote, and it has some of the best-preserved Tibetan Buddhist cave art in the world.

Each day of the trek, I marveled at how the landscape of Mustang was unlike anything I had seen in the Himalayas.

It was a place of canyon vistas revolving around the enormous valley of the Kali Gandaki.


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