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Lower Mustang is Nepal's dusty, wind-swept area that lies in the Himalayan rain shadow. If you want to visit some of Nepal's most incredible landscapes and enjoy exciting, scenic hikes without the burden of a multi-day trek, then it is an excellent option to spend many days around Jomsom and Kagbeni.
Today in this article we'll brief you about the best day hikes that travellers can partake in during their visit to Lower Mustang.
Nepal's Lower Mustang area is situated on both the classic Annapurna Circuit and on the way to the enigmatic Upper Mustang, but as a destination in its own right, it needs further publicity.
Spending four days within a week here will encourage you to undertake some incredible day hikes, witness the stunning dry scenery in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, and experience the local Gurung people's Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Jomsom is known as the gateway to Lower Mustang and is a town with many lodges, ranging from very cheap to amiable, one-street village. Kagbeni, an hour's drive or a three-four hour walk south, is more atmospheric (you can also drink Himalayan Java coffee here!).
A decaying castle, an ancient monastery, mud-walled traditional homes and narrow lanes with prayer wheels are part of the medieval region. A perfect way to split your time is to spend a few nights in Jomsom and then a few days in Kagbeni.
The winds are high in Mustang, and they speed up by around 11 a.m. each day. They can also be bitterly cold in the colder seasons. To stop the afternoon waves, it is best to schedule your days accordingly and head out as early as possible.
Mountain biking is another perfect way to see the Lower Mustang area is.
Since Mustang is in the Himalayan rain shadow, much of the rest of Nepal experiences distinct weather. Although most of the country is wet from May-September, these months are an adequate time to visit Mustang.
However, be mindful that flights from Pokhara are more likely to be cancelled during the monsoon due to bad weather on the south side of the Himalayas.
The roads may also be very treacherous at this time, as the rain makes them dirty and slippery, which can cause landslides. Alternatively, an excellent time to visit is spring (March-May) and autumn (September-November).
The Mustang's height is high, so the temperatures are colder. This means that in the winter months, especially once the unavoidable winds pick up, it can get unpleasantly cold, so brace accordingly if you fly there between November and March.
Flying is by far the most comfortable and most convenient way to get to the Lower Mustang from Pokhara. To stop the powerful winds that blow through Mustang by late morning, flights depart early.
Although the flight is a quick twenty minutes, as you soar through the Kali Gandaki Gorge, with Dhaulagiri and Tukuche to the west and Nilgiri Central and Annapurna to the east, these are unforgettable minutes.
The 'adventurous' choice is taking a public bus or private car between Pokhara and Jomsom, but it can take more than ten hours through uncomfortable paths.
Trekking the entire way, there is also feasible, avoiding the road by taking mountain paths. On the classic Annapurna Circuit Hike, the lower Mustang lies, so it will be possible to incorporate these day trips to a much longer journey.
Although you need an expensive visa to reach the Upper Mustang ($500 for ten days), if you're living in the Lower Mustang, this is not necessary.
You only need a cheaper permit (Rs 2000, or approx. USD 20) for the region around Jomsom, Kagbeni and Muktinath. In Kathmandu or Pokhara, these are better purchased as they are cheaper than buying them on arrival, where you would have to pay twice.
Visiting Marpha village (8,759 ft / 2,670 m) is a pleasant half-day excursion from Jomsom. Walk south along the main road (which is not busy) out of Jomsom, and keep walking for 90 minutes. The route to Marpha is prominent, along the road for vehicles and along the river Kali Gandaki.
Marpha is a tidy, scenic town surrounded by abundant, irrigated orchards and watered by lined canals. A return hike from Jomsom to Marpha takes three hours, not including time to stop for a slice of apple pie in Marpha (definitely recommended), or the popular cider and brandy of the area.
There are signs from Marpha pointing to the road to Dhaulagiri Base Camp. There are some lodges in Marpha as well, so this is a comfortable spot for Jomsom to stay in Lower Mustang on your first night.
A five-hour round-trip hiking is from Kagbeni, Muktinath (12,303 ft / 3,750 m). For Hindus and Buddhists, Muktinath Temple is a pilgrimage site and is extremely popular with Indian tourists.
There is a bumpy path for cars, but if you trek to Muktinath, it's better to take the smaller tracks uphill. On the way, you may travel through the ancient town of Jharkot (3,550 m./ 11,646 ft.), another hour's walk from Muktinath.
You should be able to catch the glimpses of the Dhaulagiri and Nilgiri Ranges from Muktinath if the weather is clear. The temple is the focal point, and from the town of Ranipauwa, it is farther uphill. It is a tiny pagoda-like building where it is possible to find sacred fire and holy water.
It takes 30 to 45 minutes (approx) to walk to Tiri (9,186 feet / 2,800 m) from Kagbeni. Cross the bridge at Kagbeni to get to Tiri and take the only road north, towards the green terraced farmland in the distance.
This is a rugged lane, and you're just going to have to share it with a weird motorcycle. Taking the steep path up to the monastery from the small village of Tiri, with great views of Kali Gandaki, the barren rocky hills, the snow-capped Himalayan peaks and the Upper Mustang in the background.
Note the colour scheme of the Buddhist chorten in Mustang — white, red and blue-grey — along the way. Such colours are symbolic of the area.
Lubra is a Bon village (9,750 feet / 2,972 m) and is said to be the last remaining place in Mustang to adopt the pre-Buddhist faith. It is believed to be the last remaining Bon monastery in Nepal sits on top of the hill above the town.
Lubra is home to around 20 families, but it is a remote town that can only be reached by hiking.
A narrow valley that opens up with the most fantastic sandstone rock formations that look like overgrown anthills is going east from Kagbeni.
You may reach the site of an abandoned village after about 90 minutes of cycling, mainly following the tiny river. Meditation caves have been cut into the cliffs around the town.
Whether the city was deserted or who used the caves is not entirely clear. However, it is suspected that ordinary villagers used the caves and that, due to a natural catastrophe, the village was deserted.
You can see Jharkot from this location in the distance, on a high hill, as well as Thorong La, which must be crossed by trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit. Make sure to search for stone ammonite fossils when hiking in this gorge.
Throughout the Kali Gandaki gorge, these are numerous and are ancient reminders of a time before the creation of the Himalayas.
Muktinath was also described in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharat, as the origins of these fossils, which he called shaligrams, a totem of Vishnu.