Among the dazzling peaks of northern Nepal’s Himalaya lies Mustang, a remote kingdom long forbidden to outsiders and still restricted to a lucky few each year. Venture into this mysterious land on horseback and trek across the high altitude desert, where red-rock cliff s, deep river gorges, and soaring gray ridges give way to the shimmering white crests of some of the highest—and youngest—mountains in the world. Follow in the footsteps of salt traders, pilgrims, revered Buddhist saints, and Tibetan freedom fighters as we make our way past timeless stone villages and oases of terraced fields to the colorful capital of Lo Manthang. Discover mani walls, chortens, gompas, and monasteries along our route; step into sacred caves that hid ancient Buddhist texts and artwork for centuries.
Arrive in Kathmandu (4,300') and meet for an orientation and welcome dinner. The next day, rise early if you wish and join pilgrims on their ascent to the 2,500-year-old Swayambhunath stupa. Later, visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pashupatinath, an important Hindu temple, and see Nepal’s largest Buddhist shrine at Boudhanath. This afternoon fly to Pokhara (2,800'), the gateway to the Annapurna region. Settle into our charming resort near Phewa Lake, and enjoy a free afternoon to explore.
Vajra Hotel (D); Temple Tree Resort & Spa (B,D)
A short flight between the towering peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri brings us to the Mustang town of Jomsom (8,900'), where our horses and trek crew await. Saddle up and hit the trail, following the Kali Gandaki river gorge past dramatic geological phenomena with the summits of Nilgiri and the Annapurna massif on the horizon. Arrive in the village of Kagbeni (9,200'), set among terraced wheat and barley fields on the edge of the Mustang kingdom, and set up camp for the night. (3 hours riding)
Ride up the valley to Tangbe, heading towards the heart of Mustang, and stop for a picnic in an apple orchard. Pass between the massive cliff s of Chhusang, riddled with cave dwellings, and make a final ascent to Ghyakar (11,000'), a rarely visited village of the Gurung people. The next day, our trail winds steeply to Taklam La (Taklam Pass) at 12,250' and continues to Samar. Descend into a deep ravine to visit the cave at Chhusang—a sacred pilgrimage site in Mustang—where the eighth-century tantric Buddhist saint Padmasambhava meditated on his way to Tibet. Remount our sturdy steeds for the climb to the pastures of Sangboche (12,400'). (6 hours riding and hiking daily)
Camping (B,L,D Daily)
After a morning trek uphill and through canyons, ascend to Nyi La (13,000') to take in a sweeping panorama of Mustang and the Annapurna range. Our destination, Ghemi (11,500'), appears in the distance, an oasis of green, red, and gold perched among steep mountain cliff s. Explore the town’s castle and the 13th-century gompa, and learn how environmental changes in the Himalaya are affecting villages like Ghemi. (6 hours riding and hiking)
Leaving Ghemi, pass magnificent mani walls and chortens before arriving at Dhakmar, where we’ll venture into sacred cave complexes built into fantastical red rock formations. Continue to Lo Gekar (10,800'), home to Kar Gompa, the oldest Vajrayana monastery in the Himalaya. (5 hours riding and hiking)
Cross Marang La (13,900') to Lo Manthang (12,500'), the capital of the kingdom of Lo and a thriving hub of the salt trade in the 15th and 16th centuries. Spend two days discovering the walled city and its close ties with Tibetan religion, art, and culture. See the ruins of dzongs (forts), and step into the town’s monasteries to examine some of the most spectacular Buddhist murals in the world. Meet with the retired king of Mustang, as well as snow leopard conservationists and the head of a school of traditional medicine. Then head out on a full-day excursion to the ancient cave complexes of the Choshar, where ancient Buddhist and Bon (an indigenous Tibetan faith) texts and paintings have been found on excavations supported by National Geographic. Continue by jeep or horseback if you wish to explore the caves and monasteries of Garphu, Nimphu, and Jhonkar. (Day 8: 5 hours riding and hiking)
Camping (B,L,D daily)
Ride down from high mountain ridges to the Kali Gandaki river on our way to the village of Yara (11,800'). The next day, the trail brings us to Charang (11,700'). See the medieval monastery, recently brought back to life, and meet local leaders to discuss Mustang in modern times. Then continue south, riding by one of the longest mani walls in Nepal. Climb steeply to Nyi La and descend 1,200 feet to our home for the night: the lovely village of Ghiling (11,500'). (Riding and hiking times: 7 hours; 5 hours; 5 hours)
Camping (B,L,D daily)
Cross three passes on the way to Samar and then retrace our steps back to Chhusang and finally Tangbe, where jeeps meet us for the last leg of the journey to Jomsom. The next morning, fly to Pokhara and enjoy the day to relax by the lake or visit a Tibetan refugee camp. (6 hours riding and hiking)
Camping; Temple Tree Resort & Spa (B,L,D daily)
Fly to Kathmandu today and visit the World Heritage site of Bhaktapur, an enchanting town that has preserved its medieval character. Then enjoy time to explore on your own before your flight home on the final morning.
Vajra Hotel (Day 16: B; Day 17: B,D; Day 18: B)
National Geographic Active Expeditions are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.
Medical anthropologist Carroll Dunham has resided in the Himalaya for more than 25 years and currently resides in Nepal. Author of four books, she has explored deeply the feminine divine in South Asian history and culture. She has produced more than a dozen films for National Geographic, PBS, the BBC, and others on subjects ranging from Living Goddesses to polyandry, nomadism, and geology. She has recently been involved with working with female immolations at a hospital burn unit and has delved extensively into the history of women’s relationship to fire and sacrifice in the Hindu world. On the board of the Nekorpa Foundation, which preserves sacred pilgrimage sites and traditions, Carroll has a keen interest in environmental conservation issues regarding sacred spaces of South Asia. A practitioner of yoga and ayurveda, committed to fostering income generation among marginalized women so they may support their families' health and education, Carroll has formulated ayurvedic products for The Body Shop and founded Wild Earth, a sustainable social enterprise producing handcrafted herbal products in the Himalaya. Carroll and her family have spent the last ten summers living with nomads in central Mongolia.
This expedition is not currently being offered.
This horse-riding adventure is suitable for beginners and experts alike; no previous experience is necessary. During our trek, we will be hiking or horseback riding 5 to 8 hours a day on steep and rocky mountain trails, mostly at elevations above 11,000 feet. We spend 12 nights camping in tents and 5 nights in local lodges. Porters or pack animals carry gear and camp supplies. Prior experience at high elevation and a signed medical form from your doctor may be required.
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