We stood there staring at the wide valley of Lo Manthang – a walled city, forbidden for outsiders for centuries, surrounded by the rugged and iconic Himalayan landscape of Upper Mustang – dry, high, and mighty as far as the eyes could travel, and the Kali Gandaki meandering its way through. It was surreal.
The journey to Lo Manthang
It was the Dashain holidays, and the unusual rain was keeping us indoors mostly. With the festivities almost over, and a few days of the holiday still remaining, our minds began to wonder – to the places we could go. It was then, I, and three other friends decided to drive down to Lo Manthang – a first time for all of us.
The next day, we left Kathmandu with the first rays of the sun, hoping to reach Pokhara by lunch time. The drive was pleasant mostly – following the Trishuli River and the Marshyangdi for a while, arriving in Pokhara just in time for lunch. We were aiming to reach Tato Pani that day, hence we hurried along, continuing our journey through the hills.
The next day, we left Myagdi and entered Mustang. Little ways down the road, the landscapes started to change – from lush green hills and valleys to dry and arid land. Along with the landscape, the architectural elements of houses too started to change – as we made our way through Tukche, Marpha, Jomsom, and finally into Kagbeni – our stop for the night.
Kagbeni is a fascinating medieval village with closely packed mud brick houses, dark alleys and imposing chortens.
The next day, I was particularly excited. We were to leave Lower Mustang and enter Upper Mustang, traversing through the Kali Gandaki Basin, at times crossing the river as well. Our route crossed through many ridges, as we headed north deep into the desert landscape of Upper Mustang. The winds here were strong, and the driver’s skills were put to test as we navigated a combination of high trails and river bank routes. In the evening, we arrived into Lo Manthang View Point where we were offered our first glimpse of the Forbidden Walled City of Lo Manthang.
We got off the vehicle to take in the majestic sight ahead of us. As the winds blew on our faces, we stood there staring at the wide valley of Lo Manthang – a walled city, forbidden for outsiders for centuries, surrounded by the rugged and iconic Himalayan landscape of Upper Mustang – dry, high, and mighty as far as the eyes could travel, and the Kali Gandaki meandering its way through. It was surreal.
Satisfied with the view, we pushed on towards Lo Manthang.
Exploring Lo Manthang
In the morning, we strolled along the historic alleys of Lo Manthang – taking in the architectural and cultural beauty of the city.
Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang is the former walled capital of the Kingdom of Lo. Lo Manthang was founded in 1380 by Ame Pal, a warrior whose descendants ruled over the Kingdom for twenty five generations until Nepal became a republic in 2008. Ame Pal is credited with overseeing the construction of the walled city and the many still-standing structures of Lo Manthang. The city evokes a sense of timelessness and offers rich historical insight, unique culture traits, and beautiful architecture.
We also explored the Lo Manthang Royal Palace, a tall, whitewashed, nine-cornered, five story palace built around 1400 A.D. There are also four major temples: Jampa Lhakhang or Jampa Gompa, the oldest, built in the early 15th century and also known as the “God house”; Thubchen Gompa, a huge, red assembly hall and gompa built in the late 15th century; Chodey Gompa, now the main city gompa; and the Choprang Gompa, which is popularly known as the “New Gompa”.
There is a certain sense of timelessness in the city – as if, the people are still living in the 13th century. Residents of Lo Manthang have been successful in preserving their cultural history, giving the city a strong identity. Glimpses of women gathered outside their homes as they bask in the autumn sun, children playing in the alleyway, and other cultural components makes Lo Manthang a fascinating travel experience.
In the afternoon, we geared up for another adventure – a visit to the recently discovered ‘pre-historic’ human settlement and the Caves of Chhoser. We headed north-east, leaving the walled city behind as we drove through the Himalayan desert with the horizon ahead of us.
Approaching Chhoser, we could see the numerous caves ahead of us, which was once abode to the pre historic Loba’s and the monks. We crossed the river and entered the caves to once again travel through time as we peeked into the lives of a pre-historic era. In the evening we drove through Namgyal village on our way back and visited the monastery.
Leaving Lo Manthang
After fully satisfied of exploring Lo Manthang, the next morning we began our long journey back home. We slowly navigated ourselves out of Upper Mustang, then through Lower Mustang to leave the mystical kingdom behind, and entered Kathmandu on the third day of departing from Lo Manthang. Throughout the journey, and for many days after, the amazing landscapes of Lo Manthang, the beautiful smiles of the people continued to replay in our minds, haunting us with its glory, majesty and beauty.