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Mustang - page 2

The Thak-Khola settlement of Chimang overlooking Mount Dhaulagiri

Nature & Climate
Mustang can be best understood as two climate and natural regions: the lower, more fertile valleys and then the upper reaches which stretch all the way to the border with Tibet. The whole district is one of extremes and superlatives. The ancient walking track and trade route takes visitors and locals alike through the world’s deepest and steepest river gorge, that of the fierce Kali Gandaki. Above tower two of the world’s highest mountains: Annapurna I (8,078m) and Dhaulagiri I (8,172m). At one point, the difference between the valley floor and the summits is over 6,000m and the ominous peaks are only 20km apart so that on a clear day, from the villages below, one can see climbers making their approach along the deadly ice falls which have claimed so many lives. This part of southern Mustang is called Thak Khola, “The Valley of the Border Country”, and is characterised by lush fields of wheat, barley and maize. The indigenous population stem largely from the Thakali ethnic group, a famed trading people who now make a living as inn-keepers for the countless tourists and pilgrims passing through.

Looking up towards Mount Dhaulagiri from the banks of Kali Gandaki

After the village of Kalopani, literally ‘black water’ in Nepali, the river gorge opens out into a magnificent alluvial plain running to the north. At this point, we leave behind the rolling hills, and enter the dusty and arid moonscape of upper Mustang. Trees become ever more scarce, and from morning until night, a strong wind blows from the south, sometimes reaching 45 knots. The mountains loom to the sides and behind, and we have entered the beginning of the Tibetan plateau. Cypress and juniper give way to birch and fir, and forest leopards, musk deer and the hardy goat-antelope can be seen alone or in herds along the wind-swept hills.

Trail to Tsarang

Upper Mustang falls under the rain shadow, virtually untouched by the summer monsoon rains so characteristic of South Asia. Consequently, whilst the region can be visited year-round, the summer season from May to September is particularly suitable since other areas of Nepal are at this time too hot or wet to be pleasant. Winter in Upper Mustang can be bitter, with heavy snowfalls and even landslides. The lower reaches of the valley are best visited in the Fall and the Spring, when rhododendrons are in bloom and the mountain views are breathtaking.

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