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Mustang - page 3


Sites to visit
The villages of Tukche and Marpha are some of Nepal’s most picturesque. Tukche was once the most important Thakali village being the centre of the Trans-Himalayan trade. The grand stone houses were used as stores for salt and grain. The open land in the centre of the village, now a school playground, was once a bustling market ground where local businessmen mingled with Indian and Tibetan traders to barter for goods.


The village of Marpha, a two-hour walk to the north, boasts a unique medieval drainage system which runs underneath the flagstone-paved streets. The roofs of the houses are noticeably flatter and are piled high with firewood collected in summer months. Both villages have numerous Tibetan Buddhist gompas, or monasteries, well worth the visit. Across the river from Marpha is the village of Chairo, a Tibetan refugee settlement with a small school and some authentic souvenirs for sale.


Jomsom is the administrative capital for the whole of the Mustang district. There is a domestic airport from where you can fly to Pokhara, and the town houses an army post as well as many official buildings, countless lodges, restaurants and shops, offering delights such as hot showers, pizza, beer and western chocolate.

Jomsom Airport

A few hours to the north is the village of Kagbeni, the last settlement in the unrestricted part of lower Mustang. Being situated at the confluence of two rivers, it is spiritually auspicious and functioned as an important trade stop in the olden days. It is by far the most ethnically Tibetan of the villages of lower Mustang: sitting in a smoky lodge sipping a cup of yak butter and salt tea, you feel taken back to Tibetan life as it has existed for centuries.


To the east of Kag, up a steep trail, lies the most important pilgrimage site in the mountains of Nepal. It is known as Muktinath, literally “Salvation Lord”, for here one finds a temple complex dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Lord of Salvation. The many temples of Muktinath have a supernatural as well as a historical dimension. In the Jwala Mai temple, pilgrims worship a never-ending flame, fuelled by natural gases deep in the earth’s core, which appears to burn on top of a water spring. It represents Agni, the fire god, a crucial element in Hindu Vedic ritual. Whilst the temple complex is predominantly Hindu, local Buddhists and animists also worship there, attributing the natural miracles to the work of their own gods. It is locally believed, for example, that the saint Padmasambhava, responsible for bringing Buddhism to Tibet, visited Muktinath in the 8th century.


Between Kagbeni and Muktinath, as you make the ascent of around a thousand metres (from 2,800 to 3,000 m.) within a short span of a few kilometres,there are a number of picuresque settlements that come in view. The most notable one is Dzar - Jharkot that offers a spectacular views both of the Muktinath valley which lies straight across, and the Kali Gandaki down below.


Keep an eye out for the saligrams. A beady-eyed traveller has a good chance of finding his or her own free souvenir no less than 140 million years old! These saligrams are the fossilised remnants of prehistoric ammonites, a kind of mollusc, who once lived in the Sea of Tethys before the continental collision that created the Himalayan range. Because of their unique spiralled shape, they are worshipped as earthly manifestations of Vishnu and are therefore particularly sought after by Hindu pilgrims.

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