Where is Mustang
Explorers such as Professor David Snellgrove and the Italian scholar Guiseppi Tucci and Michel Peissel visited Mustang in the 1950’s and it has largely been their tales of a Tibetan-like arid region locked off from the outside world that has fuelled interest in the area.
Mustang District ( in Nepali: मुस्ताङ जिल्ला ), a part of Dhaulagiri Zone, is one of the seventy-five districts of Nepal, a landlocked country of South Asia. The district, with Jomsom as its headquarters, covers an area of 3,573 km² and has a population (2001) of 14,981. The district straddles the Himalayas and extends northward onto the Tibetan plateau. Upper Mustang, the former Lo Kingdom comprises the northern two-thirds of the district. This kingdom was a dependency of the Kingdom of Nepal but was abolished by the republican Government of Nepal on October 7, 2008.
Mustang is a remote sub-kingdom within the Himalayan region of north-central Nepal. The people of Mustang are ethnically Tibetan; the population is only about 15,000 total. Most live along the banks of the Kali Gandaki River, once a major trade route through this mountainous region. There is no Potala Palace or Drepung Monastery in Mustang, but this arid ancient land tucked away in the far north of Nepal, beyond the snowy Himalayas, is like a flashback to the Tibet of the 1950s and before, when the Dalai Lama still reigned in Lhasa. Untouched by modern civilisation, isolated in its rugged mountain terrain, a way of life persists here in Mustang that is fast disappearing in Tibet proper. And unlike Tibet proper - overrun by China in the 1950s - Mustang’s ancient Buddhist monasteries haven’t been desecrated or destroyed and religious leaders haven’t been thrown into prison.
In addition to trekking routes through the Lo Kingdom ("Upper Mustang") and along the Annapurna Circuit in lower Mustang, the district is famous for the springs and village of Muktinath (a popular Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage site), apples, and Marpha brandy. Mustang was a lost kingdom of Tibet where traditions may remain more Tibetan than in Tibet proper following its annexation by China.
A shepherd in a remote region of Nepal bordering Tibet has been instrumental in the discovery of an extraordinary art treasure that lay hidden for centuries: a collection of 55 exquisite cave paintings depicting the life of the Buddha. The 12th-century paintings - a large central mural flanked by smaller panels - were found last month in a partly collapsed cave last month in Mustang, a kingdom long forbidden to foreigners in the high Himalayas, 150 miles north-west of Kathmandu. "Finding the cave was almost like a miracle," said Italian art conservator Luigi Fieni, a member of the team of Italian, American and Nepalese art conservators, conservation architects and archaeologists. They used ice axes to cut their way to the cave, at 3,400 metres.
Foreigners were permitted to enter Mustang only in 1992, and Mr Fieni's team began work there nine years ago, restoring spectacular wall paintings in a crumbling 15th-century Tibetan monastery. It was when they asked about other art treasures in the region that a villager remembered having seen, as a boy, a cave full of colourful paintings. "Unlike the murals in the monastery, the Mustang cave paintings do not reveal a Tibetan but a strong Indian influence, including the animals they depict - leopard, tiger, monkey and deer," said Mr Fieni. "In fact, the style evokes the fabulous cave paintings of Ajanta, which predate the Mustang caves by several centuries."
The simultaneous discovery of ancient Tibetan manuscripts in nearby caves has also led to speculation that the area might have been a teaching retreat, similar to the Buddhist university in Nalanda. Mustang is of significance to Buddhist scholars as perhaps the only region where Tibetan culture and religion have survived virtually untouched by time or the depredations of modern Chinese colonisation - although a road was recently opened to the capital, Lo Manthang.
Guru Gyaltsen, a Tibetan Lama, said: "The Mustang people are Tibetans. They speak the Tibetan language; their origin is in the Tibetan culture." For centuries, the region was part of Tibet, before being taken over by Nepal. The location of the cave has been kept a secret to deter smugglers. The explorers call it the Snow Leopard Cave, as the animal's footprints were found inside. "The cave paintings have been affected by wind and rain, and really need restoration," said Mr Fieni.
Planning the trek: The trek is a two-week affair and expensive. Individuals are not allowed; permits are given only to groups of 2 and above. Contact Adventure Connexion Office in Lazimpat, Kathmandu. The trekking agency will organise permits, which cost US $ 500 per person, and other formalities.