Spend 18 days following ancient trade routes through the isolated villages and wilderness of Nepal.
Hike in the world's deepest valley, and photograph some of the highest mountains on the planet.
View some of the greatest artistic treasures ever discovered in the Himalaya.
Mustang, an isolated kingdom in Nepal, forbidden to outsiders for centuries, faces a crossroads. The recent completion of a motorable road along the historic caravan route threatens to change this remarkable area, for good and bad, but also forever. Now is your chance to step back in time and follow the ancient caravan route through summer nomad camps and isolated villages to the last intact walled city in the world – Lo Manthang, capital of this mysterious kingdom.
Departing from the trading town of Jomsom (9,000 feet), the trek begins in the world’s deepest valley where the Kali Gandaki River winds its way between the towering 26,000-foot massifs of the Annapurna range to the east and the magnificent Dhaulagiri, the seventh highest mountain in the world, to the west.
From Jomsom, we journey to Upper Mustang where untouched Himalayan treasures await. We hike to remote monasteries and ancient cave temples adorned with gold and silver-gilded frescoes that rival the art in Italy’s Sistine Chapel. We also stop for reflection at one of many carved-stone chortas, (a small Buddhist stupa), that line the centuries-old trade route between the tiny farming and herding villages of the region. It is worth noting that we follow a Himalayan salt trade route (between Tibet and India) that has been in use for more than 600 years.
The real highlight of this trip is the visit to Lo Manthang, the capital of the former Lo Kingdom, a walled city that looks exactly as it did when it was built in 1380. Lose track of time as we wander among the whitewashed, mud brick walls of the city. Dip into a local teashop to purchase a bit of refreshment or a tiny keepsake from your journey. If everything goes to plan, we might even have an audience with Raja Jigme Palba Bista, the last surviving king of Mustang. He was Mustang’s king, and still is to many residents, before the Nepalese government ordered a cessation of the monarchy in 2008. Retire to the comfort of your Tibetan style guesthouse and dream about the Himalayan peaks standing guard outside your door.
We spend several days in Lo, then descend on the western side of the valley, to Jomsom for our return to Kathmandu.
Ace Kvale leads this expedition. Ace has traveled to more than sixty countries, including nearly 30 expeditions to Asia and the Himalaya. He is also one of the world’s top adventure photographers. Ace knows Nepal, and continues to document the rapid changes sweeping across the region. Recent development in Upper Mustang promises prosperity for local residents, but it also brings a radical departure from a much older, traditional way of life. If any person is qualified to show you the beauty of the Nepal, and the unique culture of an ancient kingdom balancing on the precipice of the modern world, it is Ace.
Arrive Kathmandu. A Ryder-Walker representative will meet your flight and escort you to your five-star hotel. Meet the group for an orientation (brief since many will be quite jetlagged). Dinner and a well-earned night of sleep will follow.
We have learned the value of an extra day allocated to acclimate to the new time zone – for most of us this between 11 and 14 hours difference coming from the states. You will have time to explore this wild and exotic city before returning to the sanctuary of your excellent hotel.
Fly to the mid-sized city of Pokhara, a beautiful city perched on the edge of an enormous lake that somehow manages to stay as calm as a millpond. Jagged, perfectly pyramidal mountains surround the city, their majesty reflected in the crystalline water. Spend the night in an excellent local hotel.
Arrive in Jomsom, the gateway to Mustang and the world’s deepest gorge. Here we meet our local guides, our pony men and prepare for the next stage. We begin walking up the Kali Gandaki valley as we slowly gain elevation to arrive in Kagbeni.
Hike through grassy meadows with sheer faces of red cliffs staring down at you. Arrive at the desolate and mysterious Chuksang. Tonight, we are camping at the base of the mountains, but trust us, it is much more luxurious than anything you would experience in Western Hemisphere wilderness. With a private cook and muleteers, your nights in the Mustang wilderness will certainly be wild, but you won’t have to give up your creature comforts!
By now you will have acclimatized sufficiently – so a full day of hiking (eight hours or so) through valleys and over jagged moraines follows. Our guides will lead us to the Pah Valley, where we camp in comfort once again for the night.
Onwards to Tangye! This tiny little town is at the base of an enormous plateau, and after many hours of trekking through desolate landscape, it appears as an emerald in the distance – terraced green fields, and (you would never believe it) people await you at the end of this leg, excited to witness travelers from the outside world! Break for camp, relax and await tasty tea and soups before dinner.
The trek to the village of Yara is home to many of the greatest caves in the region, many of which hold paintings that detail the battle between Guru Rinpoche and the great Demon of Mustang. Protector spirits also grace their walls. The village of Yara is yet another emerald embedded in a valley with cliffs as rugged as the teeth of dragons, and after a day of adventure, the peace and calm of the valley will beckon you to rest.
Continue on to the beautiful village of Charang, with its ancient colorful monastery situated on a cliff above the river. Sleep in the comfort of a small Tibetan style guesthouse.
Hike to the medieval walled city of Lo Manthang. Constructed in the fourteenth century and located at 12,500 feet above sea level, this settlement is located on the trade route along the Kali Gandaki river that runs through the Himalaya, and used to serve as the capital for the Kingdom of Lo. Here, you will take a tour of the various temples and monasteries of the capital with art and frescoes, which are equal, if not superior, to the Sistine Chapel in complexity and beauty. Better yet, our friend Luigi, a legend in the art restoration world (and the director of the projects in the area) will host our group for coffee and Nutella. Spend the night in a comfortable mountain hotel.
Okay, this place is just too cool to leave! Spend the entire day exploring Lo Manthang – and should we mention that we may have an audience with His Royal Highness Jigme Palbar Bista? We can only hope. Return to Lo Manthang hotel.
Today, we have a chance to visit some of the outlying villages near the border of Tibet. An area of snow leopards, caves, and ancient monasteries that have been continuously occupied for close to a thousand years.
For the first time on the entire trip, we have the benefit of traveling in a car, and even on a road! These things didn’t start appearing until DHI, and, you know, it was nice walking, but now we travel to Chhoser and explore the caves and monastery.
Drive to the village of Bhena, and hike to the village of Chuksang. Local guides will share wild and wonderful stories and myths of the region, which haven’t changed in three millennia.
Return to the small city and administrative center of Jomsom.
Fly to Pokhara and on to Kathmandu. Return to our five-star accommodations from the start of the trip. Enjoy a celebratory dinner in a fine restaurant.
We find that when we enter a totally new culture – and particularly a very antique and simple culture, we are often shy about exploring with confidence. Upon return to Kathmandu you will feel none of the reticence of your previous visit at the beginning of the trip and will find yourselves exploring this wild city with intrepid curiosity.
Enjoy your final Neplese breakfast.