Arriving into Tange Village
After a long trek from Yara to Tange with no food you’d think I’d run for the nearest place to get a meal. Far from it. Tange in Eastern Upper Mustang was captivating. From the moment we approached it and thereafter it remains a Nepali highlight. Bright red and white chortens with high pinnacles rise up from the mud walled town like fairy tale spires. Upper Mustang horses with neither saddle nor rein trotted along the stone streets with ease. Cows stood at every other junction without a worry in the world. Perhaps it was the lack of food or the exhaustion but Tange was an astonishing place to unexpectedly trek into.
Of all the places we trekked through in Upper Mustang Tange was my favorite by far. For me it even surpasses Lo Manthang. Moreover due to Tange’s relative isolation it will probably survive in its current form for far longer than the capital.
We arrived battered by winds, hungry from having no place to eat since 7 am that morning and tired from the day long climb. K’s guide took him to a teahouse to the north called River View. My guide and I went in search of Shambala Hotel to the south. The owner, Prema (a popular name), was washing clothes at a nearby pump. She told us the door was open and to go on inside. I stayed barely 5 minutes and saw that her priority was a full clothes wash before feeding us so backpack in tow I left my guide to wait and went out to explore Tange straight away.
Keeping Tange a secret or not
The above are strong words which I debated about much like when I first raised awareness about visiting the Living Goddess of Nepal, the Kumari. Back then as you can read I deliberated and debated the age old quandary about telling people about something only to see it disappear or ruined by the masses. I settled on the fact that if I didn’t tell people, then someone else would and they might not be so respectful. In hindsight, some ten years later, I was correct.
In terms of the Kumari I was able to deflect the family from greedy tour companies in Kathmandu trying to profit from it after my articles. Similarly with dubious emails from individuals looking to know more from journalists to private individuals. They all disappointed.
In time the Kumari became a former Kumari who has become an educated and knowledgeable young lady. Meanwhile the family have done well and I enjoy our meet ups to this day. The next couple of Kumari’s and families may want to heed history to do as well. Tange on the other hand has nature as its protector. An 8 hour mountainous trek with a 50% chance of food on one hand and a 10 hour trek on the other side with zero chance of food.
Only about 200 people visit Tange in Upper Eastern Mustang a year. It’s manageable. A time limited permit adds to the difficulties. Otherwise I too might have stayed up here for a week or more with ease. The Mustang road is also far from here and although there have been promises of a road to Tange the locals laugh it off. Much like they laugh at the fallen promises of electricity or indeed a cell phone network. All of which are lacking in Tange. This alone adds to its mystic.
The village of Tange is small. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Slightly more if you try to walk in circumference around it as it’s far longer than it is wide. Right up the middle of the village is one of its undoubted highlights. A long mani wall build with mani stones engraved with mandalas, images of Buddha and scripts. I’ve yet to encounter another mani wall with such detailed stones as these. Then come the block like chortens with red, white and sandy colors and fairy tale like pinnacles rise up above them.
There’s a small red mud walled monastery in the middle of the town. In between all of these are little wooden doors leading to horse barns, cow sheds and homes. Some eek out into long narrow streets with three-story buildings on each side. The doors seem impossibly short for the average height of a person and add to the mystic of the village.
Down by the river are apple orchards. Still rich in autumn colors at this time of the year. Tange is sheltered from the elements and so everything lasts longer here and seems incredibly well preserved.
One is tempted to say the cliche that “Tange is the village that time forgot”.
To the east, part of the village’s,shelter comes from an impressive valley cliff face polka dotted with tempting caves to visit. High up in one, a small chorten is easy to spot. Below them is a veritable moat of stones and pebbles rising up into a protective wall at the valleys base. To the north of the town is another chorten and a single red, white and teal colored god’s wall known as a lhato.
Tange’s Mani Wall
Returning again to the impressive mani wall in the center of Tange one cannot help put notice the fine details. Mani stones with images of the Buddha or scriptures etched into them are relatively common place in northern Nepal. However the mani stones in Tange seem to have a very high level of detail. More so than the ones found near Swayambhu in Kathmandu. Moreover, there are many more of them here.
The prayer wheels along the mani wall are also worth close inspection. Unlike the typical brass or metal ones found in the rest of Nepal these prayers wheels are made from Yak hide. Some still contain fur while others have been worn away to just leather. Spinning these can often reveal the leather stitching that helps to form the prayer wheel. Slightly macabre but nonetheless unique.
Perhaps Tange’s most impressive feature are the fantastic chortens that run along the mani wall through the center of the village. There are five large chortens to the south which then converge with a cluster of eight, while further on there is another large chorten and lhato wall. There are of course many more chortens than just these main ones. Some are further down the mani wall while others around the village have worn away. What’s interesting is that each of the main Chortens is slightly different from the other.
To the south the first main Chorten stands right in the middle of the mani wall and has a passage going right through it. This is the largest chorten in Tange that allows you to stand inside it. The upper sections of the four interior chorten walls have impressive yet faded frescoes on each side depicting the Buddha in various poses. Sadly the western fresco has a large crack going down the center. All in all with no restoration work these images won’t be around for much longer. Moreover they are painted onto mud which doesn’t help their cause.
The cluster of eight chortens in the center of the town are impressive not only for their uniqueness and close proximity but also due to the aesthetic quality or the eight red conical shaped pinnacles that rise up from the group. Further on is the main town’s block of accommodation while beyond that is a worn chorten and another large chorten. Behind this chorten is a lone wall pinstriped in red and white paint. This is known as lhata or a gods wall. Similar to an Agan Chan in Kathmandu but with no house.
Rising up high behind the village is the huge valley cliff. Dotted around it are caves much like in the rest of Upper Mustang. Villagers say they are protected by the gods. From the village, smooth round stones and pebbles rise up again the cliff face blocking easy access to all. They are similar to the ones that made it so slow to enter Tange. Too big to step alongside without twisting an ankle. Too small to get a good grip on if stepping on top of them. One can understand when people say the caves are protected.
Up high there’s a sign of life in one of the caves. A small chorten stands by a cave window. At another cave one can see a whitewashed wall. K and my guide joined me at the bottom of the caves as the wind whipped up around us. Little did I know but that would be my last conversation with my Japanese permit partner.
“It’s like a dream come true“, he said smiling. One old man’s dream to visit Eastern Upper Mustang had come true. And I was glad to be a part of it.
I climbed higher to the older part of the village just under the moat of stones when the afternoon wind picked up.
With a gust of wind a solitary heavy stone clacked from the top and bounced with deadly precision all the way down with enough force to break a bone. Secretly I once again despised the restrictive permit.
The town and people of Tange
The population of Tange is 150 or 200 at certain times of the year. In Tange children are sent off for schooling in Kathmandu, Pokhara or Chitwan hence the fluctuation in population. Most make a living raising sheep, yak and cow farming along with apple farming. They’ve been promised electricity for years and indeed metal electricity poles lie stacked to the side of the village. Meanwhile they use solar panels and batteries. The mobile network doesn’t reach this end of the valley so one needs to walk 15 minutes outside of Tange to get reception. Hence none of the five teahouses advertise their telephone numbers.
One aspect of the village which is positively fairy tale like are the horses. They roam freely around the village without any identification, saddles or reins. At around 5 pm just like the cows they all begin to slowly walk in from the surrounds towards their homes in the center. It’s a near on surreal experience to witness. They are tame yet timid and best to enjoy from a distance rather than to disrupt their daily routine.
At the top of Tange to the south are the old ruins of a monastery and farm which gives a great view over the town at sunset. It’s at around 6 pm that the yak farmers come down whenever there’s a need for a yak sale. I watched as the farmers whistled and clapped the yaks into a small doorway that led to a walled in compound. Inside the Yak buyers separated out the ones they wanted while the others were herded back out the door and into the night mountains.
Last night in the fairy tale village of Tange
Prema seems to be a common name in Upper Mustang. Our host was a delightful lady who was running the hotel by herself while her husband was away tending to an apple orchard irrigation problem. It’s Nepal though and people are never alone for long. Soon we were joined by a group of ladies requesting a donation. At first I thought Tange had fallen prey to an NGO only to later find out the ladies group were actually bridge builders. They used the donations to repair the bridges and trails leading in and out of Tange. Again I pondered on the ACAP permit, the lack of signs and the fees they charge tourists. There was more confirmation from locals that ACAP had not been here for two years and weren’t expected back for another two either.
I also discovered that in the afternoon I’d eaten the last two eggs in the teahouse. Prema had ordered eggs over two weeks previously but none had yet arrived. Chickens don’t survive well in Eastern Mustang. It left us with a quandary on what to pack for a long journey to Chhusang. Prema’s cooking was exceptional so when my guide suggested Aloo Protha (bread stuffed with potato) I agreed. Astonishingly Prema said she gets up at 3 am every morning to begin the day. She was used to trekkers over the years departing at dawn for the long arduous trek along the fabled windy ridges leading out of Tange. It all sounded a bit ominous.
I went to bed that night with my usual cluster of blankets. There was no electricity nor light in the room as the battery in the dining room had a worn wire. For once it didn’t matter in the least. Tange had been an unexpected revelation of sorts. A place that surpassed expectations. A hidden fairy tale like village that I didn’t want to leave. Such places are becoming rare in Nepal if not the world.
A place that felt untouched by both time and outside influence.
As such Tange has become one of the rarer still memories of places you never forget.
It’s a gift to discover fairy tale like places still exist.
The following links about Upper Mustang may help you:
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