How to reach Upper Mustang & Lo Manthang?
All of Upper Mustang is within a “restricted area” in the north of Nepal, bordering with Tibet and the Annapurna Circuit just after Manang. You cannot enter Upper Mustang without a restricted area permit. I cover the necessity and failures of this in the previous post about the Vanishing Kingdom of Lo. It’s one of the few treks in Nepal that requires a special permit to the restricted area. You’ll also need an ACAP permit plus a TIMS and have to meet some other requirements. We’ll cover all this in detail a little later. However if you just want the permit details and how to get it then here’s a dedicated page on the Upper Mustang Permit. Meanwhile we’ll go for a practical example here and look at the practicalities of preparation for the trek.
The permit is only for 10 days. So when planning a trek to Upper Mustang you need to take this into account and quite frankly this is the real restriction on the trek. The time limit means you need to pay special attention to both what you want to see and which itinerary you want to used in Upper Mustang. All of these are included in my guide to trekking in Upper Mustang.
- To reach Upper Mustang these days you have several options.
- Trek all the way there and back using one of several itineraries (the best option)
- Take a shared jeep to Lo Manthang and trek from there (you’ll miss a lot)
- Take a private jeep to Lo Manthang and trek from there (expensive but you’ll get to stop off along the way)
- Take a motorbike all the way there and back (expensive, fun and you’ll see more than in a jeep)
- Take a bus to Lo Manthang (budget friendly but very rough)
- Fly in and out by helicopter or trek in and fly out (very expensive)
At the moment, without question the best way to see Upper Mustang is to trek in and trek out. However, do be cautious of guides trying to extend your time there to 12 or 15 days. Depending on what you want to see, it’s not always necessary. Moreover, many guides have not been to Upper Mustang and certainly have not been to the western or eastern trekking trails and are unsure of the terrain and what to expect. Read on for more on this later.
What Permits do I need to enter Upper Mustang?
To enter Upper Mustang including Lo Manthang you need the following:
- An Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit (USD $500 for 10 days – USD $50 for each additional day after the 10 days are up)
- An ACAP Permit (USD $30)
- A TIMS Card (USD $10)
You will also need to meet the following requirements:
- A minimum of two people are required to get a permit each and to enter Upper Mustang
- A mandatory guide
So the above are what’s needed to enter Upper Mustang. The ACAP Permit and TIMS are easy to obtain. The Upper Mustang Restricted Permit is also easy so long as you meet the requirements of two trekkers plus a guide along with the cash for the permits. If you are alone, then things get more complicated but it’s still possible.
How to get an Upper Mustang Permit
Unlike many other trekking permits in Nepal the restricted area permit for Upper Mustang can only be obtained from the Department of Immigration in Nepal.
This can be done in both Kathmandu and Pokhara. The latter takes a few hours longer for some reasons but it’s possible. In both cases the permits must be applied for by a registered trekking guide/agency. See my guidebook to Nepal for a list of recommended trekking agencies who can handle this.
The guide or trekking agency must get copies of your passport and the other person trekking with you, the trekking dates to enter Upper Mustang and exiting Upper Mustang along with passport photos. They then fill out an online form from the Department of Immigration. Print off the completed forms and go with your passport to the Department of Immigration along with USD $500 to apply for the restricted permit. It usually takes an hour to process. You then get a rather plain looking single piece of typed paper with your trek itinerary and a stamp indicating that you are approved to enter Upper Mustang on a certain date and exit on another date.
How to get an Upper Mustang Permit if you are alone?
This is trickier as you need a minimum of two people to get an Upper Mustang Restricted Permit. There are of course ways around it.
Firstly the two people need to be “Foreigners” or Non-Nepali. Currently all Nepali can enter Upper Mustang for free with no permits required. For those with ample cash to pay USD $1,000 for two permits then you should know that you still need a second persons passport to apply. Moreover, they both need to have a Nepali tourist visa stamp in them! So basically you really do need to find another person who wants to trek into Upper Mustang to apply for the permit.
To make matters even more annoying not all Nepali trekking agents can handle this as many claim to need USD Bank Account … This is not quite true but it’s one of the claims they make for some random reason. The truth is they need $1000 in crisp USD bank notes. So take the excuses of a USD bank account with a grain of salt.
The main problem is finding someone to apply with you for the permit. The good news is they just need to apply. They don’t have to trek with you unless you want them to. Basically so long as they have a guide and you have a guide you can both go your separate ways when in Upper Mustang.
Finding that elusive second person involves leg work. If booking your trek online in advance its a long-shot. You basically have a very limited time frame to meet and agree with some random person that you’ll both be in Nepal at the same time to apply for the permits. It’s difficult but not impossible.
If you have a lot of time in Nepal the next option and probably the easiest is to contact as many trekking companies as possible. Telling them that you are ready to go once they find another trekker to go. I should warn you in advance that the window of opportunity here is literally 2-3 days. A company will call you and tell you they found someone leaving in 2 days and to get over to them with their passport ASAP. My find a trekking guide service can help here.
The other option is to meet a friendly tourist in Nepal who may or may not want to visit Upper Mustang but is happy enough to go with you and have their passport used along with yours to apply for the permit. This method means you end up paying USD $1000 for the permit. It also means your guide will have to do some chin wagging at the check points but in all cases there has never been a problem. The “other” trekker simply got sick the day before hand and or is a day behind in the trek. It sounds dubious but it works.
There’s a final more complicated option which means joining mountaineering team who get a slightly cheaper Mustang Peak Climbing permit. I’ve seen this option in play and it’s all about who you know and how much you want to spend. If a mountaineering agency has a group going for a climb they get separate climbing permits and not a restricted area permit. These climbing permits can be up to 20 days. The mountaineers often take “side trips” to visit the restricted areas of Upper Mustang with no questions asked. Again, the issue is if you know a mountaineer team going and can tag along or not.
You might also get lucky and read on an online forum about a photographer or journalist who is looking for permit partner for Upper Mustang and is willing to pay for another permit or even the entire trip. It sounds too good to be true, but I’ve seen it happen on a yearly basis.
By far the best option to get an Upper Mustang Permit if you are alone is to have time in Nepal and give your name to several trekking companies saying you are looking for someone else for the sake of the permit. This is what I did. In the space of a month there were three other trekkers looking for the same. One person pulled out. One was going when I was in a far off area of Nepal. And the final person worked out very well.
Finally I should point out that it was far easier and cheaper to find and get another person for a permit in Pokhara than in Kathmandu. The Upper Mustang trek technically begins in Pokhara and the agencies are easier to deal with there.
Preparing for the Upper Mustang Trek
If you have the permit sorted out, then you’ve actually done most of the preparation work as Upper Mustang, despite its remoteness, is a mild to moderate trek. It does however pose slightly different challenges than other treks in Nepal, so keep reading.
That said, if you’ve never trekked before, it’s also worth reading the following section and my free online guide to Upper Mustang.
For a synopses of equipment needed for the Upper Mustang trek it’s all listed below.
Do you need any special equipment or preparation for a trek to Upper Mustang?
Upper Mustang is a unique trek in Nepal for many reasons. One of them is that it can be a year round trek. Even in the monsoon season the trek is quite fantastic with contrasting rich green valleys, bright red and sandstone mountains along with blue skies. Meanwhile in the winter or dry summers reds, yellows oranges along with snow capped mountains and blues skies make the entire landscape very vivid indeed. I have contrasting season photographs of both in my guide to trekking Upper Mustang.
So in the monsoon season the weather will be warmer with heavy downpours for an hour or so during the day. While in the winter things get colder and drier. Naturally one must pack accordingly to the weather conditions. Here’s a great packing list for trekking in Nepal.
The good news is that Upper Mustang has much better accommodation than many other trekking routes in Nepal. Attached bathrooms are affordable and relatively plentiful along the Classic Upper Mustang route. While the other routes offer typical shared bathrooms.
One invaluable yet simple piece of trekking equipment for Upper Mustang I strongly suggest you pack is a light dust mask. They are cheap and easy to find in any pharmacy in Nepal. They are basically the same as a surgical mask. They are great in helping to deal with the arid dry and often dusty conditions of Upper Mustang. Especially when you need to cross the dirt road or along some of the passes when it gets windy in the afternoons. Likewise windproof jackets are very helpful.
After that, Upper Mustang is not a high altitude trek nor an especially difficult one. Depending on the routes you choose the maximum altitude on a Upper Mustang trek is a round 4,050 meters. The terrain is rocky. There are no particularly difficult or steep climbs. That said, once again depending on your route, you may have to trek for 6-8 hours. Though with the classic route it’s more like 3-5 hours per day.
If you opt to take the remote Western or road free Eastern routes things are a fraction tougher. and on the eastern side it does comprise of several tough days. Expect at least one day of about 8-10 hours of trekking. And you’ll need a packed lunch on both of these days. The good news is that I’ve done these trekking routes and they are lot easier than some guides make out.
Getting the right guide for Upper Mustang
I cover this in detail in my guide to trekking Upper Mustang. However it’s worth mentioning here as well. I met several guides in Upper Mustang who were there for the first time. In fact it was quite shocking that some guides didn’t know anything about the Upper Mustang region. As I write guidebooks to Nepal I have an advantage and knew my guides company quite well and knew he’d been to the region on several occasions. I would highly advise you seek out a guide who’s been there before. A quick tip is to ask for photos of their last trek as proof.
If you opt to trek the western or more importantly the eastern Upper Mustang routes do be aware that many guides are not particularly fond of these routes. Unfortunately this is more of a sign of the times in Nepal rather than anything uncertain. The eastern and western routes involve a long day and a packed lunch. Some guides much prefer a shorter 3-5 hour trek rather than a couple of 8-10 hour days. They’ll often claim the eastern side is too windy. Yes it is windy. It’s a great trek and it involves getting a out into nature and the elements. So once again, I emphasis getting a guide with good experience in Upper Mustang.
After that just follow the same steps I list on how to find a trekking guide in Nepal.
Let’s venture into Upper Mustang
So that’s just about everything you need to know about getting a permit and additional preparation to trekking into Upper Mustang. Once again all of these details and more are available in my guide to trekking Upper Mustang.
What follows here is my own daily personal accounts of my treks in Upper Mustang. As always I don’t accept sponsorship’s or payments so what you’ll get here is exactly what you’ll get in Upper Mustang yourself. Moreover I do a full Upper Mustang loop and we’ll discover the classic route along with the lesser known but utterly fantastic eastern route. We’ll also take a look at the short western route and the fabled blood mountains of Drakmar.
Upper Mustang may have a road (currently an “off-road”) being constructed. But the region is vast with plenty of unique places you can avoid it with ease. I’m very glad to have taken this trek and also discovered a place which in my opinion is even more interesting and impressive than Lo Manthang. A hefty claim I know. The place is isolated with little chance of any infrastructure reaching it for the next 10-20 years.
The result is the discovery of an amazing township cut off in a deep valley. A township unlike any other I’ve come across in the world. A place that undoubtedly hearkens back to Nepal of 20+ years ago with naturally friendly and open people who will welcome you with open arms. Moreover the landscape, temples and atmosphere here is like stepping into “the land that time forgot”.
Let’s go and find it!
Helpful links found on this site about Upper Mustang:
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