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Nepal – Upper Mustang Adventure 2024


TYPE: Mountain Biking
LEVEL: Challenging
14 Sep – 26 Sep 2024
DURATION: 13 days
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    • 495 £

‘Forbidden’ Upper Mustang & Lo Manthang Adventure

The most incredible mountain biking adventure! Challenge yourself with this breathtaking journey through the timeless Kingdom of Lo, a remote Tibetan Buddhist enclave inside Nepal that was, until recently, forbidden to foreigners 

People have inhabited this harsh region for thousands of years, some of the early dwellers living or meditating in ancient caves, rich in unique Buddhist art, which pepper the bizarre rock formations. This mythical land north of the 8000 metre peaks of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri still requires a special restricted area permit to enter, and numbers are limited, thus helping to preserve its unique heritage. The ancient, walled city of Lo Manthang is described by UNESCO as having no place of comparison!

This region is characterised by incredible sculpted canyons with ancient cave monasteries dug into the wild rock formations; fortified, medieval villages offering oases of green fields in the arid landscape of the ‘Tibetan’ Plateau; and wild trails over high passes and along stark ridge-lines, all set against the backdrop of the soaring snow-peaks of the Himalayas.

Lo, in the Upper Mustang region, is a remote and starkly beautiful section of the Tibetan Plateau, the high altitude desert bordered to the south by some of the Himalaya’s highest mountains. The fact that it now lies in Nepal rather than Tibet has enabled the people of the region to preserve their unique and fascinating Tibetan Buddhist culture and lifestyle; which now enables intrepid visitors to learn and experience this ancient way of life 

Our exploration of Upper Mustang takes us on some of the less travelled routes through this sun-drenched region; sometimes following the Kali Gandaki river-bed, other times biking on spectacular trails to passes high above it, and descending on awesome trails through incredibly sculpted gorges, wondering at the ancient cave dwellings and monasteries we see carved into the rugged mountainsides.

Now is the time to visit Mustang while it is still pristine, intriguing and with a sense of the forbidden. These newly opened up trails have to be biked to be believed!

NOTE: The riding on this adventure is incredible. We have some rough and ready jeep tracks and these are fun enough, but we also have some simply unbelievable single trail riding. The trails take us over high passes and on long sweeping downhills, through crazy canyons and along wild ridgelines – all the while looking out to the Himalayan Range.

Itinerary in brief:

Day 1 Arrive Kathmandu
Day 2 Drive to Pokhara
Day 3 Fly to Jomsom, bike to Kagbeni
Day 4 Bike to Muktinath and return to Kagbeni (multiple trail options)
Day 5 Bike to Tsaile
Day 6 Bike to Ghemi
Day 7 Bike to Lo Manthang via Chharang
Day 8 Explore Lo Manthang & Chosar Valley
Day 9 Bike via Lo Gekar to Jaite
Day 10 Bike to Chuksang
Day 11 Bike to Jomsom
Day 12 Fly to Pokhara & fly to Kathmandu
Day 13 Depart

Detailed Itinerary:

Note that although we try to follow the detailed itinerary below, at times local trail or weather conditions may make slight changes necessary. The itinerary may also vary slightly depending on our acclimatisation rates.

Day 1 – Welcome to Kathmandu!
We will welcome you at the international airport and guide you through the initial culture shock of Kathmandu’s narrow, winding streets to get you settled into your hotel.

In the afternoon (depending on your arrival time) we will take you on a bazaar walk exploring the secret alleys and courtyards of old Kathmandu that most visitors don’t get to experience. Add to this a visit to the ancient Kathmandu Durbar (palace) Square and it’s a great introduction to Kathmandu!

We begin by exploring the old city with its small alleyways, myriad of hidden temples belonging to both Hinduism and Buddhism (in some cases, both!) and make our way through local bazaars of fruit, vegetables, spices and stunning wares made of brass, bronze and copper. We make our way through the bazaar right into the centre of old Kathmandu; The Durbar (Palace) Square with its array of stunning temples overlooked by the Hanuman Dhoka Palace, the ancient palace of the Nepalese Royalty. Here we can not only learn about the history and the temples, but we also have the chance to visit the residence and temple of a Living Goddess.

In the evening you can meet up with your biking guide to go over details for the ride and check any last minute gear requirements, before we take you out for a welcome dinner in a traditional Nepali restaurant.

Accommodation: Hotel Manaslu http://www.hotelmanaslu.com/
Meals: D

Note: This is a walking tour, commencing with a car transfer from the hotel to the local bazaar, then an hour and a half to two hours of exploring, depending on flight times and time available in the afternoon/evening. The walk finishes up at the restaurant for dinner, after which we will drive you back to the hotel.

**For small groups we can do the transfers on classic vespa scooters to give this an added touch!

Day 2 – Exploring the Kathmandu Valley, Fly to Pokhara
After breakfast this morning we leave the Kathmandu Valley behind and travel overland by tourist bus to Pokhara, a stunning lakeside town with incredible mountain views, 200km west of Kathmandu. On our way, we drive along the banks of the Trisuli River, past stunning traditional villages, terraced fields and if the weather is good we will have some fantastic picturesque views to the Himalayan Range. After arriving in Pokhara in the mid afternoon we check in to your hotel for the night.

The rest of the day is free to relax or to explore this charming lakeside town, with its abundance of things to do, regardless of whether you are in an adventurous or relaxed frame of mind: you can go for a leisurely boat ride on the lake; take a 2 hour return walk up to the World Peace Pagoda with its incredible views to the Himalayas; visit one of the Tibetan refugee villages that dot the area, where Tibetan carpets and other handicrafts can be haggled over; hire a bike and cycle along the lakeside; you can try your hand at tandem paraglide with a professional pilot! Of course it is also lovely to just relax and take in the surroundings in one of the many lakeside cafes

Accommodation: Mums Garden
Meals: B, L

Day 3 – Fly Jomsom (2720m), bike to Kagbeni (2900m)
We are up early this morning for our spectacular mountain flight to the district headquarters of Mustang, Jomsom. Once on the ground we can look forward to being greeted by the sound of jingling horse bells as the Mustangi people pass by with their pony caravans. We have even seen a herd of yaks in the main street!

After sorting out gear and loading up, we ride up the windy Kali Gandaki valley to Kagbeni. Our stony jeep trail along a sandy, saligram-filled riverbed provides views of the surrounding peaks of Dhaulagiri, Tukuche and Nilgiri, and to the south the entire Annapurna Massif.

Kagbeni, spectacularly situated atop a cliff overlooking the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and the Jhong Khola rivers, is the last village in Lower Mustang and guards the entrance into Upper Mustang, visible across the Kali Gandaki riverbed. It is an oasis of green fields in the midst of rocky, arid mountains, with Nilgiri looming grandly behind it.

This ancient, partially ruined citadel town provides us with a taste of scenes to come in upper Mustang, with its narrow alleyways and tunnels, irrigation canals, green fields of barley and its massive, newly-restored brick-red Sakya Gompa, 800 years old. We’ll explore around the town, including the ancient 100-room King’s Palace before coming back through town accompanied by sheep and goat herds coming back home at dusk. About 12 km biking.

Accommodation: Local Tea House
Meals: B, L, D

Day 4 – Climb to Muktinath (3800m) and return to Kagbeni (multiple trail options)
This morning get up bright and early to catch the sunrise over the stunning Himalayan peaks, best viewed with a steaming hot cup of Nepali tea!

After a hearty breakfast we will start the mega climb up to Muktinath, this will feel like a lot of work as we are not in considerable altitude but it is a great way to make sure we are acclimatised for the altitudes of Upper Mustang. Muktinath, is a very important Hindu pilgrimage site, located high above us at 3800m.

From here we have a couple of trail options, depending on how we feel. We can blast back down the jeep trail, or we can do a more technical single trail down through the Lupra Valley (visiting a unique Bonpo Monastery on the way) and hit the main trail from Jomsom, finishing off on the jeep trail to Kagbeni. About 25 km biking.

Accommodation: Local Tea House
Meals: B, L, D

Note: this is important as an acclimatisation day.

Day 5 – Ride to Tsaile (3060m)
After breakfast, we enter the forbidden Kingdom, Upper Mustang, we follow a rough jeep trail north high about the river. We ride past the little town of Tangbe after 8 km and there is plenty of time to get off the bike and have a look around town. A few kilometres further along we come to Chuksang on the riverbed at 2950m, dominated by a crumbling Dzong or fortress. From here, across the Kali Gandaki river, we see clusters of ancient caves high up on the dramatic rock face. We cross a small river and continue on up the dusty valley, crossing the river on a narrow bridge just below a naturally-formed tunnel through which the Kali Gandaki flows. We push or carry our bikes a short distance up into Tsaile, a lively village with several guest houses and extensive wheat and barley fields and orchards.

The culture from Tsaile north becomes more Tibetan; sheep horns adorn the houses, and there are protective amulets ‘Zor’ in the shape of a cross on the walls of the houses. These Zor capture evil spirits in their web and protect the inhabitants of the household. About 20 km biking.

Accommodation: Local Tea House~
Meals: B, L, D

Day 6 – Bike to Ghemi (3570m)
After a hearty breakfast we hit the trail, ascending steeply to a ridge above the town. Although we initially have a fair bit of carrying, due to steps on the trail, the scenery is simply awesome as we make our way up a spectacular, steep canyon-side trail leading towards the Dajori La at 3600m.

Having ‘conquered’ our second pass of the trip, we contour on a lovely flowy trail down into Samar with its lovely poplar grove, formerly a staging post for Khampa raids into Tibet. Passing through the village’s charming entrance and exit chortens we plunge down on a steep, switch-back trail to the Samarkyung Khola (river). From here we have some serious carrying as we ascend steeply on a rough trail until it widens our and we hit the contour, climbing up to the chorten-topped Bhena La (3840m). We have a great sweeping trail past the seasonal Bhena village before dropping into a rocky stream and then climbing sharply up to the Beg La past the deserted village of Yamda. Eventually reaching the Yamda La, at 3985 metres, we are rewarded with a pass topped by a large cairn and a tangle of multi-coloured Tibetan prayer flags. The views from the top are spectacular, so we stop for a break to enjoy them!

Somewhere around here we will meet up with the road that is being pushed through from Lo – which we will no doubt consider a crazy endeavour when we see the terrain! From here we will be cycling on amazing jeep trails and our carrying days are behind us. We head down into the small hamlet of Shyangmochen (3765m) and have a short climb to the Shyangmochen La, where the trail intersects a wide east-west valley, and it’s a fast descent and short climb to the picturesque village of Geling. There is an old gompa above the village, ancient meditation caves in the eroded cliffs visible above and traditional Mustangi houses surrounded by barley fields.

After Geling we have a good climb on a steady trail to reach the Nyi La (4000m) from which we descend and contour around to the Ghemi La and then descend steeply down to the large village of Ghemi (3570m), marvelling at the red oxide and silver hues of the towering cliffs across the valley. This is yet another stunning village, with tiny streets and high walled houses creating the ‘fortified’ feeling so characteristic of this region. About 25 km biking.

Accommodation: Local Tea House
Meals: B, L, D

Day 7 – Bike into Lo Manthang, via Tsarang
From Ghemi this morning we have only a few hours to reach the fortified village of Tsarang where we stop for lunch and a look around. Tsarang is a large village built on top of the Tsarang Khola canyon, stone walls separating the houses and forming tunnel-like paths, with willow trees and an irrigation ditch, many shops, its own hydro-electric plant and quite a few guest houses!

The village is dominated by the huge, five-story Tsarang Dzong, a Tibetan-styled fortified palace built in 1378, and the large, ochre-hued Tsarang Gompa, of the Gelugpa school, with the greatest library in Lo. The dzong has a wonderful, old prayer room with a gold-printed prayer book and a fascinating array of statues, thankas and large Buddha paintings – if you’re lucky the resident lama will show you the withered 500 year old hand of the master architect of the palace!

Leaving Tsarang on a trail leading down and across a small river, we climb steeply up a rocky trail to a cairn on the opposite ridge and then follow the Thuling Khola on the new, dirt road towards Lo. The multi-hued canyons spread themselves impressively around us, and in the distance we see the huge Sungda Khola. Once past that landmark, we reach the tiny, green doksa of Sungdala, where we’ll stop for tea and maybe lunch at the one small tea-house. Continuing along the same trail, the landscape becomes very Tibetan in character, the high desert plains of the Himalaya. We start to see snow peaks ahead of us as we near the Lo La at 3960 meters. The pass leads through a partial tunnel of rock, and to the right of this are strung Tibetan prayer flags. Climb to the ridge to the right for wonderful views down to Lo Manthang and the aptly named ‘Plain of Aspiration’, below us.

We blast down the trail and head across the plain into the famed city of Lo Manthang, where we’ll set up ‘camp’ in a tea house and start exploring the city and its many gompas. There are now some tourist shops in the city, so it’s not as pristine in this sense as it used to be, but it is still just as mystical in the golden, yellow light as the local people bring their sheep and horses inside the city gates for the night. About 25 km biking.

Accommodation: Local Tea House
Meals: B, L, D

Day 8 – Explore Lo Manthang and bike the Chosar Valley
The fabled walled city of Lo Manthang, with a single entrance through which only the King, Queen and Kempo (Abbot) are allowed to ride – all others must walk, to pay their respects to Chenrezig – is a mythical city. King Jigme Palbar Bista, called ‘Lo Gyelbu’ by the local people, still resides at his four-storied palace inside the city walls; that is, when he’s not in Kathmandu. He is an avid horseman, and keeps his own stable of horses, some of the best in Mustang which is renowned for its horse culture. These days, the king plays a somewhat ceremonial role although he is well loved and respected throughout Mustang.

There are four major temples within the medieval walls of Lo Manthang, the 14th century, brick-red Jampa Lhakhang (the oldest gompa, built in 1387, with the striking 50 foot ‘Jamba’ or Future Buddha, the largest clay statue in Nepal until a few years ago), 15th century Thubchen Gompa (great Assembly hall, pillars 30 feet high, the second oldest gompa with fantastic murals in the Dukhang), Chhoede Gompa (where the Khempo lives, with a monastic school) and Choprang Gompa. There is also the Raja’s Palace, home to the present King Raja Jigme and Queen ‘Rani Sahib’ (who is from an aristocratic Lhasa family) and an interesting maze of a village to explore. There are 180 houses within the walls of the city which is inhabited by the Lo-ba (people of Lo), although many lower caste Lo-bas live outside the walls. Many of the Lo-ba still practice polyandry.

With the time depending on how we’re feeling about the bikes and how far we’ve gotten with exploring the old city, we mount up (sometime after lunch) and leave Lo Manthang heading north along a wide, canyon trail, past dry gullies and an ancient, ruined fortress. We reach the village of Chosar, with its stunning deep-red Gharphu Gompa built into the rock face. Past the gompa is an incredible cave-dwelling site called Jhong Cave, which you negotiate by ladders and through small tunnels. This fascinating site is reputed to be 2500 years old.

When we’re ready we head back into Lo Manthang with amazing views. In front of us to the south we can see the spectacular snow-peaks of the Himalayas and to the north the smaller peaks that mark the border with Tibet, and around us gurgling streams and green meadows line our trail. About 25 km biking.

Accommodation: Local Tea House
Meals: B, L, D

Day 9 – Bike via Lo Gekar and Dhakmar to Jhaite
Sadly, we must leave magical Lo Manthang, we head out the gates of Lo and make our way southwest, off the main trading trails and into an area crisscrossed with herders’ trails. The trail climbs steadily to a cairn on a pass at 4000m, where we can stop to have a rest and enjoy the amazing view out to the south, back to Lo Manthang and all the way up to the border with Tibet.

Our trail continues to climb to a ridge and a large cairn marking a pass into a side valley, which we continue past to climb up to and cross the Chogo La, at 4325m, our highest point on our ride. From here we have a great flowy trail that traverses above a big grassy valley, before we cross a ridge and have a long rough descent in a gully to a large chorten in a grassy valley – we can look down from here to Tsarang, where we had lunch on our way up.

We cross the Tsarang Khola and approach Lo Gekar (which means ‘pure virtue of Lo’) and the Ghar Gompa, built by the Guru Rinpoche, who took Buddhism to Tibet. The first Monastery was to have been Samye in modern day Tibet, however the building was disturbed by demons, so the Guru came here to subdue them. Ghar Gompa was built to pin down the demon and clear the path for what we now know as Tibetan Buddhism. It’s truly humbling to visit this Gompa, knowing it was THE first Tibetan Buddhist monastery!

Our trail now climbs up to our next pass, the Mui La at 4170m before we descend gently through a wide, open landscape to the edge of the Dhakmar valley. Here we drop down steeply through an eerie but stunningly eroded landscape to the beautiful village of Dhakmar, set against cliffs said to be so red because it is the blood of an ogress conquered by Guru Rinpoche before he could build the Ghar Gompa.

From here we ride down the stunning valley to Ghemi, where we rejoin the jeep trails we rode up on, we climb to Ghemi La before an exhilarating downhill to Jhaite where we spend the night.

About 30km of biking

Accommodation: Local Tea House
Meals: B, L, D

Note: It is possible just to ride back down the jeeptrails from Lo Manathang the way the group came up, for those who are not into technical single trails.

Day 10 – Ride to Chuksang 2950m
This morning we again get a hearty breakfast before we retrace or tracks down the valley to Chuksang. As we are now riding south we get we have great view many towering peaks including Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri, Tukche Peak, Tilicho Peak and Thorang Peak.

We have a couple of small passes between Chuksang and Sama and then the lovely downhill to Tsaile, just below here we cross the river and the last little stretch into Chuksang, where we spend out last night in Upper Mustang is easy.

About 25 km biking.

Accommodation: Local Tea House
Meals: B, L, D

Day 11 – Bike to Jomsom
Today we will bid farewell to Upper Mustang after an incredible journey into this remote Kingdom. After breakfast we are back on jeep trails again as we bike downriver for a while before climbing up to the village of Tangbe (3030m), a labyrinth of narrow alleys and white-washed houses and irrigation canals supplying the apple orchards and fields of buckwheat, barley and wheat.

From here we continue on the jeep trail with a short drop into a gully and then a good climb onto a plateau above the river, which we make our way long until we hit the ‘Nepali flat’ then a drop down and back into Kagbeni, our familiar haunt from the early days of our journey. Here we leave Upper Mustang and enjoy the seemingly huge variety of food now that we are back on the more heavily visited trekking trails of Lower Mustang. Pasta and apple pie, or maybe lunch at YakDonalds?

After lunch we head out down the familiar trail to Jomsom, covering up against the afternoon winds which are caused by the pressure difference from the high Himalayas compared with the plains of India – the Kali Gandaki gorge (‘deepest in the world’) is a wind tunnel which channels the warmer air from the lowlands up to the heights above us.

About 25 km Biking.

Accommodation: Local Tea House
Meals: B, L, D

Day 12 Fly to Pokhara & fly to Kathmandu
We board an early morning mountain flight from Jomsom, switching planes in Pokhara for a Kathmandu flight, and if both flights run on time, then you will arrive back in Kathmandu in time for a delicious lunch!

You have the rest of the day free to see things you have wanted to see but didn’t get to before, to shop for last minute gifts, or just to relax and take it all in. If you’d like to organise to visit a specific place or need tips on restaurants or shopping spots, then please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Accommodation: Hotel Manaslu
Meals: B, L, D

Day 13 – Farewell, for now
We’ll enjoy our final breakfast in Nepal, telling one final round of tales about the trip, then we’ll transfer you to the airport, bid farewell and look forward to our paths crossing again.

Meals: B

The price includes:
  • Hotel nights in the hotels specified in the itinerary; based on standard rooms on twin share, bed and breakfast plan
  • Tea house accommodation in the mountains. Note: local tea houses are basic but clean and they do not often have attached bathrooms or hot showers. The price is based on twin share and does not include any extra charge that lodge owners may levy for single rooms, attached bathrooms or hot showers (if these facilities are available) or for battery charging. We can’t know in advance what they may/may not charge in different lodges you so we prefer to leave this cost out, out rather than pass along an estimated charge to you.
  • Meals as per the itinerary (all meals during the ride, with boiled drinking water)
  • Entrance fees and English speaking Nepali guide for sightseeing days
  • Transportation as per the detailed itinerary (includes the flights Kathmandu-Pokhara-Jomsom-Pokhara-Kathmandu for you and your guide, including transfers and airport taxes)
  • Your English speaking Nepali biking guide/mechanic and a helper for the luggage, with all their transport, equipment, insurance and including their meals and accommodation
  • A basic first aid kit appropriate for the group size and route (note this is basic and has no medicines other than the ‘usual’ for stomach troubles, pain relief, a general antibiotic, altitude and a bandage kit. In case of serious injury an evacuation will be arranged to Kathmandu with specialist equipment coming in on the helicopter. If you have medication you need to take, please bring this with you along with spares and make sure to inform us)
  • Trekking permits and registration fees, including the US$500 permit to enter Upper Mustang

Please note: the lodges will boil water for you to drink which is preferable environmentally to buying mineral water, since the bottles are not recycled. We recommend that you take two x 1 litre water bottles which can take boiling water (one is nice to have at your toes on a cold night, while the other cools down for the morning!)

The price does not include:
  • Services and activities not mentioned in the detailed itinerary
  • Mountain bike rental
  • Any gear or equipment that you may need to rent/buy – please ask us if you would like any advice about gear to bring/buy/rent
  • International flights to and from Kathmandu
  • Nepal visa fees and international airport taxes
  • Any excess baggage charges
  • Comprehensive travel insurance that includes trip cancellation and rescue evacuation should this be required for any reason (we require this as the minimum insurance cover)
  • Rescue/evacuation costs (to be covered by your insurance)
  • Additional nights, optional trips and sightseeing tours outside the detailed itineraries above
  • Single supplement, please see single supplement charge
  • Personal expenses (eg mineral water/soft drinks/bar bills, entrance/photography fees at monasteries, laundry, telephone calls, postage, donations, extra snacks etc)
  • Any extra charge that tea house owners may levy for single rooms, attached bathrooms, or hot showers (if these facilities are available) and charging of batteries
  • Tips for your biking crew, city guide, drivers etc (please ask if you would like guidance about appropriate tips)
  • Costs incurred due to changes in programs and reservations due to unforeseen events (eg landslides, strikes, fuel shortages etc)

Please note: Prices are subject to availability

Important Note: Every effort will be made to keep to the above itinerary, but as this is Adventure Travel in the mountains, we cannot guarantee it. Weather conditions, road conditions, vehicle breakdowns and the health of fellow travellers can all contribute to changes. We will try to ensure that the trip runs according to plan, but an easy going nature will be an asset!


Get In Touch

If you have any questions about any of our trips, please call us on 0800 002 9559 or send us a message below.