Upper Mustang Trek Highlights

  • Updated on Jan 11, 2024
  • Rugged Trails Nepal

Upper Mustang Trek On the land of Lo, Mustang is the former Kingdom of Lo and now a part of Nepal, on the border with Tibet. In present-day Nepal, Lo Manthang is a backwater, a comparatively small and insignificant town. Upper Mustang is the home of two magnificent Gompas, Thubchen and Jampa, located barely a hundred yards apart and dating to the fifteenth century. The effect may be compared to that of a French or Italian provincial town with not one but two medieval cathedrals. In March 1996, Thubchen and Jampa were listed on the World Monuments Fund's first annual watch list of the 100 most endangered sites, representing the world's cultural heritage. In eastern Mustang, the isolated cave Gompa of Luri, probably of even earlier date, is also decorated with important paintings. There are other important sites in Mustang as well, including the Gompas of Tsarang and Lo Gekar.



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Interesting Facts about the Upper Mustang in Nepal


Jampa is set back within an enclosed space behind a wall along the lane outside and is reached through a door in this wall. The extraordinary structure within the wall consists of a three-story building, of which the lowest story fronts onto a large courtyard. The unusual feature of its configuration is an earthen platform projecting forward in two wings. The three sides of this larger supporting platform partially extend over a central courtyard. They stand on wooden pillars with carved crossbeams and lion heads as decorations. Jampas external dimensions are 42 x 25 meters. The interior eastern and western walls are slightly over thirteen meters in length, and the southern and northern ones are 9.8 meters long. External stairs lead up to the middle level, which is the main story. There is only one door leading into it on this second story.

The third or top story is virtually inaccessible and can be entered only by obtaining a ladder and climbing through what appears to be a window on the east wall that may once have been a door. There are indications of former doors, two on the east wall and one on the north wall, now closed in and plastered over. Even though this third level may have been reserved for initiates only, presumably there was access by means of stairs leading to a superstructure, both of which have long since crumbled. An opening remains in the roof for a former set of stairs. This opening has exposed this floor to weather and caused extreme damage to its paintings.

Thubchen Gompa Mustang: The Land Of Lo

  • The newer of the two great Gompas, Thubchen, is a single-storied gompa, its external structures less complex than those of Japan. Its external dimensions are 30 x 19 meters. Unlike Jampa, it is not elevated above ground; rather, its entrance is a few steps below ground level and is reached directly from the lane outside. An entrance chamber on the east wall may have been added at a later date. Traditionally, the porch of a Gompa is painted with the images of the four directional guardians and often with a Wheel of Life, but statues of the customary four guardians appear in the antechamber instead. The Du-Khang is approximately 28 x 18 meters and is 7.6 meters in height. A sizable central skylight illuminates the vast area. Within this space, supporting the ceiling, are thirty-five large wooden pillars, evenly spaced in rows, seven in each row from east to west and five in each from north to south.

The surviving Painting in the vast Du-Khang consists of twelve tried sets, each with a large, central Buddha, such as Shakyamuni, Vajrasattva, or another deity. In the triad sets, each central figure is flanked by two standing Bodhisattvas, or disciples, delicate and elegant in execution. The best preserved of these is an image of Shakyamuni Buddha, with Avalokiteshvara on the Buddha's right side and Manjushri on the left.

Basic Concepts of Tibetan Buddhism

  • There are books, too numerous to mention, that relate the story of the historical Buddha, Prince Gautama Shakyamuni, and explain his teachings and the basic concepts of the spiritual insight that he attained. Buddhism comprises three major branches or schools, which, despite a difference in emphasis and focus, are based on the Buddha's fundamental precepts and teaching.


  • Theravada Buddhism, also known as Hinayana, predominates in southeastern Asia, in such countries as Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Because of the dismissive connotation of the term Hinayana, which means the lesser vehicle, its followers prefer the name Theravada, or way of the elders (meaning the early disciples of Buddha); it is also called the old Wisdom school.


  • Mahayana Buddhism developed in northern India, and although Buddhism was driven from India after the Mogul invasions and conquest of India between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, Mahayana took root in the Himalayan countries like Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Sikkim, as well as in China, Japan, and Korea.

Vajrayana and Tantrism

  • The third category, Vajrayana or Tantrayana, which derives from Mahayana, is the school most closely associated with Tibetan Buddhism, so integral a part of it that it has become virtually identified with the religion of Tibet. The most mystical and esoteric of the schools, Tantric Buddhism is farthest from the common origin and found little or no acceptance in Southeast Asia, where it is sometimes not even considered an authentic school of Buddhism. {Mahayanists absorbed this movement and these two schools are exemplified in the great Lo Manthang Gompas: Mahayana in Thubchen and Vajrayana in Jampa.}

Vajrayana or Tantrayana Buddhism involves mystical concepts and practices, some of which appear to depart sharply from central Buddhist precepts. Tantrism is a profoundly complex subject. It might be described as an alternative route to enlightenment, requiring intense concentration and induction through special rites of initiation but offering the hope of achieving enlightenment in accelerated time, perhaps even in a single lifetime—a sort of spiritual shortcut. The way of Mahayana, the way of the Bodhisattva, is considered the slower way, requiring many lifetimes to achieve, whereas Vajrayana, the tantric way, is a faster, although more risky, route.

Tantrism derives from Sanskrit texts, the Tantras, which provide the theory and describe the practices of ritual yoga, as in a dramatic script. The yoga that has achieved popularity in the western world is a very late and only remotely recognizable offshoot of an ancient mystic concept. Yoga makes use of certain physical disciplines and practices to achieve the goal of the mystic, with the exercises being a subordinate element. Rather than training for mystical experience and aiming for a state of spiritual transformation, yoga, now popular in the west, is often a system of physical exercise that makes use of breath control, offering enhanced flexibility, improved balance, relaxation of tension, and a sense of rejuvenation. Thus, having a relaxed body, controlled breathing, and a calm mind should have spiritual benefits as well.

Magic and the Supernatural in Tibetan Buddhism.

The monastic orders accepted and even participated in the religious practices present in the Tibetan cultural world, such as the recitation of mystic and magical formulas, the casting out and killing of demons, divination, oracles, symbolic sacrifices, and Shamanic aspects related to ransom. It is this element of magic and the supernatural in Tibetan Buddhism, so remote from the original teachings and practices of Buddhism, that has led to its designation as Lamaism, as if it were a separate religion or at least a separate offshoot of the original faith. In attempting to account for these apparent contradictions, scholars have sought to identify the sources of these seeming divergences from what can be claimed as the pure, original Buddhist teachings. Buddhism was a foreign import into Tibet, but Tibet made Buddhism its own, and that encompassing system of beliefs and practices known as Tibetan Buddhism can only be understood in the full context of the country, its history, its society, and its indigenous religious and cultural practices. It is also necessary to consider particular religious currents (i.e., Tantrism) within Buddhism that ultimately affected its formation in Tibet.

Tibetan Art:

Although Tibetan art uses figuration, depicting people like beings and recognizable creatures, it differs fundamentally from western religious art. Western art uses illustrations to depict its religious narrative. But Tibetan Buddhism devised an art that goes beyond illustration, conceiving figures and giving form to beings that have no inherent, intrinsic form and, according to Buddhist teaching, no tangible reality, in order to represent abstract concepts, spiritual attainments, or conditions such as compassion or wisdom.

The Mandala

A painted Mandala dazzles the eye with its intricately symmetrical structure and brilliant color. But however stunning to behold, Mandalas were not designed to entertain or intrigue the eye. The Mandala is conceptual art in the same way that the figural images of deities are conceptual: it is a visualization of the nature of cosmic reality, as such, sometimes called a cosmic diagram, and a means to spiritual transformation. We must call it art only because it is a visualization, a depiction, but it is more than that. Mandalas are tools or aids to meditation. Beyond even that, they are an intrinsic, indispensable element in liturgical ritual, which they do not illustrate; rather, the ritual is conducted through the Mandala. Since the Mandala represents the conceptual core of Jampa Gompa in Lo Monthang, this Gompa thus represents a statement and teaching about the nature of the ultimate truth, a school of advanced study. Jampa (a monastery in Mustang, Nepal) brings us closer to the heart of Vajrayana. Rather than a more conventionally decorated Gompa, Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo chose instead to create a special for initiates.

If you are interested in the Mustang Tiji Festival Trek in 2024 or the tour, get more details from our team. Upper Mustang is one of the must-go travel destinations in 2024, according to the New York Times Travel. We have set up an Upper Mustang trekking package, but we suggest taking the Upper Mustang Drive Tour instead of trekking because most of the trekking trails in Upper Mustang were destroyed after the road construction, and we have to walk almost along the roadside.