Old Kingdom - Ancient Caves
a journey towards the beginnings of time.
At present (May07) we have no firm
plans about when to run this trek
after 2007. If you can gather a 'seed-group'
of three or four, it would
get us thinking about when to head again to the temples of Mustang.
In 2005 we once again ran a successful trek
In response to requests we offer this trek again in 2007.
We have trekked several times in Mustang, developing what we
feel is the best possible trek. To walk in Mustang is an exceptional experience.
At this date there are spaces available on the trek.
was astonished when I first went to Mustang. All my reading,
my hours of examining maps and photos, did not match the intensity of direct
experience. To visit Mustang is to journey towards the very beginnings of earth’s
history. A journey to experience reminders of our earliest ancestors.
This is ancient landscape and an age old way of life. This is land where earth’s very bones are laid bare. A skeletal land, harsh, dry and primal. A land where eroded edges of old lake sediment have been shaped by water and wind to fairy castles of startling pink and towers of solid ochre. Where cliffs punctuate with echoes of early humans who dug in silty walls to create multi-storied homes and painted their troglodyte-temple walls with murals of breathtaking beauty.
That same sediment is cemetery to 65-million-year-long-dead ammonites which trickle into river shingle becoming shaligrams, the ‘fossilised insects’ revered by Hindus as manifestations of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver of Life. In side canyons abandoned irrigation channels, old terraced fields and crumbling walls of prayer stones tell of times that were more populous and less desiccated than today.
Yet, after walking hours through bone-dry land you startle upon the crest of a canyon. Below wide swathes of irrigated barley have such intensity of greenness that they numb eyes adjusted to vistas of high desert. In flat roofed villages are people whose lives are little different from their ancestors who dwelt in the caves above.
This is a very special place.
SOME GEOLOGIC MUSINGS.....
ong ago, before Lucy walked the plains of Africa, before the
dinosaurs ruled, before even the tiniest mammals had made their shaky start
upon this planet there was a sea where the Himalaya now stand. This mighty sea
of Tethys had a far horizon, rolling south from Europe and Asia; extending to
an isolated India and Africa and further south to Gondwana that was to become
Antartica, New Zealand and other southern lands. Eventually earth’s fractured
mantle freed the Indian plate to sail north, and over countless millenia, crash
against the bulk of Asia. This fifty million year old collision created and
continues to force up the Himalaya, Abode of the Gods, even today. A collision
that smashed and folded earth's crust in wrinkled edges that are the hills of
Burma, the Karakoram and the Kun Lun.
Like some gigantic bedspread these humps and folds forced the waters of that
ancient sea to flow away. Here and there, particularity of landscape created
lakes: confined, salty ones like Nam Tso the great ‘Sky Lake’ of the Tibetan
upland, lakes without outlet; or fresh-water ones like that which inundated
the whole of the Mustang basin.
Around those Tibetan plateau lakes, the dry atmosphere and clarity of sky formed salt deposits metres thick creating wealth for future generations of merchants. From the very dawn of human habitation rock salt from lakes like Nam Tso has been traded for hundreds of miles to the salt-hungry lands of Nepal and western China. Those early Tibetan traders traversing Mustang to India were following a route created by the same sea that made their salt.
The water of Tethys drained south as the mountains grew. Cutting through aeons of sediment and hard basement rock the great rivers of the Himalaya gradually established their modern pattern. In due course, the greatest gorge in the world came to lie between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. Down this rolled the waters of the Kali Gandaki (Black River) initially a briny torrent and then a mighty river of fresh silt-laden water draining the great lake overlying the Kingdom of Lo. This direct and dramatic slash through the world’s highest mountains is avenue to things other than water and trade. Acting as a funnel, the gorge of the Kali Gandaki collects the cooling atmosphere of the Tibetan highlands. Every afternoon a great mass of air tumbles from Tibetan heights down to the warmth of the Indian plains. High winds collect dust and small particles that abrade, crack and dry the skin of mountains and of men.
The other great drainpipes of the Tethys sea were more circumspect. Embracing the very limits of the Himalaya, the Indus and Tsangpo-Bhramaputra curve to take a much more sinuous route around the mountains. The watershed of the Himalaya is more than 100 miles north of the main chain; and yet these two great rivers which have origin within a few miles of each other empty into different oceans more than 2,000 miles apart. When you trek to Mustang these geological events are made manifest in the eroded valleys and spines of mountains that are all about.
SOME HUMAN HISTORICAL MUSINGS
till presided over by its hereditary Raja the walled city of
Manthang is capital of a kingdom-within-a-kingdom. Set amidst fertile fields
of an irrigated plain, a day from the Tibetan border, the six metre outer walls
speak of times when brigands sought to plunder here. Made rich by centuries
of trade between Tibet and India, Manthang in its hey-day supported perhaps
City is too grand a term for this medieval village. Narrow lanes wind between high walls in such confusion, that despite its size, it is easy to become disorientated. Behind the walls, city houses lurch up two or three stories in a confusion of rickety stairs and low-ceiling rooms where vivid carpets cover seats and sleeping platforms and tiny altars offer incense and water to the family deities.
Each house looks inward away from the public lane. Most date from the 14th century when Mantang was established. Their inner courtyards and tiny windows are protection from fierce winds and the numbing cold of winter.
istorical records of the Upper Mustang region exist from the 8th century. Initially part of a loose collection of feudal states occupying western Tibet it subsequently came under Nepalese control. The Kingdom of Lo was founded in 1380 and the present Raja is a direct descendent of the first ruler. It’s isolation allowed a degree of autonomy which persists to this day.
more Modern Times:
trategically sited on the easiest trade route through the Himalaya the people of Lo were both traders and peasant farmers.Great caravans of sheep and yaks brought loads from Tibet to Lo. Here goods were transferred to mules and goats, more suited to travel in the warmer lowlands. Southwards the trade was in salt, wool, musk, borax and tsampa; heading north was rice, corn, textiles and eventually the products of India’s factories. Political problems with China, the construction of the 'Friendship Highway linking Kathmandu and Lhasa and, for a time in the sixties, the presence of Tibetan revolutionaries drastically reduced trade in this region. The trading business is not dead however. So caravans still pass back and forth like olden times and the Loba remain inveterate traders heading south as far as India during winter to return in the Spring.
anthang, is a translation from Tibetan. ‘The Plain of Aspiration’ is a reference to the hope for enlightenment. A reminder that Buddhism has a very long history amidst these hills.
Set in a side valley about six hours walk from Manthang is Ghar Gompa. The ‘House Temple’ constructed about 775. The first gompa in all Nepal and earlier than any gompa built in Tibet it sits alone in a wooded site above the village. Despite its antiquity, it has been well preserved which is poignantly ironic as it was initially built to appease demons who several times destroyed the great temple of Samye near Lhasa.
Now Samye lies in ruins, a victim to the madness of the Cultural Revolution.
The grey, white and yellow stripes that adorn most gompas and chortens of the
region are a Samye heritage.
No one is sure about the age of cave monasteries at Luri and Tashi Gelling both set in remote eastern valleys. Their superb murals suggest a Kashmiri hand, indicating that they were of very early construction. And, it is likely that many cave temples are undiscovered. Who knows what treasures lie inside the man-made caves which pepper these hillsides?
During this trek we shall visit all these ancient sites. We shall visit these very special places.
ntil 1992 less than a dozen foreigners had been to Mustang. Now, in an effort to protect this culture access is limited, with less than 800 trekkers making the journey each year. The requirement to pay high restricted-area fees, travel with an organised group and take a Liaison Officer, together with difficult access continue to make the Kingdom of Lo an uncommon destination.
Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere - in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that...leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight.
The Way of the White Clouds
Lama Govinda, Hutchinson, 1966
What’s the general plan?
n the Mustang restricted area we shall trek north through the infrequently visited eastern districts; then visit Manthang before returning south along trails in upper valleys that are also less commonly visited by foreigners. By taking extra time and travelling via the eastern trails we shall be rewarded in many ways. In 1998 when traversing this route we met one other group on the trail; we saw the remarkable cave-temple of Luri with its stunning free-drawn images from 600 years ago; we trekked beneath 'organ-pipes' of wind-carved cliffs that stand like rows of champagne flutes; crossed a stream which gives birth to shaligram fossils so prized in the lower valley; and visited un-frequented villages, Garphu and Nyiphu. These are all features of taking the eastern trail and having extra days to travel north of Lo.
If you open your eyes, travel in Mustang is to travel through time. A journey that resonates with childhood dreams of those recent cave-dwelling ancestors and more distant memories of time before man when the high Himalaya was beneath a mighty sea. Extraordinary!
This revised itinerary builds on our experience of Mustang over twelve years. I allots, fifteen days to the restricted zone compared to the ten days offered by most companies. Because of it's length, extended passage through a restricted area, costs of a liaison officer and internal flights it may seem expensive but, as always, I suggest you look at what is being offered and compare with what is available elsewhere. I can guarantee that it will be a quality experience. There has been interest already expressed in this trip. Numbers are limited to a total of 12 and bookings will be made on a first-come basis.
he trek to Mustang is entirely Trans-Himalayan, north of the main mountain chain. However, there is always plenty of agricultural activity and village life largely untouched by tourism. The remote and medieval are right there. I design the trek to avoid the crowds and, for those who wish, to discuss the issues.Our approach march from Jomsom gives some time for your body to adapt to height and means you are more fit to enjoy time at high altitude. It creates an air of anticipation which develops the closer one gets to the restricted zone. I find this more emotionally satisfying. The days are not long, usually five to six hours of walking, starting and finishing early with lots of time for rests and lunch. However, as you walk up a seemingly endless hill there is opportunity to reflect on Lord Buddha's first noble truth, that suffering exists! Apart from fitness, the most important attribute is right attitude. At the start of the trek we visit Muktinath, famed pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. Here you can see such miracles as burning water (natural gas) and match your footprint against that of the illustrious sage Guru Rimpoche (Padmasambhava), revered by all people of Tibetan stock for bringing Buddhism to Tibet and the Himalaya. Refreshed and possibly enlightened, we trek from here north to Mustang.
...Then one morning we would find the snow-clouds passed away, and see the great peak of Chumalhari emerging calm, strong, and irresistible from out of the mass of cloud still tossing wildly round its base...
and above it lay the calm blue sky, illimitable in its restfulness and light
- a sky of bright and liquid azure, through which one seemed able to pierce right into heaven itself.
Sir Francis Younghusband
India and Tibet, London 1910
From nearby Jomsom we fly to Pokara and Kathmandu.
Our mountain sojourn is at an end.
How do we travel in Nepal?
e shall fly from Kathmandu to Pohaka; overnight at the Hotel Annapurna beside the airstrip; then, weather permitting the next morning take the short flight through the great gorge of the Kali Gandaki to Jomsom; from here we trek to Mustang; and return by flying from Jomsom to Pokhara and Kathmandu in one day.
What about the weather?
e shall be traveling at the preferred time for the Mustang region. The monsoon does not penetrate significantly beyond the mountains so at this time the Trans-Himalaya is usually a region of intense blue skys, hot sunny days and cold nights. As in any mountain region, rain and snow showers can occur at any season. In 1996, '98 and 2001 we had a few days of partially overcast conditions but no rain, and this pattern is quite standard. In 2003 however we had three days when it did rain briefly and a couple of nights of quite heavy rain. Whether this indicates a changing climate or simply seasonal variation is anyone's guess. To possibly get better weather in 2005 I have scheduled the trek slightly later. You should realize however that this is a guess and not particularly rational. We live in hope!
In contrast to the Mustang area, the lower regions of Nepal will be hot and humid with daily rain showers interspersed with brilliant sunshine.
Holy ones, in Nepal the ground is nothing but rocks,
and it is as humpy as the back of a camel.
Surely you are not going to enjoy your journey?
Comment to early Buddhist monks
setting out from India ca 430BC
Itineraries and prices
ONLY group [join and leave in Kathmandu]
hose who wish to travel elsewhere in Asia or travel on to Europe may prefer this option. It includes all accommodation in Kathmandu with breakfast; Kathmandu tours and other activities as for the main group; as well as the trek costs, park and trek fees and local flights.
N.B. If you choose the land-only option please organise your air travel early. Flights to and from Asia are very heavily booked. I am happy to help with suggestions and flight bookings if you wish.
|Land Only ex Ktm.||07 July - 01 August 2007|
|25 day trip|
|5 nights in Kathmandu|
|1 nights at Pokhara|
|19days trek in Nepal|
|15 days in restricted area|
|Final price 2005||
US$4472 more than 10 clients
US$4989 6-9 clients
Note: these were the prices for 2005.
The 2007 price is likely to be similar unless the government of Nepal alter their 'restricted area' fees.
This restricted fee amounts to US$1080 of the 2005 price.
Please note: I reserve the right to make changes
should major movements occur in currency or airfares.
GROUP ex New Zealand
Main Group ex NZ
06July 03August 2007
29 day trip
5 nights in Kathmandu
1 nights in Pokhara
2 nights in Bangkok
19 day trek in Nepal
15 days in restricted area
NZ$8795for 10+ clients (note: NZ
NZ$9587for 6-9 people (note: NZ dollars)
ex Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch
Note: these were the prices for 2005.
The 2007 price is likely to be similar unless the government of Nepal alter their 'restricted area' fees.
The restricted-area fee amounts to NZ$2000 of the 2005 price.
Price is also very dependent on the relationshipe between the NZ$ and the US$.
Please note: I reserve the right to make changes should major movements occur in currency or airfares.
The following applies to Main Group only
Return economy airfare from Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland to Nepal · arrival visa in Kathmandu · airport transfers · departure taxes in Bangkok & Kathmandu · baggage handling on arrival and departure in Bangkok & Kathmandu
What you don't get
· NZ departure tax · meals unless stipulated · personal insurance and medical expenses · emergency evacuation charges (covered by appropriate medical insurance policy) · excess baggage charges and items of a personal nature
Is it worth it?
believe this trip is excellent value. You are urged to compare the quality and duration of the experience relative to what is offered by other companies. There are no hidden expenses here and a lot of extras that you will not find elsewhere. I have been visiting Nepal for a long time and know the value of unrushed travel using local guides who are personal friends. There is time on this journey to enjoy some very special parts of the world with someone who knows it well.
I can guarantee experiences that will be treasured for a lifetime.
.....if this one day in the lifetime of a hundred years is lost,
will you ever get your hands on it again?
Eihei Dogen (1200-1253)
If timing for this trip does not suit, please email your wishes and we shall look to provide a similar tour at a later time.
If you would like us to arrange this tour for your own independent group check out what we offer.
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Last updated: 23oct05
|Footprints Tours, Ltd.
Box 7027, Nelson, New Zealand
|Phone: 64 3 548 0145||Fax: 64 3 546 6179|