World’s Best Hikes 1: The Upper Mustang Trek, Nepal
Written By: Pat Boys
In part 1 of our new World’s Best Hikes series, inspirational 82-year-old adventurer, Pat Boys, tells us all about her experience of tackling The Mustang Trek in Nepal.
I have been visiting Nepal most years since 1984, initially for trekking but in later years to call upon old friends too. I travelled solo until I was 70 when my husband suggested getting someone to do the arranging and carrying – give a local a job! So, I have now been trekking with a Nepali lad, Madu, for the last 12 years, at least he was a lad, now he’s somewhat grown up.
Having done most of my favourite routes many times, Madu suggested that we did the Upper Mustang Trek, a small kingdom in its own right but still part of Nepal and bordering Tibet. First priority was to raid the bank, a tourist visa for trekking was an eye watering amount. The second obstacle was to seek out another trekker as solo trips were not permitted. I persuaded Serge, a French Canadian, who visits Nepal more often than I do, that he was desperate to go to Upper Mustang. So, on 17th March 2019 we started the big adventure with a short flight from Pokhara to Jomsom, followed by an enormous breakfast before the first day’s trekking began.
Pictured: Kagbeni, Lower Mustang
Most of the trail is actually walking on the river bed and as we have done it several times it was a fairly easy starter. We spent our first night in Kagbeni in Lower Mustang, ready to go through the Border Post the next morning. Much amusement was caused by the notice board outside the checkpoint, stating that there was much treacherous snow and ice, landslides and avalanches plus some trails were blocked with snow. Right at the base in small letters was a sign which said “enjoy your trek”. We were very early arrivals, with hindsight, a month later would have been warmer and safer – but maybe not so much fun.
On our ten-day visit we met up with only four other trekkers which gave a much bigger sense of adventure. The landscape is quite superb and so different to the lusher views in Nepal, more like Ladakh.
The rock formations are truly awe inspiring and quite often what we thought was a temple on a mountain top was actually a rock formation, decorated with prayer flags. Most of the people in this area are Tibetan, hence the prayer flags and dozens of temples and stupas.
Because we were so early in the season there was indeed much snow and ice and I had to rely on a bit of rope and a strong porter to lower me from a path that was buried in ice to link up with it at lower level. After 5 days of backtracking to find safer trails and a nightmare slog over “Windy Pass” (does exactly what it says on the tin!) we finally reached the capital, Lo Manthang. Like most of the previous villages it was still in Winter lockdown, but there always seems to be a local lady who opens a guesthouse, fires lit, beds made and food on the way, almost before you have even unpacked. We spent 3 days exploring this beautiful walled small city and its surroundings. The Royal palace had been decimated by the 2015 earthquake and their royal family were living in Kathmandu until the palace was restored.
We decided to keep trekking, so took a long trail through the Chusar valley, arriving at Chusar village after more than 2 hours and thinking why are we still walking long distances for fun?
This area is famous for its cave complex, the villagers escaped to them when they were under threat and lived in them for long periods. They were a veritable tower block of caves – each dwelling covering about 4 floors and linked by ladders made of bamboo and string – not much in the way of health and safety there folks. We also explored 3 very picturesque monasteries, built some 1100 years ago, but with all this splendid culture I actually left that village with the thought that the ‘little caff’ did the best hard boiled eggs in Nepal.
Pictured: The supply lorries
The evening before we were due to start descending we were warned of heavy snow on our route back and were advised to accept a lift from the 2 supply lorries which would cover the first 2 sections. Why didn’t we ask – if it’s dangerous for us, what about the lorries? It’s a trip which would be best forgotten but insists on being remembered. We realised why they always travel in pairs when we skidded into a snow drift and a rope appeared almost by magic and within seconds we were towed out, only to skid to the other side of the track with a rather long drop to the river bed below. However, after a few hours of terror we were dropped off and continued rather shakily on foot.
On reaching the border area we decided to stay in the last village before Nepal, called Chusang. It was amazingly pretty and the guest house looked like the usual basic but welcoming building. The interior was very luxurious, if rather colourful, with a swish bedroom, bathroom, shower and a western toilet. Nowadays, I tend to fall backwards in the holes in the ground.
Pictured: The Annapurnas
Once back in familiar territory I convinced Serge that he should do the Mardi Himal Trek, fairly short but arduous from where we were. I did this trek the first time 12 years ago when it wasn’t quite finished and the last day went on forever, as there were no refuges between High Camp and Base Camp. Quite different now with a few more stopping places, so it can be done in a more leisurely fashion and the stunning scenery enjoyed. I find that quite often my favourite guest house is not the most comfortable or the most well equipped. High Camp is a treat for me because of it’s ultra-welcoming owner. The place is called Laligurans, the Nepali word for Rhododendron, which is the National flower. Everything is rough and ready, (and none too clean), but I just close my eyes as the food is great. In fact. when the “dining room” gets too filthy he just knocks it down and builds another one.
Between here and Base Camp, cameras need to be out ready, the Annapurnas are simply beautiful and extremely photogenic. Life got even more interesting on this trip when I gained an admirer, a rather small Nepali yak herder, who kept assuring me that he was a good catch as he owned many yaks. The protestations of already being married and aged 82 didn’t deter him and I was treated to a courtship dance that evening. I still turned him down.
Pictured: The courtship dance
Leaving Mardi Himal is always a wrench, but the trip down is glorious and a very different kind of trekking. After a day’s steep, agonizing walking, the trail meanders through green hill terraces and tea plantations. No guest houses but lots of Homestays, which are a lovely way of meeting local people and eating with the family. The route back to Pokhara can be as long as a piece of string, with possible stays in an Eco village for a couple of days, an education in green living.
Yes, I’ve been there, done it and got the T-shirt!
Pat Boys lives in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and has been interested in trekking and outdoor adventure throughout her life. Last year, at 81 years of age, she walked over 2000 miles on local trails and plans to return to Nepal as soon as international travel restrictions lift.
Photos: Pat Boys