Cycling the forbidden kingdom of Lo Manthang

Lo Manthang, the legendary kingdom, lies to the north of the deep gorge between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. It lies on the ancient trade route between Nepal and India through Nepal. The inhabitants of Mustang (the Lobas) are Buddhists and culturally Tibetan.  Due to political reasons, foreigners were not allowed to travel to Lo Manthang until 1992. Now, the government allows visitors to travel to the area only after requiring a special permit. As only limited foreigners are allowed into Lo Manthang, the place has been maintaining a way of life almost unchanged for centuries.

If you are a biking enthusiast, trip to Lo Manthang offers the ultimate thrill: biking in absolutely spectacular desert-like landscape. The journey passes through brightly-painted chortens and series of canyons and ridges. From the track, you can see caves in cliffs used by monks dating back to the 14th century.

The trip begins with a short flight to Jomsom from Pokhara and ends at Pokhara. Daily bus service and flights to Pokhara are easily available from Kathmandu.

Day 1: POKHARA-JOMSOM-JHONG (3550 meters)

Wake up for sunrise and hopefully catch a glimpse of the mountains before we head to the airport. It is about a 22 minute flight to Jomsom, above the Pokhara Valley and deep into the heart of the Himalaya, take a peek out of the window for fantastic views of Dhaulagiri and beyond. The flight is simply breathtaking as the plane’s wingtips almost touch the snow-capped peaks. The aircraft flies right between the Himalayan giants and you feel your adventure has really begun as the small plane touches down in Jomsom. After breakfast at Jomsom, you spend some time getting the bikes ready for the journey. From Jomsom, you cycle along the upper section of the Kaligandaki River to Kagbeni. It is a mostly flat and steady ride of about two hours. Kagbeni is a delightful Buddhist village. From here we then climb up on a deserted jeep trail towards Jhong. Night stop an a tea house.

DAY 2 — JHONG TO SAMAR (3660 meters)

You enter the restricted region of Upper Mustang on the second day itself. It’s an uphill stretch from Muktinath through Chhyonggur and up to the Gyu La Pass at 4077 meters. One can enjoy panoramic views of snow-capped mountains from the trial. After a short section of steep downhill, you follow an undulating ridge trail down to Tetang (3040 meters) – a descent of more than 1,000 meters on a fine track. You pass by an ancient Mani Wall and cycle down to Chhusang. From here, the track is steep. You cross the river to reach Chele. From there, it’s a steady climb up to Samar. Night stop at a tea house.

DAY 3 — SAMAR TO GHAMI (3520 meters)

A hard day of riding. Leaving behind the river bed, you climb into the hills. Four passes lay between you and Ghami, so there will be a few ups and downs as we cross Nyila La at 4010 meters,  Dajori La 3735 meters, Bhena La 3860 meters and finally Yamda La at 3860 meters. Nyila is one of the most scenic passes on the trip with stunning views of the entire Mustang Region and the Annapurna and Nilgiri Mountain Ranges. After the pass, you head down a secret trail that takes us the Gami. Gami is one of the most beautiful villages, situated on the river side with fertile land suitable for buckwheat. Nearby the village lies an old monastery which you can visit. There is also a hospital built with assistance from Japan. Night stop at a tea house.

DAY 4:  GHAMI TO CHARANG (3560 meters)

A great and day of riding, with just one big climb up to Chinggel Tharsang Choyla Pass. From the pass at 3870 meters, there is some really nice downhill along a little known trail used by local people and their livestock. The ride is a welcome change from the days of climbing and crossing passes. The scenery opens up and there are fields of mustard and barley in the right season which makes for lush pockets of greenery and grazing Yaks. It is also one of the most scenic days with the ever changing colors of the landscape from yellow and browns to reds, grays and blues as the sun moves across the Himalayan sky. Charang is a nice village with a really beautiful 400 years old Gulpa Sect Monastery filled with friendly Monks who like to play football. The monastery is also home to the oldest library in the region of Lo. Charang is a great village to hang out and snap some photos. Night stop at a tea house.

DAY 5:  CHARANG TO LO-MANTHANG (3810 meters)

From Charang, you have to cross Lo La Pass at 3810 meters just before Lo- Manthang. This pass is also known as ‘Windy Pass’ and from here you can view the walled city of Lo-Manthang, your first tantalizing view of this kingdom lost in time and your penultimate destination. The barren brown landscape is scattered with fields of vibrant green and gold rolling with the wind under the vivid blue sky of the Himalayas. You will enjoy the open jeep track trail and should arrive in Lo-Manthang by lunch time. Lo-Manthang is perhaps one of the most interesting places in the Himalaya and a couple of days spent here is well worth it. Visit the Royal Palace, where you might have the privilege of having tea or perhaps dinner with the King of Lo himself. In the afternoon, there are three interesting monasteries to visit, one of them is over 900 years old where some of the most beautiful Thangka paintings found in Nepal are put on display. The intricate details and vivid colors of these paintings is a stark contrast to the wide open spaces of the region. You can spend few days here by riding to places like Dhigoan and Ghom. Night stop at a tea house.

DAY 6:  LO-MANTHANG TO GAMI (3520 meters)

Today you cross Pangla Pass (4090 meters); it is a challenging climb offers you some of the great views from the top of the Mustang Region. From the pass, the track leads steadily down to Dhakma. The downhill is amazing. Around Dhakma you can see some of the most dramatic scenery on offer, where the landscape changes from red to blue and is especially breathtaking around sunset and sunrise.  In and around Gami, there are some interesting village ruins to explore as well as the longest Mani Wall in Mustang which is found near the Japanese Hospital. Following the river, you reach Ghar Ghumpa at 3950 meters. From the Ghumpa, climb to Mui La (Pass) at 4170 meters, you have to carry for some distance and then it’s a great ride able downhill to Dhakmar before reaching Gami. Night stop at a tea house.

DAY 7: GAMI TO SAMAR (3660 meters)

This route retraces the same trail as we passed on the way up. There is quite a bit of climbing as you climb over Nyla Pass (4010 meters) followed by a downhill to Syangboche where you will have lunch. After lunch, you ride Ranchung Cave along some pretty stunning single track in the gorge. One and a half hours of push and carry follows before a single track downhill takes you to Samar. Night stop at a tea house.

DAY 8:  SAMAR TO JOMSOM (2980 meters)

Today you have two small passes — Dajori La (3735M) and Taklam La (3624M) – to cross. The trail passes through the scared place where the ancient tradition of Sky Burial is performed. Here, you can see the rare Himalayan vultures soaring high in the sky. Continue pedaling down to Kagbeni. After a short break there, ride to Jomsom. Night stop at a tea house.

DAY 9:  JOMSOM TO TATOPANI (1190 meters)

Today is the longest ride of the journey; around 74 kilometers. The ride starts off flat along the river bed to Jomsom and then undulates to Marpha the best place in the Himalayas to get fresh apples and taste the renowned locally produced Apple Brandy. Here the trail drops down along the roaring river all the way to Tatopani. We pass the impressive Rupse waterfall on the way, a nice place to stop for lunch. Tatopani is our resting place for the night. Here, you can enjoy therapeutic hot springs. Night stop at a tea house.

DAY 10:  TATOPANI TO POKHARA

An easy ride of around 18 km on downhill jeep trail takes you to the main road and to a town called Beni. From that, you ride a jeep to Pokhara.

(Itinerary courtsey: Himalayan Single Track)

 

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