If you’ve ever had a chance to travel to Nepal, you probably feel the same way as I do – naturally high and raw and once is never enough. I had at least 10 days scheduled for my motorcycle trip starting from Kathmandu to Mustang district. I didn’t want my trip to mirror a trendy idea of travel – tight timelines, check-in, probably get some good pictures and post them on social media. Instead, I wanted to leisurely explore Mustang or the Kingdom of Lo, a key transit point of trade along the Trans Himalayas salt trading route.
Lo, the Buddhist kingdom, used to be part of the Tibetan empire and is an eco-friendly traveller’s dream for its unblemished natural beauty. Also, its remoteness and isolation has meant that Tibetan culture has been preserved here. The district of Mustang was, until 1950, a separate kingdom within the boundaries of Nepal. The last king still has his home in the ancient capital known as Lo Manthang.
The real Mustang travel started from Benighat – almost halfway through the second day’s ride. That’s also where I started wishing I had a dirt bike instead as the roads were rough and slippery. The rhythms of the rapidly flowing Kali Gandaki river, the deep gorges, the raw aroma of green forests made me forget all my life dilemmas. I was in the moment – the past and the future didn’t matter, the focus was on simply savouring the present.
Benighat to Jomsom
One thing I regret was skipping the world’s deepest gorge – Kali Gandaki gorge – for lack of awareness. The gorge is carved by the Kali Gandaki River which originates in the Tibetan plateau and eventually flows into the Ganges in India.
The river led us to our next stop Jomsom. There is a popular trekking route from Jomsom and the idea of the Upper Mustang trek is to reach the capital of Upper Mustang, Lo Manthang. The trek is similar to trekking in Tibet as geographically it is a part of the Tibetan plateau.
Not to far from Jomsom lies Muktinath, the famous pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus. Hindus believe that bathing in the waters in Muktinath is the road to salvation after death. The Hindu god, Brahma, is said to have lit the eternal flames that burn at Muktinath.
To Buddhists, Muktinath is where the great guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) came to meditate.
There was a place called Larjung (from where you can take a scenic detour to Naurikot village) on the way, which was set against the backdrop of mountains including Mt Dhaulagiri and Mt Annapurna: both 8,000 m above sea level. I chose this incredibly beautiful place for a night-stop during my return.
Jomsom, the major town in the district with a domestic airport, ended at lower Mustang. I wondered why anyone would fly here and miss the incredible views on the way – even on a motorcycle, I happened to miss out on a great spot on the way already.
Next morning, we made our way to Upper Mustang. Before that, I made sure I had a full tank as I am always very conscious about the bike’s fuel status, mileage, and the distance to the next fuel station. Also, I got a small motorcycle repair shop to replace my motorcycle’s clause wire that I had brought along. As a safety measure, I usually carry spare parts like an extra fuse, clutch and accelerator wire, quick toolkit, etc. And most importantly, for a high elevation trip like this, I am constantly prepared with first aid measures for altitude sickness. Altitude sickness is lethal, if ignored.
Upper Mustang is a totally different experience. Located within the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, Upper Mustang leads all the way to the Chinese border. Upper Mustang is also referred to as ‘The Last Forbidden Kingdom’ as it was restricted to foreigners until 1992. Even today, it requires a foreigner an entry pass issued by a Nepal Government body to enter this area. To enter Upper Mustang, that is to travel further north from Kagbeni, trekkers need a special trekking permit and must be accompanied by a government appointed officer.
Upper Mustang’s geographical terrain and landscape was a completely unique sight. Steep rocky mountains, colourful rock formations featuring cave dwellings, canyons with their ancient caves and monasteries, the Himalayan range located at the south side, the Tibetan way of life, vegetation and weather was a revelation to me.
Riding above 3ooo m, I have never seen anything like that – the landscape looked at if it was carved from pure 24 carat gold.
Eventually, my road trip to the walled capital city – Lo Manthang – offered amazing sights and incredible vistas by the hour. And I had a fitting track for company – Pink Floyd’s The Endless River…
3 Tips for exploring Nepal on a motorcycle
Rent a motorcycle from a place called Thamel – a popular place in Kathmandu. Motorcycles can be rented on a maximum of $70 a day. Renting through a travel agency may cost a little less. Do not forget to carry your motorcycle driving license, boots, gloves and GPS for your trip.
Nepal uses ‘Left-hand side’ for driving. Driving in the city is almost chaotic and it is better if you try it beforehand to feel comfortable.
Go slow on the winding and steep roads. Stop to acclimatise, the importance of this cannot be overstated. The air gets thinner at higher altitudes and the best way is to avoid sickness is to proceed gradually and fortify yourself with a lot of liquids. Carry medication prescribed by a qualified doctor.
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