I rode to Lower Mustang (Nepal) in June 2019. In this blogpost, I’ve shared a detailed itinerary and some information that would be useful for anyone planning to travel to this particularly beautiful part of Nepal.
Having seen the image above, I’d imagine that you won’t need much convincing to add Lower Mustang to your list of places to go in Nepal.
Where is Lower Mustang?
The Mustang region of Nepal (within the Anapurna Conservation Area) is broadly divided into two parts – Lower Mustang and Upper Mustang. Lower Mustang, as its name indicates, is the more easily accessible part. But that isn’t to say it lacks anything in terms of beauty and charm. You can watch the travel vlogs I made from my solo ride to Lower Mustang by clicking here.
How to Reach Lower Mustang?
All travel to Mustang usually happens ex-Pokhara. You don’t HAVE to go to Pokhara, but it definitely is the most convenient place to start your journey from. To travel to Lower Mustang, you need to procure the necessary permits for entry in to the Annapurna Conservation Area (read my separate detailed post about this process titled “How to Get an ACAP”).
If you’ve entered Nepal with your own vehicle then this is one adventurous route to add to your trip itinerary. Buses and shared taxis are also available but you might need to book ahead. Private SUV taxis or rental motorcycles can also be used, but they are likely to be more expensive overall.
Lower Mustang Travel Itinerary
To be honest, you could easily spend more than a week in Lower Mustang and still wish you had more time in hand. But, I realise that most people don’t always have the luxury of time, so I’ve broken this down into a 4 to 5 day itinerary.
Day 1 – Pokhara to Kalopani
Pokhara – Kusma – Beni – Tatopani – Ghasa – Kalopani
I’d recommend getting off to an early start. Even though the distance may not sound significant, the trip to Mustang is quite an off-road adventure. Covering distance will usually take a lot longer than you would expect it to.
Kusma is famous for being home to the highest and longest suspension bridges in Nepal (there are three or four there). Interestingly, most of these bridges are expressly allowed to be used to get motorcycles across from one side to the other as well. So, if you’re looking for a thrilling suspension bridge experience, you should make the small detour to enter the town and go see these bridges.
The route is somewhat scenic all the way up to Beni, but the real beauty begins after you cross Tatopani and begin climbing up into the mountains. When you eventually reach Lete, Kalopani, is when you truly feel like you’re in a Himalayan environment. There are some decent hotels/lodges here and its a good place to break journey because the sunrise can be quite spectacular.
Accommodation Recommendations – See You Lodge (Budget) or Kalopani Lodge (more expensive)
Day 2 – Kalopani to Kagbeni
Kalopani – Marpha – Jomsom – Kagbeni
There’s less riding/driving to be done on Day 2, so you can afford to stroll around Kalopani and get off to a slightly late start. It’s a lovely little village with beautiful views of the mountains and a little stream/river flowing through.
Once you’re on the move though, it’s an engaging travel experience. Lots of gravel and broken roads, in fact, at some places you descend and ride on a river bed.
Marpha is a beautiful place to stop and explore, but I’d suggest saving this up for the return route. On Day 2, you can make a short stop at Jomsom, where you enter the “Windy Valley” – you need to experience the mental winds to know why that name is apt. There are some nice cafes in Jomsom and its worth a short stopover.
Stunning views of snow-capped mountains, some insane alpine desert terrain and a ride/drive across a river bed then lie ahead for the last 10 kilometre distance to Kagbeni.
Kagbeni, is a small village that is said to have once been the confluence point for several flourishing trade routes. The village is quaint, beautiful, rustic and incredibly fascinating. There are decent places to stay and eat. It’s a lovely place to walk around and there’s enough and more to explore.
Accommodation recommendations – Paradise Trekkers Home (Budget) or Hotel Yak Donalds (more expensive)
Day 3 – Kagbeni – Muktinath – Kagbeni (or) Kagbeni – Muktinath – Marpha
Early morning is a good time to do a short visit to Muktinath – a place of religious importance for Buddhists and Hindus – to see the temple, the buddha statue and catch some more amazing views of the Himalayas. The 10 kilometre distance between Kagbeni and Muktinath is the only stretch of tarmac I came across on this trip and is an absolute joy to ride/drive on. I went up and down this route a few times just because it was so much fun.
If you really like Kagbeni, you could stay there for another day. Otherwise, I’d recommend riding back down the route you came and moving base to Marpha – another village with vintage charm, that seems a little less worn down than Kagbeni. It’s famous for its apple orchards and apple-based products, which are a must try when there. The coffee is quite good too. Overall, it’s another place that has a really nice vibe and is a pleasure to spend time in.
Day 4 – Kagbeni/Marpha to Tatopani
The return truly begins. Going downhill is a lot easier and faster – you can quite easily ride/drive all the way back to Pokhara in a day. However, if you want to take it easy and enjoy Mustang for another day, you could stop at all the places you missed on the route up and eventually spend the night at Tatopani. A dip in the famous hot springs of Tatopani will be a welcome relief after all the extreme off-road action.
Day 5 – Tatopani to Pokhara
There’s nothing particularly exciting about this bit, but you have to do it anyway. It’s a fairly short and quick journey so you should have enough time in hand to do some things in Pokhara that afternoon/evening as well.
Road Conditions –
The road from Pokhara to Beni is quite narrow and winding, but, for the most part is in decent shape. However, there is a fair amount of road work ongoing in this sector, so you might have to deal with a few rough and dusty patches every now and then.
Beyond Beni, the “road” as you know it vanishes and the dirt begins. On a rainy day you can expect some mucky routes all the way up to Tatopani. But if it’s sunny then this should be quite okay.
After Tatopani the real climb in altitude begins all the way through Ghasa and up to Kalopani. The roads get even more rough. A lot of bouncing, bobbing, and other off-road things can be expected. It will test your driving skills and your body.
The roads get a bit better after Kalopani. You’re no longer climbing as much, but more like riding on a plateau. You won’t encounter terribly rocky routes, but you will have to deal with gravel, sand and water-crossings every now and then.
Note: As of June 2019, there was quite a bit of road work ongoing in this sector between Kalopani to Marpha. Traffic is often stopped in order for bulldozers and the like to do their thing. In fact, I was told that the route between Kalopani and Marpha is often entirely closed between 2pm to 6pm. So, it’s a good idea to cover these parts in the morning.
Beyond Jomsom, you will effectively be riding/driving on the river bed for nearly the entire 10 kilometre distance to Kagbeni. There are no signboards, as such, so you might feel a bit lost (especially with the mountains towering on either side), but if you follow the tracks left by other vehicles you will eventually find the road again. This stretch is really fun and beautiful.
The last 10 kilometres between Kagbeni and Muktinath is a breeze to ride on because it’s the only place in Mustang that has a neatly paved road. It’s actually better than the roads in most other parts of Nepal and obviously, the views are pretty spectacular too.
It’s a good idea to tank up before you leave Pokhara. Since the overall route is less than 400 kilometres you’re likely to be able to get through on a single tank of fuel. There is a petrol pump in Beni as well, but you can never be sure if it has fuel. However, should you need more fuel along the way, it is usually sold in black (at a premium) in all the bigger villages/towns – Tatopani – Kalopani – Jomsom and Kagbeni.
To wrap this up, let me just say that visiting Lower Mustang is about the journey through the entire region and not just the destinations. So, I would recommend taking it easy and stopping along the way to enjoy the beauty of this phenomenal landscape as well. Don’t forget to “apple-pie and coffee” along the way.