Formerly the Kingdom of Lo and a part of the Western Tibetan Kingdom of Ngari, ‘forbidden’ Mustang has lured intrepid travelers to its remote realm for centuries, but only the most adventurous made it to this mountainous and inaccessible bastion of Tibetan Buddhism.
People have inhabited this harsh region for thousands of years, some of the early dwellers living or meditating in ancient caves, rich in Buddhist art, which pepper the bizarre rock formations. Mustang became part of the Yarlung Dynasty of central Tibet, later falling under the jurisdiction of the Malla Kingdom of Nepal (Jumla) and in the fifteenth century, the independent Kingdom of Lo was founded, ruling such other remote regions as Dolpo. It was only incorporated into the Kingdom of Nepal in 1951. Soon afterwards, renegade Khampa freedom fighters battling the Chinese used Mustang as a base of operations, and it was closed to all Westerners until 1992.
There are 9 sacred kabums, or cave monasteries, in Mustang, and an estimated 10,000 caves. Ka = ‘teaching of Buddha’ & bum = ‘rimpoche’.
This mythical land north of the 8000 meter peaks Annapurna and Dhaulagiri still requires a special restricted area permit to enter, and numbers are limited, thus helping to preserve its unique heritage.
A Short History of Mustang
- 7th century: Mustang was part of the Tibetan empire, and the mystic Milarepa spent a summer here in 651.
- 11th century: Upper Mustang had followed the Bon religion, based on a cult of royal tombs and sacrifices. Upper Mustang was visited by masters from southwest Tibet. Lo was ruled by kings of western Tibet, and Buddhism was reestablished.
- 13th -14th century: In the 13th century a Kashmiri scholar from Tibet, Sherap Rinchin, visited Mustang and translated 5 texts of the Tengyur. During the 13th & 14th centuries, Mustang was ruled by kings of Guntang in Tibet and protected by the fort in Muktinath. They had close ties with the Sakya sect of Buddhism in Tibet, which had the patronage of the Yuan dynasty in China. The fortresses may have been built to protect Mustang against the rulers of Jumla.
- 14th century: There had been a practice of creamating 1/2 dozen men alive whenever a man died until the 14th century, which was put to an end along with the slaughter of animals. The Tibetan governor of Guntang’s son, Chokyongbum, reconquered the western Tibet region of Purang (1380s) and gained governorship of Purang Fort (Barang?), presiding over Lo & Dolpo.
- 14th – 15th century: Chokyongbum’s son Ampel extended Lo’s rule to include Purang & western Tibet. Lo gained independence from Guntang and gained an important fortress at Khacho.
- 15th – early 17th century: Mustang went to war with Tibet in the 15th century. Mustang was called the Kingdom of Lo, and then dominated the salt trade along the Kali Gandaki River and throughout the Tibetan region . It was a wealthy and powerful region.
- 17th century: Mustang was forced to pay levies (taxes) to the Kingdom of Jumla and came under their extended Kingdom.
- 1795: Jumla was defeated by the Gorkhas and the Kingdom of Lo (Mustang) transferred its allegiances to Gorkha, which by then was the capital of a unified Nepal.
- 1855: Lo supported Nepal against the Tibetans. The King of Nepal thus allowed the King of Mustang to keep his title of ‘Raja of Mustang’ although he had little politely power.
Hill and rock pigeons, crag martins, rose finches, pied wagtails, rock buntings, black redstarts, impeyan pheasants, grandala, snowcock and white-capped river chats, Himalayan griffin, lammergeiers, golden eagles (and many more).
Snow leopards, black bear, marmot, lynx, black wolf (chango), Himalayan wooly hare, blue sheep, red fox, pikas (and more).