Upper Mustang still remains a restricted area for visitors. This means there are less tourists and so those who do go get a sense they are doing something unique and different. And the landscape itself is both unique and unlike anywhere else.
The high rocky cliffs and the arid atmosphere are very different from other areas of the Himalayans. With the mountains of the Annapurna range on view against the crisp, blue sky, there is plenty to explore here in terms of culture and history.
The high placed rock caves where monks lived centuries ago, rock paintings, and more recent monasteries, along with the local, Tibetan like people, make this a once in a lifetime experience.
Until very recently, trekking was the only way to enter Upper Mustang or the ancient Kingdom of Lo as it was called and is still known locally. Now there is a very rough road that is suitable for jeeps, trucks, and motorbikes.
If going by motorbike, please ensure both your bike and yourself are prepared for the dry, rocky, and arduous trip ahead!
What Type of Motorbike is the Best?
The first thing you need to consider if thinking of going by motorbike is the type of bike.
There are two schools of thought here… some like the light, flexible, low cc trail bikes; while others prefer the heavy and sturdy Enfield bike at 350 or 500cc.
The choice of the bike can depend on your previous experience – whether you are an on-the-road or off-the-road biker. We do not recommend Upper Mustang for first time off-the-road bikers – the road is challenging and the rides are long.
Rental Cost: Depending on the size and type of bike, calculate around $40 to $50 per day.
If there are a few of you on this trip, you might want to consider contacting the Himalayan Enfielders who hire out heavy duty Enfields along with spare parts, a mechanic and support vehicle for around $45 per day, per bike. Mechanic and support vehicle only for groups hiring 3 or more bikes.
To hire any motorbike you will be required to leave a copy of your passport and a deposit. Fuel is not included in the price and please remember the higher you go, the more expensive it is!
Safety and Maintenance
Please note you are not covered by any insurance by the person you are hiring your bike from. Please make sure your own travel insurance covers this.
Before hiring a motorbike please check to ensure the company has a good reputation and reviews. Check the bike for up-to-date maintenance before heading off.
If the bike you are using is not sold in Nepal or India it is unlikely you will find spare parts for it. So ensure you are carrying whatever you think you might need.
In Muktinath, there is a Bajaj workshop but any maintenance carried out will be expensive. Make sure you know how to make basic repairs yourself!
If you are bringing your own motorbike, please ensure it’s fully maintained before you leave Pokhara or Kathmandu.
Permits for Upper Mustang
Motorbikes do not need permits to enter Upper Mustang, but humans do!
In brief, you need
1) Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) entry permit at $20 per person for a single entry into the area, and
2) a Restricted Area Permit (or RAP) valid for Upper Mustang (Kagbeni onwards). This costs $500 per person, minimum of 2 people, and valid for 10 days.
Please see here for full details of the permits required and how to get them.
When to Go
As Upper Mustang is in a rain shadow it does not get monsoon rain, therefore it’s an ideal time to go there. Please bear in mind in the lower region of Mustang, which does see monsoon rain, the road may be muddy and subject to landslides.
Winter (December to March) is not a good time to go to this region as winters are harsh and very cold. Most of the local population also leaves the area for winter lodging in Pokhara or Kathmandu.
There are interesting festivals in both May and August which would add a different flavour to your trip at that time.
Accommodation is quite basic after Jomsom/ Kagbeni/ Muktinath and will cost you around $5 for a room. Expect to pay around $3 to $6 per meal (excluding alcohol).
You can also hire tents and sleeping bags in Kathmandu and Pokhara if you wish to camp. Unless you have your own camping cooking facilities that you are used to, we would suggest you eat local lodges and teashops. Saves a lot of your time and energy and gives back to the local community.
The majority of local people and tourists get around Upper Mustang on foot or by pony. Please drive responsibility when passing people, ponies, and livestock.
Show the same respect when approaching monasteries and religious places as you would if you were on foot. Carry your own garbage out of the area and do not blow your horn unnecessarily!
We can help you tailor-make your itinerary to fit your time and interest. Below is a sample itinerary to give you an idea. Please get in touch with us if you would like to have more information.
This will take around 6 hours by motorbike. The road from Kathmandu to Mugling, the turn off for Pokhara, is mainly downhill and often suffers from landslides (particularly in the monsoon summer months) and traffic jams!
However, the route is quite picturesque and follows the Rapti River and there are snow mountains on view also. After Mugling the road is flatter and in better condition.
Pokhara to Jomsom
It will take you around 8 hours to reach Jomsom but you might want to stop off at some of the interesting villages on the way such as Tatopani (and have a dip in the hot springs), or Marpha with its whitewashed narrow alleys, orchards, famous apple brandy, and interesting small monastery.
Jomsom to Samar
Stop off at the unique village of Kagbeni for breakfast or brunch. This is the entrance to Upper Mustang and there is a viewpoint where you can look up the valley.
For those with a bit more time and interest to visit the 108 water spouts and eternal flame, drive from Kagbeni to Muktinath and overnight there.
In the morning drive on to Samar. At 3,700m it might also be a good idea anyway to acclimatize at Muktinath for those who normally live at lower altitudes.
Samar to Lomanthang
This will take approximately xxx hours by motorbike. Lomanthang is the walled capital of the Kingdom of Lo (Upper Mustang). Until 2008 it was recognized as a kingdom with its own king.
When Nepal became a republic, the King of Lo lost his title also. Still revered as king by the locals, the last King of Lo died in December 2016. Around Lomanthang are three major, recently restored gompas – Jhampa, Thupchen and Chhoeda. Nearby is the interesting village of Tingkhar.
From Lomanthang you can hire a horse to take you on a whole day trip to the Choser Caves. There is estimated to be around 10,000 mysterious human-built caves 166 feet above the valley floor.
Archaeologists and researchers have explored these caves and found mummified human bodies and skeletons going back at least 2-3,000 years.
Buddhist paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and other artifacts from the 12th to 14the century have also been found. Today it is still unknown who built these caves or why. In addition, there are a couple of interesting monasteries to explore in the same area.
Lomanthang to Samar to Muktinath
Leaving Lomanthang the road leads back to Samar where it is necessary to overnight before heading back to Muktinath.
Muktinath to Pokhara
It’s possible to drive all the way back from Muktinath to Pokhara. It’s a long day so if you have time you might want to stop off at one of many trekking villages to overnight and enjoy the stunning beauty of the Annapurnas before heading into town.
Pokhara to Kathmandu
If you have hired your bike in Pokhara then you have the option of taking a short scenic flight back to Kathmandu, or sit back and relax as the bus driver takes the strain!