The Upper Mustang trek is an outstanding USP of Nepal. Every country has certain USPs (unique selling points) that go towards making their country a favored tourism destination, and the Upper Mustang trek of Nepal is definitely one such USP. What makes it so outstanding? Well, for one thing, this trek takes you to what was once a 15th century kingdom that was, till 1992, out of bound for tourists (a forbidden kingdom, literally), and among other things, you get to walk through the deepest gorge in the world, the Kali Gandaki River gorge. The Kali Gandaki River cuts through the Himalayas, at a point, deep down between Dhaulagiri (at 8167 m, the 7th highest peak in the world) and Annapurna I (at 8091 m, the 10th highest). The bottom of the gorge is four miles below the top of Dhaulagiri. Mustang trekking is most certainly not only a trek back in time, but a most adventurous one as well.
Now, about the ‘back in time’ thing—Lo Manthang (3800 m), an earthen walled village, was the capital of this ancient Kingdom of Lo in Upper Mustang. The region is inhabited by ethnic Lobas and Bhutias who speak various Tibetan dialects. In fact, since it is a part of the vast Tibetan plateau, and because, historically, its art and culture were influenced mostly from contact with traders and monks passing between Tibet and India, and between Ladakh and Bhutan, Mustang is sometimes said to be a Tibet outside Tibet. Lo Manthang, located on an ancient trade route along the Kali Gandaki River, is an interesting village, a compact settlement of earthen buildings encircled by a six-meter high earthen wall with square shaped towers (dzongs) at the corners. The houses and other structures, including the temples (gompas) and the king’s palace, have white-washed mud brick walls. The oldest gompa here is the three-storied Jampa Lhakhng (AD 1387) with its extremely thick walls, while Thubchen Gompa, in the center of the village, is the next oldest (early 15th century). At present, Chhoede Gompa (AD 1757) is the main gompa of Lo, and it has some lovely thangkas, including one on Dorje Sonam (Vajra Kilas). It is in honor of Dorje Sonam that a major festival called the Mustang Tiji festival is held here every year in the fifth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar (around May).
The origin of ‘Tiji’ is ‘ten che’, which means ‘the hope of Buddha Dharma prevailing in all worlds’. The Tiji festival is a three-day event (this year May 14,15,16th 2015) that is also known as ‘The chasing of the Demons’. The reason for this is that, it is a celebration of the victory of a deity named Dorje Sonam over his demon father to save the Kingdom of Lo from destruction. What happened was this: the father, who had a nasty streak, once wreaked havoc by creating an acute shortage of water in the area. Since Mustang is an arid region, it is understandable that such an act was a most devilish one. It was up to the son, Dorje Sonam, to overcome his father’s actions by going into battle against him. He manages to be one up on his father, and after defeating him, banishes the evil man from the land.
The Tiji festival is a celebration of this legend, and the story is re-enacted during all three days of the festival. Monks of the Chhoede Gompa perform various dances during the festival, enacting the evil deeds of the father; the birth of his son, Dorje Sonam; and the son’s efforts to defeat his demon father. On day one, a dance called “Tsa Chham” is performed, followed by another called “Nga Chham” on the second day, and “Rha Chham on the third. Aptly, the Tiji festival takes place at the end of the dry season, that is, late winter/spring, and heralds the beginning of the monsoon season. For an area as dry as Mustang, the Tiji festival naturally holds great meaning, and, therefore, it is no surprise that it is the most popular festival of the region, one that is celebrated with much gusto.
Thus, while Upper Mustang trekking is one trek that should be in any adventure lover’s itinerary when visiting Nepal, to make the most of this fantastic trek, it would be a good idea to make it in time for the Mustang Tiji festival.