Our ultimate destination in Mustang was to get to Lo Manthang, the walled town which is the capital of the region. Much of the track that leads from the south to the town follows the Kali Kandaki River. Flowing as it does between the 8167 m high Mt. Dhaulagiri and the 8091 m high Mt. Annapurna this river cuts what is believed to be the deepest gorge in the world. No matter where you turn you are confronted by sheer cliffs, strangely eroded hummocks and on the horizon, soaring snow-capped mountains. Wherever there is flat ground and water for irrigation there are small villages surrounded by green fields and orchards. Sometimes at lonely places far from habitation one sees stupas or mani walls, reminders that this is a Buddhist land. While evoking interest and sometimes even awe, none of the vistas are enough to take make you forget just how difficult the trek to Lo Manthang is. Between Chele and Samar the path is almost vertical and seems to go on for ever. The assent from Yamda to Syangboche makes the knees ache so much that when you reach the bottom you can hardly walk. Another difficulty is the wind, sometimes howling, at other times full of grit and dust, which usually starts blowing after midday. Buddhist monks robes were not designed for windy places and mine was continually blowing off or filling with gusts like the sail of a ship so as to force me sideways or blow me over. This was very trying and added to the exhaustion.
Only a brief but very disconcerting experience was crossing the several suspension bridges on the way, the most scary one leading to the village of Gaykar . Each step you take makes the bridge wobble and if you look down you freeze with horror at just how far down it is. I should mention that all these bridges are very sturdy, but your imagination keeps pushing this knowledge out of your mind.
The ruins of numerous forts throughout Mustang speak of its tumultuous history; petty lords vying with each other for power and invasions from neighbouring states. By 1768 the Gurkhas had conquered and united most of what today is modern Nepal and then turned their eyes to Mustang. It seems they did not invade Mustang but its king became a tributary of the Gurkha court, paying a yearly tribute while remaining independent in all but name. In 1962 the Raja Abolition Act divested all Nepal ’s minor rulers of their power, an exception being made for the king of Mustang. After the Chinese invasion of Tibet Mustang became the base for Khampa resistance organized and financed by Taiwan and the CIA. Eventually Chinese pressure on Nepal put an end to all this and the Nepalese government took full control of Mustang and ending any power the king had. However Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista must be still regarded with respect because I noticed pictures of him and his queen in most homes.