What is the Upper Mustang region?
Mustang translates to ‘fertile plains’ in the Nepali language and the former Kingdom of Lo is a remote region in Northern Nepal. Till 1992, the Upper Mustang area was a restricted area but in 2008, when the Kingdom of Nepal became a republic it was opened to tourists. And once tourism started, Upper Mustang motorcycle tours got really popular.
Two-thirds of the Mustang region is made up of the Upper Mustang area and the rest is made up of Thak. This is the region of the Thakali people after whom the Thakali thali is named! In ancient times, Mustang was an independent kingdom but at the end of the 18th century, it was annexed by Nepal. Since 1795, it has been part of the Kingdom of Nepal.
Upper Mustang experiences a Himalayan climate. It falls under a rain shadow zone and hence sees a cool and arid climate throughout the year. The terrain of Upper Mustang is said to be similar to that of the Ladakh region in India. This is one of the main reasons for a growing number of Upper Mustang motorcycle tours.
How to reach Mustang?
The roads to Upper Mustang have never been in great shape but in the last decade, the Nepalese government has taken steps to develop the region. From Kathmandu to Upper Mustang the distance is about 350 kilometers via Pokhara. Road trips are said to be the last resort to travel there. People usually fly to Jomsom airport and from there rent a car to Upper Mustang.
The ride from Pokhara to Jomsom is quite arduous and only adventure riders make the journey. During your Upper Mustang motorcycle tour, you will have to ride 155 kilometers from Pokhara to Jomson through off-road stretches that are uncomfortable and dangerous in some places. The journey is quite long – it takes around 8 hours to complete the trip. Landslides are quite common and they can hold up the traffic for hours and days.
From Pokhara, you will first ride to Jomsom then proceed to Kagbeni and finally head to Lo Mantang. This is part of the Upper Mustang region.
Permits for Upper Mustang
Every foreigner must obtain a permit to enter the Upper Mustang region. If you book an Upper Mustang motorcycle tour, the cost of the permit is usually included in the tariff. Since it’s a restricted area, you will need to apply for a Restricted Area Permit along with an ACAP entry permit.
- Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit for all foreigners: US $500 per person for the first 10 days and US $50 per person per day thereafter.
- ACAP entry permit fee for foreigners: 3,000 NPR (Approx. US $30)
- ACAP entry permit fee for SAARC nationals: 200 NPR
Requirements for Upper Mustang permits
- Original Passport
- 2 Passport size photographs
- Scanned copies of the passport and photographs
- You have to be in a minimum group size of 2
- You will have to hire a local operator for your Upper Mustang motorcycle tour who will process the documentation for the permit
- Permits are issued for a minimum of 10 days
Recommended bikes for Upper Mustang Motorcycle tours
The landscape of the Mustang valley is varied, It ranges from high rocky cliffs, unpaved roads, off-road stretches and lots of dirt tracks. While planning an Upper Mustang motorcycle tour, you will first need to select a reliable and comfortable motorcycle. You can choose to book a light trail bike or go with the more grounded and heavier Royal Enfield motorcycles. Pillion riding is not advised due to the rough terrain so pick a bike accordingly. Here are some of the most common options you will find for Nepal motorcycle tours.
Royal Enfield 500 cc
Royal Enfield Classic 300 cc
Royal Enfield Himalayan
Honda CRF 250 cc
Honda XR 190 cc
BMW 310 GS
When you hire a motorcycle, you will need to leave behind your passport or a hefty deposit. The only way out is to drive a hard bargain with the tour operator or rental agency.
Best time to visit Upper Mustang
Since Upper Mustang lies in a rain shadow region, you can go there during monsoons as well. But the Lower Mustang regions of Kagbeni so experience monsoons and riding in those areas in rains is a horrible experience. Winters are quite severe as well and the cold weather makes riding very difficult. Even the locals leave for Pokhara or Kathmandu to escape the harsh winters.
Therefore, the best time for an Upper Mustang Motorcycle tour is from March to May and then from September to November. In May, you will get to experience the Tiji festival celebrated in Upper Mustang.
Accommodation in Upper Mustang
Since it’s a remote area, the accommodation options in Upper Mustang are quite basic. You will get varied options in places like Kagbeni, Jomsom, and Muktinath but beyond that, the supply of hotels is quite strained. The average cost for accommodation in Upper Mustang is around $7 (INR 500) and a simple meal will set you back by $4 (INR 280).
If you want to cut down on costs, you can hire tents from Pokhara and camp in Upper Mustang. You can have your meals in local shops and restaurants. But to answer nature’s call, you will have to go wild!
Challenges of an Upper Mustang motorcycle tour
The conquest is a challenging one and something that most motorcycle rides aim to do. But an Upper Mustang motorcycle tour presents unique sets of challenges. First, it’s really expensive for budget travelers who might not be able to accommodate the additional $500 for permits. A typical 15-day ride can set you back by about $3000 excluding fuel, flights, shopping, and other expenses.
Secondly, the terrain is unforgiving. The dry, rough mountains present no respite from a bumpy, hard ride and most riders get irritable halfway when they reach Kagbeni. It’s a really raw experience and the rides can get tough, tiring, and long!
However, the Upper Mustang motorcycle tour is a unique experience that takes you through a beautiful country full of amazing places. You’ll love the hospitality of the Nepalese and enjoy the vibrant cuisines across the country.
Featured pic courtesy – Mid Life Adventures