World of Pinlock:
Expedition leader Paul Duijf’s roots are in the organization of climbing expeditions all over the world. With this background, it is to be expected that the motor trips he organizes for Travel2Explore, have an adventurous approach and visit extraordinary and remote destinations.
The most recent trip to Upper Mustang in Nepal had all of these ingredients for me. A no-nonsense motor trip through a part of the Himalaya that has limited access for tourists. A trip which atmosphere threw me back into the past. Back to the time when things weren’t as fast-paced as today and expeditions to discover a new part of the world could take months. Driving the Royal Enfield was also a blast from the past. A motorcycle where a speedometer was the only available luxury. But after two weeks you realize that even this luxury was superfluous. The destination for this trip was ‘Lo Mantang’, the Medieval capital of the former ‘Kingdom of Lo’. The peak would be the 4.66km (15.300 feet) high ‘Kora La’.
The first two days we rode through the lower part of Nepal. The landscape consists of lush tropical vegetation, rolling hills, and bright green rice fields. Along steep cliffs, colorful villages lie in a playful balance with gravity. Narrow tracks with countless hairpin turns, connect one mountaintop to another. Once we arrived in Chitwan I contemplated staying there for a day. The national park there is a home to many elephants and rhinos. But staying here would mean less time in the Himalaya, so we got back on the road. After climbing the long winding road for two days we finally got to Nepal’s second city; Pokhara.
After passing the lively city of Pokhara, we continue over an asphalt road. But after about 60km (37 miles) the asphalt stops and the road quickly gets steeper. The rice terraces make way for Himalayan giants like the Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna, covered in snow and glaciers. Between these mountains, the ‘Kali Gandaki’ snakes its way through the landscape. By many accounts the deepest ravine in the world. For many centuries this route was the only way for trading caravans between Nepal and Tibet. For now, it is an important passage on our way to Lo Mantang. While avoiding potholes and rocks, we keep climbing steadily. Every hairpin turn grants a spectacular view of the Annapurna.
On the edge of a steep cliff lies the small village of Kagbeni. A true oasis with many apple and peach orchards amidst steep cliffs and silver gray gravel. The age-old monastery of Kagbeni forms the border with Upper Mustang. It is a gateway to a mysterious kingdom where the orange tint of ‘Gompa’ marks the color of the changing landscape. When we ride into the remote Upper Mustang, the landscape changes dramatically. Both the landscape and the air get bone dry. Even though it’s dry, the landscape is still colorful. The mountains are different shades of blue, yellow, orange and red. They complement the colorful Buddhist prayer flags, waving in the wind.
After visiting Ghar Gumba, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Nepal, we head to the 4,23km (13.877 feet) high Marang La pass. The altitude is clearly noticeable, the road gets steeper, the abyss deeper and the air feels thinner. At some points, the road is so steep or in such bad shape that even the Royal Enfield cannot take it. That means getting off the bike and pushing it uphill to a place where it can continue climbing by itself. Once on top of the Marang La, the reward is worth it; a magnificent view of the snowy Himalayan mountain tops around us.
After thoroughly enjoying the serene view, we drive back down the mountain road, along the longest ‘Mani wall’ of Nepal. A Mani wall is a masonry wall, covered with engraved ‘Mani stones’. These stones feature prayers, like the most common prayer; ‘Om manipadmé’. These Mani stones can be many centuries old.
After the descent, we climb back up the next mountain between two cliffs, like a natural gate. Behind this pass, the road is a fesh-fesh dusty road. When the dust settles down, we can see Lo Manthang in the valley below. The magnificent walled capital city of the kingdom of Lo. When you look even further, you can see Tibet lying in the distance.
The cold shower in the guest house was pure luxury. It felt good to rinse off all the dust. My suit and boots also got a bath and somewhat presentable we got back on our bikes again for the last stage, the 4,66km (15.288 feet) high Kora pass. This pass also marks the border between Nepal and Tibet. Along the way, we visit the Garphu houses. These multi-story houses are carved out of solid rock and likely 2000 years old. After a refreshing cup of ginger-tea, the trip continues to the border.
When we reach the top of the Kora La, we have a magnificent view of the Tibetan highlands and Tibet (China). right in front of us is the border with Tibet. No border patrol, no markings, no one would stop us from entering.
Mustang, the former Kindom of Lo, lies in a remote and isolated part of the Himalaya. Upper Mustang lies at the border of Tibet and covers two-thirds of the area of the former Kindom of Lo (Möntang in Tibetan). Up until 1992, Upper Mustang was off limits for tourists. After that, it could only be reached by foot. In part because of this, Mustang has remained in pristine condition for centuries.
The old capital of Lo-Manthang borders Tibet (China) and lies at a height of 3,9km (12.800 feet). This walled, medieval city used to be an important hub for the salt trade. Because of the isolated location and costly permit, the Tibetan culture has remained largely intact. The local population still speaks the original Tibetan language and lives in harmony with the pristine mountainous landscape.
Expedition Leader Travel2Explore