Being here out of season definitely has pro’s and con’s. Prior to arrival I knew we were coming early in the season but I didn’t know the distribution of visitors to upper mustang so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that Hampi had been chock full of tourists, but we were at the end of the peak season so it wasn’t really a comparable. Plus it was a completely different type of tourist destination.
Fortunately, the tourist information office in Lo Manthang provided the data I needed. Hidden amongst information about the local culture, the history, the people, the religion, the weather, the animals, the flora, the fauna, and the conservation work were a few pieces of A4 with visitor number tables printed on them. Looking at them I realised just how out of season we were:
In 2009, only 0.28% of visitors came in February!
- Lack of People – perhaps that’s so obvious it doesn’t need stating. On the entire 12 day trek we met only 2 other tourists, 1 of the a mighty fit looking Swiss guy and the other an overweight British guy (with porters) who appeared to be on some sort of official business.
- Peaceful – probably due to the lack of people.
- Incredible snow covered landscapes – Being up in the mountains with so much snow was something quite special. The snow continued from under my feet all the way up to the top of the 8000m peaks that dominated us. The whiteness was quite incredile.
- Great walking temperature – In the sunshine a t-shirt was all that was needed to be both warm and cool enough at the same time.
- Very very few guesthouses open – We would turn up in a village and basically start knocking on doors. Most of the time someone would open up, but sometimes they would turn us away due to lack of food/power/water and sometimes no one would answer at all. This wasn’t really a problem for us, because any roof over our heads is enough but if you are expecting the guesthouses to be catering for tourists you’ll be shocked. We were the only people staying at every guesthouse we encountered. Most of the guesthouses hadn’t seen anyone come through for weeks.
- Variety of Food – Well, the lack of it. Since Tatapani we have eaten Dal Bhat every single day. EVERY SINGLE DAY. Some people may not be familiar with the culinary dish of choice in Upper Mustang, so the following diagram will help
Not to scale!
It’s essentially a huge amount of rice, with a large amount of lentils, with a small portion of potato, and very occassionally with an exceptionally rare and always slim portion of meat. Our lunch and dinner diet consisted of 1 of 2 meals, with a heavy bias towards one of them. Dal Bhat.
What a rare joy it was to find some meat in our dal bhat
Whilst I may be writing about dal bhat as a con, it is actually delicious. It is intrinsically delicious, but it’s also gratefully received after a long day walking when you’re cold, hungry, and just want to stuff your face. In fact, it has the added advantage of being the only meal which comes with free refills. You can’t imagine my elation when during the first dal bhat the cook came over with more rice, more lentils, and more potato. I felt like I’d struck gold! Free refills meant I truly could stuff my face.
Breakfast was the exception to the food monotony where we had the choice of porridge, tibetan bread and curried potatoes, or omelette and chapati. All of them were truly delicious.
- Unpredictable Weather – This didn’t really occur to me until the weather suddenly changed and the snow poured out the skies for 48 hours. Previous to that it had been glorious blue skies. I was really caught out by this as I hadn’t taken any waterproofs, which left me hiking in a blizzard with 5.10 trainers, dunderdons, and a very non waterproof lightweight down jacket. Suffice to say I got thoroughly soaked.
- Cold at night – The only source of warmth in the evenings is either a small dung burner (imagine a wood burner made from sheet metal) or a small clay oven on which they cook (also fuelled by dung). It’s generally more smoky than warm. The cold isn’t a real problem, you just need a good sleeping. I would suggest something that’s comfortable to -10C.
Although the pro’s list looks much shorter than the con’s list, it easily outweights it. The solitude, the incredible landscape, and even the dal bhat all combined to create something truly special. I think that being in Upper Mustang with hundreds of other tourists in June would be a bit soul destroying. Having to make small talk with random tourists isn’t my idea of a good time. Being alone in the mountains is.