The rainy season is as good a time to visit Nepal Monsoon is a time of tragic mythology for Nepal. That is to say, there are many myths about it, and they have had a tragic impact on Nepal’s tourism. To dispel them will require a great deal of effort on the part of Nepalese tour operators, as well as an exceedingly open mind on the part of agents abroad. The truth behind the myth is that Nepal is in fact a fascinating and highly rewarding destination, even during the rainy monsoon season. Weather is not something you can ignore, and such powerful and awesome forces as are unleashed during the monsoon rains definitely make one pause when considering travel. This is a season of flooding in the lowlands and landslides in the hills. It is not uncommon for roads and bridges to be washed away by rising rivers. On the other hand, however, it is a peaceful time of the year. Rainfall can be calmingly quiet, cleansing Kathmandu’s air of dust and other pollutants. The nation’s flora thrives during the monsoon, as flowers bloom and leaves turn lush. Indeed, Nepal takes on the feeling of a greenhouse during this time of year – warm, humid, green and full of sweet smelling oxygen. pg_16 .jpg (44205 bytes)Understandably, few people want to travel thousands of kilometers just to visit a greenhouse. They do, however, come to walk in the world’s tallest mountain range. What few people know is that the same altitude which makes the Himalaya so special, also protects this region from the driving monsoon rains. Above 3,000 m, the monsoon loses its fierceness and transforms into a warm and exceedingly pleasant alpine summer climate. Indeed, during this time, temperatures are wonderfully mild. High altitude trekking during monsoon offers sights which are otherwise never seen, especially in the form of mountain flowers, as brilliantly colored blossoms open themselves up to the warm, sunny weather of summertime. This is a particularly peaceful time to trek in Nepal as well. There are precious few tourists to be found along the trails, so the routes which are so popular in the fall and spring seasons regain the feeling they must have had 30 years ago before trekking had caught on. Only the local hill people are still plying the trails, transporting summer crops to markets and visiting relatives. For the trekker who wants to see the real and untainted Nepal, monsoon is the time to find it. If everything is so wonderful during the monsoon, why is it that more people don’t visit Nepal at this time? The problem has primarily been one of logistics. While the regions at high elevation are enjoying the protection afforded them by geography, those 1,000 m lower are being hammered by rain. In those days when the only way to get from the middle hills to the highlands of the Himalaya was on foot, the unpleasantness of walking six days to rise above the clouds often outweighed the rewards of the mountains. However, today, there are half a dozen helicopter companies which operate regular charter as well as personalized services to trekking destinations at reasonably priced group rates. The stability and maneuverability of helicopters, as well as their ability to land on a variety of terrains, make them a much more reliable mode of monsoon transport. Transcending the mud and leeches of the middle hills and lowlands is for the first time incredibly hassle free. Before and after trekking, a cultural tour around the Kathmandu Valley is highly rewarding, even during the monsoon. While it generally rains everyday, it certainly doesn’t rain all day. Mornings are often clear, fresh and sunny, and it is the nights that see most of the rainfall. Once again, the general absence of tourists at this time renders the Valley’s many monuments and temples much more authentic than during peak seasons. For white water thrill-seekers, monsoon rafting offers very exciting, ultra-high water runs. Though many rivers are so high that they are unrunnable, there are some which become truly exciting only during the monsoon. The best monsoon months to visit Nepal are late July, August and September. Hotels and travel companies generally offer off-season discounts, making it even more attractive.

A journey through another face of Nepal

Wind, water, rock and sky are the quiet yet constant companions one travels in Mustang or the Lost Kingdom of Lo. Passing beyond the sparkling snow peaks of Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas, another landscape personality of
Nepal emerges as sojourners travel beyond the lush green middle hills and venture up the Kali Gandaki river valley toward the Tibetan plateau.

One is impressed by the power of the stark earth elements felt in Mustang. Large open spaces with towering rock formations dominate its terrain. Canyons and caves permeate the scenery and add shadowed mystery to the land. Described as barren or desolate, the beauty emanating from this region is one of subtle colors and hues.

Walking the trails of Mustang, one becomes attuned to sensations rarely noticed in the hectic pace of everyday life. The wind blows incessantly. The soothing sound of water from nearby canyons carving routes through stone and sand cools one from the intensity of the sun at altitude.

Crossing this lonely landscape, villages appear in the distance as tiny green oases nestled within the valley’s only grove of trees or looming as fortresses perched on rocky crags. Tight and compact, these settlements are alive with agricultural activity and roaming animals in the narrow pathways. The abrasive lifestyle of the people of Upper Mustang, or Lobas as they are known, is easily evident here. With only one or two growing seasons for wheat, barley, or buckwheat crops the people here struggle with their surroundings to coax out a harvest.

They are traders too. With their mule caravans plying the trail-ways, many travel to India and southern Nepal during the harsh winter months to do business. Other times, they cross the China border and barter wheat, rice and cloth brought up from the lowlands for goods such as cigarettes, tea, canvas shoes and ready made clothing.

Despite the many hardships faced in everyday life, the people of Mustang endure with a light spirit and an ever-present sense of humor. Their spiritual beliefs are deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism and radiate in the physical construction of large chortens, in the long stretches of mani walls along rocky paths, in the Sako Namgo or spirit catchers hung protectively above every household door, and even in the colors used for structural decoration.pg_17map.jpg (31851 bytes)

The traditional red/orange, white and gray/black, very much in evidence, represent the Buddhist deities of Chenrezig (the embodiment of Compassion), Jamphel-Yang (the embodiment of Wisdom), and Chakna Dorje (the embodiment of Spiritual Power).

A journey into Mustang is a special opportunity to explore a unique Himalayan landscape and to come into contact with one of Nepal’s distinct cultural clans. Upper Mustang, as a destination, is limited to those willing to follow stiff regulations established by the Ministry of Tourism and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project. Designed to protect the fragile environment and sensitize travellers to preserving ancient culture and tradition, such education is aimed toward reducing the negative impact tourism can have in newly opened areas.

For those who do make the trip, many find that internal landscapes explored through provocative exposure to the way of life here is as much of a challenge as the physical exertion required to traverse the grain of the land. A place of wind, water, rock and sky, Mustang indeed fills the senses and fully saturates the mind.


Location: North central Nepal

vital statistics

Altitude: 3,815 m above sea level

Access: Fly Pokhara-Jomsom (25 minutes) and trek from Jomsom via Kagbeni (105 km, four days)

Permits: Permits are given only to organized groups

Accommodation: Trekkers’ lodges

Activities: Trekking, monastery visits, cultural experiences

Additional info: ACAP Headquarters, Hariyo Kharka, Pokhara; Tel: 061-21102