Monday, January 23, 2012

Asian Adventure Day 19: Tea with a King

Mustang Trek Day 4
Charang (3560 m) to Lo Manthang (3840 m)

We set off from Charang at 8:00 AM and the hike began with the requisite climb down to the river bottom and then back up to the top of the ridge on the other side. Thankfully the remainder of the walk was flat, at least in the Nepali sense. Unfortunately a strong headwind meant that it was still relatively strenuous walking. We crested the last hill about 11:00 AM to reveal the walled village of Lo Manthang in the valley below. 

We checked into the Mystique Guesthouse right outside the city walls and immediately made a bee line for the gas shower - we had not properly showered since Muktinah five days earlier! It was heavenly to finally be able to wash off four days of sweat and dust. 

Again there was not a cloud in the sky and by noon the wind had subsided so we were able to enjoy our lunch in the sun in the guesthouse courtyard. We had the vegetable thanduk, a local vegetable soup with hearty handmade noodles. The inn keeper even grinds her own flour for the noodles using the local water mill.

Innkeeper's baby

After lunch we headed to the walled inner-city to explore. We started at the main monastery where it took a considerable amount of time to sort out who had the keys and who was able to sell us tickets - in true Nepali style! Fortunately during this time we were able to meet a young monk named Karma who spoke excellent English and was willing to spend the afternoon showing us around the three gompas in town. 

Town gate

The Nange Chodey Gompa was built in the 1700s and is home to a 700 year-old state of Buddha. The walls are painted with the stages of buddha and ceremonial masks hang from the columns. 

Jampa Gompa was built by the second king of Mustang in honour of his father and dates back to the 1400s. Inside the thick mud outer walls was a large courtyard surrounded by detailed wooden columns and beams. Inside the gompa the walls were covered in intricate mandala paintings and the alter was home to a giant buddha statue. 

Thupchen Gompa was built in the same period as Jampa. The entrance is guarded by four large clay buddhas that were very reminiscent of the buddhas in Japan. Inside was three massive golden buddhas in front of a towering stupa. The walls of the gompa were half bare because they had suffered from years of water damage and the locals were in the process of restoring the mandala paintings with the help of an Italian artist.

Chodey Gompa

Ceremonial mask

Ceremonial mask

Jampa gompa

Jampa gompa

Jampa gompa

By time we visited the gompas, it was 2:30 PM and almost our scheduled time for tea with the king of Mustang!

The primary attraction in Lo Manthang is the Raja's palace where you can pay 200 rupees ($2.50) to have tea with the present raja Jigme Parbel Bista. Since 2008 he has only been a ceremonial leader but still presides over many local issues and prides himself with welcoming visitors into his home. 

We were each given a white scarf and joined the group of about a dozen other tourists and guides patiently waiting in the town square outside the palace. While we waited our guide taught Dave how to play the game of Bagh-chal or Goats and Tigers - the Nepali version of chess.

Waiting to meet the king

Playing Goats and Tigers



At 3:00 PM we were led inside the rather rundown palace, up several sets of stairs until we reached the king's sunny sitting room. One by one we approached the king and bowed in front of him while he placed the white scarf over our heads as a blessing. We were then sitted around the room, served mint tea and allowed to ask the king questions through an interpreter. Mostly the interpreter just answered the questions on the king's behalf while the raja nodded off to sleep! It was very reminiscent of visiting an aging relative, complete with the room filled with tchotches, plastic covered furniture, a television hidden under doilies and a small yappy dog.

King of Mustang

Tea in the King's sitting room

After we finished our tea we were allowed to pose with the king for a photograph before being ushered out of the palace. 

We spent the remaining afternoon wandering the maze of narrow streets inside the walled city. It was exactly like being inside a hedge or corn maze with plenty of wrong turns and dead ends. It became a joke that we knew we had circled back on ourselves because we recognized a certain cow.

Having wood stores is a sign of wealth

Feeding the cow the slop bucket

Playing hoop and stick

Gathering leaves for winter

Prayer wheels

Gathering at the well

Drying dung for fuel

As soon as the sun disappeared we returned to the guesthouse were we spent the evening chatting with the innkeeper who was extremely knowledgable on the local history and customs.


  1. your pictures are really amazing.

    and the part about the king nodding off is too funny.


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