Nepal holds many cultural and natural treasures that will transport you to a different world. A quick flight to Jomsom from Pokhara brings you to the center of Tibetan culture and the wonders of the Himalayas. A great way to immerse yourself in this experience is taking the Jomsom Muktinath Trek in Mustang, Nepal. The trip takes you through windy valleys with views of mountain vistas, unique temples, and monasteries. The temples around Jomsom and Muktinath are the most popular pilgrimage sites for Hindus and Buddhists in the region.
The Jomsom Muktinath Trek is a unique itinerary in the Lower Mustang region. It’s an ideal way to go through Kagbeni, Muktinath, Jharkot, and Lupra without needing to pay for the expensive Upper Mustang permit. Here’s a quick guide on how to make the most out of your trip.
The trek from Jomsom to Muktinath and back is not very strenuous. It generally takes four days to complete the trek.
Jomsom and Mustang are one of the few places in Nepal that are best visited during the monsoon months (June to August). This is because they are located in the rain shadow of the Himalaya and receive little rainfall. The drawback is that flights from Pokhara to Jomsom are frequently delayed at this time of year due to bad weather, so best to have a buffer of a couple days on either end to avoid missing any important connections.
Spring (March-May) and fall (September to November) are also good times to go to Jomsom.
Jomsom is a small town at the base of Nilgiri Himal. It’s the most common base for the trek to Muktinath. Jomsom houses the airport where people take quick flights to and from Pokhara. Here you’ll also find various accommodations and high-end resorts to retreat into after your short trek to Muktinath.
The trek follows the river bed of the Kali Gandaki River, which was created a beautiful gorge. It starts from the Tibetan plateau to eventually flow into the Ganges in India. Most measurements record the Kali Gandaki gorge as the deepest canyon in the world. The upper reaches of the river are known to be a popular site to find fossilized ammonites, known locally as Shaligram. In the lower regions of the river, you’ll find local communities inhabited by Gurungs and Magars, Thakalis around Jomsom and people with obvious Tibetan roots, the Lopa, around Muktinath and up to Mustang.
Further into the region from Jomsom is Kagbeni. It’s also an alternative place to start the 3-4 hour trek to Muktinath. This is also the farthest you’ll be allowed to go without environmental permits and mountain guides. It’s less commercialized than Jomsom. Starting the trek from here varies slightly from trekking from Jomsom. Either way, Kagbeni is known for the 500-year old monastery that holds significant culture and history for the Mustang region. Kagbeni is also known for its iconic views of dahl and rice.
The trek from Kagbeni to Muktinath reveals panoramic views of the Thorong Peak, Nigiri, and Dhaulagiri. The views can be quite overwhelming with the Himalayas towering over you as you follow the trail. The ascent is very gradual, giving you more time to enjoy the surroundings without laboring too much.
Muktinath is best known as the pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus. The Hindus make the pilgrimage for salvation. They believe that the waters in Muktinath deliver salvation after death. It is also believed that the Hindu god, Brahma, lit the eternal flames that burn at Muktinath.
To Buddhists, Muktinath is a place of meditation and introspection. This is following in the footsteps of great sage Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) who came to Muktinath to meditate. If you happen to be in Muktinath in early September, you are likely to be in time for one of Nepal’s unique festivals, the annual horse race known as
Visiting Muktinath in early September brings you in time for the annual horse race called Yartung. It’s a week of Tibetan-style horse racing and merrymaking that brings the whole village come alive.
From the slow descent of Muktinath back to Jomsom, you’ll pass by the last pre-Buddhism village of Lubra. Here you will find even more history and culture of the Mustang region. From here, the views are also breathtaking. You can traverse the pastures towards the ridge closer to the Dhaulagiri range for a closer view of this towering peak.
Sticking to the Lower Mustang region of Jomsom to Muktinath saves you a lot of time and money. You will need an Annapurna Conservation Area permit ($20) and TIMS card ($10) for trekking in and around Jomsom. These can be arranged in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
You can also opt to go beyond the Jomsom area if you have more time or you want to see a whole lot more. You can continue to the Upper Mustang region from Kagbeni. Instead of heading to Muktinath, you can head to Lo Manthang, the capital of Upper Mustang. This adds another 8-10 days to this itinerary. A tour guide is required and the permits for Trekking in Upper Mustang cost $500 for 10 days.
The Jomsom Muktinath Trek is fairly popular, so the trekking facilities are pretty good compared to other parts of Nepal. There are hotels and resorts in Jomsom and Muktinath. The most popular type of accommodation throughout the region are teahouses/lodges. They’re usually very basic but provide blankets and running water. These accommodations will also offer you meals, usually with plenty of fresh vegetables, rice, and noodles. Try not to make your trip in the winter because many facilities are closed, several residents leave the region, and food supplies are scarce.
The Jomsom Muktinath trek is perfect for people who don’t have enough time, or who don’t want to go through strenuous trekking through the Mustang and Himalayan region. It lends its fair share of culture, history, and Himalayan experience with the low-key vibe that Nepal is known for.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!