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Into Mustang

October 2, 2014

in Nepal

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Once part of western Tibet and later subsumed by Nepal, Mustang is an ancient kingdom on the cusp of change. Tantric Buddhism still thrives, yet the first coffee shops have sprung up. Most people are busy with the grain harvest, but many young people have left the area in search of better work. Fifteenth century deities are worshipped and appeased at dark altars and every home has a private prayer room, yet cell phones, road development, and political discussion are equally at the fore. It has been a magical and challenging trek into an ancient culture meeting the modern world.

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Bright orange and white mud-splashed chortens mark the entry to villages in Mustang. Houses are built snugly together in the Tibetan style, protecting against attacks of weather and invaders. A labyrinth of narrow alleys is formed, with doorways marked by shamanistic concoctions of animal skulls, spirit catchers, grass, and wood to ward off evil spirits. Rooftops are piled with firewood and tall vertical wind-whipped prayer flags. Sun and wind are relentless here, giving everything a hard weathered quality, even the people.

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Women wear dark ankle-length dresses with long sleeve shirts and striped wool aprons around their hips. They carry sickles out to the fields and spend the day cutting barley and buckwheat. Men are in more western type pants and shirts as they stack hay, ply threshing machines, or drive herds mixed of sheep, goats, cows, and horses. People smile and easily return our waves and greetings, but they are generally shy of cameras, so if they allow a picture we make sure to share the images, which everyone seems to enjoy.

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We hike long days, mostly in two directions–UP or DOWN. We are rewarded with expansive views of Nilgiri, Tilicho, Thorong Peak, the Snow Yak, and occasionally Dhaulagiri (the 7th highest mountain in the world) as we journey village to village, across the high plateau.

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