The Kingdom of Mustang: Authenticity Reigns

Mustang Village

My first and lasting joy of the trek is experiencing the utter authenticity of life in Mustang. Each of the hundreds of miles of stone walls was built by hand over the centuries. Some Mani Walls are a thousand year old, each stone making up the wall was hand carved with inscriptions and prayers to be sent to the heavens by the winds through time. Every home and monastery is hand built with rock, adobe, and wood. They are being built today the same way. I never saw or heard a television or radio. Electricity came from solar panels in a few houses and guest houses. It was used sparingly, usually with no lights allowed until 6:45 or 7:00 pm, and then only one ten watt light per room. People mostly cooked with dried dung or very limited local firewood. We were above 12,500 ft where few trees grow.

Ever Present Prayer Wheels

If this sounds like a description of perfect simplicity, it is. There are prayer wheels everywhere, still used daily by young and old alike. Every roof is stacked with firewood for the long, cold winter. The clothing is mostly hand woven in traditional style, as are the horse blankets and the monk’s robes. The brass cooking pots in local homes are often hundreds of years old. The monasteries are unchanged since they were built, usually 500 to 700 years ago, except the recent addition of a few solar powered light bulbs. This world is authentic, real. Only the sunglasses on young men yank one forward to 2012. The background sounds are of goat bells and larger pony and mule bells. There’s no traffic, no electronics, no outdoor lights and signs, or cell phone voices. There is often the quiet chant of someone with prayer beads, a muffled “Om Mani Padme Om.” There is a soft, “Namaste” from all passers–by, and the sound of hooves on stone as a herd of goats in funneled through town. Often I hear bits of song that accompanies daily work, whether in town or on the trail.

Valley, Village & Monastery

On the trail, the mule drivers, horse men, and goat herders have their own language to direct, encourage and calm the animals. I loved to walk near them and listen to their endless chatter to the animals made up of whistles, songs, repetitive humming, and quick shouts, woven in to comforting, mesmerizing rhythm. I was happy to pretend to be one of the mules in a long line, guided and soothed by that punctuated drone. After all, we were all just doing the same thing, walking up and down the trails through the Himalayas. The song said, “Keep moving. Don’t stop now. The land is beautiful. Dinner is waiting. Now, just keep moving. Next step, next step, we’ll rest when we get there …” So for the time being, I’ll be a horse, a mule, a Monster and a Bad Dog. Animals are rather simple. Being just another animal is a nice break from being human.

Mud - Building Blocks for Homes

As more days passed on the trek, I watched my mind clear. The world I came from (home, work, friends, family, America, Bali, all of it) faded quickly. The mountains around me and the stones on the path ahead became my reality. Simple and focused, every step carefully considered to avoid injury or worse. This concentration brought simplicity to life. There were loose rocks to use or avoid each of those hundreds of thousands of steps we took. There was not an inch of pavement once we stepped off the tarmac at the Jomsom airport and grabbed our bags.

Home Sweet Home

Simplicity was walking, drinking water, looking at the mountains, eating, and walking some more. I felt the joy and freedom penetrate the weakening my shields and protective walls until they crumbled at my feet and I shouted my joy to the mountains, the mules, my brothers, and anyone that could hear or would listen. It wasn’t my shout, it was the shout from, in all of us, hungry for release. Unleashed euphoria and gratitude and made me run around like a little kid, then pant madly as my body rebelled and screamed for oxygen, reminding me we were at 13,000 ft. Laughter came easily to all of us, with any or no excuse.

Window in Thick Walls of Mud - Brick

The land and villages are untouched, real.. The people are beautiful with the healthy, pink color coming through their brown Tibetan faces, living without presence, not trying to be something other than what they are. The harsh climate makes people here age young, but with deep character. Life is hard, real, and simple. It is what it is. A rock is a rock. We survive. Our smiles are quick and ready, eyes open and willing to connect if only for a second, a second that can transmit so much that it fills souls. My heart is open, ready to touch anyone who wants a splash of love. That love is returned when eyes meet in an unshielded eternity. From mule drivers to sellers of trinkets and treasures, it is there, ready, waiting, and willing.

Woman in Capital "City" - Lomanthang

No where else on Earth I have never experienced such authenticity and simplicity. Part of the key to this is the people are part of nature. They live in harmony with nature, taking and giving onlywhat’s needed. Mustang is a state of being more than becoming. For now, the monks and monasteries are. The villages, people, habits, animals, customs, foods and religion are. I too, was able to be, to be happy and be myself freely. I went to sleep with gratitude and quiet joy, and awoke in the same state. Yes, that was a gift I gave myself, but it was also given by this land, its people, and the brothers I traveled with.


Prayer Stones from Mani Walls & Horn
Goat Herds
Packed up for the Day's Trek - Loyal Mule Driver
Prayer Wheels
Firewood Saved on Roof for Winter
Longest Mani (Prayer) Wall in Mustang - Over 1Km Long
Long Dusty Road

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Having journeyed to the Far East and Asia over 20 times in the past 20 years, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the ingenuity, craftsmanship, balance and human spirit that have gone into the making of those works I have seen and collected.

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