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Into the Forbidden Kingdom of Upper Mustang

  • Local men work on renovating a monastery in northern Mustang. A handful of historical and religious sites were affected by the earthquakes of 2015.

  • A Gurung woman wearing traditional ornaments at a funeral ceremony in Chhoser.

  • From high grazing pastures above Dhakmar, a sheep struts back as Nigiri mountain peeks through the clouds at dusk.

  • A Buddhist monk walks down a ladder inside 3000-year old caves of Chhoser. The maze of caves dug in cliffs are several stories high. There are estimated 10,000 manmade caves in Mustang, a majority of which are yet unexplored. Every so often, skeletal remains, artifacts and manuscripts from 12th to 14th centuries are unearthed by archaeologists.

  • Clad in traditional dress called bakkhu, women in Lo Manthang perform a Kora (clockwise circumnavigation) of a gompa.

  • A horseman gallops to Chhoser, an hour off Lo Manthang, the capital of Upper Mustang. Horses are a common way of commuting in the Himalayan desert.

  • Religious Buddhist structures called chhortens are found throughout Mustang, especially on clifftops, overseeing the vast rolling spaces.

  • Towering erratic cliffs surround a trekker on the way to Samzong, an isolated settlement several hours’ trek from Chhoser.

  • Roofs of Dhi, seen from the steep downhill trail leading to the traditional Gurung village. Firewood is used extensively for cooking and heating, especially when the mercury considerably drops during winter times.

  • A shopkeeper gets some monsoon sun outside his closed souvenir shop within the walled premises of Lo Manthang. Though Upper Mustang falls in the rainshadow of the Annapurna and Dhaugaliri ranges, leading to little to no rain throughout the year, business still tends to be slow in this season with lower influx of trekkers.

  • Overcast skies are a common sight during monsoon season, shrouding what’s otherwise fantastic vistas of Himalayan ranges. What Upper Mustang lacks in mountain views, it makes up with farmlands that come alive with blooming flowers, like this oasis of a mustard field.

Surreal deserts of Upper Mustang beyond mid hills and snowcapped peaks are a far cry from the lush greenery Nepal is known to possess and the high mountains that we’re told dominate the country’s skyline. Sandy and rugged terrains are complemented by its rich history and otherworldly cultures, largely drawing influence from Tibet to the north. Formerly a kingdom, Upper Mustang was a restricted demilitarized area until 1992. Trekkers far and wide visit Upper Mustang every year and are unwittingly bedazzled by massive cliffs and colourful soils, ruins of ancient villages and caves thousands of years old, and for a lucky few, the elusive snow leopard prowling in strong head winds. These photographs of Upper Mustang, captured by professional photographer Anuj D. Adhikary on a climate change research trip, provide a glimpse into the Forbidden Kingdom.