We first saw, over to the west, the red monastery of Namgyal, perched on a rocky outcrop, halfway up the mountain. High on the crest of a barren brown hill were the ruins of a round tower and a wall—the fortress of Ketcher Dzong, built by the warrior and first king of Mustang, Ame Pal, who founded the kingdom of Lo in 1380. We saw Lo Monthang long before we actually arrived. It seemed close, but as we wearily trudged towards it, with that feeling of fatigue that begins to descend when you know you’re close to your destination, it didn’t seem to come any closer. What we saw was a sprawl of buildings and green trees in the midst of which was a concentration of buildings, the red monasteries standing tall above the rest.
Crossing a small stream we ambled up and along the south wall to our lodge. We’d arrived but all I could feel was grateful to be stopping in the same place for three nights.
After unloading at the lodge, we went in search of the “real” coffee that was reputed to be found in at least one establishment in Lo Manthang. We found it, just a few doors up from our lodge, at the Hotel Mystique. One small coffee machine sits on a counter next to a water purifier and takes ten minutes to heat the water, which was no problem for us as we weren’t rushing anywhere. The proprietor, a tall young woman in traditional dress, told us that since the installation of the solar plant, just outside of the city, things were much better for her business as she could now use her machine all day.
The 70 kilowatt plant was installed just two weeks before we arrived, fully funded and constructed by the Chinese government. 300 solar panels now stand in three rows outside the city to the south and power poles line the streets surrounding Lo Manthang. Electricity wires now accompany the fluttering prayer flags, surreptitiously snaking under walk-ways and along walls, attached to the ancient mud walls and hitched above the doorways of monasteries built long before electricity was ever discovered.
After our coffee we walked into Lo Monthang. I found it to be one giant maze and no matter how much we walked around I could never get my bearings. It felt like we kept going in circles and when I thought we’d seen it all, Neville assured me we hadn’t.
Although Upper Mustang was annexed by Nepal in the late 1800s, it still has its own King or Raja, albeit with only local authority. The palace was damaged in the earthquake so the Raja and Rajini had moved to Kathmandu and it’s unclear when or even if they’ll return.
The main square, where the festivals and other gatherings are held, was full of rubble and a new building was being constructed on one side.
That night, we celebrated with hot lemon drinks “coloured”, as Jit liked to say, with some Kukri rum. We’d arrived at the so-called “Forbidden City” and tomorrow we would explore.