KATHMANDU, May 18: US-based Cable News Network (CNN) has picked Nepal’s Mustang Valley enriched with ancient Tibetan culture as a must-visit travel destination in 2023. Mustang, which lies in Gandaki Province of central Nepal (formerly western Nepal), is one of the 23 places worldwide recommended by CNN Travel.
The number of both foreign and domestic tourists visiting Mustang by road and by air has picked up pace again after Covid-19 pandemic subsided along with favorable weather. Tourists travel across Beni, Tatopani, Lete, Kagbeni, Jomsom, Muktinath Temple, Lo-Manthang and Korala, a border crossing with China, to experience the unique landscape and cultural heritage of the region, especially Upper Mustang.
The best time to visit Mustang is during the months of spring (March, April, May) and Autumn (September, October, November). During this time, visitors get to witness the great landscape in relatively warm weather. This also allows visitors to take up tours and hikes in this area which would be difficult during the colder months.
Not only domestic but also foreign guests are eager to go to Mustang for pilgrimage, sightseeing and trekking in Upper Mustang, and to explore Tilicho lake as well as Saribung Pass. Mustang is equally famous for religious tourism because of the famous Muktinath Temple and Damodar Kunda. Nearby is a temple called Jwala Mai considered sacred and worshiped by both the Hindus and the Buddhists. An eternal blue flame keeps burning in the temple. Nearby, there are 108 sacred waterspouts (springs) where pilgrims take a ritual bath. Muktinath lies on the famous Annapurna Circuit trek visited by thousands of foreign trekkers every year. The trek starts from Besisahar and passes through Manang and Thorung La Pass via Muktinath to Jomsom.
In lower Mustang, one can visit Marpha village, which is famous for apple production, along with Marpha brandy and jams produced from local fruits like apples, peach and apricot. Due to its religious destination, Mustang has been able to attract a large number of Indian guests as well. In 2022, about 60,000 foreign guests including 50,000 Indians visited Mustang.
Mani Raj Lamicchane, director of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) said, “As the CNN news portal is credible and reliable, getting Mustang featured in the list of CNN Travel under 17th rank and getting publicity is a huge credit for our country as a whole.”
He added, “To further strengthen tourism in Mustang, promotion of such a place is a must. We should inform the locals about the benefits of tourists. We should preserve the authenticity of culture and co-operate with relevant agencies and stakeholders.”
CNN reports that in addition to trekking, Mustang visitors can explore ancient villages and Buddhist monasteries. Also not to be missed, the man-made Mustang caves sit above the Gandaki River and are filled with 2,000-year-old Buddhist sculptures and paintings. Getting to the Mustang Valley is part of the adventure. Travelers will need to take a 25-minute flight from the capital Kathmandu to Pokhara then hop on another plane for a 20-minute journey to Jomsom. The views alone might make this option more pleasing to some than the alternative 12-hour drive from Kathmandu.
Dharma Raj Panthi, president of Gandaki chapter of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN), the umbrella organization of trekking entrepreneurs, said, “Tourism entrepreneurs also often complain that foreign guests from third countries do not visit the place due to the lack of promotion. But it is good news that an international news agency has enlisted Mustang as a must-visit travel destination. It can be expected that this promotion will help to increase the number of visitors from third countries to Nepal in the near future.”
According to tourism entrepreneurs, Mustang being included among the 23 places that must be visited in 2023, will create a positive impact on tourism. They expect that the coverage by the world-famous news agency will help to increase the number of tourists visiting Nepal in the coming days as Mustang is included as a must-visit travel destination.
According to Ashok Subedi, conservation officer of Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), Jomsom, a total of 60,000 foreign visitors visited Jomsom in 2022. Among them, about 50,000 were Indians and the rest were guests from third countries, Subedi said, adding that the number of Indian guests is large as they come to visit Muktinath.
Other travel destinations picked by CNN Travel include Poland; Western Australia, Liverpool, England; Charleston, South Carolina; Vilnius, Lithuania; Fiji; Manaus, Brazil; Thessaloniki, Greece; Rwanda; Gothenburg, Sweden; Rasal-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates; Laos; Gruyeres, Switzerland; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Bogota, Colombia; Tanzania, Cairo, Egypt; Naoshima, Japan; Belize; Oaxaca, Mexico; Ottawa, Canada and Uganda.