Mustang: The Most Isolated Country in the World

Where Tibet meets India

 
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There's no link between the bewildered horses of North America and the kingdom of Mustang, situated at 5,000 meters (15,000 feet) altitude in Himalaya, southward off Tibet.

Mustang has a surface of a few thousands square kilometers, 80 km long and 45 km at the widest point, in a barren landscape.

The Buddhist Mustang ("fertile plain" in Tibetan) or Kingdom of Lo is now part of the Kingdom of Nepal and one of its districts, in the north-east of Nepal, bordering the Chinese Tibet.

Even if in the XVIIIth century, Nepal annexed Mustang, there is still a king (raja or gyelpo).

The connection of this country with the rest of the world is made on foot or on the yak's saddle, through the Thak Khola gorge, the deepest in the world (7,000 m).

The country has around 9,000 inhabitants, Tibetans or related Thakali people, whose main occupation is animal husbandry (especially yak, but also sheep and horses), but they also practice some agriculture.

The economy is based on barter.

Most of the population is concentrated along the Gandaki River and its tributaries.

The capital Lo Manthang has 1,200 inhabitants and is situated at 4,300 m (13,000 feet).

The rest of the population lives in two other cities and 23 villages.

The houses are made of thickset soil put in wooden formworks, the way concrete is poured in modern constructions.

The national wear is chuba, made by men who braid it from yak wool, the fabric signaling the tribal root and the social class.

The population does not use matches; the fire is started by rubbing a flint stone by a piece of metal.

People know little about the outside world.

Tall walls or rectangular bastions with towers surround the capital, settled in a moon-like landscape.

The climate is cold and dry, 250-400 mm of rainfall annually, due to a position of the country in a rain shadow, and the land is almost destitute of trees; pastures are scarce in the desert rocky terrain.

Wheat and barley are cultivated with great difficulty, the lots being crossed by irrigation channels, which bring the water of the torrents to the fields plained by ancient glaciers.

In change, the higher amount of sun radiation at this height make the cereals grow faster.

From cereals is made the bread, called tsampa.

There are no physicians, and their duties are accomplished by those knowing plant folk medicine.

Fortunately, the cold and high UV radiation kills most germs, that's why epidemics are unknown here.

But the hard life makes a 60 years old to be considered extremely aged, and few reach this age.

The craft arts of these highlanders are well developed.

Foreign tourists are allowed to visit Mustang only since 1991, but tourism to Upper Mustang is very restricted.

A special permit for entering the zone costs $700 per 10 days per person.

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By    1 Feb 2007, 15:47 GMT