The Pristine Jewels of Mustang

Mustang is a popular touristic destination in north-western Nepal, and places like JOMSOM, MARPHA, KAGBENI and MUKTINATH are some of the most treasured sites in the region. These areas are frequented by many travelers not only due to the region's natural beauty, but also because of the cultural and religious significance these locations hold. However, what most travelers will be unaware of, is that these are not the only places in the region that hold such kind of treasure.  Other less explored areas of Mustang promise beauty and culture too, in fact, on a completely different level than the more popular locations do. If you're a travel enthusiast, enjoy adventure, novelty and cannot resist your wanderlust anymore, we encourage you take this once in a lifetime opportunity and discover a whole different side of Mustang.  You won't regret it.

DHUMBA LAKE

At the base of Mount Nilgiri, lies a clear water, turquoise lake famously known as Dhumba Lake, elevated at approximately 2900 meters above sea level (masl). According to legend, the lake is believed to have once turned red on its own. Several Tibetan Buddhist priests at the time, performed lengthy purification ceremonies on the lake to get the waters back to the color it is today. Ever since then, the Dhumba, which is decorated with countless prayer flags even now, has been considered a holy lake that is so pure, that praying by the pale blue and green waters is believed to bring positive energy into one's life.

Getting to the lake by foot requires a moderate amount of effort for most. The Dhumba Lake is roughly 5.5 kilometers from Jomsom, Mustang. Travelers can begin their trek from Jomsom Bus Park where, after crossing a wooden bridge, they will find a sign board pointing towards Dhumba Lake and Thini Village. The village is approximately 5 kilometers from the bus stop and is the first milestone of the trek towards the sacred lake, which locals believe is also the spot where serpent deities (naag) reside.

On arrival to Thini, also well-known as Thini gaon (2860 masl), travelers will firstly notice numerous apple orchards and neatly scattered, quaint mud houses. Most of these houses belong to the Thakalis from the Thakali caste, an ethnolinguistic caste from the Mustang region, who originated from this tiny village. Thiniis a historically significant village with historicanecdotes dating back to before the 16th century when it was believed to be ruled by the three Thakali brothers of the Thin royal family. Thinigaon was a well-respected village back in the day, and all the villages of the area were to pay their tributes to the Thin family and the "three-eyed-king". It is believed that in the earlier days, the village also overlooked the old salt trade route between Nepal and Tibet. Besides its rich history, the village is known today for its picturesque natural landscape and complex biodiversity. And these gifts are a matter of pride for the locals who consider their village to be a "living museum" in the mountains, a tiny village blessed with several attractions.

Travelling further north, just an extra half kilometer from Thini,are the Dhumba Village and the Dhumba Lake. The lakeside is an ideal location from where one may get a close-up view of the snow-clad peaks and the rest of the valley. However, for an even more arresting view of the area, travelers may hike uphill, for around fifteen to twenty minutes, to get to the Kuchup Terenga Gompa, which is a local gompa or stupa that initiates its religious ceremonies using the holy waters from the Dhumba Lake.

Finally, beyond this region is the Marpha Village, another Thakali village, famous for its apples and apricots, and is also a great place to visit for thosewho wish to further their trek in the Mustang region.

BHURCHHATO, SEKONG AND TITI LAKES

When their waters are perfectly still, the Bhurchhato and Sekong Lakes of Mustang, just like oversized mirrors, each reflect two snow-capped mountains of the Annapurna Range, the nearby evergreen trees, the dirty hills and the vast, limitless sky. These lakes, which are located at an altitude of approximately 2725masl, take up an area of roughly 2.5 km^2. The Bhurchhato Lake is around 500 meters long and 50 meters in width, and the Sekong is approximately 150 meters in length and 20 meters in width. Both these lakes reflect the Nilgiri Summit in the east and the Dhawlagiri Summit in the west and are in close proximity to the trail leading to the Dhaulagiri Icefall. This trail is one of most popular but difficult ones of the region.

The Bhurchhato and Sekong lakes are approximately 30 minutes uphill from Boksikhola on the Beni-Jomsom road. Trekkers may begin their journey to the holy lakes by foot from Thasang Village. The village is situated along the well-known Annapurna trekking routeand the neighboring villages, which include Khobang, Larjung, Naurikot and Tukuche, are all collectively called "Thasang" by the local Thakali people, who like in Thini, are primary inhabitants.

Both lakes areprotected through the Annapurna Conservation Area Project under the King MahendraTrust for Nature Conservation, as are the numerous other lakes and natural areas of the region. Conservation of the lakes, which are habitat areas for wild birds and animals,like the barking deer, have been listed as a priority by the villagers and the local village council. Hence, bird and animal hunting and even fishing in the lakes are prohibited. However, interestingly, the area,  Thasang Municipality of Mustang District, where the lakes are located, is also the primary location for the Yak blood drinking ceremony or festival, which takes place for roughly nine days at the end of every April.

Yaks living in the mountains feed on medicinal herbs and plants that are easily digested by these animals, but not by humans. So one of the practical reasons behind drinking yak blood is for its medicinal and healing properties. During the annual festival, several yaks are brought to a nearby camp, the nerves on their throats are slit,with careful care not to cause any fatal harm, and the blood that oozes out is drunk while still warm. Despite the precautions to prevent death, there are still a few accidental yak deaths, mostly due to blood loss from the slits. The yaks that die are used for meat and are a good option for those families of the region who are not allowed to kill animals for food. 

Moving forward from these two lakes, a few kilometers uphill by foot, horse or jeep, is the Titi Lake, another holy lake of Mustang.

To get to Titi Lake, travelers can make their way through Dhampu near Kalopani. The Titi trail, approximately 10 kilometers from Jomsom, starts on a dirt road with an evergreen pine forest along the way and the Dhaulagiri Icefall in the backdrop. Once travelers get to Titi Village, Titi Lake is just a few minutes' hike from the small village. The lake, at 2679 masl, is home to several migrant birds, some of which are on the verge of extinction, and is also a breeding ground for wild birds, reptiles and mammals of the mountainous region. This is also the only known location where the breeding activities of the Common moorhen and Mallard birds have been confirmed.

Additionally, the marshy Titi Lake is an ideal spot for bird watching in Mustang and is inhabited by different water birds. The lake, referred to as Titi Taal by the locals, a majority of whom are, again, from the Thakali caste, is reported to host roughly seven types of duck species that are almost extinct. This area, with the aid of the locals and the local village council, is protected by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project; their office is located in Jomson.

Titi is another ideal location for national and international tourists who want to explore Mustang's rich biodiversity. And with the advent of jeeps and motor vehicles, exploring the area has been made more convenient.  In fact, there are even five airports near Titi, of which the closest is the Baglung Airport, south of the Thakali village that lies against the backdrop of the Dhaulagiri, Nilgiri Himal Range and Annapurna.