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Everest with Mountain Madness

Into Mustang

All pho­tos by Deana Zabaldo

Once part of west­ern Tibet and lat­er sub­sumed by Nepal, Mus­tang is an ancient king­dom on the cusp of change. Tantric Bud­dhism still thrives, yet the first cof­fee shops have sprung up. Most peo­ple are busy with the grain har­vest, but many young peo­ple have left the area in search of bet­ter work. Fif­teenth cen­tu­ry deities are wor­shipped and appeased at dark altars and every home has a pri­vate prayer room, yet cell phones, road devel­op­ment, and polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion are equal­ly at the fore. It has been a mag­i­cal and chal­leng­ing trek into an ancient cul­ture meet­ing the mod­ern world. 

Bright orange and white mud-splashed chort­ens mark the entry to vil­lages in Mus­tang. Hous­es are built snug­ly togeth­er in the Tibetan style, pro­tect­ing against attacks of weath­er and invaders. A labyrinth of nar­row alleys is formed, with door­ways marked by shaman­is­tic con­coc­tions of ani­mal skulls, spir­it catch­ers, grass, and wood to ward off evil spir­its. Rooftops are piled with fire­wood and tall ver­ti­cal wind-whipped prayer flags. Sun and wind are relent­less here, giv­ing every­thing a hard weath­ered qual­i­ty, even the people. 

Women wear dark ankle-length dress­es with long sleeve shirts and striped wool aprons around their hips. They car­ry sick­les out to the fields and spend the day cut­ting bar­ley and buck­wheat. Men are in more west­ern type pants and shirts as they stack hay, ply thresh­ing machines, or dri­ve herds mixed of sheep, goats, cows, and hors­es. Peo­ple smile and eas­i­ly return our waves and greet­ings, but they are gen­er­al­ly shy of cam­eras, so if they allow a pic­ture we make sure to share the images, which every­one seems to enjoy.

We hike long days, most­ly in two direc­tions – UP or DOWN. We are reward­ed with expan­sive views of Nil­giri, Tili­cho, Thorong Peak, the Snow Yak, and occa­sion­al­ly Dhaula­giri (the 7th high­est moun­tain in the world) as we jour­ney across the high plateau.

~ MM Guide Deana Zabaldo

Dhaula­giri, the 7th high­est moun­tain in the world

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