In life, energies, emotions and consequences are a result of choice. On an ordinary day, it might just be a mundane decision of whether to take the car or the taxi. On a less ordinary day, I would be staring out of a window, looking at the imposing Himalayan mountains at 2,743 metres above sea level and asking myself: “What have I gotten myself into?”
I had flown 3,730km from home, traversed three airports, endured three airplane flights (with a flight delay) and three car rides to get to where I am – Shinta Mani Mustang in Jomsom, Nepal.
I sat in the silence of my high-ceilinged suite at Shinta Mani Mustang – A BENSLEY Collection, marvelling at the majestic snow-capped peaks of Mount Nilgiri. I snapped out of the hypnosis and brought my gaze back to my suite, peppered with the creative touches of famed hotel designer Bill Bensley.
My abode for the sojourn was a marvel of quiet luxury and comfort. Rich earthy tones and grey stone walls reminiscent of a traditional Tibetan home paid tribute to the heritage and culture of Mustang. The walls were adorned with prints of the works of American painter Robert Powell, inspired by the artist’s frequent visits to the region. The luxurious details were understated, hinted at by the orange-hued bed throw hand-woven with felt from Hermès, and mini-bar and tableside stools topped with luscious black yak hair.
The expansive bathroom beckoned with a bathtub that overlooks the ethereal Mount Nilgiri. Blocks of pink Himalayan salt lined the bathtub, tempting me with a much-needed dip after the long journey.
But, I had to leave; an adventure awaited me. The warm accommodation was but a part of a fully inclusive experience prepared by Shinta Mani Mustang.
The hotel curates an array of activities and experiences in the Lower Mustang area – according to the preferences of each hotel guest – as part of the stay. My activities were led by my personal Bensley Adventure Guide.
As I was soon to find out, the awe-inspiring beauty of Mount Nilgiri told only a portion of the tale of the Mustang region.
Once known as the Last Forbidden Kingdom in the Himalayas, Mustang was only opened to tourism in 1992. Part of the Annapurna Conservation Area, Mustang lies near the Tibetan Chinese border and is divided into Upper and Lower Mustang. Upper Mustang is known for its trekking trails, monasteries, caves and local tribes while Lower Mustang is famous for its natural scenery.
It would take an extended vacation to discover all that Mustang has to offer. I had but three days to explore its haunting beauty.
At first glance, the surrounds painted a picture of desolate valleys, rugged canyons and deep gorges. The harsh winds showed no mercy, whipping up fine dust and sand on intrepid trekkers braving the challenging landscape. Beyond the raw and untamed wilderness, though, lies a deep Tibetan connection that has remained intact to date.
The geographical proximity and historical ties with Tibet manifest in the form of ancient monasteries, Tibetan Buddhist lifestyles, religion and culture. My first taste of the local life took place in the quaint Marpha Village. I thronged past stone streets lined with apple trees to the kitchen of Mrs Kamala, a Thakali chef and civic leader, who whipped up a classic Thakali meal for me before my eyes. Mrs Kamala poured her heart into the dishes, of which the flavours are homely and comforting.
I delved deeper into the heart of ancient rituals and traditions at the Dhekep festival, an annual colourful event in Mustang where monks donned masks that represent deities and performed a dance to drive away negativity and usher in prosperity and bountiful harvests for the locals. It was a surreal feeling to be immersed in the celebration, sitting among the locals, holding a cup of hot tea to warm my cold hands whilst trying yak meat for the first time.
An Elevated Dining
At a remote region such as Mustang, haute cuisine is the last thing one would or should expect. But that does not mean my dining experience at Shinta Mani Mustang is compromised.
Every evening, Chef Krishna Subedi serves up doses of tradition in the form of a themed meal. On one particular night, the theme is Trekker’s Night and as the name suggests, the dishes are inspired by what the local trekkers eat – dishes the likes of Sherpa Soup, Mustang Potato and Braised Mutton.
But the morning breakfast was what I looked forward to each day. My ever-attentive personal butler, Abishek, would be on hand to take my order for an a la carte breakfast. From shakshuka to homemade granola to wheat pancakes, it almost felt decadent to be indulging in such a hearty meal at a place where common ingredients are not so common. Yet, the breakfast provided the soulful recharge I needed to kick-start the day.
Soul Soothing, Body Healing
Nature was not the only one that worked its healing magic on me. A Tibetan-Nepalese amchi, or healer, by the name of Tsewang Gyurme Gurung sits at Shinta Mani Mustang as its in-house wellness consultant, on top of managing his own practice in Jomsom. He hails from 11 generations of healers and is well-versed in traditional SoRig, the ancient Tibetan science of healing as well as Western medicine, having attended medical college for six years in India.
Just by taking my pulse on my wrist, the amchi could tell I was anaemic (I really am) and had a habit of keeping late nights, much to my amazement and enough to convince the sceptic in me. The thorough assessment – part of a unique holistic wellness experience by Shinta Mani Mustang – was eye-opening.
To quote American author Zig Ziglar, difficult paths often lead to beautiful destinations. The journey to Jomsom was by no means an easy one, and it was an unplanned one at that. But in the end, it was utterly and unexpectedly rewarding. Just open your mind and it will take you places – in my case, Shinta Mani Mustang.
Prices for an all-inclusive hotel stay at Shinta Mani Mustang – A BENSLEY Collection start at US$1,800 per night (minimum 5 nights) for a couple. For more information on Shinta Mani Mustang – A BENSLEY Collection, visit its website.