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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Dinner with His Majesty, the King of Mustang…

Steve & the King of Mustang

I’d been to Mustang many times before, and our groups had always been invited to have tea with the king in his palace in Lo Manthang.  Until recently when the number of groups to Mustang has mushroomed, this was pretty much a de rigeur event.  Nevertheless, I always felt that our group received something resembling special treatment for our “tea ceremony,” owing perhaps to the many groups that we’ve sent there over the years, my being married to a Nepali and speaking the language, etc.

Then everything changed.  The king’s nephew, Tsewang, whom I’d known since we first met at his Tsarang home in 1994, decided to use his great command of English, his ease with Westerners, and most critically, his connections to seemingly everyone in Mustang, including Their Majesties, his uncle and aunt, to complement his antiquities business with guiding treks in his native Mustang.  We jumped on the chance to have him guide our groups, and I co-led his first trek with us in October of 2010.

All along the trail, all the Lobas (as the people of Mustang are called) knew and greeted him.  A week into the trek I finally asked him if he’d ever run into anyone in Mustang (total population 9,500) that he didn’t know.  After a long pause, and some chin rubbing, he finally admitted, “Yes, two or three times.  But they were nomads who lived in camps, and I knew their relatives.”  Even though he was from the royal family, nobody treated him with undue deference.  Respect, yes.  Deference, no.  He had an easy rapport with them.

While many groups, historically at least, have had tea and a short chat with the king, almost no groups have been invited to dinner at the palace.  We were, and what a treat it was.  We even got to taste the rice beer known as chang made by Her Majesty!  All through the evening, I kept remembering the words I’d heard from Tom Brokaw when he spoke at a reception for the king in New York: “By virtue of my profession, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens, and other heads of state the world over.  But rarely have I enjoyed any meeting more than the dinner my friends and I enjoyed at the palace in Lo Manthang.” 

These days more and more groups venture into Mustang, where the numbers this year will surpass the 3,000 mark for the first time.  But none of them have access to the entrée afforded our groups by virtue of Tsewsang’s leadership, and his connection to people all through this Old World corner of Tibet in Nepal.


~Steve Conlon
Above the Clouds


Lo Manthang prayer flag
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Tsewang, addressing his uncle, the King, in the Mustang Royal Palace

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It is the combination of mountains and people that have long made Nepal one of the most treasured adventure travel destinations on the planet.