The King of a Forbidden Kingdom
Our family has always had a fascination with and desire to visit places where the traditional culture is intact and before being discovered by big corporate brands.
We had heard that the remote “Forbidden Kingdom “of Mustang at the top of Nepal which was restricted until 1992 was going to allow visitors for the first time. Our research brought us to Mountain Travel Sobek aka MT Sobek. To enter the kingdom you had to visit with an authorized party that had the coveted permit. MT Sobek was arranging an expeditionary trek which we took.
Nepal assigned a cultural officer to accompany the trek to make certain our impact on the local culture was minimal. Our MT Sobek leader was Cathy Ann Taylor. A bright and energetic spirit and perfect for this ‘maiden’ trek. Cathy assembled a happy and competent local team. Our in and out trek was about 150 miles over a couple of weeks. We camped in animal pens, along rivers, temple grounds, farms, tiny settlements. This was a feudal and very poor society that had not altered its habits in 500 years. There was nothing with wheels. Carrying anything was done with a strong back or animals. Their daily wage was the same. A common reason for retirement, often in the early 30’s, were bad knees from carrying heavy loads.
We were told there was a chance to meet the ‘King’ of Mustang either at the capital Lo Manthang, in which we camped, or along the way through the Kaligandaki valley between Annapurna and Dhawalagiri. Cathy was carrying a bottle of scotch whiskey as a gift. On our return journey, in the distance, we saw riders on four horses and one rider looked like he had a rifle strapped over his shoulder. To be traveling with a guard looked important. There was a lot of wind and dust. Our faces were covered with silk scarves for protection.
As we got closer we became aware that this was the King: King Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista and Queen, her aide and the armed guard. (It was a very old rifle and we wondered if it could work.) Cathy presented our gift, scarves were exchanged. We were overjoyed. The attached photo is of the King sitting on his horse and me, too excited to think of courteously lowering the scarf from my face.
The entire adventure was an incredible souvenir and memory. It was even more poignant for us. Our daughter and son-in-law accompanied Kris and me on this adventure. He died several years later in a skiing accident. We are so happy we had this together.
Cathy Ann lives not far from us and we see her from time to time on Mount Tamalpais.
Peter Gordon, MT Sobek Guest
MT Sobek Trip: Forbidden Kingdom of Mustang, 1994