Belgian photographer Bernard Castelein has travelled extensively in Nepal, particularly in the kingdom of Mustang. Straddling the border between north east Nepal and Tibet, Mustang is an ancient and starkly beautiful land - rough, eroded and barren yet extremely colourful with yellow, grey and red cliffs dotted with painted houses and chortens. Treks through the Kali Ghandaki river valley in lower Mustang pass through unspoilt villages and Buddhist gompas, set against the impressive Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massifs and the snowcapped peaks of Nilgiri and Tilicho.
So enthralled was Bernard when he trekked the famous "Annapurna circuit" in Lower Mustang, that he decided to return soon after and explore the northern district as well; "A phenomenal bonus of my trip was the Duk-Chu festival in Upper Mustang's capital, Lo-Manthang. After three days of praying the monks walk out of the Chhodde Gompa and dance for a prosperous New Year. Being agle to take pictures of the monks blowing Lawa's, the long trumpets, on top of the Gompa was the photographic highlight".
Mustang is the most restricted area of Nepal and visiting it requires an expensive permit from an approved tour organisation (the annual permit quota is one thousand). Trekking here is physically demanding, with high altitudes and low temperatures combined with long distances to cover and camping equipment to carry.
"The counterpoint of all these inconveniences", says Bernard, "is that one is rewarded with all the best trekking in Nepal can provide; a real feeling of being in the wild, an unmatched natural beauty and, at the same time, the discrete but ubiquitous presence of Buddhism and Tibetan culture".
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