The Story of Upper Mustang's Tiji Festival
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The Story of Upper Mustang's Tiji Festival

Swiss Family Treks Blog Posting

Located close to the Tibetan Border in the north, Upper Mustang is a remote trans-Himalayan region in Nepal. The former Kingdom of Lo, Upper Mustang, ceased to become a kingdom as recent as 2008. Opened for tourists since 1992, the inflow of tourists in this historical region is highly regulated. 

Mustangi people inhabit the upper valley. They are culturally close to the Tibetans. The lower Mustang valley remains inhabited by the Thakali people, one of the indigenous tribes of Nepal. 

Visiting Muktinath Temple (3900m), one of the Mukti-Kshetras, and the walled city of Lo-Manthang remains the major highlights of the Upper Mustang Tour.

About Tiji Festival
Tiji Festival is the grand Tibetan-Buddhist festival celebrated in the Lo-Manthang City of Upper Mustang. The festival remains endemic to the people of Upper Mustang. The term "Tiji" stands for “Tenchi." Both of these are the short forms of Tenpa Chirim, which means prayer for world peace.

The festival started over 300 years ago as a celebration of the victory of good over evil. The festival traces the folk history of Dorje Jono and Padmasambhava Guru Rinpoche, directly linked to Tibetan Buddhism. Dorje Jono (Vajrakila) is a popular deity in Vajrayana Buddhism. He defeated the evil forces to bring prosperity and acted on the instruction provided by Padmasambhava himself.

Every year, during May, the monks of Chhode monastery perform the special Vajrakila ritual in Lo Manthang. The festival started by the inhabitants of Lo Manthang honors the legacy of Dorje Jono and Padmasambhava. 

The festival undertakes a lengthy ritual that consists of prayer chants and colorful masked dances. The dances enact the historical battle between Dorje Jono and the evil forces.

The three-day festival begins with a peaceful dance, which escalates to a vibrant performance depicting the winning of the good over the evil. On the last day of the festival, performers disguise themselves as demons and gods and wear eccentric masks and horns called "Dhungchen."

Tiji Festival Celebration (16th-18th May 2023)
First Day 

The first day of the Tiji Festival commences at noon. The locals prepare to start the festival throughout the day. As soon as the festival begins, one can hear loud horn sounds from the Tibetan horns, Dhungchen, and the sound of the double-reeled horns, drums, and cymbals.

The entourage begins from the monastery, which includes local monks and performers. The monks head to the square and sit under the large Thangka (painting) hung on the southern wall of the square. After this, the masked dance "Tsa Chaam'' commences. This masked dance tells the story of Dorje Jono and his victory over evil.

Second Day 
The second day of the festival witnesses the monks performing “Nga Cham" dance. The second day tells the tale of Dorje Jono, who tried to return the demon to the Buddha realm. The performance sees female performers in their traditional attire and jewelry coming out to the main square. The second-day performance is the main practice that showcases the generation of celestial palaces and deities. 

Third and Last Day 
The third of the Tiji Festival is also the last day of the performance. It commences with the ceremonial music followed by the masked dance called "Rha Chaam.” This dance takes a vibrant beat, and the performance highlights the end of evil. 

As a closing ceremony, all the performers come out, and the scene gets filled with more music, dance, and shooting guns. The monk who enacts Dorjee Sonam throws an effigy made from Tsampa (barley), which represents the demon "Ma Tam Ru Ta.

Tiji Festival Trek Route
The Tiji Festival Trek begins at Jomsom, the headquarters of Mustang District. One can fly to Jomsom via Pokhara or take a long 10-hour road journey along the Kali Gandaki River to reach Jomsom. 

Mustang lies in the northern corridor of the Annapurna massif that completely shields the rain clouds from entering the region, making it a rain-shadow area. One can get to enjoy the mesmerizing view of Annapurna I (8091m) and Dhaulagiri peak (8167m) during this trek. 

Leaving Jomsom, the trail begins to climb north alongside the Kali Gandaki River. One will encounter a tremendous amount of undulating trail with many passes ranging from 3,500 meters to 4,200 meters. Cross the popular remote settlements of Kagbeni, Chele, Zhalte, Syangboche, Dhakmar, Lo Gekar, and Charang to reach Lo Manthang. 

Lo Manthang is a small settlement protected by walls on all sides. It is home to numerous Buddhist monasteries and a royal palace. Making a side-trip to visit the Muktinath Temple (3,800 m) makes one of the best highlights of this trek.

Permits and Cost for Tiji Festival Trek
Trekking in the restricted region of Upper Mustang requires a special permit. One must book the trip with a licensed trek agency to obtain a special permit. A minimum of 2 trekkers and a maximum of 30 trekkers can participate in a trek.

The special permit to enter Upper Mustang costs USD 500 per trekker for the first ten days. Each additional day costs USD 50. Besides the special permit, one must also obtain the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) permit. The ACAP permit costs around USD 30 per person.

Experienced trek guides and porters often accompany the trek to Upper Mustang. Taking a trekking guide along is a must because of the strict policy maintained by the Nepal Government. Individual trekkers are not allowed to trek in the restricted region.

Altitude Sickness during Tiji Festival Trek 
Altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a medical condition highlighting the difficulty in transporting enough oxygen in the body and brain. 

AMS is common in high-altitude regions where the amount of oxygen is low compared to the sea-level. The lack of oxygen or thin air can trigger altitude sickness in a person who has not acclimatized enough during the trek. 

Trekking in the high-altitude region comes with its complexities. HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) are two common altitude-related conditions that pose life-threatening situations. 

Tiji Festival Trek in the Upper Mustang region often encounters high-altitude passes. The highest point one reaches during the trek is 4,200 meters. Although a difficult trek, the chances of encountering altitude-related sickness is quite less in this trek. 

The instances of trekkers encountering AMS, HAPE, or HACE has been less or none in the region. The well-designed itinerary ensures that the trekkers get enough time to rest and acclimatize along the trek.

Key Information while Traveling in Upper Mustang Region 
The Tiji festival usually falls during May, a good time to travel in the Upper Mustang region. Besides, both spring and autumn offer the best weather conditions, including high accessibility, clear visibility, and warm days.

Spring in Nepal begins in March and lasts until mid-May while autumn begins in mid-September and lasts until November. Being a rain-shadow area, Upper Mustang remains accessible throughout the year. However, the region experiences harsh cold weather during winter (December to February), making it difficult to undertake the trek during the winter.

There are two ways to get to Mustang, by air and land. A 25-min long flight takes off from Pokhara Airport almost every day. One can enjoy the trans-Himalayan flight to Jomsom while witnessing the beautiful aerial view of Annapurna massif, Machhapuchhre, and the Kali Gandaki Gorge.

As an option, one can hire a jeep at Pokhara and drive almost 155km to reach Jomsom. The road leading to Jomsom goes past Beni Highway. From here, the trail climbs upstream along the Kali Gandaki River. One will get to witness the amazing site of Rupse Waterfall and Kali Gandaki Gorge. 

Electronic device charging will not be available throughout the trail. To facilitate year-round electricity supply, many teahouses have installed solar panels. Trekkers must carry extra batteries and power banks for the trek.

The accommodation provided during the trek is pretty basic except for a few villages such as Jomsom and Kagbeni. Rooms with twin bed sharing facilities and common toilets are available almost throughout the trail.

Trekkers must buy travel insurance before embarking on the Tiji Festival Trek. Although the cases of missing personnel, emergency evacuation, or rescue are almost none in the Upper Mustang region, trekkers must take proper precautions before embarking on this trek.

One can indulge in stamina-building exercises, hiking, and running to prepare for this trek. Walking miles of open-barren land on a warm day can often become difficult. Hence, preparing the body and mind beforehand often comes handy during the trek.

Trekking in the Upper Mustang trail requires minimum trek gear and equipment. One can purchase or even rent trek boots, thermals, down jackets, sunglasses, and other necessary gear and equipment in Kathmandu.

Overall, Tiji Festival Trek is a great option to explore the remote yet culturally rich part of Nepal. As an alternative, one can choose to climb on a pony throughout the trek or take a jeep ride.

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