Nepal isn’t the first destination to which the luxury-loving hotel junkie might turn, but 300 miles to the west of Everest lies the ancient, long-forbidden kingdom of Mustang, where a hotel grail awaits. Though the area opened to travelers just over three decades ago, the red carpet to this isolated region in northern Nepal was finally rolled out in August with the debut of Shinta Mani Mustang.
Masterminded by architect Bill Bensley and hospitality guru Jason M. Friedman, the 29-suite resort was Asia’s most anticipated opening of 2023 for good reason. Previously, if you wanted to visit this frozen-in-time locale and witness pure Tibetan Buddhist culture, your lodging options were $10-a-night guesthouses or campsites. Shinta Mani Mustang delivers a never-before-seen level of luxury, and much more.
Bensley has designed over 200 hotels, including Capella Ubud, Bali and Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra, India. But the select properties in his signature Shinta Mani hotel collection are special, combining his escapist sensibilities with regenerative initiatives that support local communities and preserve the surrounding environments. Mustang is just the third property in the collection and the first outside of Cambodia.
The fortresslike stone-and-wood hotel sits perched on an escarpment high above tiny Jomsom Airport. A Jeep can ferry guests to the massive wooden front doors in five minutes, but adventurous types will opt to arrive on foot, hiking 20 minutes through the Old West-feeling town, then up a rocky, winding trail that passes a gold-domed stupa and shaggy goats.
If it weren’t for the towering snow-capped peaks looming in the distance, you’d forget you were in Nepal. Hidden in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, Mustang borders the Tibetan Plateau and has a distinctive, windswept red-desert landscape. Its language and culture more closely resemble those found in neighboring Tibet.
One could easily remain cocooned within Shinta Mani’s luxurious, art-covered walls, ogling dramatic Nilgiri peaks from floor-to-ceiling windows. But the resort is more base camp than retreat. Friedman spent years working with local operating partner Sherpa Hospitality Group (the same team behind Mountain Lodges of Nepal) to develop deeply immersive experiences that reveal the best-kept secrets of this final Himalayan frontier. The core five-night program includes mysterious treks to alpine glacier lakes and a visit to a medieval village believed to be the last place in Mustang where the pre-Buddhist religion of Bon is still practiced.
Guests return to unparalleled pampering rooted in Tibetan traditions. Friedman tapped a local 11th-generation Tibetan amchi doctor (the same one who developed the wellness programming for Amankora in Bhutan) to create spa therapies based on indigenous herbs. And he has built a network of foragers and farmers to supply native ingredients for theatrical meals, from a nine-course momo feast to a teahouse-inspired dinner showcasing dishes such as yak-meat-studded Sherpa stew.
If Mustang casts its spell over you—and Friedman cautions it will—you can extend your stay and venture into the more secluded Upper Mustang region. Multiday treks and horseback rides, including a chance to explore sky caves decorated with centuries-old Buddhist sculptures, can be arranged all the way up to the Tibetan border, with chef-prepared meals and pop-up glamping sites along the way.
If You Go: The best way to reach Mustang is via a private charter plane or helicopter to Jomsom from Kathmandu or Pokhara. There are also commercial flights from Pokhara except in the monsoon. Friedman recommends travelers book a six-hour Jeep transfer for at least one way of the Pokhara- Shinta Mani trip. The adventurous journey takes in cascading waterfalls, prayer flag–draped suspension bridges, hot springs, ancient Buddhist chortens (shrine monuments), and monasteries. Guests should allow for one extra night in Kathmandu prior to international departure due to unpredictable weather. Dwarika’s Hotel is an architectural marvel and the capital’s top stay. Shinta Mani Mustang, doubles from $1,800 per night, all-inclusive
published 2023-09-23 19:00:00