Sheltered by some of the highest mountains in the world — Annapurna and Dhaulagiri — and bordering China on the Tibetan plateau, hides an ancient kingdom called Mustang, or Land of Lo. The kingdom is often confused with the mythical Shangri-La. The capital of the Mustang kingdom, Lo Manthang, is home to the Loba people, and its walled city is considered by some scholars to be the best preserved medieval fortress in the world. It is a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Thanks in part to its ancestral location — and because it has been forbidden to foreigners until as recently as 1992 — Mustang has retained its ancient culture. Though its capital is located in Nepal, it is one of the last strongholds of traditional Tibetan life left in the world. It remains a restricted region that is difficult to access. Foreigners must obtain special permits and pay high rates to visit it.
Photographer David Rengel visited the region recently to document the culture and observe its long-preserved way of life. Part of the project was realized while he began filming a documentary alongside producer and director by Larry Levene called “The Last Lost Kingdom” for the production company Es.Docu.
The lower part of Mustang yields more moist land and is rich in vegetation, while the more arid land in upper Mustang makes agricultural life a bit harder.
For centuries, caravans roamed the Kali Gandaki gorge between regions of Tibet, China and India with salt, yak wool, cereals, dried meat, spices and other goods on the so-called Salt Road. A road is being built along this route that will directly connect Mustang with China. When the road is completed, it will become one of the most accessible corridors of the Himalayas, and Mustang’s inhabitants’ lives may rapidly change with the influx of foreigners. Many of the young Loba people are waiting expectantly and anxiously for the road’s completion, but many older residents are hesitant about what it will mean for their culture and identity.