The vibe: A thoughtfully designed retreat with luxury hospitality in a less visited part of Nepal
Location: Marpha-5, Jomsom 33100, Nepal | View on Google Maps
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The AFAR take
A collaboration between Nepal’s Sherpa Hospitality Group and Bangkok-based designer Bill Bensley, Shinta Mani Mustang is the first luxury lodge to open in Lower Mustang, a northern Nepalese district with Tibetan roots dating back to the 14th century. Bensley transformed a modest hillside hotel into a design-centric hideaway with a nod to the vernacular Tibetan Buddhist architecture. The retreat sits on more than 17 acres of land covered in alpine shrubs and a 2,000-tree apple orchard. It overlooks the Nilgiri Himal mountain range and the village of Jomsom, the gateway to the once-forbidden kingdom of Upper Mustang.
Bensley’s eco-friendly design incorporates upcycled wooden chairs and tables from the former hotel and local furnishings, including a hand-carved wooden minibar and copper Tibetan boxes for plastic-free bathroom amenities. Throughout the lodge, floor-to-ceiling windows frame views of the three snow-topped Nilgiri Himal peaks. Daily excursions are included in the room rate; don’t miss a hike with a Sherpa guide to a sacred lake, monastery, or ancient Buddhist village.
Who’s it for?
Couples and solo travelers who are up for off-road adventures (think hour-long car rides over rock-filled river beds and unpaved routes to remote Tibetan Buddhist villages).
Lower Mustang, a region bordering Upper Mustang and Tibet, features some of the world’s highest peaks, with sandstone cliffs that are home to ancient meditation caves.
Getting there is no easy feat. Guests can take a private helicopter—the ride is an hour from Kathmandu for $4,800 per person or 25 minutes from Pokhara for $2,700. Morning commercial flights run from mid-September to early December and between mid-March and early June, before the region’s famously strong winds pick up during the monsoon season from June through August. The route is Kathmandu to Pokhara (25 minutes), then on to Jomsom (another 20 minutes). But expect frequent cancellations due to unpredictable weather. Though flying is recommended when weather permits, visitors can also make the six-hour drive to Jomsom via unpaved, rock-filled roads.
Bensley transformed a modest hillside hotel into a design-centric hideaway with a nod to the vernacular Tibetan Buddhist architecture.
The hotel’s 29 stone-walled suites range from 380 to 560 square feet; all feature mountain views. They’re warmed by cozy touches like Nepalese artisan-made pillows and furniture lined with locally sourced yak fur. Sanskrit poems are etched into bedroom walls; other playful touches include a cashmere orange bed runner decorated with black and white goats and a handmade rug with a Tibetan tiger motif on black timber floors. Each morning, a knock at my door was accompanied by a delivery of hot chai.
The food and drink
Apple juice from the hotel’s orchard kicks off breakfast on the spacious stone terrace. Fuel up with cow butter tea, chia pudding, house-made granola, or buckwheat crepes with eggs and bacon. Lunch is served during excursions in the great outdoors: Picture multicourse meals of pan-seared trout and pumpkin soup on a monastery rooftop or by an emerald lake.
Dinner takes place at the lodge’s Nilgiri Restaurant, where Nepali chefs create themed menus with regional ingredients and preparations. A Silk Road–themed dinner featured Tibetan laphing (a spicy cold noodle dish) and tandoori chicken, while on another night, five courses of regional momo dumplings were filled with beets, cheese, and chocolate. Meanwhile, Aara Bar blends locally inspired cocktails, such as the Marpha Appletini made with apple brandy from the neighboring village.
Staff and service
The hotel is almost entirely locally run; about a third of the staff is from the Mustang region. Each guest gets a butler and a guide, and staff are genuine, attentive, and knowledgeable.
No rooms or facilities cater to travelers with disabilities.
The spa features mountaintop views from two treatment rooms. It’s led by Tsewang Gyurme Gurung, an 11th-generation “amchi,” or practitioner of Tibetan medicine—one of only two in Mustang. When he’s not seeing patients at his Jomsom clinic, he advises guests on treatments with local oils and herbs that might include cupping, deep tissue massage, or foot reflexology.