Kagbeni, with its views of mighty mountains, seems untouched by time. It is like a portal to the past, where the culture as well as houses have remained intact for hundreds of years. It is quite an experience.
The village of Kagbeni awaits with its bold beauty far from the bustling town squares, temples, and dance festivals of the towns and cities of Nepal. Officially, Kagbeni is a town that connects Lower and Upper Mustang. It is situated by the Kali Gandaki River at the base of the Muktinath Valley. But spiritually, Kagbeni is much like a Tibetan community that is caught in a time wrap. The windswept deserts of the upper Himalayas have a certain allure. Nothing in this community is excessive; there are no frills or levity to hide behind when you enter Kagbeni.
Legend has it that Kagbeni was founded when two villages were destroyed by a demon that had the head of a lion and the body of a serpent. The surviving villagers came together and founded a new village, in the Kali Gandaki Valley, which is modern-day Kagbeni. Kagbeni is the gateway to Upper Mustang and in many ways very similar to Tibet in many areas.
Fortress Ruins of Kagbeni
The centrepieces of Kagbeni are the ruins of its fortress. In the second half of the 16th century, before the establishment of the village, the king of Muktinath Valley built his son a fortress at the convergence point of four trade routes. This strategic location allowed the king to levy taxes on the commodities and animals that passed through the valley.
Kagbeni’s old mud and stone houses
With the influx of tourism in recent years, new buildings and hotels have nudged their way between Kagbeni’s old mud and stone houses. However, take a walk around the old part of the town surrounding the fortress, and one discovers buildings that haven’t substantially changed for hundreds of years.
Above Kagbeni lies a series of cave ruins that date back to prehistoric times. There are more than 10,000 abandoned cave settlements throughout Mustang, dug into the sides of cliffs. Nearly all evidence about their history has been erased with time.
The Red Monastery
In addition to the fortress, one of Kagbeni’s most recognisable landmarks is its Red Monastery. Built at the confluence of two rivers, which in Buddhism signifies a holy place, the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Monastery was founded in 1429 by a renowned Buddhist scholar from Tibet.