Shinta Mani Mustang: A Mystical Hideaway for Adventurous Travelers

The hotel was born out of designer Bill Bensley’s “40-year love affair with Nepal”

December 7, 2023 9:22 am
Shinta Mani Mustang
"When the opportunity arose to build a Shinta Mani Hotel, I jumped for joy," says Bill Bensley.
Elise Hassey

The Mustang district of Nepal is a place where magic and mysticism swirl like the clouds over the Himalayan peaks. Known as “the land beyond the mountains,” it rests in the shadows of the famous Annapurna massif. 

This isolated and sparsely populated region bordering Tibet is home to more Tibetan Buddhists than any other part of the country. And at the new Shinta Mani Mustang, sitting high above the village of Jomsom in Lower Mustang, the local culture is reflected in every corner. From the Tibetan doctor on site to the daily excursions to the hotel’s color palette — it’s all rooted in Mustang tradition.

The third Shinta Mani outpost from beloved Bangkok hotel designer Bill Bensley, the retreat is a joint venture with Sherpa Hospitality Group and a love letter to the country. “I’ve visited Nepal over 100 times since 1984,” says Bensley. “So over my 40-year love affair with Nepal, the Mustang Valley was only approachable by way of a one-month trek, which I never managed to fit in. But I’ve been collecting Robert Powell’s powerful paintings of Mustang since the ’80s, so when the opportunity arose to build a Shinta Mani Hotel, I jumped for joy.”

Powell’s paintings are sprinkled throughout the hallways and 29 suites of this all-inclusive mountain getaway. Just one of the thoughtful touches found throughout Shinta Mani Mustang that came directly from Bensley.

Shinta Mani Mustang interior
One of the 29 suites at Shinta Mani Mustang.
Elise Hassey

Rooms with tigers, goats and mountain views

This hotel isn’t brand-spankin’ new, but a total refurb from Moksha Mustang, which handed over the key to Bensley in 2022. Built in the traditional Thakali ethnic group style, this U-shaped building has a local stone exterior and stacks of sticks piled on its flat roof. Inside, the timber and stone motif carries through, punctuated by antiques including saddle rugs from the community and ornately painted Tibetan chests.

Bensley’s whimsical style and colorful choices are most evident in the cozy suites, each of which is marked with hanging yak-tail fur, typically used by Himalayan shamans. The majority of the rooms come with floor-to-ceiling views of Mount Nilgiri, which, on a clear day, may make you gasp, tear up or both. In mine, a playful rug depicting a tiger covered the wooden floor, a nod to the animal’s place in local Buddhist monasteries. An orange Hermès throw blanket dotted with goats sat at the end of the bed, and local yak fur adorned the mini-bar and upcycled tableside stools.

The village of Lubra, one of the few Bon Buddhist strongholds on Earth.
Shinta Mani Mustang

Adventurous travelers will love the two-mile-high hikes and village walks

Hovering at around 9,500 feet in elevation, hikes here will take your breath away for a few reasons. As part of Shinta Mani Mustang’s all-inclusive, five-day package, guests set off each morning for daily excursions. One day, you’ll drive over a rock-covered riverbed to a prayer flag-strewn suspension bridge. After a short walk, you’ll end up in the village of Lubra, one of the few Bon Buddhist strongholds on Earth, where you’ll wander its alleyways, marvel at a sacred 800-year-old walnut tree and hike to the small monastery at the top of the hill. Another day, you’ll climb 2,300 feet to an emerald lake overlooking Nilgiri and the edges of the Annapurna range. And on the next, you’ll drive to the apple-filled village of Marpha, where a local chef will invite you into her home for a traditional Thakali meal and a wander around the village’s monastery.

Nilgiri Restaurant
Nilgiri Restaurant
Elise Hassey

Lunch on the monastery roof? Or lakeside picnic?

There’s no better wake-up call than a warm cup of butter tea or chai delivered to your door. Breakfasts overlook the mountain vistas with crêpes, fresh fruit and house-made granola accompanied by apple juice from the hotel’s very own orchard. But it’s lunchtime that really steals the show. During daily excursions, the hotel’s team will head out first to curate unique dining setups, including a three-course meal on the rooftop of a monastery and a lakeside picnic complete with sparkling wine, cheeses, meats and fruits. Back at the hotel, as the sun sets over the mountains, grab a cocktail mixed with juniper picked on your morning hike at Aara bar. In the Nilgiri restaurant, the Nepali chef creates a rotating set menu every five days. One night, you may be feasting on five innovative momo courses, and the next, a “foraging and farmers” night, with locally-grown mushroom risotto and an apple crumble baked with the orchard’s apples.

The Wellness Center
Can’t beat the views from the Wellness Center.
Elise Hassey

After a day of sightseeing, the Wellness Center is a welcome reprieve

Tsewang Gyurme Gurung is no stranger to aching feet and tired limbs. The hotel’s “amchi” is an 11th-generation Tibetan doctor and a Mustang local with a small practice set up in Jomsom. You’ll meet with him early on in your stay, and while the wellness program here may be a bit woo-woo, he’ll evaluate you by checking your pulse, tongue and ears before giving you a customized list of foods to avoid and exercises to try back home. While on the property, he’ll suggest a handful of treatments, including cupping, a trekker’s massage and what may be the world’s best reflexology foot massage.


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