View of Nilgiri and Annapurna range from The Red House. Photo by Everett Potter.
The Red House Lodge Kagbeni, Nepal
The village of Kagbeni, Nepal, is an ancient trading town on the old
salt route between Nepal and Tibet. The town is a warren of mud-walled
buildings, some topped with crude turrets, an architectural style
reminiscent of North Africa as much as Asia. The setting, however,
could only be in Nepal. Prayer flags flap in the incessant wind and
lammergeier (vultures with 10 foot wingspans) soar on the updrafts. The
town is set high above the banks of the Kali Gandaki River, which flows
down from the Tibetan plateau. The peaks of the Himalayas, especially
those of Nilgiri in the Annapurna Range, provide a sensational
backdrop. In the heart of this medieval town is The Red House Lodge, a simple
guesthouse frequented by trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit and those
Kagbeni is the last town in Lower Mustang. Step beyond
the gates of the town and you enter Upper Mustang, which requires a
special (and pricey) government issued permit. Upper Mustang is
isolated, a hard slog on foot or horseback from here.
The view into Upper Mustang. Photo by Everett Potter.
From the parapet outside my room at The Red House Lodge, I could look north
into Upper Mustang, at the broad Kali Gandaki Valley that flowed down
from Tibet flanked by the high peaks of the Himalayas. It was like a
scene from a Tintin comic, as awe inspiring a view as I have seen in
Within the Red House. Photo by Everett Potter.
But there’s more to The Red House Lodge than the view. It’s
a warren of rooms linked by narrow stairs and balconies. Creature
comforts are pretty much limited to a bed, a thin mattress (you'll need
a down bag, you're about 10,000 feet above sea level), and a trickle of
cold water in the bathroom. If you time it right, there will be hot
water, though in limited supply. Dogs howl outside your window at
night. A rooster will certainly awaken you at dawn.
Pema Thakuri. Photo by Everett Potter.
What makes it unique is the exceptional hospitality of Pema Thakuri,
one of the owners. And the fact that in the heart of the guesthouse,
which was once a monastery, is a gompa or temple, with an
enormous golden Buddha, nearly 400 years old, that dominates the tiny
space. The temple is dusty and dark, frescoes are flaking off the wall,
and Pema is grateful for any contribution toward her family’s efforts
to save the paintings. There may be other guesthouses with a gompa at
their center but they are few and far between. You don’t have to be a
Buddhist to find yourself convinced that something is magical here, hot
water or no.
The Buddha in the gompa. Photo by Everett Potter.
Red House Lodge, Kagbeni, Nepal. From 300 Nepli rupees per person (about $4
US). Breakfast is 200 NPR ($3.35 US), lunch or dinner, 500 NPR