The quaint little mountainous town of Jomsom is like one of those you read in novels, or better still - in the generic landscape paintings. There is a river that flows through its middle; there are high, peaks, occasionally snow-laden, soaring high against the azure blue sky in the background; there are cosy shops and colourful blocks of residential houses, and most importantly, there is a sort of crispness in the air which embraces the tourists, the trekkers and the nomadic travellers alike.
Jomsom always had a name for its trade and commerce. Once upon a time not too long ago, the town was an important point in the Salt Trade route between Tibet and Nepal. The Thakalis, native to the river valley of Jomsom and adjacent areas, made a sort of monopoly out of salt business. However, ever since Indian salt became widely available all-over Nepal around 1959-60, the trade slowly died away.
From the commercial aspect, now Jomsom is a hub for tourism as the city opens up routes further up in the north, as well as the address to some overnight tourist hotels, restaurants, bus stations, airline offices and even an airport. Administratively, Jomsom is the headquarters of the Mustang district in the north of Nepal, in the Annapurna Mountains zone.
Jomsom is a city that reverberates with the silent grandeur of the mountains and all that comes with it. The Himalayas are something so very ancient and majestic and largely unexplored - but you can hardly get the feeling while spending time in one of the more crowded, bustling cities like Kathmandu. This is where Jomsom and other towns like Jomsom stand out.
Although very visibly a centre of government offices and army regiments, Jomsom is still very much owned by the mountains and nature. The town is right in the lap of some of the greatest peaks of Himalayas. The Dhaulagiri and Annapurna massifs look down upon Jomsom like two fond parents, while the cheerful flow of the Kali Gandaki River washes through the valley. The river brings the soil and salt way up from the Tibetan plateau and goes all the way down to the Ganges in the Indian plain.
For the general tourist, Jomsom might not be much of an attraction since it does not have many lucrative locations to hop. However, for those who have a special place in their heart for the wild terrains of the Himalayas, the city is a dream-come-true.
Like every good Himalayan city, Jomsom too echoes with the chimes of Buddhist spirituality, and occasionally Hinduism as well. Travellers will find temples devoted to the common Hindu gods and goddesses, mostly Shiva and Vishnu here and there in the town.
A particular product that is quite indigenous to Jomsom links the city to Lord Vishnu in an unconventional way. There is a specific type of black, shiny piece of stone called 'Shaligram' in Hinduism, and it can be found in many trinket shops in Jomsom. In some places you will find them with fossils as well, or so the shopkeepers claim. These rocks are found aplenty along the banks of Kali Gandaki River here, and this same stone is considered as the natural manifestation of Lord Vishnu in all the Hindu puja rituals and is worshipped as the same.
Back to Buddhism, the winding of Jomsom are occasionally found dotted with the typical coloured flags of the religion. The town is especially known for Tibetan Buddhism, the most sacred and antique of its kind. Along the trails of the many trekking routes that pass by Jomsom, you will find a few monasteries scattered around.
One particular monastery that would quench your explorer's thirst is the Chhairo Gumpha, which is a minimal but pleasantly charming Nyingma Monastery. Nyingma is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism - the word itself means 'ancient'. Chhairo Gompa is not very popular at all. However, if you are lucky enough to reach at a time when there are the monks around, you can witness them working on creating new artworks and paintings, and reviving new ones.
It would be an experience very close to your heart by all means. And, even if you can't see the live action, the place itself is very peaceful, and the posters are informative enough about the monastery. There is a 3m bamboo clay structure of Guru Rinpoche as well.
Jomsom is mostly known for its trekking routes. It is a significant part of the Annapurna Circuit trek routes, which accounts for almost three-fourths of all the trekkers that Nepal gets in a year. It is because the roads of this region are enjoyable, adventurous yet safer for people of all age, and they also have numerous well-to-do lodges and car rentals (if need be) along the roads.
When it comes to safety and communication, Jomsom has a comparatively new broadcasting station which operates with a control room and transmission tower for FM radio, but can also be used in case of emergency. The place has a community centre and a camping site for trekkers as well.
The highest point of the many treks is the Muktinath shrine, which is equally revered among Hindus and Buddhists. The followers and believers of Hinduism call it 'Mukti Kshetra' or 'place of liberation' and consider this as one of the 108 Divya Desams or Vaishnav shrines scattered around the subcontinent. In Tibetan Buddhism, this place is regarded to be of tantric importance and the idol is said to be embodying the compassion of all Buddhas.
The Jomsom-Muktinath trek is among the most loved treks of Nepal, and perhaps one of the most treaded as well. In spite of growing footfalls every year, and exploring the unexplored becoming a social media hashtag trend nowadays, Jomsom still manages to retain its rustic ambience. It is almost like the footsteps of the travellers simply pass over the town, but none leave much of a treading mark - not enough to take away anything from the beauty Jomsom is gifted with.