16 August 2012
Last updated at 00:27
The former Himalayan kingdom of Lo - now known as Upper Mustang - is often depicted as Nepal’s hidden Shangri-la, a remote outpost largely insulated from the outside world. But now, with the building of a new road, the region is on the brink of change. (Hipstamatic images by Tom Van Cakenberghe/ words by Olivia Lang)
So far, its inaccessibility has helped shelter it from the modern world. Getting to the old capital, Lo Manthang, involves a risky plane journey to the town of Jomsom and then - in the dry season - more than six hours by truck along a river bed up on to the Tibetan plateau.
In the wet season, this truck journey becomes several days of trekking.
In medieval times, Upper Mustang was an independent kingdom, its location giving it control over trade between the Himalayas and India. Lo Manthang, which for centuries served as the capital, is known for its white painted buildings, frequently draped with colourful Buddhist prayer flags.
The region is one of the few places where traditional Tibetan culture has survived intact. Until 1992, it was closed to tourists altogether.
Since then Nepal has sought to limit the impact of tourism through quotas and entrance permits. But in recent years numbers are said to have been growing.
One attraction for visitors is the annual Tiji festival. Known as The Chasing of the Demons, Lo Manthang and its 800 or so inhabitants take part in a three-day spectacle of music, colourful costumes and elaborate dancing.
The celebration revolves around the story of a deity, Dorje Jono, who battles against his demon father. Eventually good triumphs over evil and the father is banished.
A new road, due to be finished in a year or two, will link Nepal's lowlands to Lo Manthang. Many more people are expected to pass through the region.
Thirty-year-old Pasang - pictured here with her nephew, Tsering - welcomes the visitors, and the money they spend. But some say the region does not get its fair share of the permit fees collected by the Nepali government, and have threatened to bar tourists in response.
Life for many remains hard. These boys, pictured with their father, lost their mother earlier this year when she died giving birth, along with the newborn child.
The ethnic group to which they belong - the Dhokpa - live a pastoral nomadic lifestyle and move their black, yak-woollen tents four times a year in search of fresh pastures for their animals.