In­side Nepal’s for­got­ten me­dieval king­dom

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

IN Nepal’s iso­lated, high-al­ti­tude desert of Up­per Mus­tang, a new road to China is bring­ing eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion to the former Bud­dhist king­dom, once a cen­tre for trans-Hi­malayan com­merce.

The re­mote re­gion is ringed with vast canyons and red moun­tains that, leg­ends say, are stained with the blood of a de­mon killed by the founder of Ti­betan Bud­dhism.

Yet the re­cently com­pleted un­paved high­way that con­nects Up­per Mus­tang with China is also bring­ing un­prece­dented cul­tural change to a re­gion that was closed off to for­eign vis­i­tors un­til 1992.

In the me­dieval walled cap­i­tal of Lo Man­thang, young men have swapped Ti­betan robes for blue jeans and lo­cal cafes broad­cast live cov­er­age of Euro 2016 matches to rapt view­ers.

Nev­er­the­less, while mod­ern life holds con­sid­er­able al­lure for many, the push to pre­serve tra­di­tional culture is no less im­por­tant to the lo­cal Loba community. Bud­dhists who speak a vari­ant of the Ti­betan lan­guage, they have lived in Up­per Mus­tang for cen­turies.

Nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than in the on­go­ing ef­fort to re­store sa­cred mu­rals and mon­u­ments, sup­ported by for­eign and Nepali non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the Lo Gyalpo Jigme Foun­da­tion, which is headed by the former king of Up­per Mus­tang.

Al­though the re­gion’s rich her­itage es­caped the rav­ages of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion that hit neigh­bour­ing China, its mon­u­ments fell prey to en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age.

Wind and rain eroded mud walls and caused wooden rooftop beams to de­cay, while smoke from cer­e­mo­nial but­ter lamps dark­ened in­door fres­cos.

Over the past decade, re­stor­ers have been work­ing hard to shore up struc­tures, clean mu­rals and re­touch dam­aged paint­ings in line with Bud­dhist be­liefs.

Bud­dhists be­lieve it is bet­ter to pray to un­dam­aged images of the Bud­dha, and see it as their duty to repair and re­touch them when nec­es­sary.

The painstak­ing process in­volves grind­ing gem­stones like lapis lazuli and mala­chite into a fine pow­der, which is then mixed with wa­ter and an­i­mal glue to cre­ate lu­mi­nous pig­ments fit for gods.

Af­ter last year’s mas­sive earth­quake killed nearly 9000 in Nepal and se­verely dam­aged monas­ter­ies in Lo Man­thang, re­stor­ers now face an even big­ger chal­lenge.

Like many here, they too are locked in a race to pre­serve Up­per Mus­tang’s unique cul­tural legacy for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. –

Photos: AFP

Nepalese artists re­store sa­cred mu­rals in a monastery in Lo Man­thang in Up­per Mus­tang. A

A Nepalese shep­herd watch­ing his herd in the Ko­rala bor­der area.

A Nepalese woman and her horse walk past a small tem­ple in Ghemi Vil­lage in Up­per Mus­tang.

The walled city monastery and stupa of Lo Man­thang are lo­cated in the re­mote high­land near the china bor­der.

A Nepalese herder with sev­eral horses leads mules through the moun­tains in Up­per Mus­tang, north-west of Kath­mandu.

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