Mustang: The Reclusive Paradise

Caves of Mustang

Raja Jigme Palbar Bista

Flag of the Kingdom of Mustang

Mustang (from Tibetan Mun Tan (Wylie smon-thang) which means fertile plain) is the former Kingdom of Lo and now part of Nepal, in the north-east of that country, bordering Tibet on the Central Asian plateau between the Nepalese provinces of Dolpo and Manang.

Mustang is also known as a "Tibet outside the Tibetan Border" for it survived the Chinese invasion of 1951 and hence it fosters the original Tibetan culture, although it is now politically part of Nepal. Life in Mustang revolves around animal husbandry and trade.

The region is the easiest corridor through the Himalayas linking the Tibetan Plateau and Central Asia with the tropical Indian plains, and it enjoyed a trans-Himalayan trade.

Mustang was once an independent kingdom, although closely tied by language and culture to Tibet. From the 15th century to the 17th century, its strategic location granted Mustang control over the trade between the Himalayas and India. At the end of the 18th century the kingdom was annexed by Nepal.

However, the monarchy ceased to exist as the Kingdom of Lo in Upper (northern) Mustang, with its capital at Lo Manthang on October 7, 2008, by order of the Government of Nepal.

The last king (raja or gyelpo) was Jigme Palbar Bista (b. 1930), who traces his lineage back to Ame Pal, the warrior who is said to have founded the Buddhist kingdom in 1350.

Recently Mustang is witnessing lot of archeological & exploration activity, In an attempt to unravel a mystery, a team of internationally renowned climbers and explorers join forces with archaeologists, anthropologists and art historians to climb into unexplored cave complexes that humans had not entered for hundreds if not thousands of years.

What they find inside will rock the Himalayan world and re-write the history of this remote and mystical region. The story takes place in the legendary Kingdom of Mustang, a hidden corner of the Himalayas previously off-limits to outsiders.

Hundreds of caves punctuate the sacred landscape and little is known about why they were carved out, how they have been used, and what lies inside the mysterious caves.

Just a year earlier, during their scout, the team discovered a rare library of ancient Tibetan texts, thousands of hand-inked folios in dust-laden piles inside the caves. Their aim now is to return to the caves and rescue the texts from the crumbling landscape and retrieve them before looters get to them.

The texts are adorned with beautiful "illuminations," small paintings worth tens of thousands of dollars on the international art market. As they prepare to climb up into the caves, a group of youth from a nearby village try to stop them. What ensues is an intriguing set of events that involve the King of Mustang, the highest lama of the land, and indeed the divinities that reside in the nearby cliffs.

The texts are from the pre-Buddhist religion known as Bon. This little-understood faith is the indigenous faith of Tibet, upon which Tibetan Buddhist culture is founded. Yet the religion has suffered persecution over the years and has been nearly wiped out.

To find an ancient treasure-trove of both Buddhist and Bon texts, some completely unknown, is of high value to the remaining Bon practitioners and anthropologists like Charles Ramble from Oxford University's Oriental Institute: "These caves are probably the most reliable indicator of the continuous history of this area because they've always been used.

The kinds of things we find in there, from the archaeological record, to perhaps the richest literary repository we've found means that these really are the places on which we need to focus if we want to establish as full as possible a picture of the history and culture of the Himalaya."

Photo Album: Mustang: The Reclusive Paradise

Ps: Its almost been a year that I have been contributing to the Emergent Dharma Blog and honestly its been a pleasure and a learning experience contributing to the BLOG and at the same time also reading what all the other writers have been posting....



1 comment:

gene said...

cool pics. i hope to travel there someday.