Mustang - Ghar Gonpa

2003 - 2006

ghar gonpa

A Brief Description in Pictures
A Brief Project


Luigi Fieni

This monastery is well-known in Mustang for its mythical origins. Tradition has it that it was built precisely where the heart of a slaughtered demon fell, after a fight against Guru Rinpoche during his travel towards Tibet. The monastery contains a wide collection of ancient statues, wall paintings as well as painted and carved slates. Although it is considered Mustang’s most ancient monastery, most of the artefacts and the wall paintings could be dated only several centuries after the foundation of the monastery, which took place traditionally around the 8th century.


Begun in 2003, our restoration work focused on the consolidation and cleaning of the wall paintings. Centuries of deposits from butter-lamp smoke covered the paint layer with a thick coating of black soot and grime. The shrine, where the statue of Guru Rinpoche stands, was completely blackened; indeed, the grime was so thick that local people used to believe that the shrine contained no paintings. Beneath the smoke, there were two coatings of a heavily blackened varnish. Furthermore, some sections of the wall paintings were unsafe as a result of serious detachments of the preparatory layers.

The soot and the thick coatings of varnish were removed by long applications of cotton compresses soaked in organic chemicals on the surface to be cleaned. When the aged varnish and the soot were softened enough they were cleaned off using cotton swabs soaked in the same organic chemicals. In the areas where the thickness of the varnish was not too thick, its removal was carried out through the use of Japanese tissue paper cotton swabs immersed in the same chemical. During the cleaning process it became clear that the pictorial cycle was not the original one for, while checking the cracks and the lacunae, two more finely painted renders were found beneath. Unfortunately, it is impossible to estimate how much is left of those older paintings and which is their state of preservation.

Once the cleaning was completed, it was possible to carry out the consolidation of the detached preparatory layers, cracks and gaps. The wall paintings were consolidated by finding and piercing those empty areas with hand-drills and by injecting an acrylic solution mixed with local clays through syringes. All injections were preceded by the injection of a surfactant solution to allow the mortar to spread homogeneously. Cracks and lacunae were plastered under the level of the paint layer using a mixture of local clays and PVA binder and left unpainted.


Our work focused of the consolidation and the cleaning of 24 statues made out of clay filled with bitten paper and two statues in copper repoussé, gilded with mercury. It is difficult to date all the statues, but some are attributable to the 15th century while others can be dated even earlier. Thick layers of aged varnish as well as heavy deposits of butter lamp smoke and mouse dung covered all statues. All the precarious elements of the clay statues and their broken parts were fixed through the consolidation process using different solutions of acrylic binder. The cleaning was then performed using cotton compresses soaked in organic chemicals. In some cases the soot was so resistant that the compress had to be left on the area to be cleaned for very long time before the varnish could be dissolved. After the compress was removed, cotton swabs soaked in the same chemical were used to clean off the aged varnish and very thin bamboo sticks were used to get rid of the soot from the carved patterns and the intricate jewelry. Following the monks' request, missing parts of the sculptures that were possible to be reconstructed were reproduced using the same technique of execution but they were left unpainted. Spatulas were used to shape the reddish clay mixture and the missing parts were slowly shaped.


414 carved and painted slates are kept in four rooms of the monastery. They are present in different sizes and they are dated back from different centuries: it is clear the difference of style in many of them. All slates were carved and subsequently painted with natural pigments using a water-based binder. A thick varnish darkened by aging and smoke from butter lamps covered them all. The conservation work consisted only in the cleaning of the slates although it was a time consuming operation for the varnish accumulated inside the carving was quite difficult to be removed. The cleaning was performed with cotton swabs soaked in organic chemicals. Their wooden frame was cleaned too, following the same procedure.


The conservation work focused only on the consolidation and the cleaning of the wall paintings, the slates and the statues and did not comprise the pictorial intervention. It ended in 2006 as scheduled and the team moved from Logekhar to a place between Lomönthang and Tsarang to start a new conservation project in Sumda Chorten.