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Mustang Cultural Heritage

2004 - 2015

mustang cultural heritage

An American Himalayan Foundation Project
The Story

Behind

The American Himalayan Foundation

Upper Mustang, Nepal, for generations known as the Kingdom of Lo, is a happy accident of history. Culturally, geographically, and historically Tibetan, but within the borders of Nepal, it has become a time capsule of Tibetan heritage and a place where the rich tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is carried on to this day - sheltered from the occupation of Tibet.

The double edge of its geography, though, was isolation. When the long-forbidden kingdom was opened in 1991 and AHF’s Chairman was one of the first westerners permitted to go, he saw that the richness of the cultural artifacts had been ravaged by time and climate. Fifteenth-century temples (“gompas”) and the extraordinary art inside them had fallen into terrible disrepair. The wall paintings, exquisitely detailed, were covered by soot and grime; earthquakes over the ages had damaged the gompa structures and roofs were caving in, bringing in water that had eroded much of the art. Sacred chortens were crumbling. The Lobas wouldn’t worship the sacred images any longer; they’d been defiled by centuries of deterioration.

So, in 1998, AHF began a project 600 years in the making. Season by season, using the same patience and skill as the original fifteenth century painters and masons who created these masterworks, AHF's team of carpenters and wall-painting conservators, led now by Luigi Fieni, set to work bringing Mustang’s treasures back to life.

The amount of work inspired another thrilling quest: to train the Lobas – the people of Upper Mustang – to restore their own treasures. As they were trained in the art and science of conservation, the temples of Mustang were slowly and steadily reborn: roofs skillfully replaced, twisted structures straightened, inner renders of the murals consolidated. And from the soot, grime and varnish emerged astonishingly beautiful wall paintings. Half a millennium from their creation, AHF has helped pull these priceless treasures back from the brink.

As Thubchen and Jampa gompas in Lo Monthang have come back to life, revealing their beauty and splendor, the Loba community began to take pride in their cultural heritage. The restoration work has become the foundation of a thriving cultural renaissance AHF has nurtured in Upper Mustang.