Upper Mustang 上幕斯唐 5 - Lo-Manthang, Nymphu, Chhoser Cave

Lo-Manthang (3720m)

090708 Lo Manthang 004B City 090706 Lo Manthang 048
Lo-Manthang is the only living walled city of Nepal. Built in 1830 by the first king of Lo, Ame Pal, the wall is 2472 feet long and 26ft. high, has 14 towers of 40 fl. high along its periphery. During the reign of the Mustang Rajas, the towers were guarded by armed guards to defend the town from bandits and enemies. The only entrance to the town is through a huge wooden gate located to the east of the township. The city is divided into four traditional wards with names referring to shrine of four deities, namely Mahakala, Tara, Dipangar Buddha, and Maitreya. These wards take turn to perform various religious and social tasks of the town.

About 1100 Lobas (people of Lo) live in the 180 mud houses of the walled city, and surprisingly, they observe a form of caste hierarchy. As a result, mainly the Bista (the nobility and royalty of Lo) and Gurung live within the walled city while Ghara (black smith), Shemba (butcher) and Emeta (musician) mostly live in the settlement beside the Lo-Manthang River.


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Livestock husbandry combined with agriculture is still the mainstay of the local economy. Seasonal migration for trade to the southern Nepal and North India, and barter trade with neighboring Tibet supplements household income. With the advent of tourism in Lo in 1992, few local people have also started taking up tourism as a new economic profession. I arrived at a time when people weeding in their farm land outside the wall. They are among the happiest people I have ever seen. The work is tough yet they were all working happily together with lots of singing and tea in between. When someone’s horse ran away, all the people on the road would try to help. Life may indeed be tough here but it doesn’t seem to strip people away from having fun in life.

Despite of growing tourism, so far they have been able to keep the traditional way of life quite intact. When I wanted to see people weaving, my guide easily found two family members doing it – his sister-in-law was weaving an apron and his grand aunt was weaving some textile to make pants. Fortunately I didn’t stay in a hotel but someone’s house. Every other morning I’d hear them whipping cream from the milk of a cow kept downstairs (ground floor of the house while people usually live upstairs), the remaining milk would be dried to collect chula (something like extremely hard cheese), the vegies I love (mustard) was likely picked from their garden somewhere…at the same time you can buy Pepsi, Red Bull, various Chinese cookies unheard of in Shanghai in all the shops around. And the crown prince even built a nice brand new library and nursery for the residents. So far they keep good balance between modern convenience and traditions. Maybe one day it’d be like Monte Carlo in Himalayas.
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  • 3 monasteries inside the walled city 城內有三座寺: Jhampa Gompa, Thupchen Gompa, Chooede Gompa

Lo-Manthang’s culture is deep rooted in the religious sentiments of its people. The township abound with many stupas, mani walls and monasteries. Prayer flags flutter above all houses- conveying mantra/prayers to all corners of the world. The Lobas are exclusively Buddhists and conform to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism after replacing Bon centuries ago.

Of the three monasteries, Jhampa Gompa is the oldest, built in 1387 and believed to be a replica of Ghangtse’s Jampha Gompa in Tibet. The 3-storied Jhampa Gompa is an exemplary piece of art. It amply exhibits Lo-Manthang’s great architectural depth of the past. The uniqueness of this Gompa lies in gold painted tantric mandalas entirely covering the interior of the wall of the 1st and 2nd floors. The main hall is painted with double register of mandalas interspersed with smaller mandalas. Due to the Sakya influence, many of the mandalas are Hevajra related. There is currently a Italian led team training locals to maintain the paintings. The sheer size of the Gompa itself is an attraction – 55 ft high, 150 ft long and 80 ft wide. One will be surprised to know that the wall of the Gompa is 5 ft and 4 inches thick!


城裏有三個寺廟,最老的是強巴寺,第1任國王建於1387年,據信是仿照江孜的一座強巴寺建造的。三層樓的強巴寺從建築的外觀就很值得一看,大氣龐然–廟高55呎,長150呎,寛80呎,廟牆就有5呎4吋厚,真的是王室氣派。寺廟最特別的是 一、二樓裏面的墻上畫滿了精細的壇城圖案,由於薩迦傳承,所以很多是喜金剛的壇城;成百上千個壇城,每一幅都是精品。去的時候有一個意大利人領導的團隊,正訓練當地人修復壁畫,聽說他們已經做了很多年了,讓人欣慰的是逐漸訓練出一批具有技藝的當地年輕人。
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Thupchen Gompa is the 2nd oldest Gompa, built in the early 15th century by the 3rd king of Lo. Despite being smaller than Jhampa, Thupchen is equally rich archetype of Tibetan art. The main hall Dukhang has beautiful ceiling and wall paintings painted of natural color and gold and silver paints, bearing various images of Buddha and other deities. The wooden beams in Dukhang carry Buddhist mantra engraved in it and the ceiling has beautifully placed rafters. Walking around the high ceiling hall with gigantic wall paintings somehow reminds me of those Egyptian temples down in the southern Nile.
圖千寺是第二老的寺廟,為第3任國王建於15世紀初期,雖然比強巴寺小,但是建築亦頗具藏族特色。主殿非常高,壁畫是用金、銀、天然礦石所繪 的巨大佛像。走在高高的大殿,看著巨大的壁畫,讓我想到尼羅河南部的埃及神廟。洛曼唐真是個神奇的地方,一下想到蒙地卡羅,一下想到埃及,偏偏又是如此的西藏。

Chooede Gompa presently is the main Gompa of Lo and also the center of religious activity. It was built in 1757 and now under the leadership of the crown prince. It is the only gompa with residing monks and also a school for little monks. This gompa houses beautiful Thangka and images, including Mahakala and Vajra Kilaya (the main deity of the Tenchi festival). Tenchi is the most popular festival, literally meaning “prayer for world peace” in Tibetan (Tempa Chirim), lasting for 3 days usually in May/Apr with activities including religious dance drama depicting the killing of a demon, seed sowing ceremony for good harvest, monk’s dance and prayer for a prosperous New Year, huge thangka hanging here etc. In the gompa, there is also a small museum in the monastery housing various ritual objects collected around Mustang.
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  • Palace 王宮

The Raja (king) and Rani (queen) live in Monkhar – the four storied white-washed palace located in the middle of the town. The palace was believed to be built by the first King of Mustang in the 14th century. The present Raja is his 22nd descendent. It is possible to request to visit the Palace. Just remember to present a silk scarf to the Raja if you get the permission.
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  • Namgyal Gompa, Summer Palace and Ketcher Dzong at Chhunup 南嘉寺、夏宮

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Namgyal Choede Thupten Dhargyeling Monastery
 was established in the 15th century in the Ngor tradition. Namgyal houses the collection of four great monasteries in the surrounding Lo-Manthang, these four were founded in 1310, well before the Ngorchen’s birth. If permission granted, you should visit their Mahakala room. The monastery got revived not long ago with a new monastic school built for poor and unprivileged children in the Upper Mustang. When kids grow older, they would be sent to other schools for further education. This place is like the village center for people living around. I was sitting inside the Khenpo’s office, watching non-stop locals coming in to make phone calls, including a father asking his son studying in Pokara to “play less football and study more”.

Not far away from Namgyal, in Thinker village of Chhunup, you can find the Summer Palace of the Raja. Ketcher Dzong is another place to visit, which is the 1st palace built by Ame Pal in the early 14th century. 南嘉寺附近不遠的聼可村有國王的夏宮。要進去參觀的話,得在洛曼唐就得到許可。附近還有一個碉堡是第一個國王在14世紀初期所建的第一座宮殿。

Nymphu (Nyphu)

Nymphu Gompa is half inside the cave, though after renovation, you can’t tell too much of the cave trace from the outside. Nevertheless, inside the temple, in addition to the chapel, there is an adjacent, neat cave for monks doing retreat.
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Chhoser is famous for its cave culture. In the past, a whole village lived in one cave and the 5-storied Jhong Cave (Chhoser Cave) with over 40 rooms is a standing proof.  秋瑟這個地方以洞穴文化著稱,過去曾有一整個村子住在一個洞穴中。現在供人參觀的洞穴進去後,就有五層樓,四十多個房間,當年也有整個村子躲進去逃避匪難的記錄。
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Further up from the monastery, there is another place with caves nowadays used by shepherds to keep goats in winter time. Unlike the Chhoser cave, the caves here were more likely used as monastery. In one of the cave, you can still see some damaged by beautiful paintings of mandalas and buddha images on the ceiling. In front of these caves, there were also three stupa ruins. The weathering exposed the numerous Tsa-tsa (mini stupas made of clay) and small buddha images inside one of the stupa. When we were checking those ancient sacred objects, one of them fell to me which happened to be a Virupa one, and it’s the only Virupa one as far as we can see. So this becomes a special place for me.
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090707 Nifu 063 090707 Nifu 061B-Virupa tsatsa 090707 Nifu 062
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My arriving day happened to be the horse racing festival of Nymphu settlement. At night, there were 15 families gathering together singing, dancing and drinking the local beer ‘”Chang”. Nymphu Khenpo kindly got me into that private gathering. I was very grateful as they warmly welcomed me and continued their happy gathering. Later when most adults, both men and women, were all a bit high because of the alcohol, one guy came to me and said “we welcome you here, you can stay as long as you like…there are many families here, but only 15 of us gather every year. because we want to teach our children to know how to sing and dance these songs from our ancestors…” It was very touching, thinking of how they cherish their culture and strive to pass on to future generations. The lyrics of the songs are such classic Tibetan that my guide from Lo-Manthang said he can’t understand it. And some ladies were putting on antique dresses that they don’t know how to make anymore (their skirts a bit like Ladakh style but longer). This reminds me of Kyegu where, years after the culture revolution, no one knew how to do their traditional song/dances except one old guy and he single-handed help to pass that knowledge to other people so that their art became almost miraculously preserved. Same, in this tiny village in the Himalayas, people also treasure their own culture so much.
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Walking along the major trading route with Tibet, Chhoser can be reached in about 3 hours from Lo-Manthang. 從洛曼唐沿通往西藏的貿易路綫徒步,約三小時可以到尼阜。

Snow Leopard Cave (4600+m)

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This cave was newly discovered in 2007. It’s a partially collapsed cave containing a collection of 55 paintings dated from the 12th to 14th century, depicting an unusual topic: the 84 mahassidhas. Unlike the murals in the monastery, the Mustang cave paintings reveal a strong Indian influence. The access to the cave was once difficult but the locals have made tremendous improvement with rope etc. to help the tourists. Still, be prepared for a hour of good walk after leaving your horse.
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Click for more pictures 更多相片點入https://skydrive.live.com/redir.aspx?cid=12c681d04f03de08&page=play&resid=12C681D04F03DE08!699 (Nepal photo album @bellachao.spaces.live.com)


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a simple wandering being on less beaten tracks in samsara

2 Responses to Upper Mustang 上幕斯唐 5 - Lo-Manthang, Nymphu, Chhoser Cave

  1. renee says:

    您好, 可否請教您到Mustang是透過哪家旅行社安排的呢? 謝謝



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