- THE LAND
Mustang was closed to foreign visitors until 1992, and little was
known about its monasteries and their art. Remote, untouched, virtually
unknown, it acquired an aura of mystery, enhancing its allure. Its
wall paintings were first mentioned, briefly, by the great Italian
Tibetologist, Giuseppe Tucci, who was permitted to enter Mustang
in 1952. (See Tucci, "Journey to Mustang," 1952.) In the
1960s, it served as a base for the Khampa rebels, Tibetan fighters
who were engaged in a futile struggle against the Chinese occupation.
(The Khampas received initial support from the American CIA.) Following
that period, the government of Nepal kept Mustang closed because
of its sensitive border location. When Mustang was finally opened,
several conditions were imposed.
AND DAILY LIFE
Upper Mustang lies in the rain shadow of the great Himalayan wall.
The monsoon rains exhaust themselves on the mountains' southern
slopes, while the country on the northern side remains arid. Upper
Mustang, at the edge of the Tibetan plateau, is a high altitude
desert, with a landscape resembling that of the American Southwest.
Its brown, sandy slopes are brightened at long intervals by patches
of vivid green, the irrigated fields that mark the presence of a
wood extremely scarce and precious, the houses and gompas of Mustang
are made of dried mud and its capital, Lo Monthang, is no exception.
Even the royal palace and the great gompas are earthen, mud-brick
structures. Lo Monthang is a walled, medieval town, and its wall
is earthen as well.
many respects, life in Mustang still has a medieval or at least
a pre-modern quality. A type of serfdom was abolished only late
in the twentieth century. Most villages lack electricity, indoor
plumbing and running water, and telephone service. Village lanes
are unpaved. Houses serve as both barn or byre and also home, with
animals on the ground floor and the family living above. Each morning
in Lo Monthang, the animals--horses, goats, sheep--are driven out
through the single gate in the town wall to graze. During the day,
the villages are nearly empty: the women are in the surrounding
fields, weeding and tending the crops, and the men are either out
with the herds or away on trading or transport expeditions. In Lo
Monthang, which has a primary school (as well as a school for novice
monks), some children are at their lessons, while others are out
tending herds of goats.
Monthang is at 13,000 feet and Mustang's other villages are almost
that high; at those altitudes, the main crops are barley, potatoes,
and buckwheat. Mustard is also grown, but used mainly for oil. In
late afternoon, everyone returns to town--animals stream back through
the gate, children rollick in the lanes and the main square, and
women gather briefly outside their houses to chat with their neighbors.
Winters in Mustang are severe, and in late October or November,
many people leave the region, some going to Pokhara or Kathmandu,
others on trading trips, to return in April or early May to their
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