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Jampa is said to have been renovated by King Samdup Palbar in 1663. Records of any subsequent interventions have not been found. Thubchen was consecrated by the chief lama of Serdok Chen (Gser-mdong-Can) monastery of Tibet, Shakya Chogden (Sakya-MCHOG-Lden), when he visited Mustang in 1472-7, and its earthen images were installed in the later half of the seventeenth century by King Samdup Palbar. It was last renovated in 1815 by order of Queen Padmabuthi during the rule of King Jyampal Dhadul.

Despite references to the building of gompas by this and other Lo kings in the oratorical texts known as Mollas, in particular the Namgyal Molla (see David P. Jackson, "The Mollas of Mustang"), little can be substantiated with respect to dating. Roberto Vitali, "On Byams pa and Thub chen lha khang of Glo sMos thang" (see Bibliography), offers a detailed discussion regarding the dating and construction of Jampa and Thubchen gompas. Tucci ("Preliminary Report") and Vitali provide 1447 as the date of Ngorchen's last visit to Mustang, and Vitali sets the construction of Jampa during this visit, which extended between 1447-1449, with a date of 1448 for the laying of Jampa's foundation. Vitali dates the construction of Thubchen to the early 1470s.

A legend has been handed down about the creation of Jampa and Thubchen, still told by the local people. Incomparably grander than any other gompa within a vast distance, the gompas inspire them with awe. Even more wondrous, their town is home not just to one such marvel, but two. Nothing about them seems mundane: not their imposing size, nor the magnificence of the ancient paintings, nor the fact that their columns were hewn from timbers of a size nowhere to be seen in the region today. Along with the fragments of history about their construction, people believe an element of magic was involved.

Temba, a local folk artist, recounts the story. The legendary master, Padmasambhava ("Guru Rinpoche"), had chased a demon out of Tibet and into Lo, where he killed it. (The demon had been active at Samye in Tibet, where people were attempting to rebuild their gompa; every night, the demon destroyed what they had built that day.) Three great men--Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo, King Amepal and his son, Agon Zangpo, and their prime minister, Tsewang Zangpo--decided to build a gompa where the demon had been killed, and to make it unique in all the world. The three prime movers all bore the name Zangpo, which in itself was a special, auspicious sign, and all three were tulkus (reincarnations). According to this legend, the task took four years (although it may in fact have taken as much as ten years) and involved the work of seventy painters and thirty craftsmen. The gods helped the tulkus paint the mandalas.

Five years later, the same three tulkus began to build Thubchen. Although Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo had returned to Tibet after building Jampa, he threw some wheat from Tibet into Lo. This wheat fell on the ground in the form of a plan for a gompa. An opposing tulku, who had taken the form of a serpent, said it was impossible for men to make so large a gompa, and at night he made the plan smaller. The plan had included a row of chortens, which today stand outside Thubchen. Drought and sickness came upon the people. Ngorchen came back and ordered the chortens to be built, but the people did not obey, and more drought and sickness followed. Ngorchen made a puja (ritual ceremony), again threw wheat to make a plan, and ordered the chortens to be built. Then work on Thubchen began in earnest, with the help of many artists and craftsmen. Padmasambhava is still living, keeping demons from attacking the world--he flies above us, riding the rainbow. When he killed the demon, Padmasambhava's heart entered the demon, so he could control it, but he kept the demon's face. The great Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was a real man, but he was born like a flower, with no father or mother. He protects all of Tibet, but Padmasambhava protects the whole of humanity.

Perhaps most interesting is that Ngorchen brought important Newari artists to Ngor Evam, where they painted an extensive series of the mystic, emblematic diagrams known as mandalas. Ngor monastery was famous for its mandalas, in the form of both murals and thangkas--paintings on cloth. (The Ngor Collection, a somewhat later group of thangka mandalas created at Ngor, can be seen in reproduction in a rare two-volume set of that name.) The link with Ngor is that Jampa gompa in Lo Monthang is entirely covered with mandalas, both in its lha-khang or main prayer hall and also on a special upper floor--an extraordinary feature that makes Jampa unique in the Tibetan cultural world--no other surviving monastery is exclusively painted with mandalas. Moreover, the Jampa mandalas constitute the world's largest surviving collection of fifteenth-century mandala murals. This undertaking was so complex that it is reportedly said to have taken ten years to complete the entire construction of Jampa, including the creation of its wall paintings.

Ngor was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and the Lo gompas, apart from their extraordinary artistic quality and religious interest, are precious because they offer the sole surviving examples of gompas conceived and reportedly influenced or designed by Ngorchen, executed by craftsmen and artists whom he may have chosen, or who presumably were similar to those he brought to design and decorate Ngor Evam. In a rare instance of signed Buddhist art, the names of some Newari artists appear under their work on the walls of Jampa. Tibetan art, however beautiful, is never created only to please the eye: it uses visual forms to express religious concepts and to serve devotional and spiritual practice. Thus, Jampa in particular, is the living record of one of the great Tibetan schools, as much a part of a lineage tradition as any set of texts or teachings.


The seat of the abbot or Khenpo Rinpoche and of the sangha (monastic community) of Lo Monthang, and the site of the performance of daily worship and other ritual functions, is the comparatively newer Chyodi gompa, dating to perhaps the seventeenth century. The religious school, which trains novice monks, is also located on Chyodi's enclosed grounds. (A recent "documentary" television film about Mustang, representing that Buddhist practice, training and education were dying out in Mustang, was contrary to fact.) Both Thubchen and Jampa are maintained for occasional worship and certain annual community functions, but due to their deteriorated condition, use is minimal.

In 1996, the Getty Foundation awarded a Project Preparation Grant for the first phase of architectural conservation of both Thubchen and Jampa gompas. The conservation team included both Nepali and international experts. The Getty Foundation is one of the world's pre-eminent institutions dedicated to architectural and art preservation, according to the established professional code of practice and standards.

All projects supported by the Getty Foundation are subject to technical oversight, as well as to financial review. The Getty Grant was awarded to the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, the quasi-governmental entity in Nepal that oversees development work in Mustang. The grant was rejected by the King Mahendra Trust, which delegated the work to a smaller organization with which it had closer ties.

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