Mystang Caves, Nepal

The Kingdom of the Mustang, bordering the Tibetan Plateau, is one of the most remote and isolated areas of the Nepalese Himalayas. As an independent Buddhist kingdom, the Mustang was annexed by Nepal at the end of the 18th century, but retained its status as a separate principality until the 1950s, when the district was more closely integrated with Nepal. Because of its sensitive border position, the Mustang was not available to foreigners until 1992. The relative isolation of the region from the outside world has helped the Mustang maintain its ancient culture, which is more closely related to Tibet than to Nepal.

The landscape also does not look like anything else you can find anywhere else in the deep gorges of Nepal, carved by the Kali Gandaki River, and strangely sculpted rock formations. On the rocky peninsula there are about 10,000 ancient cave dwellings, some of which are located at an altitude of more than 150 feet above the bottom of the valley. Nobody knows who dug them, or how people even scaled the nearest vertical rock face to get access to them. Some of the caves seem almost impossible to reach even to experienced climbers.

Photo: National Geographic

Most caves are now empty, but others have signs of a home, granaries and sleeping spaces. Some caves, apparently, were used as burial chambers. A few dozen corpses found in these caves were only more than 2000 years old. They lay on wooden beds and were decorated with copper ornaments and beads.

In other caves, skeletons dating from the 3rd and 8th centuries before Buddhism came to the Mustang, there were traces on the bones that could be inflicted during the practice of burial in the sky where the flesh of the flesh is cut into small pieces and left to be eaten by vultures . The burial of the sky is still practiced in many remote areas of the Himalayas.

Archaeologists believe that the caves in the Mustang were used for three general periods. They were first used about 3000 years ago as burial chambers. Then about 1000 years ago they became mostly residential quarters, possibly to avoid battles and invasions into the valley. Finally, by the 1400s, most people had moved to traditional villages, and caves had become places of meditation. Some of these caves have been converted into monasteries, such as Luri Gompa, Chungsi Cave Monastery and Nipukh Cave Monastery, all of which were built around caves and inside them.

Luri Gompa is one of the most famous in the Mustang. The monastery is located on a ledge, at least a hundred meters from the ground, in one of the many natural pillars, such as sandstones. A winding path rises from the bottom of the valley to a single entrance door that leads to two interconnected cells. The outer chamber contains a shrine, and the inner chamber is the main treasure of Luri Gompa, beautifully decorated with a series of paintings depicting the Indian saints Mahasiddh, who were said to have attained siddhi or extraordinary powers through meditation. No documentation relating to this mysterious gompa or monastery was found, but the mural paintings, apparently, were made in the 14th century or even earlier.

Photo: National Geographic

Photo: National Geographic

Photo: National Geographic

Photo: National Geographic

Photo: nepaladvisor.com

Photo: David Rengel / Washington Post

Photo: National Geographic

Lurie Gompa. Photo: Bob Whitlock / Flickr

Photo: Bob Whitlock / Flickr

Photo: www.paulo-grobel.com

Frescoes in the ceilings of Luri Gompa. Photo: library.brown.edu

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