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Lower Mustang

Thimi Village, Lower Mustang, Nepal

The clouds were hovering early morning over Nilghiri and it was a continuous forecast of rain that was kept pushed later and later. The wind was blowing sometimes ferociously. The airport flight window is very short and only two flights a day can make it in and out in Jomson. After that, the wind picks up and the light Tara aircraft cannot take off or land anymore. There is one other airline that has a heavier plane and than one can make it on stronger winds but even that one flies once a day and only in the morning. There are heavy winds between the Nilghiri and Daughri canyon and you don’t want to play with them while in a plane. Accidents happened, like the one when a plane could not land and going for a second try, turned but the wind pushed it and the wing clipped the mountain and crashed right near the Hindu temple near the airport.

Dhumba Lake, Lower Mustang, Nepal

We planned the day around a hike outside of Jomson that is located in Lower Mustang. Thimi village is just 2 km away from Jomson perched on a ridge overlooking the valley. An old traditional village, with prayer flags at each corner and a monastery closed at the time. From the village, you climb some steep steps towards the Snow Leopard meditation cave that we find it also closed but conferring even better views over the valley.

Tibetan Stupa at Kutsab Ternga Monastery,, Lower Mustang, Nepal

Down from the cave, a little bit of a walk on the road, Dhumba Lake became a fenced attraction with an entry fee after it was featured in a Nepali movie. It’s one of the those Tibetan lakes, clear and clean that has a green tint to it, like all lakes I explored in Tibet. Lots of young Nepali students come here in groups and take tons of pictures of the lake or with the Nilghiri that stands tall right behind the lake. The wind started to pick up and was howling through the cabin that serves as a restaurant by the lake. On occasion, we felt that would blow the roof away.

The holy rock, Kutsab Ternga Monastery,

From the lake is a short walk uphill to Kutsab Ternga Monastery, an old monastery full of beautiful murals and lots of thankas. Its name means “the representative of the body” in this case  the body of Guru Rinporche who left at the monastery five precious objects: the image of Guru Rinporche, the fierce image of Guru Dorje Drole, the image of Dakini yeshe Chogyal, the Upper garment of Guru Rinporche, a genuine pair of shoes. The monastery is small and old and a new one is being built in its backyard to bring the holy objects, currently spread in Thimi village, back to the monastery.

Himalaya seen from Kutsab Ternga Monastery, Jomson, Nepal

The monastery has a Tibetan stupa and an old holy rock with katas hanging on top of it. From the top of the hill, the views were amazing in three directions: toward the Jomson valley and town, towards the canyon between the peaks and toward the mountain peaks starting with Nilghiri and going toward Telicho Peak.

Kutsab Ternga Monastery murals

Mahakala

The weather held for the day but it rained all night. The Lithuanian girls who showed up in the evening in the Himalayan Inn after 3 and half days of hiking were supposed to leave in the morning but the last Tara Airlines plane from early morning did not leave because of the wind. But I could hear in the morning the roaring of the engines starting earlier than 6:00 AM and all planes made it safe to Pokhara.

Stupas in Kutsab Ternga Monastery,

 

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Posted by on June 6, 2019 in Blog, Nepal

 

Getting out

We had to get out of Upper Mustang because the permit would expire. In the morning, a group started to take shape in order for us to hire a jeep, with the two Russian girls who in the morning were sitting quietly on the same chairs checking their iPhones. We collected also some Tibetans to join us and made 7 out of the 9 required, enough though because as foreigners we pay double on everything.

The monastery and palace in Tsarang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

I left in the morning to walk a little bit under the spectacular blue skies just to be summoned back because the jeep was boarding. The evening before, in spite of the long walk to Lo Gyhar, I went for a walk in the village exploring one more time the monastery and the front of the decayed castle with its mud limbs raised imploring toward the sky. The plan for the castle is to be restored in the coming years, like all the other royal castles, all done with the Prince’s money and converted probably in a hotel.

Himalaya

Today would be practically transportation day to get us back all the way to Jomson, if we were lucky. The jeep left around 9:00 AM and stopped several times for pictures on magnificent viewpoints till it took a longer break for lunch in Sambyochen.

Sambyochen, Upper Mustang, Nepal

From there we got on the portion of the road from hell, riding in waterfalls, over rocks and finding on the way a police vehicle stuck under a waterfall because a huge bolder practically jammed the car. We helped them to take the bolder out while we walked through the waterfall, considered too dangerous for us to be in the jeep and reboarded after about 100 meters.

Stuck under waterfall on the way to Chhusan, Upper Mustang, Nepal

In the end we made it to Chhusan where we had to leave the jeep and wait for a bus that will begin moving, if they have enough people, sometimes late afternoon. The way the transportation is organized in Upper Mustang is based on two jeep communities, one in Chhusan that serves the Upper Mustang and one from Jomson that serves all the way to Chussan and Muktinath. Both services are one directional, so if you need a jeep in Chhusan to bring you to Jomson, you cannot get one from the Chhusan community but the jeep has to be sent from Jomson that would charge you practically double. So everybody waits for the Godot-ish bus, the only bus per day, sometimes in the afternoon. Because there are no schedules whatsoever.

Himalaya view

Taking advantage of the lethargic bus that did not seem to want to move, we crossed the river on the new suspended bridge that did not yet have any protection nets and hiked to the Kang Monastery, whose name is probably given by the oven built right at its entrance used for incense burning. Inside, the monastery has beautiful murals.

Kang Monastery, Chhusan, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Returning through green barley fields battered in the wind I discovered that all these old villages have the houses built in such a way to accommodate a ground level hidden tunnel, a long straight tunnel, probably 50 meters long, used by the locals to escape in case of danger. In Chhusan the tunnel is in great shape and people use it to move faster from the back of the village to its front.

Buddha murals in Kang Monastery

The bus finally woke up from its meditative state and decided to start crawling around 4 PM after it made sure that all jeeps coming from Lo Manthang arrived in Chhusan. And after another quick bus-nap, it decided finally to hit the road around 5PM and we drove all the way to Kagbeni, on a road that barely hanged up by the cliff overlooking the tumultuous river. We stopped briefly in Kagbeni to validate the permit signing off on the Upper Mustang adventure and we entered in another half hour Jomson (2900m) that coming from Upper Mustang looked more like a metropolis with long roads guarded by houses on both sides, not the dumpy town that we sensed when we arrived from Pokhara. Under the always impressive white face of Nilghiri I grabbed my heavy backpack and started joyfully almost to run thorough Jomson’ streets towards the Himalayan Inn, relieved by more than 1000 meters of altitude that we descended today.

Nilghiri over Jomson

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2019 in Blog, Nepal

 

Oldest monastery

The jeep station in LO Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Glorious skies. The plan was to hike over the hills, up to 4500 meters for about 6 hours and descend into Lo Gyhar monastery ending the day in Ghami. But it was always looming over us the spectrum of not finding a jeep to extract us of Upper Mustang. The jeeps are getting filled in Lo Manthang, the main jeep station of the area. The second jeep station is in Tsarang, two hours down the valley where you may find enough people to be able to convince one jeep to leave. Because if they are not full of 9 persons, the jeeps don’t leave. Transportation is key in Upper Mustang and relatively expensive. Besides there are no gas filling stations and all gas is brought all the way from Jomson, usually two days away, or a day away if you are lucky.

Stupas in Lo Gyhar Monastery, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Dawa kept trying to clamp my hiking enthusiasm; afraid that the next day we may not have a jeep in Ghami. Besides the hike would not be easy at 4500meters with our heavy backpacks. In the end, I bailed out and we joined a jeep to Tsarang just to find on the way all the people who started in early hikes, were all on the dusty road instead of crossing the hills. Why would they do this? Just to check a box that they hiked in Lo Manthang?
In Tsarang we left the luggage in Doma Guesthouse that proved an excellent choice, with very clean beds, good food, power in the evening and even a very good 3G signal in the rooms. We started to hike to Lo Gyhar, the oldest Tibetan monastery in the entire region that has attached to it one of the most fascinating legends of the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet.

Entrance to Lo Gyhar Monastery, Upper Mustang, Nepal

The hike follows a river valley from where we can see the villages of Marang and Saukre just across the river, all under the hills that we were supposed to climb in the morning. From the trek, you could see the monastery that looks close but it still takes about a 3 hours walk to reach it at the altitude of 4000 meters.

Lo Gyhar Monastery, Upper Mustang, Nepal

The monastery dates since the 8th century, making it the oldest in the entire Tibet. The legend says that Guru Rimpoche, the maverick saint credited with the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet was consulted by monks who were in the process of building the famous Samye monastery, somewhere near Lhasa. Samye is considered the oldest monastery in Tibet. But whatever the monks were building during the day, somehow got demolished during the night, like in the many other legends from other corners of the world. So the king asked the know-all Guru Rimpoche, who after a deep meditation said that the reason of the Samye failed building effort stands in the fact that the entire Tibet is under the control of a demon that has to be defeated and killed in order for the process to be successful. And the demon was assumed to live right where we were walking today. So Guru Rimpoche pursued his passion of demon killing and started to chase the demon that he found out that he was seen, disguised as a small girl coming from Sambyoche. He followed the demon and confronted it close to Ghami where he was able to slash him to the point that all his blood splattered on the red rocks near the village that are stained till now in red color. Out of the long demon intestine, Padma Sambavha alias Guru Rimpoche, created the base of the long Mani Wall in Ghami and the demons’ organs were entombed in the Dhakmar Stupas located near the Mani Wall.
So the demon was now history but the land where the demon had its lair and hunkered upon was still contaminated. Guru Rimpoche convinced the king to start the construction of a small monastery on that spot that would be surrounded by 108 stupas that would encompass the entire hill and according to the tradition would follow the profile of the large demon, cleansing in this way the place touched by the beast.

Mahakala murals

The very old looking monastery has a vestibule covered on both walls with a latticed frame having in each space a painted Mahakala. The same small Mahakalas are painted all over the main altar walls that are surrounded on three sides by glass cupboards full of old statues made out of clay or metals. The entire place looks ancient but the caretakers, like in all other places in Upper Mustang, do not know how old the painting is, estimating it around the 15th century. The monastery has also an upper level with impressive murals.

However, we appreciated the demon’s taste in finding such a great spot for making its lair. The views from the monastery were spectacular over the entire valley all the way to Tsarang seen on a backdrop of the Himalaya white peaks.
We took the road back through the villages of Saukre and Marang towards Tsarang and when we got in Dolma Guesthouse we found the same two Russian girls whom we left in the morning in the same spots checking their iPhones. Interesting day to spend on iPhone in Upper Mustang…

The three colored protection stupas

 

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2019 in Blog, Nepal

 

Chhoser

Lo Manthang is not yet connected to the power grid. It runs on solar power that is used exclusively for room light and is not distributed to the outlets. As a result, the time when the generators start running, around 6 PM, both locals and foreigners jump to plug their phones and other devices in the few outlets that are available in the guesthouse kitchens  because there are no outlets in the rooms. The kitchen power strips outlets become at that time the most coveted estate in Lo Manthang. The Chode Monastery’s guest rooms had the advantage of having generator power all night but for all the other places, the generator power is getting cut around 10 PM. However, in the entire town, you could see the power cable ran underground and mounts for electrical panels in front of groups of houses that is a sign that probably till the next festival the village would get connected to the grid.

During the festival, the village looks quite alive. Lots of foreigners from all over were in the village jamming the squares and roaming the alleys. Lots of them came here to trek for days in a row along the new or the old road, the same road on which I road in the jeep where the dust is on places 3″ thick and the relentless wind would constantly rise it to the skies like an offer to the gods of the future road to Tibet. When you trek on the road you step on these piles of dust and you feel like the monster from the legend because you move so much dirt under your feet and you leave deep tracks, covered quickly by the relentless wind. Nepal Tourism maps now new trekking routes to avoid the road that hopefully would be in place in two years from now. But in any case, trekking and visiting Upper Mustang is a much better experience than the one I had 17 years ago in Tibet where no food was practically available except instant noodles. Here wherever you go, you have good food in the restaurants, clean bottled water, OK beds in private rooms most of them with private bathroom, and even hot showers in every place. And as a bonus, starting this year, the cell towers can be used and you get sometimes a 3G signal that confers a clean Whatsup call and for me specifically, I can post this blog. Well, not all the time because most of the time you get the E on the phone and this only things you get through are limpid texts….It also exists a satellite-based Everest Wifi system across Nepal in which you can buy MB but the cost is prohibitive for blogging targeting mainly the high elevation expeditions.

Woman walking in Chhoser, Upper Mutsang, nepal

Most of the people left the previous day. Some will leave tonight and the village would reenter its lethargic life. Cows and horses would be driven home and women would still stand in the corner, knitting and gossiping protected by the penetrating lens of the cameras.

I decided to stay one more day in Lo Manthang and walk to Chhoser, a village at about 6 km off Lo Manthang. Chhoser is actually a collection of villages, maybe 7 of them that have caves and old monasteries hanging on rocks, all aligned on a valley of the river that tumbles dirty away. The walk to Chhoser is on a road, rarely passed by any vehicles larger than a motorbike but full of kids who are walking to the secondary school from one of the villages. We woke with them trying to engage them in a chat and gave them pencils and pens, in such a dire need everywhere in the country, like everything else, the looming and overpowering poverty of the Nepali villages.

After about 2 hours we reached the village that is the gateway to Chhoser caves and monasteries where we paid a foreigners’ entry fee of about $10 that include about four places to visit. I really hope that all these fees that are charged everywhere that may go to a good cause; taking pictures in the monastery come with a hefty fee, each day of the festival photo permit requires a fee, each monastery entrance has its own fee, always fees…

Shija Jhong caves, Upper Mustang, Nepal

The five stories Shija Jhong cave is just half an hour down the road, a luxury apartment that would have been called probably at the time, accommodating numerous families. You would hit your head navigating from one floor to another and explore lots of empty caves dug in the rock, each floor having at least 2-3 rooms with impressive views from various windows toward the valley and the river. The legend said that ruffians wanted to encircle and kill the dwellers and they blocked their water supply for several days. When they were sure that the dwellers would give up they saw a woman washing her hair in one of the windows. The woman was using oil but they thought that she was washing with water and gave up not knowing where the other source of water would be.

Lowo Nyiphug monastery, Upper Mustang, nepal

Lowo Nyiphug monastery hangs up on a cliff just across the river from the caves. You have to climbs steps to get to it and inside there are old tankas and murals that can be photographed. At its base, there is a monastic school that runs for about 25 years.

From the monastery, the road winds up on the cliffs around other caves used probably for meditation because they had some coloring inside and outside but currently occupied by herds of funny and fast tiny black lambs. It keeps going to the heart of the village where is the other Chhoser monastery.

Cave, Chhoser, Upper Mustang, Nepal

The old part of the village is made out exclusively of dug or natural caves, some having walls built out to protect from the rain and cold. All caves pockmark two adjacent hills, some being used as religious caves while others as living quarters Somebody built some staircases and renovated three of these caves, transforming them in a guesthouse in the sky and renting them for the time of Tiji festival with $50/cave!!! In a way, the caves reminded me of the ones in Matera, Italy only built in a less hospitable environment.

Chhoser old cave-houses, Upper Mustang, Nepal

The village has also a local daycare center with one teacher, possible funded by Jigme Foundation, the foundation started by the Lo Manthang’s Prince. I tried to find out from the local what is the prince’s name but nobody knew: ”We call him “the Prince”” We gave the kids more pencils and pens and all wanted to take pictures with us, so we obliged.

Suspended bridge in Upper Mustang

On the way back, we found Lo Manthang at a standstill. Every night of the Tiji festival, it was organized also a folklore festival for the villagers with village girls and boys performing traditional dances. This was the hype event of the day, way more popular for the locals than the Tiji, making men in the audience more excited by it than all the monks’ dances from during the day. But now all festivals were over, the foreigners were gone also and I found the square where all dances happened occupied by horses. A brand new mound of dirt was the sign that the work for bringing power to the local houses of the village continued and next year the village may be finally connected to the power grid.

Lo Manthang palace square, Upper Mustang, Nepal

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2019 in Blog, Nepal

 

The demon

The kings of Lo Manthang, like all kings in the world, built lots of forts and castles. They could not travel far and probably did not want to, so they had a castle/fort in every village around Lo Mathang. One such fort is located on top of a hill that flanks the village, a vantage point used for defensive purposes. Mud bricks, the technology of the day, made all forts and rain and winter freeze, partially or completely, ruined them leaving just walls looking like emaciated arms trying to grab the sky. The fort near Lo Manthang, meant to protect the valley and the village, still confers an interesting view over the village and charming views of the prayer flags blowing in the wind. In all four directions, you could see the walls of the four old ruined monasteries.

In Lo Manthang the festival was ready for its final day and its conclusion. The festival has a long history, starting in the 17th century when the Mustang King Samdup Rabten invited Sakya Trizin Ngawang Kunga Sinam in Lo Manthang to perform Vajrakila ritual for the well being of all sentient being and dispelling negative elements in Mustang. The monk resided in Chode Monastery but since then monks of Chode are performing this religious dance every year in the month of May.

The last day of the festival was surprisingly less attended. If the first day the foreigners were a majority, the second day the square was filled till the dancer’s circles with people who were fighting for good spots to take pictures, especially the newly rich Chinese who were as obnoxious as the new rich can be. Money does not buy class; you can see in our president… But the majority in this crowd were Tibetans who came to see their festival. Lots of kids-monks dressed in red parkas and lots of women with crying kids. There were all the villagers of the entire seven regions surrounding Lo Manthang congregating in one tiny square.

On this last day, the entire setup has changed: no more circle for the dancers, the place for the drummers were in the middle of the square, the audience was quite small, most of the foreigners left already together with a large part of the locals. But I found the third day the most interesting of the entire festival.

The haunting music of the longhorns and drums gave way to the Tsowa, who impersonating Dorje Sonam was keen to destroy once and for all the demon. The box where the two red tongue dog characters were shady-dealing the day before came back and in it was “shampa”, shaped like a demon who was sitting still and flat on his back in front of Tsowa.

Tsowa as Dorge Sonam was facing the back of the stage where also were located the longhorns and was standing strong on top of the demon trying first to destroy him with the Buddhist tools: a three colored rope, whose significance I missed, with the Tibetan bell, the purbhu (sacrificial knife) or with the dorje that is carried by all lamas. After each try, he was conducting the drummers who started to play at unison on the background sounds of the horns. Haunting and mysterious… I bet that the local people were mesmerized by the sounds and the elements of the entire show the monks were able to put together.

When Dorje Sonam figured out that all these things are not enough for such a demon, he started the real deal. Like in a voodoo ritual he received from an assistants mini-spikes and he inserted two at a time in the demon. The music became louder and more haunting until the demon was covered in spikes like a hedgehog.

Meanwhile three of the dog characters from the previous day were storming on the stage to protect the Tsowa during the Voodoo-like process and to shoo away the Chinese photographers who were always too close in the cheering of us all who were staying behind and have a Chinese dressed in pink in the frame instead of having the Tsowa and the demon.
Just in case if the mini-stakes penetrations were not enough, Tsowa started to cut the demon with a knife and just to make sure, he took a mallet and started to beat it to a pulp. With this, he declared himself happy and in the haunting sounds of the horns, he performed his last dance.

But this was not all. At one point Tsowa together with all the musicians, the drummers, trumpets, and longhorns started in a procession that stopped right outside of the gate of the village. They all chanted and drummed and danced together with the red-tongued dog protectors and were joined by four offerings made out of ghii, red and menacing and having a skeleton on top, each one carried by a man. It turned out that those were the food for the demons – why 4? Maybe for fat demons? – and together we started in another procession that stopped first on a large square outside of the walled town for more chanting and horns, just to continue and end up in an open field. The red tonged dogs did the job of guardians organizing the crowds and you better listened to them because they have some long, menacing swords.

In the field, Tsowa did his final spiel (or spell). He started his dance by the incessant drumming and haunting horns and took a bow and hit somewhere in the field, symbolizing that he hit the demon, or remaining demons, right in the middle of the forehead. He took after that a slingshot and sent two stones in the same direction hitting symbolically the demon again. All was done on the background of gun power fired from old muskets by the many locals in charge with this task, probably about 10 shots at a time. The noise was terrifying and was supposed to scare any other demons that may have had any ideas to come on this realm.

Tsowa’s last act was to recites prayers and dispose of each of the demons’ food, a process done with the same noise of gun powder muskets. The job completed, Tsowa and his entire monk retinue started to get back in town with all us following in pursuit and we all passed together inside the walled city, now cleansed of all evil, stepping at the main gate over a hay fire where we were supposed to spit out all our evil left in each of us. The monks went inside Tupchen monastery for a last rite and I step in the guesthouse because for sure I got a cold with temperatures in lower 30s F towards evening.
As somebody put it several days later: in a chaotic country like Nepal where few things work according to plans, this festival worked like clockwork.

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2019 in Blog, Nepal

 

Bardo

The valley going to Marzon, Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Each day the Tiji festival starts around 2 PM and lasts for about 3 hours. All morning you could see locals sweeping the palace square and sprinkling water into the alleys and the main square where the dance would happen, hoping to keep the overwhelming dust stuck to the ground that would be awakened anyhow by the continuous wind. Monks are shuffling around the village carrying furniture, carpets, masks and all sort of instruments that would be used later in the festival ceremony in the palace square.

Marzon Caves, Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Most of the foreigners take advantage of this hustle and bustle and leave the village for hikes around Lo Manthang. Marzon is one of these places, a collection of caves all dug in one impressively large rock, pocked with holes in its entirety. In Upper Mustang the caves were the norm for both living quarters and for meditation. The entire region is pockmarked with caves, the last count putting their number to more than 10000. Just recently a shepherd discovered about 33 of them, all painted inside, probably used in the past for meditation, but their location is kept secret by the locals and the conservationist Luigi Fieni who got involved in their preservation.

Young monks bringing the masks for the Tiji festival, LO Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Tiji festival is one of the most important events of the region and is attended by the members of the Mustang royal family as well as by all the villagers of the seven provinces of Upper Mustang who come to witness this sacred dance. The dance of the Tiji festival is led by the main dancer named Tsowa who had to complete a three-month meditation retreat before the festival.
Tiji commemorates the victory of Buddha’s incarnation Dorje Sonam over the demon named Ma Tam ru ta, who to make it even more Holywoodian, is actually Dorje Sonam’s own father. The demon Ma tam ru ta was a man-eater who created calamities and havoc on the villagers’ life.

Tiji Festival, Day 2

The legends with the demons that create havoc in the villages’ life stem from the beginning of Buddhism in Tibet when Guru Rimpoche followed and killed demons in Tibet left and right in order to pacify the land and establish Buddhism as the peaceful and stable religion of the land. The legends of demons abound and not surprisingly they are present in the Tiji festival. The demons were either killed or folded into Buddhism as protectors, in the wrathful manifestation form of another deity. In a way the Tiji festival is a reenacting of the Guru Rimpoche legend of the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet.

King’s protector deity dance, Tiji Festival, Day 2

If the first day of the festival was mainly a meditative dance with 15 steps that would confer the energy to the monks to help Tsowa to defeat the demon, the dances performed on the second day of the festival, named Na-Cham, have a different significance. It marks the birth of Dorje Sonam, whose demon father is watching the event from under a blanket in the middle of the square. Of course, the birth is actually a rebirth that goes through a Bardo and the dances are performed first by the same dancers as in the first day, followed by terrifying manifestations that are meeting the soul in his way through the Bardo till its rebirth. The dances have a sense of comic on occasions to be pleasing to the audience that cheers when they feel that the demon would be further challenged.

Skeletons’ dance, Tiji Festival

A dance of some terrifying masks that I was told that are the protector deities of the royal families who try to guard the soul in its travel through Bardo is followed by a dance of skeletons who come shivering and frail on the stage and end up tormenting the soul in its reincarnation process.

Tiji Festival, Day 2

In the end, Dorje Sonam, wearing a dog mask with a long red tongue, dances around the courtyard along with deities wearing animal masks who come on stage apparently fighting each other. All these animal masked deities can be seen on various frescos in Tibetan Buddhist temples; bird, tiger, horse, pig, etc. They don’t look friendly at all. Meanwhile the dog masked Dorje Sonam together with a similarly masked assistant keep conferring over a box that contains the demon – shampa – and after many conferences they agree and give a piece of the action to all the surrounding masked deities whom they are able by this process to fold them into Buddhist transforming them in protectors of the dharma and fighters against the demon. A little bribe always helps…

Tiji Festival, Day 2

It took a little bit of research to find out some of the details of this story because surprisingly people do not know the details of the dance no matter that probably they watched it numerous times. And the ones who knew were busy organizing the events. So more research would be needed to explain all dances and their significance.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2019 in Blog, Nepal

 

Six days to New York

Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Six days would take me to get back to New York from Lo Manthang. Well, maybe I can make it in five days if the jeep and bus would connect or if I would book in advance one of the 2X12 seats in the Jomson to Pokhara flight. But I don’t have any plans to leave this tiny place that had such an important place in local history.

Turning the dharma wheel, Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

The walled city of Lo Manthang did not change too much in the last several centuries. It’s actually a small village that played an important role for centuries as the capital of the Lo Kingdom. The Mustang region was absorbed in the unification achieved by Songtse Gyampo, the first king of Tibet who ruled around the 7th century.
Lo Kingdom established its independence in 1380 by Ame Pai, just to be absorbed as a suzerainty in the kingdom of Nepal in 1795 and ruled by the same royal family till 2008. When Nepal became a republic in 2008 the last king of Lo, Raja Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, was asked to abdicate but most of the Mustang population still venerate the inheriting prince as a ruler, even if he does not have any administrative powers.

Making flour in front of the city gate, Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Lo was a small kingdom but with a great role. The entire commerce between Himalaya and India was controlled between the 15th and the 17th century by this small principality. And nowadays it will continue to keep this control if the road that would connect Tibet to India would be finalized bringing the Chinese products to India on this shortest route, Lo Manthang being at only 10 km from the Chinese border.

Combing daddy’s hair, Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

The name of Mustang is actually an alliteration. The original name was Lo Menthang that meant the plain of medicinal plants. From Menthang it changed to Manthang and further to the more westernized name of Mustang.

The first day of dances in the Tiji Fesstival in Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

But the main reason I came here in Lo Manthang is for its vibrant religious Tiji festival, locally known as Tenchi. “Tiji” is a shortening of the word “Tempa Chirim” that means “Prayer for World Peace.” The festival takes three days and celebrates the victory of good over evil and consists of prayers, chants, and dances performed by monks dressed in very colorful dresses.

The dances are performed by the monks of Choedhe monastery in Lo-Mantang. Today, on the first day of the festival, the monks performed a dance called “Tsa Chham” in which they reenact the harassment of the demon, Ma Tam Ru Ta. The sacred dance is the part of the meditation practice based on the Tantra text related to Vajrakumar/Vajrakila. Its original name is Tenpa Chirim that confer the benefits of Buddha’s teaching to all sentient beings. According to the Buddhist tradition in Mustang the performers of this dance receive the empowerment of Vajrakila.

Tsa Chham dance in the first day of the Tiji Festival

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Blog, Nepal