Upper Mustang - Lo Manthang

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Upper Mustang - Lo Manthang

BEYOND THE BORDER LO – Manthang, A Medieval Walled City

Welcome to the only living walled city of Nepal. Built in 1380 AD by the first king of Lo, Ame Pal, the walled city still stands as a testimony to Lo-Manthangs prosperity and rich cultural heritage. The wall, which is 2472 feet long and 26 feet high, has series of 14 to wers along its periphery. These towers rise 40 feet high and are 6 feet wide at its base and 3 feet wide at the top. During the region of the Mustangi 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 at the east of the township. In early days, this gate used to be closed before dusk and opened at dawn. Until recently, the town inhabitants followed this rule dutifully, but the rule is no more in practice. Nonetheless, as in the past, except for the Raja (King), Rani (queen) and the Khempo (chief priest) everyone dismount their horses while passing through the town gate. This custom is observed to pay respect to Avalokiteswara (God of compassion), Mahne (prayer wheel) and Jhong Lha (Deity of the fort) that are located in front of and the Khempo considered as equals to the deities are not required to dismount their horses while entering the gate.

The city is divided into four traditional wards (Si-Shu) namely “Ghun-thang”. These names refer to as the shrines of deities from the respective wards. “Ghun-thang” is the shrine of “Mahakala” or “Gompo”, “Domaling” the shrine of “Tara” or “Doma”, “Potaling” the shrine of “Dipangar Buddha” or “Hyepo Mahe” and “jhythang” the shrine of “Jhampa or Maitria”, the future Buddha. These wards take turn to perform various religious and social tasks of the town.

People of Lo-Manthang

About 1100 Lobas People of Lo lived in the 180 mud houses of the walled city and surprisingly they observe a form of caste hierarchy. This may be the reason why it is mainly the Kudal (Bista the nobility and royalty of Lo) and the Phalwa (Gurung) who live within the walled city. Gharna (black smith), Shemba (black smith), Shemba (butcher) and Emeta (musician) mostly live in the settlement beside the Lo-Manthang river that flows to the east of the city. The Raja and Rani or Mustang 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, Ame Pal, in the early 14th century. The present Raja is his twenty-second descendent.

Livestock husbandry combined with agriculture is still the mainstay of the local economy. Seasonal migration for trade to the southern parts of Nepal and North India and bate 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.
To prevent fragmentation of family property, some Lobas still practice Polyandry. A woman is married to all the brother of a family.

Culture and Religion

Lo-Manthang’s culture is deep rooted in the religious sentiments of its people. The township abound with manu chhortens, mahne-walls and monastries. Prayers flags flutter above all the houses-conveying mantras to all corners of the world. The Lobas are exclusively Buddhists and confirm to Sakya-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, which was later replaced by Ningma Pa Sect (Dhakar-Kayu subsect) and subsequently by Sakya Pa Sect (Sakyaoa Ngorpa subsects) of Buddhism.

Of the three Gompas in Lo-Manthang, the Jhampa Gompa is the oldest. It was built in 1387 AD during the reign of the famous King Anguin sangbo and is believed to be a replica of Ghangtse Jhampa Gompa of Tibet, which still exists in Ghanste, near Khasa.
The three storied Jhampa Gompa, is an exemplary piece of art. It amly exhibits Lo-Manthangs great architectural depth of the past. The uniqueness of this gompa lies in gold painted tantric mandalas entirely covering the interiors of the wall of the first and second floors. The main prayer hall is painted with double register of mandalasinterpresed with smaller mandalas. The sheer size of the gompa itself is an attrction. One will be surprised to know that the walls of the gompa are 5ft 4inches thick, 55ft high, 50ft long and 80ft wide.
Thupchen is the second oldest gompa if the town. It was built in the early 15th century by Tashi Gon, the third Raja of Mustang. Despite being smaller than Jhamba, Thupchen is an 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. The wall painting bears various images of Buddha and other deities in different mudras. The wooden beams in Dukhang carry Buddhist mantra engraved in it and the ceiling has beautifully placed rafters. It its heyday. Thupchen was the majoy center of religious activity in Lo-Manthang.
Resided by the Khempo, Chooede Gompa presently is the main Gompa of Lo and also the centre of religious activity. It was built by a king name A-Ham Tshewang Phuntsok Tskgyen Norbu in 1757. The present Chhoede Gompa is a merger of the then Chorrang Gompa. This Gompa houses beautiful Thangka (Buddhist religious paintings) and images, including the sacred Thangka of Mahakala is a wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshwara and Dorje Sonnu is the main deity of the Tenchi festival.

Tenchi is the most popular festival of Lo Tsho Dyun, and is celebrated over three days to mark the killing of a demon by Dorje Sonny, the demon’s son. Tenchi is a derivative of the Tibetan word “Tempa Chirim”, meaning a prayer for world peace. The festival is celebrated on the fifth month of the Tibetan calendar, which unusually come to place in May. Twohuge Thankas are displayed during the occasion. Numerous other festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Some important ones are Mahne Dance (which marks the killings of the demon through a dance drama), Sakaluka (seed sowing ceremony for good harvest), Duk Chu (Monk’s dance and prayer for a prosperous New Year), Chung Emma (household prayers or prosperous new year), Phakne (group of same age visit different holy places), Loh Sar (New Year) and so forth.

A monastic School – Tse Chhen Shedrubling Tukling Mon Gon Lobdra – is attached to the Chhoede Gompa. This is the only SAkya-pa monastic school of Upper Mustang where young monks (Dhawa) are taught on the teaching of Buddha.

The people of Lo have for long relied on traditional herbal medicine to cure ailments and the faith still holds true. With some donor support an Amchi School now runs in Lo under the local Amchi family (Tibetan herbal Doctor)



Nepal verslag index

28 september - 5 oktober 2004 - Verslag week 3 (Nepalese taalles, lezing Lama Rimpoche, Budhanilkantha, computerlessen in kinderhuis)

21 - 28 september 2004 - Verslag 2 - o.a. Bouddhanath, Kirtipur en Indra Jatra festival

15 -21 september 2004 - Verslag 1 - o.a. aankomst in Nepal, Swayambhunath en kinderhuis



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