Libmonster ID: MD-848
Author(s) of the publication: N. A. LISTOPADOV

Nepal Keywords:Mustangthakalitibetansnyingmapa


Doctor of Historical Sciences

In the north-central part of Nepal, on the border with Tibet, is the Mustang region, inhabited mainly by Tibetans. Mustang has long been considered an autonomous principality with its own ruler-the Raja. The dramatic events in Nepal that led to the abolition of the monarchy and the proclamation of a republic in May 2008 also affected the lost Mustang behind the Himalayas. The Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal abolished the title of raja, which was held by the nominal rulers of Mustang. The Mustang rajah is now a simple citizen of the fledgling Himalayan republic. Nevertheless, as far as is known, he retained a palace in the settlement of Lomontang (Lo Montang), hidden behind the Himalayan ridge.

Lomontang is located in inner Mustang, closer to Tibet. In the 60s - first half of the 70s of the last century, the area was restless. Armed detachments of Tibetans who opposed the Chinese authorities were based here. Now Lomontang is an open-air museum. To get there, you need a special permit, for which you have to pay a decent amount. Yes, and such a journey can take a lot of time. Unfortunately, I didn't get to Lomontang, but I did visit Mustang, which left an unforgettable impression.


Since the 70s of the last century, the remote, sparsely populated Mustang has been calm. The area, one of the few in Nepal, has not even been affected by the armed Maoist insurgency that has rocked the Himalayan state for more than a decade. Getting to the Mustang is not easy. You can, of course, make a multi-day trek through the mountains. Unfortunately, I didn't have that much time. I had to take a plane. First, a half-hour flight from the capital Kathmandu to the resort town of Pokhara, located in a narrow valley on the shore of the beautiful Phewa Lake.

Pokhara is framed by snowy peaks that are reflected on the lake surface. Especially impressive is Mount Machapuchre, which means Fish Tail. Indeed, the shape of the mountain is very similar to the tail of a giant fish. Machapuchre is considered sacred. Therefore, it is forbidden to climb it. No matter how angry the gods are. In addition to Machapuchre, other ever-white peaks are clearly visible from Pokhara. The highest of them, more than 8 thousand meters - Annapurna, named after the goddess of abundance and fertility. Somewhere out there, beyond the glittering snow and ice-peaks , Mustang.

The fact that Mustang is a very special world, you will find out already at the Pokhara airport. In the mountainous region, they want to preserve not only traditions and culture, but also the environment. Therefore, the import of plastic bags is strictly prohibited in the Mustang. A meticulous ticket collector found a plastic bag in my luggage before boarding the plane. I had to throw it away. Ecology requires sacrifice.

The flight to Jomsom, the administrative center of the region, took only 15-20 minutes. The plane - so tiny, just a box with wings-bravely maneuvers between the peaks, clinging to the rocks. Somewhere far below, the Kaligandaki River winds. Its gorge is one of the deepest in the world. So we crossed the Himalayas. Mustang is already the Tibetan Plateau. The landscape changes dramatically. It's very dry here. Moisture from the Indian Ocean does not reach the plateau. Rain is very rare here.

The runway in Jomsom stretches along the river. There is no asphalt. When landing, gravel is thrown out from under the wheels of the plane in all directions. We go down the ramp and freeze. Right now-

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mo across the river, at arm's length, rises the snow giant - Nilgiri, or Sapphire Mountain. It really gives off a bluish glow. There are no roads, and therefore no cars, in the Mustang. I get to the hotel on foot, climbing a rather steep slope. I'm being overtaken by pony caravans. Heavy-laden japus, strong animals, a cross between a cow and a yak, passed by.

By itself, Jomsom is not very interesting - by local standards, a small town, with several small hotels and inns. It is very interesting what begins beyond the Jomsom line. To the north are Tibetan settlements, and in the villages to the south live representatives of the Thakali people.

I spent the whole day exploring the Thakal settlement with the cute name of Marfa. I had to climb the mountains along the Kaligandaka. A stone gate leads to it. Surrounded by apple orchards, Marfa looks like a small medieval fortress. The development is extremely dense. Narrow stone-paved streets. All life takes place in courtyards protected from the wind on all sides. In the center of the village, on a hillock, stands an impressive Buddhist monastery, from which Marfa resembles a huge wood warehouse. The fact is that for the winter - and it is quite cool in Mustang, freezing at night - residents prepare a lot of firewood and store logs on the flat roofs of their homes. Above the roofs of the houses rises a forest of long poles with colorful rags, on which sacred texts-mantras are written. The wind ripples the cloth, and prayers resound over the village.

Buddhism is practiced by about 11% of the Nepalese population, possibly significantly more, since many Nepalese Buddhists previously registered themselves as Hindus, for political reasons. The Buddhists of Nepal are mainly the peoples of the Tibeto-Burman group, which also includes the Thakali.

The Thakali are a small people, but very enterprising. For centuries, they have been involved in the vibrant trade between Tibet, Nepal, and India along with the Tibetans. Caravans of ponies and mules carrying salt, wool, and other goods traveled along the mountain trails. Loaded animals are still an integral part of the Mustang landscape. The horses are exquisitely decorated. Bright red plumes perch above their heads, and their bells ring melodiously everywhere. Ponies now carry mostly tourists ' luggage. The animals wander by themselves. The teamsters walk behind the caravan.

Thakali are successfully engaged in tourist business: they maintain hotels, shops with local souvenirs. They are a very peculiar people, influenced by both their northern neighbors, the Tibetans, and their southern neighbors, the Nepalese and Indians. They learned Nyingmapa Buddhism from the Tibetans, and some traditions and customs and clothing from the Nepalese. Thakali women, as well as Hindu women, put a tika on their forehead - a red spot that symbolizes blessing. The Tibetan woman is immediately recognizable by the colorful and striped apron, somewhat reminiscent of the aprons of our village old ladies. Tibetans have a soft spot for jewelry made from turquoise, a favorite stone in Tibet.


In the evening, I visited another Thakal village, Siang, which is smaller than Marfa. Beyond the stone fences, cows sighed and sheep bleated hollowly. I made the acquaintance of an elderly peasant, and he invited me to visit. I immediately began to treat them to tea and apples. Then he led me to the second floor, where there is an altar with images of the Buddha, the founder of Nyingmapa, Guru Rinpoche, and the unchanging portrait of the Dalai Lama. The host showed me a Tibetan calendar, Tibetan prayer books published in India. He speaks good Tibetan, but I don't. Still, we managed to talk a little. Thakali was a father of many children. He has four daughters and a son. This family, like many others in Mustang, lives mostly by raising sheep. The demand for wool is quite good. It is used for the production of carpets that are popular in international markets. An apple orchard provides additional income. Chopped apples were drying on the roof. Eco-friendly dried fruits are purchased even by Japan. The landlord's round-faced, red-cheeked daughter handed me a small bag of dried apples. But try apple brandy me-

* Nyingmapa (Tibet, literally, "old") is a Tibetan school of Buddhism, the origin of which is associated with the name of the preacher Padmasambhava (VIII century).

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I didn't want to cook properly. He smelled too much like a sea lion...

It would seem that the rocky ground of the Mustang is barren. But this is not the case. Under irrigation, barley and vegetables are grown here. And even plant the already mentioned apple orchards in places protected from the wind. Mustang apples are famous all over Nepal. On the Mustang's dusty, rocky trails, I kept eating juicy apples, buying them from the Tibetans for a pittance. They noticeably added strength. My fatigue was completely relieved. Just a miracle-apples imbued with the energies of Mustang.

The next day I reached another Thakal village, Thini. From here you can enjoy a view of the 8-thousand-year-old Dhaulagiri. Nature itself has become "Buddhist"in Mustang. The ledges of stones on the steep slopes are painted with lime and resemble sacred structures. A noisy band of village children ran into me. They were all snotty and in tattered clothes. But it didn't dampen their spirits at all. They laughed merrily and demanded to be photographed. Which I gladly did.

From Thiney, the trail goes sharply down to a noisy stream in the gorge. I cross the suspension bridge to the opposite bank. And again-a steep climb. Then the usual wind picked up at this time.

It's dusty. But all the inconveniences are instantly forgotten as soon as we reach the tiny mountain lake Dumba. It was formed due to the melting of snow on the Nilgiri. On the shore there are several pines with dark green needles, along the edges the blue water of the Dumba is covered with thin ice. A feeling of extraordinary freshness.

The panorama of the monastery is clearly visible from the lake. Its burgundy walls stand out clearly against the grayish-brown background of stones and withered grass. The climb to the monastery is not so long - 40 minutes. The monastery grounds are enclosed by a stone wall with an impressive-looking gate. From the outside, the monastery looks very modest. And I didn't expect to see anything special inside. Fortunately, I was wrong.

I followed the cacophony of sounds coming from somewhere deep in the monastery through the dim corridors. A service was being held in the semi-dark chapel, sparsely lit through narrow windows located just below the ceiling. Lamas and novices chanted mantras in monotonous voices. Prayers were continually interrupted by an orchestra consisting of drums, flutes, long pipes, and large white conch shells. Among the novice musicians were very young children. They blew their pipes assiduously, puffing out their cheeks in a funny way. The stone room is cold, so the lamas put on woolen mittens. Looking closer, I saw that the sanctuary is richly decorated with rich wall paintings, numerous statues of Buddhas, bodhisattvas-deities of the vast Tibetan Buddhist pantheon, cloth icons-tanka. There are also striking images of Padmasambhava, also called Guru Rinpoche, who is said to have brought Buddhism to Mustang in the eighth century CE, founding the Nyingmap tradition. The Dalai Lama heads another direction - Gelugpa. In nyingmap, the emphasis is on mysticism, esoteric rites. This is not surprising, given the unique living conditions of people on the "Roof of the World" near eternal snow, incredibly high peaks, deep gorges and turbulent rivers.

The abbot of the monastery, a fairly young lama, says that this monastery is ancient. He explains to me who is who of the many deities of Tibetan Buddhism, leading me first to the mural, then to the statue. Every detail of the image is deeply symbolic. Here we stand before Padmasambhava. His headdress is red. That's why nyingmapu is called-

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They are called the "sect of the red-capers". The Guru's robes are multicolored. The white color of the lower robe symbolizes the purity of his consciousness, the red color of the upper dress - great compassion for all living beings, and the brown cape - world renunciation. Popular in the monasteries of Mustang and Bodhisattva Manjushri, revered as a deity of wisdom. The abbot explains: "The flaming sword and the holy book in his hands indicate that you are looking at the image of Manjushri. With a flaming sword, he cuts through ignorance." The dharmapalas, the guardian deities of Buddhist teachings, are always depicted in a frightening form: with bulging eyes, snarling mouths, and in addition to everything else - with many skulls. So the enemies of Buddhism tremble.

When I walked up to the monastery, it seemed to me that the foot of the Nilgiri, where the snow begins, is just a short walk away, just a couple of hours. Now, when you get to the top of the hill, where you can see the other side of the ridge, you can see that the border of eternal snow and ice is still very far away - not even a whole day is enough. Mountains are very deceptive.

It was December, when the passes in the mountains were covered with snow, so I couldn't get to Muktinath, a famous pilgrimage site for Hindus and Buddhists not only in Nepal, but also in India. A year later, there was once again an opportunity to visit Mustang and fulfill the dream of visiting Muktinath and perhaps approaching the state of eternal bliss - mukti.


The" window " for the trip was cut out in August. This is not the best month to travel in Nepal. The monsoon isn't over yet. I flew to Pokhara without any problems. But I'm stuck there. It was raining steadily. A thick fog covered the valley tightly. All flights to Jomsom have been cancelled. I had to go back to Kathmandu.

In October, I will make another attempt to reach Muktinath. Once again, the trip was almost disrupted by heavy rain and poor visibility in Pokhara. I lost one day waiting for the flight weather. Finally, the rain stopped and the fog lifted. It seems to be possible to fly. But that wasn't the case. The plane broke down. Definitely, the higher powers still think that I am not ready to visit Muktinath yet. But the gods of Nepal still had mercy, the plane was repaired. After 20 minutes, I was back under Mount Nilgiri. Without wasting a moment, I set off north, towards the Tibetan border, where the settlement of Kagbeni is located. Unlike Marfa, it is not the Thakali who live here, but the Tibetans. However, the two towns have a lot in common, which is due to similar natural conditions and the proximity of cultural and religious traditions. In Kagbeni, the winds are even stronger - the river gorge is a powerful wind tunnel, and the development here is even denser than in Marfa. Stone buildings stand close to each other. In Mustang, Buddhism is intertwined with local archaic beliefs. In one of the narrow passages between the courtyards, I came across the figure of an idol with sharply emphasized sexual characteristics.

Mustang towns are dominated by red-walled fortress monasteries. On the roofs of the chapels are necessarily images of the chakra-the wheel of learning, which is supported by two deer. Here and there are places of worship known as stupas. These are peculiar monuments to the dead. Some of them are whitewashed and brightly painted. The footsteps of the stupas are covered with sacred writings. The most common inscription is a mantra in honor of the Bodhisattva of mercy Dvalokiteshvara. And the peasant houses here are not some shacks, but solid, 2-3-storey structures made of stone. Therefore, Mustang settlements do not look like villages, but small medieval fortress cities.

I go out to the outskirts of Kagbeni. To Kagbeni, the path runs directly along the dried - up part of the Kaligandaki riverbed, and then steeply goes up and leads to the goal of a sky - high journey-to Muktinath, located at an altitude of about 4 thousand meters. This sacred place for Hindus and Buddhists is mentioned in the Mahabharata. Mukti, according to Hindu philosophy, is a state of bliss, a final release from the chain of rebirth. It is worth spending a few hours of mountain climbing for this purpose. Muktinath can be viewed from a distance. This is a whole complex, clinging to the hillside. Hindu and Buddhist shrines are located in a shady grove of trees that resemble our poplars.

Muktinath is the unity of 4 primary elements. In addition to the rocky ground and mountain air, there is water falling from the rocks, and fire coming to the surface from the rocks. Surprisingly, the flame

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it breaks through water jets, symbolizing the unity of all things.


A Buddhist temple has been erected over the sacred fire. The Buddha and bodhisattvas stare at the flame in fascination. The familiar figures of Padmasambhava and Manjushri. Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of mercy and compassion, holds a magic gemstone in two hands out of four. There is no force in the world that can destroy, shatter this jewel. It's autumn in Muktinath. Tree crowns turn yellow. Dry leaves rustle under my feet. Very impressive look flaming red leaves low-growing shrubs. They resemble huge bonfires.

In the temple of Vishnu, 108 streams fall. Glacial water falls like a torrent from mountain peaks. In the temple, it gets along the gutters ending with images of the heads of various animals and mythical creatures. Under them, pilgrims perform ablutions.

Especially colorful are the ascetic sadhus in orange robes. Some of them came on foot from India to worship at the Muktinath shrines. Pilgrims from hot India also come in winter, and then they have to walk almost barefoot in the snow, half-dressed. But they don't freeze. They must be warmed by the Muktinath Fire.

A gate decorated with 8 lucky symbols leads to the sanctuary. These include a white umbrella, a victory banner, a vessel with amrita-the drink of immortality, two fish, a lotus, an infinite knot, a panicle and a lotus. Those who pass through these gates will definitely be lucky.


You never get tired of being surprised by the Roerich colors of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. The mountains are especially beautiful at sunset and at dawn. The hospitality of Tibetans is also amazing. I went to the courtyard of the teahouse to drink Tibetan tea with milk, butter, barley flour and salt. And at this time, a strong wind blew, thick dust rose. The hostess began to apologize ruefully for the capricious local weather, which is so unkind to travelers.

Muktinath is also considered sacred because there are so many shaligrams - fossilized mollusks that lived 200 million years ago. Ancient shells turned to stone are neatly divided in half by souvenir merchants. You pick up a gift from the Mesozoic and spend a long time looking at the bizarre patterns, prints of the remains of prehistoric creatures. It seems that some unknown wisdom of bygone centuries is encrypted in them. In general, Mustang breathes eternity - from the indestructible mountains with their snowy peaks, from the powerful monastery walls and from the unquenchable fire of Muktinath, arising directly from the water.

There is complete peace in Muktinath. Here, Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries coexist peacefully. The silence is broken, or rather emphasized, by the sound of falling water. The primary elements that underlie the universe can not be fussy. But the world does not end in Muktinath.

The trail goes higher, to the Soronga Pass, to an altitude of almost 5.5 thousand m. The ascent is unusually steep, almost vertical. Gradually, as you approach the goal, all vegetation disappears. There are only dark rocks around. Almost lunar landscape. Only from all sides the snow caps of the peaks shine. A little more and I reached the snow-covered foothills of Sorong Peak. Right in front of me, under the sun, the crystal bulk of the mountain sparkles dazzlingly against the amazing blue sky. The height is about 5 thousand m. The air is thin, but it is easy to breathe. Of course, I would like to go further, all the way to the pass. But, unfortunately, there is no time. We have to go down to the valley. From above, Muktinath looks like a green patch, an oasis in the middle of a stone desert.

The journey back to Jomsom was not easy. In the evening, a strong wind blew, which literally knocked you down. I'm already tired. But I was amused by a Tibetan family riding their ponies back to their village. Belated travelers spurred their horses vigorously. Especially hilarious was a boy of no more than five years old. He pulled the reins tight and shouted merrily. The young Tibetan's cheeks were flushed. The horsemen grinned when they saw me. They didn't pay any attention to the dust storm. Mustangs are surprisingly hardy, cheerful people. Others would not have been able to survive in this harsh land. And not just to survive, but to create and preserve a unique Buddhist culture.


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