The Hidden Treasures of MustangBy Abhishek Pandey
Mustang has been ruled over by various small kingdoms, including Kingdom of Jumla, Kingdom of Ladakh, and various Tibetan kingdoms over the centuries. Architectural remnants, religious and cultural monuments that survive today provide ample evidences of various cultural inputs.
Paintings, wall murals that have survived the centuries are, timeline of cultural, political and religious changes too. Survived arts from 3rd to 8th century are mostly of Bonpo religion, which was the mainstream religion of the Himalayas and northern areas until 11th century A.D until replaced by Buddhism. In fact Bonpo still survives and thrives within Tibetan Buddhism through the uniform and robes of Monks, style and techniques of art, their written scripts, large parts of language and countless mythologies that have managed to outlive major religions. When northern Indian plain were still predominantly Buddhist, waves of Indian arts begins to feature along with older art practices from 11th century. Hundreds of surviving and neglected arts in caves, monasteries and other cultural monuments feature portraits of Gods of Indian plains along with deities of older local cultures.
It’s an area that today is synonymous with a faith that is recognized as the most peaceful and tranquil among all of the globally known faiths. Nowhere else is the legacy of Ngimapa Buddhism better preserved than in Mustang, arguably Ladhakh too. The legacy that has survived in Mustang has a history of fierce geopolitical competition and ensuing wars over its control. The landscape decorated with thousand-year-old Mani’s, Stupas and Gompas also has scars of constant warfare and remnants of a highly militarized society.
Geopolitics begins with geography and Mustang is a bottleneck opening in the middle of the biggest wall in earth’s history, the Himalayas. Kali Gandaki river valley is by far the most traversable terrain to cross the Himalayas North to South and vice versa.
Most commonly used trans-Himalayan trails were few among which are:
- Khasgar&khotan to Peshawar via Kashmir
- Shigatse to Kathmandu via Kodari
- Lhasa &Shigatse to Sikkim via Nathula pass
- Central Tibet to Lumbini via Kora La in Mustang
There are many more trails but these are the major ones that linked Gangetic plains in India with Silk Road trails North of the Himalayas that linked Central Asia and Mainland Han China.The most ancient and regularly used passage through present day Nepal was the route through the Mustang. The route along Kali Gandaki River was used primarily for trading and pilgrimage. The trade route along Kali Gandaki River connected Varanasi and Bodhgaya in India with Kapilvastu, Lumbini, Bhutwal and Ridi in Central Nepal, leading further through the Mustang region in Nepal to West Tibet and the Brahmaputra valley, continuing from there to Khotan as well to Kashgar, partly via Ladakh. This confluence has left us with countless evidences of cultural influence from India, Tibet, China, and Central Asia.