The Painted Caves of Saspol
Complementing their spectacular setting on a hill overlooking a verdant valley and surrounded by high mountains, the Gon-nila-phuk painted caves of Saspol in Ladakh are home to some of the finest wall paintings that were made in the history of the region. Created over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, these Buddhist paintings are one of the few surviving specimens of their kind, their bold and vibrant painted schemes showcasing the transformation from an earlier prevailing Kashmir-influenced style to a new Central Tibet-influenced style, for which they are known.
Owing to their unique setting, and religious and historical significance, the paintings—and the site as a whole—are a popular attraction, much visited by the local community and tourists alike. Yet at the same time, the paintings are under grave threat of imminent loss. Constant weathering and erosion has loosened boulders and rendered the base of the hill and faces of the caves unstable. In some cases this has led to the collapse of the facades of some caves, exposing the paintings within to the vagaries of nature.
Emergency works for the stabilization of the caves and the paintings were initiated by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Ladakh Chapter in 2015, and a preliminary work plan was prepared for the site. Following this, in 2016, WMF supported the detailed conservation of the paintings in the most elaborate of the surviving painted caves. A series of complex interventions and some preliminary scientific studies were undertaken, and conservation of one of the most visited caves was completed at the end of 2016. Now, more funding is needed to seek support for further activities that are necessary for the comprehensive conservation and revitalization of the whole site.
Read about Watch Day at the Gon-nila-phuk painted caves of Saspol.