Gompas of Upper Mustang

World Monuments Watch
Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

1996 and 1998 World Monuments Watch

As a result of their remoteness, the gompas (temple/monasteries) of the Upper Mustang have remained unchanged by modern life. The two earthen gompas of Thubchen and Jamba are still used daily by local inhabitants who adhere to traditional Tibetan cultural beliefs, but their structural viability is in question; the buildings may no longer be safe to use. These sites are among the best surviving examples of classical Tibetan monastic architecture of the Sakya-pa, one of the most distinguished artistic periods in Tibetan history. Ornamental and iconographic wall paintings considered to be among the finest Buddhist murals in Nepal or Tibet fill the interiors. Jamba Gompa contains 1,500 mandalas (diagrams of the spiritual cosmos) – the only Tibetan temple painted entirely with them. Both gompas are in advanced states of disrepair – falling roofs, leakage, sagging floor joists, cracking exterior walls. A progressive conservation strategy is required, as well as a recording of traditional building materials and techniques.

Since the Watch

Following the 1998 Watch several gompas in Upper Mustang were restored under the supervision of the American Himalayan Foundation, in close collaboration with the community of Lo Manthang. The leaking roof of Thubchen gonpa was replaced with a traditional assembly of round timbers, river stones, and local clay for waterproofing. Subsequently, conservators carefully cleaned the wall paintings of layers of soot accumulated during a period of over 500 years from the burning of butter lamps. Where detachment had taken place, the paintings were secured to the wall using mud plaster, and then areas of paint were consolidated using a chemical adhesive. The wall painting conservation project allowed for an international exchange of insights about the appropriate treatment of Buddhist wall paintings. In addition, architectural elements such as pillars and architraves were restored. Starting in 2001, Jamba gompa was also restored. The projects involved local artisans and some of Nepal's best traditional carpenters. In the United States, an educational program and a documentary based on the restoration were produced by PBS in 2003. Today, Thubchen and Jamba gompas remain in daily use, and traditional building techniques have been revived after many years. In addition to these two important monuments, other gombas in Upper Mustang were also restored. January 2011

Last updated: June 2018.

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