Viviane Dalles

Photo Essay : - Mustang, Nepal 2009

Mustang - A Land at the End of the World

It’s a strange sensation, travelling through this desert. The massive mountains that stretch out of sight leave an impression on me, they almost destabilise me. The greatness of the landscape reminds me how minute we are, yet how at the same time we can be just as strong and powerful as the mountains if we conquer them.

Exctract fromVD’s diary

Mustang is situated in the north of Nepal at an average altitude of 10,500 feet. It is home to about 6000 people of which the majority are from the Bista community – Nepalese of Tibetan origin. Here, tarmac and vehicles don’t exist, the only way traverse this isolated region is by foot or by horse.

History tells us that the Forbidden Kingdom became independent after 1380, when a warrior and devout Tibetan Buddhist Ame Pal built a fortified capital, Lo-Manthang. The current king, Jigime Palbar Bista, has no political power, but remains loved and respected by the population. At the beginning of Nepal’s parliamentary democracy in 1990, Mustang was opened to foreigners but with limited access by way of a paying pass.

Time rolls on, the sun which blurs into the horizon tells us to pick up the pace, otherwise the thick night will keep us prisoner in this immense and silent cage..

Extract from VD’s Diary

Here, nature is king. It dictates the daily rhythm of the inhabitants. Journeys are counted not by distance, but in hours. A schoolchild might take two hours to get to his class. An old lady, 3 hours to travel to the doctor or a farmer 8 hours to retrieve his herd yak from the valley.

Electricity is rare in people’s homes. Candles prolong the day by a few hours, but most activities quickly grind to a halt after sunset. Having herded the flocks into their paddocks, families sit in circles around the stove. The porters bring news from neighbouring villages and the swaddled children cling onto their mothers. Only the wind moves in the alleys stirring up clouds of dust.

The Gandaki river means the black river . It is like a black line that has slipped between the mountains. It guides the way. It’s as if we’re in a land at the end of the world.Extract from VD’s diary
Njawan Nyima in his kitchen preparing dinnerNjawan, 26, owns and works on one acre of land. He grows cereal, potatoes and apples. Njawan earns 12,000 rupees a month – $100 – which allows him to provide for his wife, three year-old son and his mother that lives with them.
Tzarang. With some 400 inhabitants, it is one of the biggest villages after the capital Lo-Manthang. At an altitude of 10,950 feet, this is a village of narrow streets and traditional houses as well as numerous Buddhist monuments such as chortens.
Woman living in Tangye, 11,400 feetThis village is believed to be the oldest village in Mustang. The majority of the population is from the Bista community - Nepalese community of Tibetan origin.
Woman irrigating cereal cropThe water comes mainly from melted snow. Irrigation is fundamental for agriculture in a region as arid as Mustang.
The fertile fields around the villages where the villagers grow cereals, vegetables, potatoes and fruit, provide a rich and varied diet. For the other necessities of daily life, they travel twice a year to Tibet or into the Kathmandu valley. It’s an expedition from which they return in a convoy of horses with provisions for the coming months.
Tzarang. Funeral ceremonyFor the soul of the dead person to be freed, monks pray for 48 days. In the Buddhist religion members of the deceased’s family must consult a lama (monk) to choose one of the three paths that will allow the soul to be released.1- Take the body to a mountain and cut it up so it can be eaten by vultures2- Cut up the body and place the pieces in a river3- Cremate the body and scatter the ashes in a river
Tzarang. Funeral ceremonyThe son of the deceased in front of  the house chapel where five monks are praying for 48 days. After the death of someone, their name is never said again.
The Thupten Shad Drup Dharkeling Gonpa Monastery in Tzarang, Upper MustangIt is said that Tibetan Buddhism began in this monastery built in 1385. Even though it is falling into ruin, it is still inhabited by lamas -monks.
The Thupten Shad Drup Dharkeling Gonpa Monastery in Tzarang, Upper MustangLegend has it that 150 years ago the monastery was attacked by three mountain leopards. The guard dogs killed the wild animals. Since then the skins of the three leopards sit in a corner of the monastery as a trophy.
A Chorten - Buddhist funeral monuments that house relics- in the middle of the mineral desert.
Amchi book written 700 years agoAlthough new editions of traditional medicine textbooks are available, some Amchi still use the oldest versions considered by many as precious medical sources.
This patient treated by Tenzi Bista walked for nearly three hours to see him in Lo-Manthang
A class of Amchi at Lo-Mathang, capital of MustangThe classes contain between 2 and 6 students per level and take place in small dark rooms. To become an Amchi (doctor) the students must follow a theory course for seven years and then two years or practical training.
Tenzin, 3, playing in the larder of his homeOnce or twice a year, the inhabitants go to the Kathmandu valley or Tibet to buy food (such as rice, spices and sugar) and items that they can’t find in Mustang (furniture, rugs or crockery).
Nomad familyChhiten Gurung, 49, her husband Rhiten and five of their children live in a tent on the plateau of Upper Mustang at an altitude of 13,500 feet. At 5.30am the family gets ready to milk the goats.
Nomad familyEvery day at 6am Kuzand Dorma, 13, leaves with a flock of 150 sheep. With vegetation becoming a rarity around their camp, Kuzang and his brother Tsering walk for three hours to find pasture for the family’s flock. They will return at nightfall.
Nomad familyFinji Tsering, 12, does not go to school. Of seven children only two left to study in Kathmandu thanks to an NGO sponsor. A year of schooling for a child costs around 27,000 rupees or $200.
Nomad familyDiki Gurung is 24. She opened a little bar in Lo-Manthang which is also her home. From time to time she returns to the family’s camp to help her frail mother.
Nomad familyDiki returns to the camp.  She walked for two hours to find wood for the stove.
Nomad familyIn the afternoon, Chhiten teaches Diki how to weave traditional belts, under the curious eye of Tsering and the neighbours’ son. It takes 4 to 5 days to make a belt. If she does not keep it for herself, she will sell it in town for 1000 rupees or $8.
Nomad familyAt 6pm, Rhiten Gurung, the father, returns with his herd of yak that were 8 hours walk from the camp. Rhiten sell his yak for meat and wool. Depending on their size, the price varies between 20,000 and 40,000 rupees ($150-300).
Tangye, the oldest village in MustangIsolated in the east of the region, its inhabitants live in complete self-sufficiency. The women in traditional clothing give local beer (ban) to friends and members of the family who have come to Tangye for a birthday.
Women watching family and friends leave the village
No roads in Mustang for vehiclesFood supplies and other necessities are brought on the back of mules or carried by the men themselves.
Two porters en route for TangyeThe only people seen for the day, they are transporting irrigation piping. To get to Tangye from Chuksang, they will have walked 10 hours in the desert.
Over the centuries, protected by their mountainous frontier, Mustang remains a place of mystery. The population continues its lifestyle, traditions and the Buddhist religion of its ancestors, passing onto its children the precious knowledge needed to survive in this unique environment.