Some Called it a bared land, some believes it is a heaven on earth, in fact it a land of purity, hidden far from modern day crowd and place of pure meditation. While Tibetan Buddhism is squeezed inside of China’s borders, there is a place where it still survives intact: Upper Mustang – a once forbidden kingdom high in the Nepalese Himalayas.
Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao follows the struggle of the Tibetan people to preserve an ancient culture., Steve Chao travels there to document the fight to preserve an ancient culture, as China expands its influence into Nepal, and the modern world slowly creeps in.
There is a reason for China’s concern. In the 1960s, shortly after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet for India, a Tibetan resistance movement was formed in a place called Mustang.
Mustang, or Lo, as locals call it, is an ancient Tibetan kingdom that is now part of Nepal. Hidden in the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range, it is protected by its remoteness, and the fact the only way in and out for centuries was on horseback.
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Surrounded by Tibet on three sides and governed by a Tibetan royal family, Mustang – a kingdom within a kingdom – survives as one of the last remnants of ancient Tibet. Although nominally integrated into the kingdom of Nepal in the early 1950s, it remains largely autonomous, and much of its medieval cultural fabric has survived.
In fact, Mustang is said to be more like Tibet before the Chinese occupation than Tibet itself, filled with ancient walled fortress-villages and monasteries hew from the rock, displaying a muted natural palette of grays and variegated rusty reds. Like much of the Tibetan plateau, the landscape is rugged and austere, a dramatic high-desert terrain flanked by towering peaks, including the snow-capped Annapumas to the south.
Though Nepal opened to tourism in the 1950’s, Mustangs sensitive position along the Tibet border kept it off-limits until 1992, when the Nepali government began admitting a trickle of foreign tourists. Ironically, Mustang was well traveled in the past, its ancient trade routes dating back more than 1,000 years.
Its treeless vistas must have appeared distant and extraordinary to European traders returning from China with their precious cargo. They would have been as hard pressed as today’s trekkers to explain the other worldliness of it all.