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Travel Preserved by its isolation, Lo-Manthang in Nepal is now feeling the relentless pressure of modern tourism. Dr Ted Collinson wanted to see this Shangri-la before it changes. Visitors are thin on the ground at LoManthang, the ancient capital of the farflung Mustang region of Nepal. The region was closed off to Westerners until 1964 when the French ethnologist, explorer and author Michel Georges Francois Peissel was granted permission to enter. Since then it has become a serious trekker’s destination, with permits still restricted. For those who do, the Tiji Festival in May is drawcard. Every year Lo-Manthang hosts the three-day Tiji Festival, which is one of the Himalayas’ oldest and most spectacular religious festivals. It dates from the eighth century having been brought to Lo-Manthang from Tibet by Guru Rinpoche at a time when the area was ruled by the King of West Tibet, who also ruled the Ladakh area of the Indian Himalayas. The festivals are Buddhist in nature, though their roots lie in the ancient pre-Buddhist BonPo religion, which incorporates animalistic features also seen in Ladakhi festivals.

nks prepa re Buddhist mo Festival for the Tiji

Painsta kin gw the monas ork retouching tery fresco esv

Tourism breaches the walls Lo-Manthang is a walled city that houses three monasteries, a monastery school and the King’s palace. It owes its survival to its isolation yet now this isolation is being challenged by the modern pressures which are so obvious in other parts of Nepal. A road of sorts now links Tibet to Lo-Manthang, which is only 50km from the Tibetan border, to the plains of Nepal. One of the reasons why I was so keen to see the Tiji Festival was my fear that this new access would change this ancient festival forever and I wanted to document it before it succumbs to tourism and development. Getting to Lo-Manthang requires an overnight stop in Pokhara and then an early morning flight to Jomsom, half way up the western part of the


Annapurna circuit. It’s about the last safe stop before the winds make air travel tricky. From there it’s a five-day trek up the Kali Gandaki gorge to Lo-Manthang, initially following the gorge but then breaking out to the west to avoid an impassable section. From the passes there, at 4026m, you are treated to a panoramic vista of a complete North to South cross-section of the Himalayas. The Tiji Festival represents the myth of Dorje Jono, a Buddhist deity who is said to have saved his people from the vagaries of a drought brought on by his demon father. Dorje Jono and his retinue of fiercely masked companions perform a series of dances to repel the resident evil, eventually reducing the demon to a small cloth effigy, which is then destroyed.

Tiji transforms the city The Tiji is a major attraction for the whole area and the local populace, the Lobars, dress up in their finest clothes and jewellery and the city takes on a carnival atmosphere. Underlying the festivity is the need for rain as Lo-Manthang is in a rain shadow and agriculture is fragile in this arid climate. The day before the festival, monks, dressed in their red headpieces, hold a ceremony in the main monastery. During my visit last year, I was able to obtain permission to film. The frescoes were being repainted and an antique generator chugged away outside powering a few tungsten globes; just enough for photography. Dating from the 15th century, the monastery’s high roof was supported by massive tree trunks,


Profile for Medical Forum WA

Medical Forum 04/15 Public Edition  

WA's Premier Independent Monthly Magazine for Health Professionals

Medical Forum 04/15 Public Edition  

WA's Premier Independent Monthly Magazine for Health Professionals