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Mustang: The Last Outpost Of Tibetan Culture

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2004/07/08; July 8, 2004.]

The Times, London

LO MANTHANG, July 7. - Lungs heaving, faces caked in dust, we stagger the final 4,000-m pass and look down for the first time on Lo Manthang, nestled in the Tibetan plateau.

It has taken two hair-raising flights and four days' trekking across arid moonscapes and plunging gorges to reach the capital of Mustang, the reclusive mountain kingdom on Nepal's border with Tibet.

But inside the walled city, lies our reward: An audience with the 25th King of Mustang, descendent of Ame Pal, the Tibetan warrior who founded the Buddhist kingdom of Lo in 1380.

Access is limited to 1,000 visitors a year, and each must pay $700 for a ten-day permit. It is perhaps the last outpost of authentic Tibetan culture.

King Jigme Palbar Bista rules his 7,000 subjects from a four-storey palace dominating Lo Manthang.

Pitching camp, we send a message to the palace asking for an audience. Word comes back the following morning that his Majesty will see us. We hurry to the palace, where we are ushered past a line of bronze prayer wheels, up a steep wooden staircase and along corridors to a modest, sunlit room.

Sitting on the edge of a bed in a cotton jacket and woolly hat, is King Jigme. The 74-year-old monarch politely accepts our offerings of silk scarves. As we exchange niceties - he asks about our journey; we bring greetings from the British ambassador.

His predecessor asked Nepal for protection from Chinese troops occupying Tibet in the 1950s, effectively giving up Mustang's autonomy. In the 1960s, King Jigme allowed Tibetan Khampa warriors, trained by the CIA, to use Mustang as base for attacks on Chinese troops in Tibet.

Today, the biggest challenge he faces is the influx of Western tourists. "We must impose some restrictions to protect our culture," he says.


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