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Preserving an imperiled culture

Ravaged by time and climate, Upper Mustang’s magnificent Buddhist artifacts were crumbling and monuments were in disrepair. In 1998, AHF began a project 600 years in the making. Season by season, using the same patience and skill as the original 15th-century artisans who created these masterworks, AHF's team of carpenters and wall painting conservators set to work bringing Mustang’s treasures back to life.

As more than a hundred Lobas were trained in the art and science of conservation, the temples of Mustang were slowly and steadily reborn: roofs skillfully replaced, twisted structures straightened, and from the soot, grime and varnish emerged astonishingly beautiful wall paintings. Half a millennium from their creation, AHF has helped pull these priceless treasures back from the brink. And as gompas came back to life, revealing their beauty and splendor, the Loba community began to take pride in their heritage, becoming the foundation of a thriving cultural renaissance.

Luigi Fieni: our tireless lead art conservator in Mustang and master photographer.

Our commitment to preserving the ancient Tibetan Buddhist culture of Mustang isn’t limited to restoring sacred art and architecture—the gompas are only fully revived when they are filled with living practitioners. At the time, Mustang’s largest monastery had but a dozen students, no secular teacher or instruction, and the students, monk teachers, and elder monks lived in wretched conditions. Today, Lo Monastic School has 80 students, a full curriculum, and a sterling reputation.

AHF supports several schools for both monks and nuns, keeping centuries of tradition alive and well by nurturing new generations of Buddhist scholars. Monks and nuns are again asked to perform household and community prayers and can be seen constructing sand mandalas or carrying religious texts through the fields while chanting prayers for a bountiful harvest. And the long forgotten rain ceremony and festivals like Tiji and Yartung have been revitalized and are now regular events.