Temples of Lo Manthang

Probably the most stunning remains of Mustang are the two ancient temples within the city walls of Lo Manthang. They both date to the flourishing of the Mustang kingdom in the fifteenth century and document the increasing importance of Buddhism in the region through their size and quality. The three storied Jampa Lhakhang (◊ Jampa Lhakhang Gallery), as far as it was preserved until recently, was an encyclopaedia of Buddhist iconography as conceived by Ngorchen Künga Zangpo (ངོར་ཆེན་ཀུན་དགའ་བཟང་པོ་, 1382–1456), who initiated its construction and consecrated the monument. The Tupchen Lhakhang (◊ Tupchen Lhakhang Gallery) is a fragment of its original appearance with its superstructure and the right side wall collapsed and a considerable part of the temple the result of successive renovations. Nevertheless, its size is still impressive, as is the sophistication of its original decoration. Iconographically, it places the visitors in a realm of giant Buddhas and Bodhisattvas enlivened through the reflection of the gold used to paint them.

Jampa Lhakhang

As its name indicates, the Jampa Lhakhang (བྱམས་པ་ལྷ་ཁང་) is dedicated to Maitreya, the future Buddha. It likely was initiated during Ngorchen's second visit to region and consecrated in 1448 during his third visit. Conceptually, the temple is conceived as an increasingly esoteric encyclopaedia of Buddhist practice leading from initiatory themes in the ground floor to the highest topics of tantric practice on the top floor. Best preserved is the middle floor with a unique program of Yoga Tantra mandalas framing the Maitreya image. While this principle layout is clear, the temple deserves a detailed study of its iconography.

Tupchen Lhakhang

The Tupchen Lhakhang (ཐུབ་ཆེན་ལྷ་ཁང་) or Mahāmuni Temple is dedicated to Buddha Śākyamuni, and was consecrated by Shākya Chokden (ཤཱཀྱ་མཆོག་ལྡན་, 1428–1507) in 1472. The relatively small repoussé image of Śākyamuni was originally flanked by large scale Buddhas. It can be considered certain that the Buddhas along the middle of the hall are the Buddhas of the ten directions performing the gestures of the five esoteric Buddhas. The identity of the other Buddhas is uncertain, as the right side wall is not original anymore. The entrance area has the eight great Bodhisattvas painted on its walls.

Conservation in the Himalayas

The restoration project taking place in Lo Manthang begs the larger question on conservation and restoration projects in the Himalayas, and how I am stand to it from the perspective of an art historian. In the resulting lecture for the Buddhist Art Forum, which took place in April 2012 in London, I first expressed my thoughts on this question, which I then contributed to the proceedings. The accelerating pace and scale of such work throughout the Himalayas certainly warrants such a reflection, and the interesting perspectives collected in the exceptional volume to which I contributed. I hope my text and the other contributions contain some food for thought for those involved in conservation work in the Himalayas.

In my contribution I summarize my experiences with conservation projects in the Himalayas and what their work means to research on the art of the region. Backed by plenty of examples I come to the conclusion that, from a research perspective, each intervention also entails the obscuration of particular aspects of the artwork relevant for art historical research, and at times such evidence may be made inaccessible or destroyed entirely. To me, solving the architectural problems of the monument has by far the greatest priority, and work on the interior decoration of a monument needs to be carefully evaluated and implemented. In my opinion—and even more so from a research perspective—it is not justified that we deal with Himalayan monuments and art differently than we would with our own heritage.

  • “Conservation and research in Buddhist art from an art-historical perspective.” In Art of Merit: Studies in Buddhist Art and its Conservation. Proceedings of the Buddhist Art Forum 2012, edited by David Park, Kuenga Wangmo, & Sharon Cather. London: Archetype, 2013: 187–202.


A Masterwork of Restoration?

Originally I thought with this I am done with writing, among others, on the conservation in Lo Manthang, until I compared the photographs I took in spring 2013 with the old documentation now available in the galleries. This comparison resulted in the commentary I wrote for the current March 2014 volume of Orientations. Take a look yourself.

  • “Bringing a Masterwork Back to Life?” Orientations 45, no. 2 (2014): 184-86.