Before They - Photography Project by Jimmy Nelson

Mustang

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Mustang
The former kingdom of Lo is linked by religion, culture and history to Tibet, but is politically part of Nepal. Now Tibetan culture is in danger of disappearing, it stands alone as one of the last truly Tibetan cultures existing today. Until 1991 no outsiders were allowed to enter Mustang.
“The one who is guilty has the higher voice”
The traditions of the people of Lo are closely related to early Buddhism. Most still believe that the world is flat. They are highly religious, prayers and festivals are an integral part of their lives. The grandeur of the monasteries illustrates the prominent position of religion.

"The landscape is exhilarating, endless and melancholic."

- Jimmy Nelson

Chele Village, Upper Mustang

May 2011

The ‘Land of Lo’, as it is known to its 7,000 inhabitants, occupies a mere 2,000 square kilometres in the upper valley of the Kali Ghandaki River,
which flows straight from north to south. Routes parallel to the river once served as a major trade route. Salt from the vast lakes deep inside Tibet and wool from mountain yaks were traded for grain and spices from India. Mustang in particular was a thoroughfare for this immensely important trade, providing the surplus that enabled the construction of large monasteries and the creation of stunning works of art, particularly from the late 14th to the 17th centuries. At the end of the 18th century, the kingdom was annexed by Nepal.




"The image emanated such calmness – you’d never have guessed what it took to shoot it."

- Jimmy Nelson

Choser Village, Upper Mustang

May 2011

The Loba’s traditions are closely related to early Buddhism. Most people in Mustang still believe that the world is flat, illness is caused by evil spirits and monks heal diseases with exorcisms. Honouring an ancient Tibetan custom, a woman can marry several brothers at the same time.

One of Mustang’s most unusual Tibetan customs is polyandry amongst brothers. In Mustang, the fertile land is scarce and if each brother married
a different wife, the land would be divided, making the family poor.

Lama doctors, or amchis, practise Tibetan medicine, the roots of which stretch back more than 2,000 years. They believe that the body is a microcosm of the universe, made up of the five basic elements: earth, fire, water, air and space. Tension between the elements is the major cause of disease.

"Especially in a place like Lo Manthang, things can get pretty intense."

- Jimmy Nelson

Tiji Festival

May 2011

The people of Lo practise Tibetan Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, monasteries and monastic communities play a major role. The people of Mustang are highly religious, and prayers and festivals such as Tiji form an integral part of their lives. In Mustang, nearly every village has a monastery. The stunning grandeur of the monasteries in Lo Manthang, in particular, illustrates the prominent position of religion. This is also evident in traditional family structure, where the eldest son will inherit the family’s property and families are expected to give up their secondborn sons to the monasteries when they are six or seven years old.

"The first mass would start at four in the morning, announced by very loud horns."

- Jimmy Nelson

Dorje Jono

May 2011

Monks wearing masks and colourful costumes enact the story of a deity named Dorje Jono, who battles against his demon father to save the Kingdom of Mustang from destruction. The demon father wreaks havoc on Mustang by causing a shortage of water, which in this extremely arid land is the most precious life-sustaining resource. Dorje Jono eventually defeats the demon and banishes him from the land. Tiji is considered the most important Buddhist festival, held annually at the onset of spring. 
Artprint available

"That moment I felt a closer connection to their ways ."

- Jimmy Nelson

Tangge Village, Upper Mustang

May 2011

Mustang (from Tibetan Mun Tan, meaning ‘fertile plain’) is the former Kingdom of Lo, lying on a high and windswept plateau between North-West Nepal and Tibet, in one of the most remote regions in the world. Although Mustang is linked by religion, culture and history to Tibet, politically it is part of Nepal. At a time when Tibetan culture in Tibet is in danger of disappearing, Mustang now stands alone as one of the last truly Tibetan cultures existing today.

The people of Lo are called ‘Lopa’, and their language is a dialect of
Tibetan.

The people of Lo are called Lopa. 

- Jimmy Nelson

Lopa

May 2011

Daily life in arid Mustang revolves around animal husbandry (goats, horses, mules, donkeys, cows and yaks), agriculture, trade and - since 1992 -
tourism. Most of the population of Mustang lives near the Kali Gandaki river, 2,800 - 3,900 metres above sea level. The presence of water makes 
sustenance agriculture possible. The main crops are barley and buckwheat, while maize, apples, apricots and different vegetables are also grown.

The land is carefully terraced and irrigated. In winter, a large migration takes place into the lower regions of Nepal to escape the harsh conditions.

"The colours, altitude and the raw beauty are sometimes almost too much to take in."

- Jimmy Nelson

Namgyal Monastery

May 2011

They believe that the body is a microcosm of the universe, made up of the five basic elements: earth, fire, water, air and space. Tension between the elements is the major cause of disease. There’s good blood for the healthy and bad blood for the ill, and there are 72 kinds of bad blood to be taken from different parts of the body. If the illness in question is not caused by bad blood, the amchis believe that it is caused by one of 1,080 demons, or dus, which invade the body to cause the 404 known diseases in humans. The amchi then writes a prayer prescription for a fellow lama to chant, beseeching one of the eight medical gods to vanquish the demon. Lama’s are also religious scholars who dispute the evidence that the earth is round. The Tibetan way teaches that the world is flat, with Lhasa at its centre.

- Jimmy Nelson

Tsarang Village


The spring season symbolises the regeneration of life, and the festival is about hope, revival and affirmation of life.

Dressed in their finery, people from all over Mustang gather in Lo Manthang to celebrate. In summer, the capital is host to the Yarlung horse festival, with races, dancing, drinking and all sorts of festivities.

"The image emanated such calmness – you’d never have guessed what it took to shoot it."

- Jimmy Nelson

Choser Village, Upper Mustang

May 2011

The Loba’s traditions are closely related to early Buddhism. Most people in Mustang still believe that the world is flat, illness is caused by evil spirits and monks heal diseases with exorcisms. Honouring an ancient Tibetan custom, a woman can marry several brothers at the same time.

"The first mass would start at four in the morning, announced by very loud horns."

- Jimmy Nelson

Dorje Jono

May 2011

Monks wearing masks and colourful costumes enact the story of a deity named Dorje Jono, who battles against his demon father to save the
Kingdom of Mustang from destruction. The demon father wreaks havoc on Mustang by causing a shortage of water, which in this extremely arid land is the most precious life-sustaining resource. Dorje Jono eventually defeats the demon and banishes him from the land. Tiji is considered the most important Buddhist festival, held annually at the onset of spring. 

Nifuk Cave Monastery

The spring season symbolises the regeneration of life, and the festival is about hope, revival and affirmation of life.

Dressed in their finery, people from all over Mustang gather in Lo Manthang to celebrate. In summer, the capital is host to the Yarlung horse festival, with races, dancing, drinking and all sorts of festivities.

Tiji Festival, Lo Mangthang Village

Though still recognised by many Mustang residents, the monarchy officially ceased to exist in 2008, when Nepal became a republic. The last official king (raja or gyelpo) is Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista (b. 1933), who remains king to this day albeit in an unofficial capacity, traces his lineage
directly back to Ame Pal, the warrior who founded the Buddhist Kingdom of Lo in 1380. Ame Pal oversaw the founding and building of much of
Mustang’s capital Lo Manthang, a walled city that has changed surprisingly  little in appearance since that period. 


- Jimmy Nelson

Lo Mangthang Village, Upper Mustang


Oily Tibetan tea laced with salt and yak butter is a staple of the Mustang diet. Meat dishes are likely to be yak, goat or mutton. Yak yoghurt, butter and cheese are frequently eaten and flour milled from roasted barley is always an ingredient in Lopa cuisine.

Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Pema Tenjing

May 2011

Lama doctors, or amchis, practise Tibetan medicine, the roots of which stretch back more than 2,000 years. They believe that the body is a
microcosm of the universe, made up of the five basic elements: earth, fire, water, air and space. Tension between the elements is the major cause of disease.

Tiji Festival, Lo Mangthang Village

May 2011

One of Mustang’s most unusual Tibetan customs is polyandry amongst brothers. In Mustang, the fertile land is scarce and if each brother married a different wife, the land would be divided, making the family poor.

Mustang

May 2011

Until 1991, the king refused to allow outsiders to enter Mustang. The long- forbidden kingdom was then cautiously unlocked, although even then, only 1,000 visitors a year were allowed in by the raja, who considers this the only way to preserve the kingdom.