National Geographic : 1997 Nov
As her daughter Druki (left) churns a goatskin bag of yak milk into butter, Yangkyi Chembe weaves a yak wool tent panel. "Houses are not good," ex plains her husband, Tashi. "In a tent you can hear the yaks at night if they are in trouble. And in the day you can see all around. A house is too dark." Pounding a stake into frost hardened earth near the Tibetan border, another herdsman (above) tightens a line on his home. wealthy. At its zenith in the 15th and 16th centuries Mustang was renowned for its Bud dhist art and scholarship. The temples still house ornately bound texts and fine statues, the most impressive of which is a 45-foot gilt statue of Maitreya, the Coming Buddha, in Lo Manthang's Jampa temple. Tibetan lamas spread Buddhism through out the realm. I had seen the results on my treks. The entrance to every village is marked by long walls of carved prayer stones and by large chortens, bell-shaped monuments hous ing sacred texts and relics. Most villages have temples, and several towns are home to monas teries that once echoed with the chants of hun dreds of monks. As its wealth and power waned, Mustang was conquered by armies from the south and incorporated into the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal at the end of the 18th century. Mustang remained an isolated backwater-the first Westerner didn't arrive until 1952. After China closed the border eight years later, there was again little contact with the outside world and virtually no development: no roads, no elec tricity, and only one small, ill-equipped med ical clinic. The forced isolation preserved much of Mustang's Buddhist heritage. The Chinese de stroyed many sacred objects in Tibet, but tem ples in Mustang escaped systematic looting.