Ancient Buddhist mural discovered in remote Nepal cave
KATHMANDU, Saturday (AFP) - A team of explorers and scholars says it has found a cave in remote northern Nepal with a spectacular Buddhist mural unseen for centuries and discovered only because a shepherd took shelter there. “The most exciting find we had was a cave that was clearly intended for religious purposes. It appears it was reserved as an assembly room for Buddhist teachings,” team member Broughton Coburn, an environmental and cultural conservation expert, told AFP.
|One of the 55 panels, depicting the story of Buddha's life, found at the old cave in Mustang area.
The local shepherd led the team to the cave in the Mustang region of Nepal, bordering Tibet. He had sheltered in it decades earlier during a rainstorm.
The cave contains a stunning, seven-metre (23-foot) long mural that the team believes dates from around the 14th century.
“We felt that it was unusual that a wall painting as intricate and delicately executed and intact could be found for the first time in this millennia,” said Coburn, who returned to Kathmandu from the expedition earlier this week.
The Mustang region, which opened to tourists in 1992, is a visually stunning but often dry and harsh alpine terrain adjoining Chinese-controlled Tibet.
Much of the population of the region migrates for the winter to the lowlands of Nepal or India, as snowfall makes large parts of Mustang uninhabitable.
Its geographic isolation means that the region has maintained Tibetan culture and tradition to a much greater extent than Tibet itself to the north, the conservation expert and author said.
The team spent March exploring dozens of caves that had not been visited by humans for centuries. “Initially, it appeared there were around 30 or 40 of these cave complexes but now upon travelling further afield, one can easily say there are between 100 and 150 of these cave complexes, individual cave cities,” said Coburn.
Two world-class mountaineers assisted the team, leading it along perilous, steep routes into the caves in Upper Mustang.
For Pete Athens, leading the climbs into the previously unexplored territory knocked the experience of climbing Everest into the shade.“I can unequivocally say that climbing into the caves was greatly more exciting than any emotions I had on Everest,” said Athens, who has reached the top of the mountain seven times.
Athens and fellow climber Renan Ozturk had to invent new climbing tools to anchor the team to the poor quality, crumbling rock at the cave sites. “We had to exercise extreme caution to enter the caves. We designed and made a number of prototypical tools to make climbing on high angle, poor quality rock possible,” Athens said by telephone from his home in Seattle.