Life in Lo Manthang

The last rampart of Tibetan culture

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

Upper Mustang landscape (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Upper Mustang is an isolated region in the Nepalese Himalayas. It was a restricted demilitarized area until 1992. With few ties to the outside world, locals were able to sustain their Tibetan culture. 

The region’s capital is Lo Manthang, which is home to the Loba people. 
Tourism slowly began to discover this ancient, walled city. Today, you can sense the influence of modern Nepal, India and China, and a growing tension between economic growth and the preservation of cultural identity. 

Upper Mustang (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In March 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - on his journey to the world's most fragile places - visited Lo Manthang during the low season.

Aerial view of Lo Manthag (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Lo Manthang lies in the Nepalese Himalayas at 3800m above sea level.

A monk enetring a Gompa in Lo Manthag (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A Buddhist monk opens the gate at Thubchen Gompa, one of the most ancient temples in Nepal. 

Ancient Gompa in Lo Manthag (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Big Tibetan praying wheel
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Lo Manthang is one of the few places on Earth where you will be immersed in traditional Tibetan culture. 

Buddhist statue in Lo Manthag (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This 16th century statue is one of the many Buddhist relics housed in the gompas of Upper Mustang.  

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3D scan of Tibetan stupa (21th Century) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Even the streets are a sort of open air museum where you will pass Tibetan stupas. These monuments house artifacts and provide a space for meditation.

Lo Manthag Royal Palace (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The city’s whitewashed, mud-brick walls were built to protect the Royal Palace.

Detail of Lo Manthag Royal Palace (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The palace has remained empty since the death of King Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista in 2016.  

A square in Lo Manthag (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Loba locals can often be found spending their time in the main square. 

Portrait of man in Lo Manthag (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The city’s natural calm returns during the low season for tourism.  Elders take advantage of the mild March sunlight to socialize and pray.

Portrait of woman in Lo Manthag (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Weaving is both a necessity and a pastime for Loba women.  

Tibetan woman making a wool thread (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Wool is the most common textile fiber for their clothing and it is still spun using traditional tools and techniques.

Tibetan girl in traditional clothing (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This young girl wears a  classic Tibetan dress made by her mother. 

A tea house in Lo Manthang (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Most of the younger inhabitants and families have moved away to big cities like Pokhara or the capital of Kathmandu.  She stays behind and works in her mother’s teahouse to prepare for tourists that will soon arrive.  

Tibetan man preparing butter tea (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The teahouses of Lo Manthang are known for serving butter tea. After it steeps, it is poured into a wooden churn and mixed with butter, milk and salt. 

Women take a break in Lo Manthang teahouse by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The Loba typically drink butter tea before and after work for energy and to prevent chapped lips.

Grocery shop in Lo Manthang (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Newly paved routes have introduced consumer products from China, India and even the West. Tourists now have alternatives to butter tea.  

Signs in Lo Manthang (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Lo Manthang has changed as the local economy has grown increasingly dependent on tourism. 

These changes can be seen in the small details of shop signs and the sips from teacups.   

Upper Mustang ground (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Conclusion

The economic impact of tourism is transforming one of the few remaining locations where locals maintain a traditional Tibetan lifestyle. Will the inhabitants of Lo Manthang be able to capitalize on economic opportunities while still expressing their heritage?






Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Ram Giri, Surendra Lamichhane, Team Ram Adventure

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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