KATHMANDU, DEC 12 – What could well be compared to Shangri-La as envisioned by British author James Hilton in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon, recent findings of human history dating back to over 3,000 years in the caves of Upper Mustang have unraveled a significant portion, if not the whole of that virgin unknown.
A team of national and international climbers, scientists, archaeologists, historians and anthropologists has found evidence of thousands of years of civilisation in this mystical land. After beginning the first phase of its research in 2008, the team discovered human remains dating back to 3,000 years, bringing out untold stories of an “independent” civilisation. According to Mohan Singh Lama, an ahrchaeologist wit the Department of Archaeology (DoA), the findings go back to the pre-history period (before the beginning of the Christian era) when the Indus Valley and the Chinese civilisations were slowly making inroads into Nepal via present day India and the Tibetan plateau. “Since cave settlement was not popular in other places around, we can view this as an independent civilisation,” he said, adding that one of the most important cultures of the past that they found out is the unique burial pattern. According to him, dead bodies used to be buried in caves, along with jewellry and utensils. The team found square coffins in the caves with human skeletons, perched under kilos of jewellry and utensils. “This makes the entire area rich in underground treasure, but many of the graves were dug by treasure hunters,” Lama said. Though not practiced now, treasure hunting used to be one of the most sensational businesses for many people in and around Mustang until a couple of centuries ago, experts say.
The team that includes experts from the National Geographic channel and the DoA has so far been able to explore at least nine caves.
Ancient Tibetan Buddhist shrines were also recovered from the caves. The shrines are decorated with exquisitely painted frescoes, including a 55-panel depiction of Buddha’s life. Thousands of pages of religious texts written in the Tibetan language, stone carvings, idols and paintings are the main religious findings, Lama said. Caves where people lived were constructed several metres vertically upward from the basement. “The caves that begin with a small hole visible from the outside are huge maze-like structures in the inside,” Lama said. However, how the people climbed up to the entrance is still a mystery” Lama added.
After 2008, the team continued its study in 2010 and 2011.
Mark Aldenderfer, an archaeologist at the University of California who is leading the excavation team, claims people have been living in the Mustang valley since 10,000 years. “Our team found stone tools near Kagbeni. These tools resemble those from lower elevations. Their presence suggests people have been moving into the valley for a very long time,” Aldenderfer told the Post.by Ankit Adhikary from ekantipur