Nepal, a developing country, is rich in spectacular landscapes replete with hill tribes, ancient pagodas and temples, snow-capped mountains, and untouched artifact. Steeped in multiculturalism and diverse religious beliefs, the country is also blessed with two of the world’s most incredible treasures: Lumbini, the birthplace of the historical Buddha, and Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world.
Mustang sits in the northern Himalayan region of Nepal, and is surrounded by snowed mountains, barren grey earth, and deep river gorges with strong howling winds that blow northwards between narrow mountains passes. It is a sacred region with many historic Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, ancient Himalayan works of art, and forts and pagodas, which are the main and most important structures in the region to date, despite the introduction of modern housing in recent years.
Since the 1960s Mustang has become an important destination for many prominent researchers studying Tibetan Buddhism and ancient Himalayan cultures. It was also one of the last Himalayan regions of Nepal to be opened fully and freely to foreign visitors. Western anthropologists and Tibetologists travelled to Mustang from the 1960s onward for the sake of carrying out research on Tibetan Buddhist and other Himalayan cultures, though their work fails to draw a fair or complete picture of the area. Moreover, most of these researchers seem to have been mainly interested in obtaining antique objects and documents from historic monasteries and local individuals, only to sell them in the western market. They were well aware of the value of such items in international markets, whereas the people of Mustang had no awareness of the value of these precious items.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Mustang was an important hub for scholars from all over the Buddhist world for religious discourse, seminar, and pilgrimage. Many highly realized Tibetan Buddhist scholars and saints were seen continually flocking to the region, mostly at the invitation of the ambitious spiritual king Ama-Pal and his noble son Agon-Sangpo of Mustang. During the reign of these great kings, all the important religious monuments including monasteries, stupas, and palaces were built, and many historical religious functions were also carried out with the participation of scholars from as far away as Tibet, Sri Lanka, Kathmandu, and India, together with local scholars. It is believed that some of the monasteries accommodated over three thousand monks studying, composing and meditating on Buddha Dharma under the generous financial supports of the kings and ministers.
Therefore, Mustang once had a great reputation as a glorious Buddhist center for those who seek instruction and guidance on Buddhism. Many great Buddhist scholars of Mustang such as Lowo Khenchen Sonam Lhundup (meaning “the great abbot of Mustang”) were also born in this noble land, and earned great respect and fame in Tibet for their scholarly achievements.