Unseen Caves of Nepal

The Upper Mustang region has been opened to foreigners only recently and access to that region is restricted. The trekking routes in the area are arduous and few venture along the winding rough trails beyond a certain point. The cliffs are dotted with caves, many of which are inaccessible to man. It is believed that many of them house beautifully decorated chortens and other religious artifacts.

Two caves that have been explored and unfortunately even vandalized recently are known as Luri and Tashi Kabum, a few hours walk from Yara, along the Puyonkhola gorge. The Luri gompa can be accessed from the Gara village, on the ridgeline to the north above Yara. However if one takes another route one can see the Tashi Kabum caves too.

A narrow ravine to the east from Yara forks with one trail climbing the ridge to the left and going to Gara. The trail to Tashi Kabum is to the right and goes over a ridge to the Puyon Khola valley. Tashi Kabum is an hour’s walk above Yara. Access to Tashi Kabum is difficult and you have to crawl on your stomach to enter the cave.

The Luri and Tashi Kabum caves are very similar. The walls and ceilings are plastered and are attractively painted. In the center of each cave is a beautiful chorten with sufficient space to go around it. The two chortens are alike in size and shape but differ in their decoration. The base of each chorten consists of a staggered 12-cornered tiers and the tall terracotta spire is crowned by a canopy. The Luri chorten has small paintings around the base and four larger frescoes on the upper dome. They are covered with a hard ceramic-like glazing.

The walls are painted with religious frescoes on the lower walls and ceilings that are similar to Newari thangkas. Painted in earth and ochre colors, the artwork in both caves is quite different from anything else in Mustang. The Luri cave has a mandala on the apex of the dome surrounded by frescoes of eight teachers. To think that there are many other cave temples around that may never be seen by man!