May 3, 2007
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Explorers have discovered a series of caves decorated with ancient Buddhist paintings, set in sheer cliffs in Nepal's remote Himalayan north, leaving archaeologists excited and puzzled.
An international team of scholars, archaeologists, climbers and explorers examined at least 12 cave complexes at 14,000 feet near Lo Manthang, a mediaeval walled city in Nepal's Mustang district, about 125 km (80 miles) northwest of Kathmandu.
The caves contain paintings that could date back as far as the 13th century, as well as Tibetan scripts executed in ink, silver and gold and pre-Christian era pottery shards.
"Who lived in those caves? When were they there, when were (the caves) first excavated and how did the residents access them, perched as they are on vertical cliffs?" asked Broughton Coburn, an American member of the survey team.
"It's a compelling, marvelous mystery."
Explorers from the United States, Italy and Nepal used ice axes and ropes to climb to the caves, cutting steps in the cliff face as they went.
"These findings underscore the richness of the Tibetan Buddhist religious tradition of this area -- stretching back nearly a millennium -- as well as the artistic beauty and wide geographical reach of Newari artists," said Coburn, an expert in Himalayan conservation and development.
Newaris are ethnic Nepalis renowned for skills in wall paintings and other forms of mostly Buddhist art.