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Phase II: Regional expansion


Ritual procession during religious festival, Lalitpur © UNSECO

Over two thousand years, Buddhist devotees attribute their religious origin to this land where legendary Siddhartha Gautama, a Kshatriya caste prince obtained enlightenment, became Lord Buddha.

In the early 1990s, Nepal was the only constitutionally declared Hindu state in the world; there was, however, a great deal of intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Many of the people regarded as Hindus in the 1981 census could, with as much justification, be called Buddhists. The fact that Hindus worshipped at Buddhist temples and Buddhists worshipped at Hindu temples has been one of the principal reasons supporters of the two dominant groups in Nepal have never engaged in any serious religious conflicts. The largest concentrations of Buddhists were found in the eastern hills, the Kathmandu Valley, and the central Tarai where approximately 10 percent of the people in each area were Buddhist. Buddhism was relatively more common among the Newar and Tibeto-Nepalese groups. 

Lalitpur (or Patan) is located along the Baghmati River in Kathmandu Valley, just south of Kathmandu. The city is known for its rich tradition drawing on Hindu and Buddhist influences, with important archaeological sites as well as living traditions of metalwork, brassware, woven textiles, and handicrafts.  Founded about 650 AD, Lalitpur was the capital of the traditional first king of Nepal.  During the Middle Ages the area was alternately an independent Newar kingdom or tributary to Kathmandu or Bhaktapur, until the present Gurkha dynasty conquered it in 1768. In 1979, the historic monuments of Lalitpur were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lalitpur is now the center of Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley. Although the crafts traditions are still very much alive in Lalitpur, the awareness of the need to conserve Buddhist artifacts and temples is relatively low and skills to carry out this work are not very well developed. Project activities in Lalitpur focus on awareness raising and training in preventive conservation and maintenance skills, as well as basic conservation techniques for Buddhist cultural heritage.

Once an ancient Buddhist kingdom, was established in 1440. Lo (or upper) Mustang was the centre of the ancient trans-Himalayan trade and an important centre of Buddhist culture. The history of Lo Mustang is directly linked with the history of both Nepal and Tibet. The present day Lo Mustang was the capital city of the kingdom having political and cultural affiliation with Tibet.
The ancient social and spiritual system and practice is still preserved by local communities of upper Mustang. The practice of ancient village assembly systems is still alive. The mid – upper part of Mustang still has baragaon or 12 villages with mukhiyas at each village, who are responsible for settlling disputes and regularizing traditional farming systems, irrigation as well as coordinating cultural events.

Now this historic Buddhist site is passing through a period of cultural isolation, with the northern borders with Tibet sealed due to political tensions and modernizing trends now common in Nepal coming from the south. After the opening of Lo Mustang to foreigners, the illicit trade in cultural artifacts has increased.

This project implementation in Nepal focuses on the Buddhist heritage in Lalitpur and Mustang. While both sites in Lalitpu and in Mustang has placed an improtance on awareness raising and training, Lalitpu has identified activities in preventive conservation and maintenance skills, as well as basic conservation techniques for Buddhist cultural heritage. More than any other craft skills, Mustang has prioritized traditional skills of woodcarving and thangka painting for training during which the application of these skills for conservation purposes will be emphasized on.