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Mountain rescue with a difference

Posted on 3 July 2013

The Nepalese Himalayas north of Kathmandu, provide a mountain landscape of exceptional beauty, where trekkers can experience rugged snow-capped peaks, pristine mountain streams and lush wild flower meadows.

The Langtang monastery is centuries old, and in imminent danger of collapse. As part of the wider aims of the Himalayan Exploration and Archaeological Research Team (HEART), a fundraising project has been initiated to try and save this remarkable piece of Nepalese history.

It is also the centre of the rich Tibetan Buddhist culture with monasteries dating back hundreds of years. But in recent decades, lack of investment has caused many of them to fall into disrepair placing their religious treasures at risk.

When Dr Hayley Saul, of the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, heard about the plight of the Buddhist monastery in the Langtang Valley through the Community Action Nepal charity, she decided to act. Already in the Himalayas on an archaeology field trip with other University colleagues, she visited the Langtang Gompa (monastery) and discovered the charity had not exaggerated.

The building had a dangerous lean and bowed from the midline of the wall. Moreover, compression from the roof was forcing the precious Thanka murals away from the walls. The monastery’s 300 Tibetan manuscripts were also under threat.

Dr Saul has now set up a project with the Shree Samling Monastery Restoration Group (SSMRG) aimed at restoring Langtang Gompa. The project has the support of CAN and the Himalayan Exploration and Archaeological Research Team (HEART), which Dr Saul leads.

A team of local artisans is also involved and the 600 inhabitants of the Langtang Valley will help to source materials such as rare white clay that can only be found in a single mountain location at an altitude of 5000 metres.

The value of these treasures is incalculable to the history of the region and the tradition of Buddhism, but more importantly, to the everyday lives of the people of Langtang

Dr Hayley Saul

Local master architect and wood-carving specialist Dawa Sonam will record the structure stone by stone and ensure that traditional techniques are used to restore the roof timbers.

“An additional important contribution to the community is the training and employment it will bring for 18 to 25 year olds who currently have to go as far as Kathmandu to find work,” says Dr Saul.

Despite having so little, local people have raised around a third of the cost of repairs. Such is their desperation to save their monastery, those without anything to give financially are contributing to the reconstruction by offering to carry stones and wood from the nearby forests and mountains.

“The value of these treasures is incalculable to the history of the region and the tradition of Buddhism, but more importantly, to the everyday lives of the people of Langtang,” says Dr Saul.

In total, £36,000 is needed to repair the monastery, though the £6,000 first of the monsoon season. Donations can be made at: https://www.justgiving.com/HEART-LangtangGompa  or by texting GOMP 99, with a donation amount, to 70070.

Notes to editors:

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

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