'We found the cave by a miracle'

by Sudeshna Sarkar, TIMES NEWS NETWORK, May 3, 2007

KATHMANDU, Nepal -- The wall paintings found in the cave in Nepal depict animals like the deer, leopard and tiger which are not found in Mustang, giving rise to the theory that either the painters were Indian or people familiar with Indian techniques and life in sub-tropical regions.

The enclave could have been another Nalanda. American author and climber Broughton Coburn, who was part of the expedition, says that probably one high cave in the enclave was reserved for Buddhist teachings.

The paintings show various figures, both male and female, making offerings to high lamas and teachers. Other nearby caves have mounds of manuscripts in ancient Tibetan script, which when deciphered could yield a wealth of knowledge on Tibetan forms of Buddhism and probably on the history of Tibet, Mustang and even Nepal and India.

‘‘We discovered the cave by a miracle,’’ says Fieni. And it must have been nothing less than a miracle that the expedition happened to catch up with a shepherd who had been inside the cave as a boy of eight.

To mark his discovery, he had scratched his name on the wall and then forgotten all about it. For nearly two decades after that, probably no one else found the cave.

‘‘When we arrived in the area and told the villagers what we were looking for, the boy, now a young man, remembered his cave. It was a miracle that he could still find his way to it,’’ said Coburn.

The royal family of Mustang, descendants of the powerful kings, is still around and the expedition and its findings have been blessed by its former king, Jigme Bista.

‘‘We are glad the caves are in an inaccessible place and unlikely to be discovered (by marauders),’’ says Coburn. The plan now is to conduct further research and documentation and ask authorities in Nepal to protect and preserve them.

That could be a difficult task. Cash-strapped Nepal lacks funds and has not been able to protect the national treasures that have already been unearthed.

There has been a spate of thefts at Nepal’s temples, including the famed Pashupatinath.