Dust and blowing sand
Standing in the middle of the sandy trail with the wind howling, the sun blazing, no shade not a tree or shrub in sight.
“From right here, 700 years ago, the Lo peoples (rulers) cut trees for the gompas in Lo,” says Chimi, our guide.
The only trees we’ve seen in four days of walking one those planted greys irrigated fields in village, oases at green in this rocky, barren, desolate landscape. Eroded downs of the bones of the earth. Canyons out through the centuries through layers of rocks lay down as sediments on the floor of an ancient sea. Rocks in reds, rocks of beige, a few striped rocks with the green argallite. Rocks, sand, canyons, and sky.
“For those huge pillars? ”
“Yeah this all used to be a forest at big trees. It’s in Khampo Tashi’s book.”
Those pillars, those huge pillars at least 3-4 feet in diameter and 25ft high. Many one from a single piece of wood … That came from this desolate places. Huge timber that must have been cut from even larger trees.
Larger trees that grew until 700 years ago in this barren high desert.
A forest where it is now high altitude desert. What happened?
Mustang is an old place for the Nepal Himalaya. People have perhaps lived here for 6,000 years at first in caves cut into the sandstone cliffs. Gradually, lo became the walled capital of the lo kings.
A walked city like none other in the Himalaya. More and more building, then with growing affluence from the salt trade, more gompas and monastery. At the pinnacles of the Lo dynasty and culture, three huge gompas are built of stone, rammed earth and wooden windows, door, some floors and pillars. Huge pillars to hold the heavy building. And they came from this desert place once a forested valley.
The speed of the speed of the change both intrigues and depresses me. I no longer find mustang a fascinating desert landscape but a denuded land.
A traumatized land where demons and saviours (Guru Rinpoche) fought over bringing Buddhism to Tibet and the Himalaya. Where the slain demons blood is believed to colour the red rocks of the region.
Later talking to the forestry professor stranded in Jomsom, I learn that when trees are cut, their roots no longer have the capacity to hold up the water table so the water drops deeper. Only those trees and shrub close to irrigation canals or streams can survive.
Why do we keep cutting so many trees?