Dust and blowing sand
Standing in the middle of the sandy trail with the wind howling, the sun blazing, no shade and not a tree or shrub in sight.
“From right here, 700 years ago, the Lo kings cut trees for the gompas in Lo,” says Chimi, our guide.
The only trees we’ve seen in four days of walking are those planted near irrigated fields in villages, oases of green in this rocky, barren, desolate landscape. Eroded bones of the earth. Canyons out through the layers of rocks lay down over the millennia as sediments on the floor of an ancient sea. Rocks in reds, rocks of beige, a few striped rocks with green argallite. Rocks, sand, canyons, and sky.
“For those huge pillars? ”
“Yeah, this all used to be a forest of big trees. It’s in Khampo Tashi’s book.”
Those pillars, those huge pillars at least 3-4 feet in diameter and 25ft high are so magnificent. Many came from a single piece of wood … That would have come from this desolate place. Huge timbers that must have been cut from even larger trees.
Larger trees that grew until 700 years ago in this now 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 with growing affluence from the salt trade, more gompas and monasteries. At the pinnacle of the Lo dynasty and culture, three huge gompas were built of stone, rammed earth and wooden windows, doors, and pillars. Huge pillars to hold the heavy building. And they came from a forested valley that is now this desert place.
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 shrubs close to irrigation canals or streams can survive.
Why do we keep cutting so many trees?