Tibet Archaeology

and all things Tibetan

Flight of the Khyung

February 2008

John Vincent Bellezza

Big Worldwide Web Work Gearing Up for Publication
This past month I have traveled quite extensively, but I have also brought the first part of Antiquities of Zhang Zhung to the copy editing stage. This catalogue of pre-Buddhist sites in Upper Tibet will be published in the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library (thdl.org). The work is now being prepared for posting on the website by a highly competent technical staff at the University of Virginia (headed by Professor David Germano). I will certainly announce in my newsletter when the first part of Antiquities of Zhang Zhung is published (probably summertime). Anyone with internet connectivity can easily access this work (unlike some of my books). The second part of Antiquities of Zhang Zhung (ceremonial monuments) will not be ready for internet processing for about another six months. At around 450 pages and 1000 images, the first part of the work (introduction and residential monuments inventory) should, however, keep my readers busy for quite awhile.

For the Record
I could not resist going into my collection of journals again. I had planned to reproduce a journal entry from my 1989 journey among the Kafir Kalash of Chitral in Pakistan, but inadvertently picked another journal. When I opened it I came to the entry that appears below. This writing from 18 years ago was composed before I began to specialize in Upper Tibetan culture and archaeology. It was written by someone deeply involved in all matters Himalayan but without the benefit of the study, research and exploration I have done subsequently. This material like that in all my newsletters is copyrighted. I just ask that if you use any of it due credit is given. Thank you!

Supplementary Journal 1990
June 9 entry: Lahoul, Himachal Pradesh, India
It is overcast this morning. A little retreat house stands alone further up the slope. A commanding view of Kyelong is had from Khardang, which is on the opposite side of the Baga river. A couple of foreigners also arrived at the monastery yesterday. They are staying in a guest room. With little knowledge or experience the average tourist gropes to see and learn what he can. Some don’t even make an attempt, but are content to remain ignorant. Some tourists are more artistically inclined, others are intellectual. Some are season travelers and some are callow. I respect this diversity in inclinations and motives. My only hope is that whatever a tourist’s background, he will behave honestly and respectfully. The tourist has an enormous responsibility to give local people a good picture of himself. In remote areas the tourist is an important and maybe the only link with the outside world. Let’s leave the native people with a good impression. If you make friends, have few problems and are welcomed back you are successful. Otherwise you must really question the worth of your trip.

Many of the government buildings on the upper side of Kyelong are new. They mostly have red metal roofs as I can readily see from my camp. My trekking group should arrive soon. Perhaps today? Near where I camped is a giant juniper tree. I estimate its girth at 30 feet. How old is this slow growing tree? Below it is a high volume spring of pristine water. I returned to the monastery and ate barfi (a milk sweet) for breakfast. I was given a cup of tea by the nuns. Before eating I went off to pick sage. Himalayan sage is my favorite variety. From the gompa I hiked down to the Baga river via Khardang village. The village consists of about 30 homes built closely together to conserve agricultural resources. The same old wooden bridge I crossed seven years ago still spans the river. I climbed up the right bank onto the shelf that supports Kyelong. Seven years ago, I narrowly missed being mauled by a charging pack of dogs led by a huge mastiff. In a surreal choreography I struck the alpha dog [over the head] with my staff and wheeled the pack around in the opposite direction.

My first stop in Kyelong was the Our Lady of Kyelong restaurant run by a middle-aged Kinnari couple. Next I went to digest in a quiet place on the edge of town. Everyone at the restaurant remembered me from last year and seemed happy to see me. I was given a bucket of hot water for bathing purposes. The owner and I chatted for some time. It was a stroke of luck that Tsering Dorje, the Lahouli Himalayan expert, appeared. We sat and talked for a couple of hours. He has been campaigning for Congress-I this last month. Congress-I is popular in Lahoul because it has taken a strong pro-reservation stance for scheduled tribes. Lahoulis naturally want to preserve affirmative action programs for which they as tribal people are eligible. While we were talking it began to rain. This rain is welcomed by the farmers because it has been dry this spring. After my informative talk with Tsering Dorje I returned to Our Lady of Kyelong for dinner.

Where to sleep? The limited accommodations in Kyelong are already full even if I wanted a room or tent. I went to my old haunts the Shiva temple and spread my bedroll under the eaves. The poojari’s son brought me dinner just like last year. They are great people. The snowline has come down to 12,000 feet. I really question whether my group can carry their packs over the Himalaya. First they must show up. One way or another I will go on. I have been recognized by a number of local people in this small town. It is nice to know people.

Here is a review of my discussion with Tsering Dorje, Himalayan language and cultural expert par excellence. All glaciers in the Great Western Himalaya are receding, geomorphologic aberrations notwithstanding. A party of naturalists led by Tsering Dorje measured the shrinking Umasi La glacier to be 120 feet since the 19th century. The implications of receding glaciers are enormous. The climate will become dryer and warmer which will spell the extinction of plants and animals. Agriculture and other spheres of human life will be affected. Forests in marginal environments could disappear. Retreating ice fields combined with deforestation do not auger well for our future. Deforestation is a particularly critical problem in Lahoul. Mr. Dorje estimates that 30,000 head of Gaddi livestock will enter the district this year. The ecological carrying capacity is [about] half this amount. This means that a serious imbalance is occurring with far-reaching ramifications. Extinctions and erosion are accelerating because of overgrazing. It is not politically expedient to actually regulate livestock numbers hence the degradation continues unabated. Gaddis whose flocks exceed the statutory limits simply bribe their way past the impotent forest guards.

The Moravian missionaries introduced plums, apples, potatoes, peaches and bramble fruits to Lahoul in the 19th century. Their biggest legacy is certainly economic. No stone Age artifacts have been discovered in Lahoul. Mr. Dorje believes that Man as big game hunters first came into the district [about] 4000 years ago after the glaciers had sufficiently receded to make migration possible. The earliest cultural signs of man in Lahoul are petroglyphs. They are found in a number of places and depict ibex and possibly the extinct caribou. Petroglyphs of prehistoric peoples exist throughout the Great Western Himalaya.

The animistic male and female deities are referred to as sad and sadmad respectively. They are of aboriginal Kirata-Kinner origin. Sad and sadmad correspond with the Buddhist lha and lhamo, which are also pre-Buddhist in origin. The late winter fertility mask dances called yor are very similar to the mask dances in Kullu and Chhatradi. In all probability, the yor dances represent the vestiges of an aboriginal religion that may have been extremely widespread. Only in extremely remote places has the yor been preserved. In other areas it may have been transmuted into the Shiv-Shakti cult after the Aryan invasions. The local oracles are called myonba. They have a multifaceted function like the gors and grochs of Kullu and Kinnaur. Myonbas are all over 30; this seems to allude to this institution dieing. Two devata originally from Lahoul have been transplanted to Brahmour: Kyelong and Buari. They may have been pushed out of the district by Buddhism 1000 years ago. Pre-Buddhist shamanism was a bloodthirsty religion that had no place in Lahoul after the appearance of a more enlightened religion except in a greatly modified form. To this day the sad and sadmad can be very dangerous if insulted. Yulchoi (yul chos) and lumpachoi (lung pa chos) were two of the ancient shamanistic traditions practiced in Lahoul. They may later have been consolidated and institutionalized to create the Bonpo. The discovery of Zhang Zhung vocabulary in the aboriginal languages of Lahoul is only ten years old, as is the discovery of the two ancient Indo-Aryan tongues of the local harijans. Zhang Zhung it must be remembered was the ancient shamanistic language of Western Tibet.

Until it died the giant juniper up valley was home to the aboriginal protector Ting Ting Sauntil. Another tree has been enshrined to shelter the protector. Gephang Raj, the patron deity of Lahoul, comes out of his temple in Sissu every three years in the form of a spangled horizontal mast. A procession carries him to Jalma or Udaipur. When a new mast is needed it is obtained from the Malana valley, the home of his older brother, Jamandagi. The Gelukpa monastery in Sissu has no involvement in the Gephang Raj functions. Buddhism has absorbed aboriginal religious elements when they were a threat and ignored them when practical and innocuous. This assimilation and neglect would make an excellent study in order to better understand Tibetan Buddhism in its social context. The Swanglas downstream in Thirot are the only fully Hinduized group in Lahoul. However their material culture and some social customs are Buddhist influenced. There is an ancestor worship component in Phaguli (an early spring festival).

In addition to the geographic and functional classifications of devatas there is a third classification based on mobility. In this system devatas fall under two categories: wasik (the sedentary ones) and chalna (the itinerant ones). In Kullu there are not only rath (chariot) devatas but gugga (in the form of a decorated stick) devatas and mohra (in the form of a mask) devatas placed in a wicker basket. Mr. Dorje agrees that the cult of devatas is very important in fostering tribal identity, ecological integrity and social law. There are no alternatives?

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