Michel Peissel, an ethnologist, writer and pioneer of little-visited Tibetan regions, stayed there in the 60s and was one of the first French people to enter. In his book Mustang, forbidden Tibetan kingdom, he recounts the presence of Tibetan Khampa warriors, who, faced with the Chinese invasion, took refuge in the region in order to organize a resistance there which was for a time supported by the United States.
Since then, this forbidden kingdom has become accessible by means of a special permit. After spending twenty years surveying Himalayas, I finally have the chance to go there to attend an annual monastic ceremony called “Tiji”.
The days of hiking to reach the small fortified city of “Lo Manthang” make me discover a fairly authentic Tibetan culture and mineral, desert, colorful landscapes of rare beauty. The many still mysterious caves as well as the villages and their monasteries punctuate this approach to the capital of the ancient Tibetan kingdom founded by Ame Pal in the XNUMXth century.
A giant Guru Rinpoche "thangka"
Arriving in Lo Manthang one evening in May, I take myself for a pilgrim or a merchant from the Middle Ages, who, after weeks, even months of travel, discovers a city full of promise. The peasants bring in their goats and sheep through the only city gate which is surrounded by a rampart. The royal palace overlooks the bustling central square. I enter it, driven by curiosity and enthusiastic about the idea of meeting great people. I pass Tibetan mastiffs with sharp fangs, drooling in their mouths and haggard eyes, then I reach a courtyard that distributes several rooms. They kindly invite me to come and have tea in the kitchen with the king himself. He is no longer young. He explains to me that he came by helicopter from Kathmandu, where he resides in the winter, in order to attend and especially to participate in the Tiji ceremony. This is an opportunity for all his "ministers", let's say the elected officials of each village, to report their grievances to him.
“Thinking about it, I think maybe there have been more changes in the valley in the last fifty years than in the last five centuries. »
The next day, in the main square, a giant "thangka" of Guru Rinpoche (1) is unrolled, while the monks dance dressed in brocade robes and masks, most of them with angry faces.
The king and his ministers are present in the front row. Trumpets and drums resound. Foreigners have cameras in their hands. The monks have the smartphone in their hand, or not far away if the latter is busy. “The moment”, which took years to be recounted in an ethnology book, is today relayed live by the protagonists themselves. The third day of the festivities is full of surprises. First, the procession of monks and nobles leaves the fortified city in order to ritually sacrifice the demons. After the arrows fired by the master of the dance, called "Tsowo", the arquebuses are out. The participants are not proud in front of so much noise and smoke with the smell of gunpowder. A mystical mist emerges. Everyone then goes up to the terrace of the royal palace to close the festivities in an intimate and private way. How did I get in there? I still wonder. At this precise moment, while the king, his son the prince, his ministers and the high religious dignitaries are officiating, I again take myself for this pilgrim or this merchant, who, 500 years ago, witnessed the most beautiful spectacle of his life.
Since this trip, a road now makes it possible to reach the altiport of Jomosom in Lo Manthang in one day, and the king left this world. Thinking about it, I think that maybe there have been more changes in the valley in the last fifty years than in the last five centuries. Impermanence, once again, rears its ugly head, as if to remind me that everything that seems certain (job, spouse, family, friendship, etc.) never really is.