Washington, November 18 (ANI): A treasure trove of Tibetan art and manuscripts uncovered in "sky high" Himalayan caves in Nepal could be linked to the storybook paradise of Shangri-La.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the 15th-century religious texts and wall paintings were found in caves carved into sheer cliffs in the ancient kingdom of Mustang, which is today part of Nepal.
In 2007, a team co-led by US researcher and Himalaya expert Broughton Coburn and veteran mountaineer Pete Athans scaled the crumbling cliffs on a mission to explore the human-made caves.
Inside the caves, the team found ancient Tibetan Buddhist shrines decorated with exquisitely painted murals, including a 55-panel depiction of Buddha's life.
A second expedition in 2008 discovered several 600-year-old human skeletons and recovered reams of precious manuscripts, some with small paintings known as illuminations.
The sacred hoard seems to match descriptions of treasures to be found in Buddhist "hidden valleys," which served as the basis for Shangri-La in British writer James Hilton's popular 1930s novel 'Lost Horizon'.
Looters have raided the caves over the centuries, cutting valuable artwork from the ancient texts. In addition, religious pilgrims have damaged the cave walls to collect souvenirs.
Still, the researchers were able to collect and document manuscripts from about 30 volumes, which were then moved for safekeeping to Mustang's central monastery.
Preserved by the mountain region's cool, arid climate, the ancient manuscripts contain a mix of writings from Buddhism and Bon, an earlier, native Tibetan faith, according to Coburn.
"This combination suggests that Bon beliefs survived for at least a century or two in this region after the Tibetan conversion to Buddhism, which began in the eighth century," Coburn said.
The team suspects that the kings of Mustang abandoned the Bon sacred texts in the caves as a respectful alternative to destroying them.
The unusual treasures have led Coburn and his team to suggest that the Mustang caves could be linked to "hidden valleys" thought to represent the Buddhist spiritual paradise known as Shambhala.
"Shambhala is also believed by many scholars to have a geographical parallel that may exist in several or many Himalayan valleys," Coburn said.
"These hidden valleys were created at times of strife and when Buddhist practice and principals were threatened," Coburn said.
"The valleys contained so-called hidden treasure texts," he added. (ANI)