The Tiji Festival is a Buddhist celebration and religious pilgrimage that takes place every May in Lo Manthang, the walled city located in the remote kingdom of Mustang in northern Nepal. Wilderness Travel experiences this festival on their trip Mustang: Hiking to the “Sky Caves” of an Ancient Kingdom.
The ceremony has been performed in various forms for several centuries and consists of three days of masked dancing, which results in the dhakey or slaying of an evil demon by the deity Dorje Shunu. Initially a religious ceremony to ward off obstacles and suffering, it has also come to symbolize the strength and hope of the people of Lo, and many of them make the annual pilgrimage to witness the spectacle.
The large thangka on the south back wall is changed on the second day and they are said to be over four hundred years old. They are hand embroidered and the one above depicts Padmasambhava and two dakinis. Seated below the thangka are monks in pointed red hats and the abbot, or Khemo, is seated in the center on a slightly elevated dais.
The festival begins with an assembly of monks along with offerings and prayers.
Soon there is the loud blare of the traditional long copper horns or dungehen, accompanied by beating of drums and cymbals.
Soon the masked dancers appear and the tsowo, or main dancer, can be recognized by his elaborate mask and hand-embroidered silk robes.
The early dancers represent preparation or invoking of protective deities, along with the purification of the ground on which the dances will be performed. The dances increase in intensity during the second day.
Many of the dancers wear intricate and brightly costumes that depict either gods or animals.
The five-hundred-year-old walled city of Lo Manthang is located at 12,500’ and is very close to the Tibetan border. In centuries past it was situated along an important salt route that went south from Tibet to India. There are Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Mustang that predate many in Tibet, stretching back to the eighth century. The mystical Tibetan culture is alive and well in this remote area of the world, allowing one to visit several functioning Buddhist monasteries with exquisite frescoes and other vestiges of Tibetan Buddhism.
The trek into Lo Manthang is challenging and spectacular. Here are a few photos that capture a glimpse of the sights in the area.
—Photos and text by Doug Steakley, Mustang: Hiking to the “Sky Caves” of an Ancient Kingdom.