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May-September 1999

The 5th Annual General Meeting of the Shalu Association will be held in Paris, November 25th, 1999. 1900H, salle 306, INALCO, PORTE DAUPHINE, UNIVERSITY OF PARIS III.

Mission report Southern Tibet April 15 to May 5

After two and half years of suspension of our projects, the Shalu Association received an official invitation to Tibet in January 1999, from the Foreign Cultural Exchange Friendship Association of the TAR. We were asked to come "as soon as possible" and so went on a short journey (during university vacation). We were very well received, and after meetings at the Cultural Relics Bureau in Lhasa and Tsethang, travelled around the sites with staff from these offices. Amongst them were new acquaintances, and several dear old friends. The journey turned out to be one of the best we have ever had. 

LHASA: The four days in Lhasa were very busy in meetings, writing a new contract, visiting the bank to arrange funding. A new accountant has been appointed. She is an old friend, and retired professional from the Construction Department of the TAR. We had informal talks with representatives of the University Network for Co-operation in Research Tibet-Norway, and with André Alexander who is now running the Tibet Heritage Fund. His project for saving several groups of houses in the old city of Lhasa is going well. Then we left for a two week tour of the sites in Southern Tibet, meeting our main partners from Tsethang at Gongkar Monastery, where the monks gave us a splendid lunch before inspecting the restoration of the Labrang Gonkhang.

Ongoing project: Gongkar Monastery

Restoration of the Labrang Gonkhang, or upper Protector Chapel, is complete. As in the previous Yidam Temple project, all three levels have been taken into account. A pillar misalignement on the first floor was provoking imminent collapse of one entire section of the main building. Firstly, the whole structure was lifted and consolidated from the base, with massive new pillars in the grain storage area below. The top floor was considerably lightened by removal of top-heavy stone roofing. In this way the unique 15th c. wooden structure on the middle storey has been saved, together with the fine wall paintings attributed to Khyentse in the 15th c. Here, superbly macabre cemetry scenes dominate the chapel, while Vaishravana and his eight horsemen, and Vajrayogini adorn either end. The final installment of Shalu Association funding for this project was paid in May this year, just after our return to Paris. 

Ongoing project: Drathang Manastery

Our participation in the restoration of the main temple of Drathang is complete, with a last installment of funding also arranged in May. We were able to visit the birthplace of Drapa Ngonshey, 11th. c. founder of the temple. An earlier house, perhaps his former home, was taken down and rebuilt only two years ago! One precious relic, thought to be his boot, emerged from a stupa during the Cultural Revolution, and is now kept in the home. The father of the present incumbent was a knowledgable man, but he passed away a few years ago. The new spacious home is said to have been built on the same model as the previous one, and in front stands a small two-storey temple dedicated to the family protector, Zhanglön. This was also recently rebuilt.

New Project: Meeting in Tsethang and agreement to restore the roof of Milarepa's nine storey tower in Lhodrak

We then went to Namseling Manor (see below), before going on to an official meeting with our partners in the Tsethang Cultural Relics office. This was followed by our departure to Lhodrak, to visit Milarepa's Nine-Storey Tower for the second time. Little degradation of the wall paintings is apparent since two and a half years, but upon close examination, considerable weakness is visible on all floors, with severe cracking, peeling of paint and various kinds of surface damage. A new tripartite contract was made on the spot in Sekhar Monastery (Shalu Association-Tsethang Cultural Relics-Lhodrak Prefecture), with three quarters funding being made available this year by Shalu Association :

To build wooden supporting structure and copper roof: 110 000 RMB = 13750 US$. 
with gilding: 58 500 RMB 7 350 US$ 
Total needed: 21 100 US$ 

Since the Shalu Association does not have the full funding to gild the copper roof, it was decided that these funds should be sought by all three parties. This is important in order to complete the work by the end of 1999. Scaffolding is an absolute necessity, in view of the height of the tower. The dangerous work of fixing the copper sheets and gilding them once in place (involving poisonous mercury fumes) requires that the operation be carried out during the same period, by the same group of specialist artisans who will be called in from Lhasa to do the job. The gilding is a question of symbolic, esthetic, practical and economic importance. It would be great pity if this wonderful project could not be completed in time. The monks have been given a camera and 10 rolls of film to record all stages of the work. Prices have 
risen since 1996.

Funding already provided by Shalu Association (9.9.1999)
8 250 US$ + 5 500 US$ + 1 320 US$ Total = 15 070 US$
6 030 US$ is still needed to complete the roof

Khothing and Kharchu

After Sekhar Guthok we were invited to visit two new sites in Lhodrak, Khothing and Kharchu, further to the east, perched on a spectacular promontary above a precipitous gorge, enshrined in rainbows and misty rhododendron forests. Khothing is one of the 7th c. temples built according to tradition to pin down the "Demoness" of Tibet, as Buddhism was first introduced into the Land of Snows. Our guide book suggested that there were fine wall paintings and indeed there are though of a later date. The whole structure appears to have been restored in the 19th c. and does require urgent attention. The humid climate and the presence of bugs in the wooden pillars and beams makes renewal or treatment of the structure imperative. 

Dowa Dzong and Lhalung manastery

On the way back we climbed up to the ruins of the main fortress of Lhodrak, Dowa Dzong, reputed as one of the most awesome places for exiled prisoners in Tibet. The story says that the scorpions were so big you could hear them coming! We paid a second visit to the important monastery of Lhalung, associated with the famous Pawo Tsuklatrengwa lineage. Here, unique architectural features - said to date back to the imperial period - survive with several styles of later but very fine wall paintings. The whole is in critical condition since the wooden beams in the main temple are rotten and sagging in several places. The site was included on the TAR heritage list only three years ago and no funding has been made available at all. The keeper of the temple requested Shalu Association to help fund emergency repairs in the main Assembly Hall. This could be our next project, on condition that the roof of Sekhar Guthok is well built and complete.

Lho Taklung

A second visit to "Southern Taklung" also confirmed the initial impression, that this Sakya monastery contains beautiful, sophisticated wall paintings dating from the 15th through to the 19th c., together with three unusual wooden sculpted mandorlas in the rear chapel, executed in "red sandalwood" in Newar style, surrounding the Buddhas of the Three Times. 

Gyantse fort, Pelkor chode and the Phala manor

A short tour around the newly restored Fort of Gyantse, the Pelkor Chode Monastery and Kumbum Stupa, revealed both new and familier splendours of Tibetan art and architecture. Moreover, the recently opened Phala Manor proved to be a worthwhile detour, in that the recent restoration provides a fascinating glimpse into the life styles of nobles and their serfs in Central Tibet during the 1930s and 1940s. The Phala Manor is based on an entirely different model if compared with Namseling. The latter structure belongs, in a broad sense, to the mountain-top fortress architecture of Tibet, though it is built on the valley floor. The Phala Manor, built in the plain near Gyantse, is much closer in concept to 19th and 20th c. noble dwellings in the Lhasa valley, with low two or three storeyed structures surrounding spacious courtyards. 

Ongoing project: Shalu new protectors' chapel

The new Shalu Gonkhang has been built and painted, ready for transferel of the stucco images which have been kept in the old Gonkhang since their fabrication 3-4 years ago. The transfer will take place at the end of May or in June, when reconstruction of the Tongdröl Stupa at the Shalu hermitage of Riphuk is complete. The donor for this mystical project is living in a tent on site until completion, and we envied him for being able to survey, day after day, reconstruction of one of the three main sacred symbols of Shalu. It is said that the stupa appears the right way up when reflected in water, unlike all other reflections. This makes it more sacred in the eyes of the Tibetans even that Mt. Kailash! The monks received us with great kindness and we were more than satisfied with the new building, discretely hidden behind a high wall in a side courtyard, surrounded by trees and singing birds. We expressed our hope that the transferel of the stuccos be made without delay, and that the old Gonkhang be left as it was, pending co-ordinated archeological investigation and study. No further funds have been provided, and we expect confirmation of the consecration of the new Gonkhang in early summer. 

Shelkar and Dingri Langkor

Before leaving Tibet by road for Kathmandu, we visited two new sites, which proved to be fascinating from historical and architectural points of view, although little remains in the way of painting and sculpture. The magnificent site of Shelkar, with its monastery overshadowed by the towering ruins of the fortress above, sends the mind reeling. What amazing architectural feats the Tibetans were capable of ! 

Further down the road, facing Jomolungma (Mt. Everest), stands the modest temple of Langkor, where the Indian yogin Phadampa is said to have spent many years. The original pillar and beam structure is still intact, with fine makara bas-relief carvings and lion heads in the assembly hall. This appears to be all, however, and our guide-book promise of "original murals" proved to be a pipe-dream, since the delicate Milarepa and Padmasambhava date to ca. 17th or 18th century. 

Project: Namseling Manor urgent help needed! Searches for sponsors!

A short visit to Namseling revealed the terrible state into which this fine manor house has fallen. The East wing, including the toilet tower, has totally collapsed. We entered the building by climbing up a huge pile of stones. Further collapse is seen on the West side, with a gaping hole looking down into the basement where rotten beams had been detected already two and a half years ago. The heavy rains of last year are partly to blame. The future of Namseling is severely compromised, although the main structure is still solidly standing, and our Tibetan partners are extremely concerned about saving it. 

The World Monuments Fund donation of 15 000 US$, promised eighteen months previously ultimately reserved a total of 2 160 US$ for on site work in 1999, with no promise of further aid ! Namseling has been taken off the World Heritage list of the 100 most endangered monuments, at the request of our association. 

Please help save Namseling and turn it into a living museum and training center for arts for Southern Tibet

Project target: 125 000 US$
All ideas for sponsorship are welcome!!!

Thus we are in search of new sponsors for this superb project. There is still enough time to save the Namseling Manor and turn it into a living museum, with a training centre for arts and crafts of Southern Tibet, textiles, pottery, jade carving, boot and apron making etc. A small hotel, shop and gardens could complete the complex. The manor stands in an ideal position, proudly rising seven stories high in the centre of an unspoiled valley, opposite Samye and parallel to the valleys of the Tombs of the Tibetan emperors, and the first Tibetan palace of Yumbulagang.

Shalu Association funds used on site in 1999: Total: 19 350 US$

Last installment of funding (owing since 97, paid May 99) : 20 000 RMB = 2500 $
Last installment of funding (owing since 97, paid May 99) : 15 000 RMB = 1800 $

Sekhar Guthok
Funding provided for the roof of Sekhar Guthok for wood structure and copper sheets 110 000 RMB = 13 750 US$ : 
extra for gilding 10 560 RMB = 1 320 US$ : 
SEKHAR SUB-TOTAL 120 560 RMB = 15 070 US$ 
TOTAL 155 560 RMB = 19 350 US$ EXPENSES 

1. MISSION TO TIBET April 17th-May 5th 1999 :
We gratefully acknowledge support from M. Jean-François Veziès, director of Terre d'Aventure, Paris, who funded our tickets from Paris-Kathmandu-Paris. 
2. SHALU OFFICE PARIS : Rent and running costs:
March 1999-March 2000 : Donald and Shelley Rubin Foundation grant: 6 100 US$

- DIGITAL CAMERA for on site work: Donald & Shelley Rubin Foundation : 2200 US$
A Nikon Coolpix 950 has been acquired with all necessary attachments. - NEW COMPUTER: We have been running the office on an old Mac LC 475. Mr. Balz Baechi has donated : 2 000 SF. A new IMAC computor was acquired in July 1999. This is a great improvement.

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