Tashi Kabum: A cave temple in Upper Mustang

Mustang, the trans-Himalayan kingdom in the north of the Annapurna Range, is home to thousands of ancient caves where, according to various researches, ancient troglodytes had lived around 3,000 years back. Numerous caves with ancient paintings have been discovered in this region, and Tashi Kabum is one of them.

Tashi Kabum is located in a cliff approximately 50 meters above the Puyon Khola. It takes around an hour on foot from Yara Village on the way to Luri Gompa. However, it is quite difficult to reach this cave. Though there is a narrow trail constructed by Yara’s villagers, you have to literally crawl down to enter Tashi Kabum. But once inside, there is enough room to stand, albeit bending a bit, as the cave is approximately only five meters high.

Right in front of the entrance is a passage that was probably another entrance to the cave but it is now blocked. In the center of the cave stands a white stupa (chorten) under the canopy of eight auspicious symbols (the Asta Mangals). These symbols painted on the dome-shaped ceiling are surrounded by vajras and lotus petals, as in a Mandala.

Frescoes on the wall contains Lokeshvara (Chenrezig) and a Buddhist Master. “Om mani padme hum”, the mantra of compassion, is painted in a lot of places. The frescoes of Pala (Indo-Nepali style of art), painted by Newar artists from Kathmandu Valley, suggests that Tashi Kabum dates back to the 13th century.

The stupa of Tashi Kabum is damaged in a way that suggests it was vandalized for the ancient objects it holds inside. A heap of torn pages in a corner is all that is left of Buddhist religious scriptures. There are deep cracks and fissures in the ceilings and walls. Due to erosion and the strong winds that blow all year round in this area, many caves have simply crumbled away. And Tashi Kabum may succumb to a similar fate if urgent measures aren’t taken to preserve this historical, cultural, and religious heritage.

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