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Land and People

On the Exhibition

The multimedia exhibition "Research Paths through the Himalaya" is the culmination of five years of joint research of the FWF sponsored interdisciplinary research unit "The Cultural History of the Western Himalaya". The exhibit presents a view of the art historical treasures of this region and shows a representative cross section of the many facets of the researchers' work. The project for the conservation and preservation of a 900-year-old temple complex in Nako, one of the highest-lying villages in India, is also presented. Video and audio installations offer vivid impressions of the local culture, the festivals, and the rituals of the Western Himalaya.

Historical Overview

After the fall of the old Tibetan monarchy at the end of the 9th/beginning of the 10th centuries, the descendents of the last Tibetan king founded a new fiefdom in the furthest western parts of the former empire. This new West Tibetan kingdom was known as Ngari To (mNga' ris stod, "Western Kingdom") and was found for the most part in the western part of today's Autonomous Region of Tibet of the PR of China, the bordering Indian districts Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti, as well as today's Ladakh. The West Tibetan rulers - Yeshe O (Ye shes 'od) (aprox. 975-985?) and his grandnephew Changchub O (Byang chub 'od) the most prominent - were concerned with supporting and spreading Indian Buddhism. Both Buddhism and the Tibetan culture provided a cultural unity which survives until today throughout this region. From the 10th century, members of the royal family and the nobility founded numerous monasteries and temples. Buddhist monks directed a vast production of religious artefacts - paintings, sculptures, holy texts and inscriptions, together with scholars and artists from distant areas of the Indian subcontinent.


The landscape of the Western Himalaya is marked with multitudes of colourful prayer flags, which are hung at holy places, mountain passes and monasteries. The are made of cloth and are printed with mantras (prayer formula) that are activated by the wind in order to spread their positive effects. In addition to Tibetan prayers, it is also common to see portrayals of the wind horse Lungta (rLung rta), the guardian deity Tara, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara who is the guardian bodhisattva of Tibet, or the religious master Padmasambhava. The five different colours of the prayer flags represent on the one hand the five Buddha families, but they also symbolize the five elements: blue represents air; yellow, the earth; green, water; red fire; and white represents space.