Secrets of Shangri La

Cave complex in Upper Mustang, Nepal.

He looked like Indiana Jones…really. And, it was probably intentional, a modern-day archaeologist/anthropologist of the far reaches of Nepal. Regardless of appearance, Dr. Charles Ramble was no impostor, no wannabe hero, but rather a dedicated man who had made significant discoveries in the remote, semi-autonomous kingdom of Mustang, a remote fin of Nepal jutting onto the Tibetan Plateau.

For the better part of 3 hours in 1993, Charles Ramble spoke to all 26 of us (we were studying for 6 months in Nepal on a semester abroad program), and not a one was anything but rapt. He told us of a faraway region, until 1991 sealed off to foreign visitors. And, of ancient Buddhist and Bon cave complexes high above Lo Monthang. And, even more intriguing, the fact that these caves date back to perhaps as far a 2,000 B.C. – long before the Buddhist era.

Fresco in cave (left); Charles Ramble inspecting artifacts (right)

And, he spoke of the dangers of his find. Not dangers to himself, but rather dangers posed to the ancient, irreplaceable treasures in the caves: frescoes, artifacts, possibly texts and more that lay unprotected from the elements, and also from art thieves and looters who had already laid waste to many such sites throughout Nepal. (Literally thousands of ancient artworks have been stolen from Nepal's temples and sites over the years; see the website Stolen Art of Nepal and the book by Lain Singh Bangdell, Stolen images of Nepal.)

It was a lecture I never forgot…And, thus it was with great excitement that I heard about an expedition in 2008 by Leisl Clark, Pete Athans, and led by my friend Brot Coburn, would be heading to Mustang to explore and document this amazing site deep in the Himalaya.

(Broughton "Brot" Coburn is a legend in Nepal, and for good reason. He lived and worked there for 2 decades, and wrote 2 of the best books in my opinion on Nepal, Nepali Aama and Aama in America. And, he's a great guy to boot!)

The expedition to Mustang was filmed and is in production by National Geographic, due to air on PBS later this year.

But, you can get a sneak preview with Brot Coburn himself on November 11, 2009, at 7:00 PM at the American Mountaineering Museum! Brot will be our guest speaker for November's sPEAKer Series at the Museum.(You can read a PDF on Brot's presentation here.)

So, come on down and learn for yourself about the Secrets of Shangri La from Brot Coburn! And, check out the video below – a short preview of the film, with old "Indiana Charles Ramble Jones" making a great climb!

Jake Norton is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker from Colorado.

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