Ambassador Alaina B Teplitz on tour to inspect US-assisted projects in Upper Mustang
Ambassador Teplitz encounters US university students in a tea shop in Lo Manthang.
When the ambassador of the United States travels within Nepal, the itinerary is carefully planned in advance. But Nepal is full of surprises, and so it was that while trekking in Mustang last month Ambassador Alaina B Teplitz encountered a group of visiting students from the University of Vermont.
At a tea house in Lo Manthang, Teplitz discussed US-Nepal diplomatic relations with them, and outlined their country’s main priorities in Nepal: encouraging democracy, enhancing economic prosperity, and supporting disaster risk reduction efforts.
“We have multiple interests in Mustang, from cultural to environmental to ecological perspectives, the same things that we also support throughout Nepal,” Teplitz said. “We looked at cultural heritage and how we can help and support Nepal preserve what is interesting and unique, and perhaps in danger of erosion.”
Indeed, economic prosperity and heritage preservation seem to go hand in hand, as this ecologically and culturally fragile trans-Himalayan region of Nepal is transformed by a new highway linking it to Jomsom and Pokhara to the south.
Learning the alphabet with children at a primary school in Lo Manthang.
“The best way forward for Mustang is successful development of infrastructure and tourism in a way that preserves the region’s unique culture and biodiversity,” Teplitz said. “Mustang’s potential can be further developed economically and the livelihoods of the people upgraded once there are better facilities for tourists, and enhanced entrepreneurship and economic growth opportunities.”
The United States has over the years supported various environmental and cultural preservation activities in Mustang and in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), and Teplitz undertook the trek to inspect and gain first-hand knowledge about them. The Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation has supported 17 cultural restoration projects in Nepal over the past two decades — including several
in Upper Mustang — with a total exceeding $2 million.
Artisans restoring ancient Buddhist murals at a monastery in Lo Manthang.
In 2008, the Fund supported the Lo Gyalpo Jigme Cultural Conservation Foundation to restore and clean three historic chortens: Gyeko and Kukchung Chortens in Ghemi village, and Gangba Chorten in Tsarang. It is also implementing projects for Jampa Lhakhang wall paintings that were damaged in last year’s earthquake.
Teplitz travelled with members of her family as well as embassy officials for 11 days, visiting Kagbeni, Chele, Ghiling, Tsarang and Lo Manthang. She is the third US ambassador to visit Mustang in recent years.
Calling on Crown Prince S P Bista at the palace in Lo Manthang.
Teplitz visited the Hariyo Ban environmental initiative, which studies the ecology of the snow leopard and the grey wolf, the effect of climate change adaptation and sustainability, as well as ways to strengthen anti-poaching efforts. She met district officials in Jomsom, talked to community leaders and also enquired about Suaahara, another embassy-supported project that focuses on nutrition and health in Mustang.
In Lo Manthang, Teplitz called on the Crown Prince of Upper Mustang at his palace and talked about economic and environmental challenges, specifically the growing water scarcity that people face in Mustang and the region.
“Through protection of cultural heritage, we will support the development of tourism and knowledge transfer for local people on traditional skills such as preservation of ancient arts and thangka painting, wall mural restoration and other historical techniques that can even be used in other places,” Teplitz said.
Being welcomed by a community near Kagbeni.
Teplitz also visited the ACAP office for a briefing, and toured the Mustang High Altitude Warfare School that hosts US personnel for joint training exercises. At the end of her trip, she gave an interview to Radio Mustang, an FM station in Jomsom. The ambassador was particularly interested in finding out about educational opportunities for local students, and visited schools in Kagbeni and Lo Manthang.
Teplitz says she was most impressed with the women of Mustang. “They seemed to be the backbone of the tourist trade, they are business women, clearly entrepreneurs,”she said, “it’s a harsh environment, and getting supplies must be very difficult, as well as providing for their families on top of the work they are doing.”
Preserving Nepal's sou , Stéphane Huët
High and dry, Ayesha Shakya
Mystical Mustang in the monsoon, Stéphane Huët