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Peter van Ham. The Khawaling Chörten: A Unique Sculpted and Painted Mandala at Nyoma, Ladakh

Nyoma is a village in southeast Ladakh close to the border of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China (TAR). It is the administrative centre of the district of the same name, which refers to the Ladakhi name for the Changthang, the vast high-altitude desert plains shared by the TAR and India. Because of its proximity to the Chinese border, Nyoma has been off-limits to tourists for at least fifty years. Only through a special permit granted by the authorities in Leh was it possible for this author and his party to access the region, in March 2010, as the first registered foreigners in more than 100 years. The villagers and the Changpa nomads from the area gave an overwhelmingly friendly reception to the team, ‘the first Westerners,’ as the village headman stated, ‘ever to reach here since a certain missionary’s visit in 1909’—which, as may be seen below, probably refers to August Hermann Francke (1870–1930) (for a first reference, see van Ham, 2010, pp. 27–29). It has been almost as long since any report was written on Nyoma. This site, with its relatively well-preserved paintings and an extraordinary sculptural mandala, certainly deserves an updated appraisal.

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