STORYTELLING PORTFOLIO - SOPHIE DIA PEGRUM
PHOTOGRAPHS & WRITING
I shot these photographic images in Mustang, Nepal during the production of the one hour documentary "Talking to the Air:The Horses of the Last Forbidden Kingdom". The accompanying writing compositions are drawn from observational journals I was writing at the time. Below the photographs is an excerpt from the documentary film script narration which I wrote for the film.
Carved through the heart of Mustang is the Kali Gandaki river, the deepest river gorge in the world. For millennia this river valley provided a way of traversing the Himalaya and Mustang’s strategic position on this ancient trade route between Central Asia, Tibet and the Indian plains is evident in the fort towns and villages perched above the river valley.
From a desolate high pass rises a long wall of prayer wheels. The distinct ritual architecture of Buddhism is part of the very geology of Mustang. On these treacherous routes, the careful hoof steps of the horse have ensured the ascent of man in this remote region.
Dynasties established on salt and wool trade revenues on this route from Tibet to India secured the dynamic growth of the Kingdom.
TITLE - THE KINGDOM OF LO
Twelve miles from the border with Tibet is Lo Manthang, the walled capital of the ancient kingdom. The Raja of Lo traces his lineage back 25 generations to Ame Pal, a Tibetan warlord who established the town in 1380. Though the great gate is no longer locked nightly, all except the Rajas and Chief Priest must dismount before entering the town. The maze of alleyways and the tall, fortified mud brick walls serve to shield the inhabitants from the winds that gust northward toward the Tibetan plateau, but are also a reminder of the region’s former splendor and local power.
Amchi Gyatso Bista, a Royal Priest, is attendant to the spiritual and health matters of Mustang’s Raja. At the devotional heart of his home, Amchi Bista chronicled the sacred stories of man, horse and the ancient Kingdom.
Amchi Gyatso Bista: "With our belief that if a horse is good, our fate is also good, I have been raising my own horse. The horse has been used as our airplanes, motor vehicles, everything. That is why horses are valued so much in this Himalayan region."
TITLE - THE PLACE OF THE GODS
Lhasa, literally means the place of the Gods. Central to Tibet’s politics, economy and culture for centuries, the cosmopolitan city bustled with trade and became a spiritual beacon for pilgrims.
The Kingdom of Lo and its proximity to Lhasa brought the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and a feudal monastic culture, attracting scholars and devotees from far and wide. The people of Upper Mustang speak Tibetan and the social, cultural and religious history of Lo is strongly tied with Tibet.
Rich in culture, explorers described Mustang as a 'hidden kingdom'. Shuttered to foreigners until recently, this forbidden Kingdom and the horses that helped it thrive now squarely face the double edged sword of globalization.
King Jigme Palbar Bista: The horse can be taken as a great emblem of our ancestors. It can also be considered as a great friend, and also as some gods.
Mustang’s King, Raja Jigme Palbar Bista represents a long lineage going back centuries. As well as keeping many horses, he was well known for his knowledge and affection for them. Now in his eighties, he is represented by the presence of his son, who presides over local events. Though the king was forced to abdicate in 2008, he and his son are still considered by many as their leaders and monarch.
King Jigme Palbar Bista: As you saw earlier, when we arrived in a line riding horses, one had an empty saddle, covered in scarves. Our good Gyatso here came carrying…What do you call it…? In our language we call it Duung – a victory banner. That horse with an empty saddle is dedicated to god. We don’t see god, but what we believe is that god is riding that horse. When our riding is done in the evening, that horse is very tired. So tired, we believe because god rode upon it.
The god horse is said to be one emanation of Dung Mar, the king’s protector deity. This horse is never ridden, but roams free or is adorned for ceremonial occasions. When the horse dies, another incarnation must be named immediately, as a gap in the lineage can disrupt the harmony of the living landscape.
Here, the horse is a living history and has an integral part of a belief system since their relationship with man began. That bond between humankind and horse has been vital to existence and survival.
As well as being a fundamental part of the settlement and success of the economics of Mustang, they have also carried culture through centuries, and confer status and prestige to those that own and raise them.