Mystery of the ancient kingdom discovered in Nepal where thousands of caves are carved into cliffside
Hidden within the Himalayas, 155ft from the ground, are an estimated 10,000 man-made caves dug into the Cliffside or tunnelled from above. They remain one of the World’s greatest archaeological mysteries as it is not known who built them and why.
In the mid-1990s, archaeologists from Nepal and the University of Cologne began exploring the stacked caves and found several dozen bodies, all at least 2,000 years old. Since then, groups continued to investigate the remote Upper Mustang site. Those who have seen the mysterious caves say the effect of them on the cliff face makes it look like a giant sandcastle.
“Quite honestly when I got there it was even bigger and more grand than anything I ever could ever have imagined,” said Cory Richards, adventure photographer who joined a team of explorers to unearth hidden relics of the ancient and remote caves.
Even accomplished climbers and explorers had difficulty reaching and climbing into the caves and it posed real danger to the team. In fact climbing into the caves was so dangerous, Mr Richards lost his footing, fell and broke his back. On another assignment to Mustang the following year, videographer Lincoln Else was hit by a falling rock, fracturing his skull. The difficulties and dangers experienced by the team raised the question as to how the original inhabitants managed to climb into the caves, and indeed to build them.
“This was real exploration. It's dangerous it's loose rock it's scary. Everything is loose, everything around you feels like it's crumbling. You feel like when you're climbing everything is going to collapse,” said Richards.
Most of the caves that have been found are empty, though some showed signs of domestic habitation: hearths, grain-storage bins, sleeping spaces, and others contain elaborate murals from Buddhist history and calligraphed manuscripts.
Scientists have divided cave use in Upper Mustang into three periods. As early as 1000 BC, the caves were used as burial chambers. During the 10th Century, the region is thought to have been frequently battled over, and consequently, placing safety over convenience, families moved into the caves, turning them into living quarters. By the 1400s, the caves functioned as meditation chambers, military lookouts or storage units as people moved into villages.
Richards described his experience of visiting the caves and, as a photographer, trying to convey their beauty: “Essentially at the end of the experience, what was illuminated to me the marriage of science and exploration and culture is the ultimate in how we bring the world to everyone.”