Lhakhang Karpo

Top choice in Ngari

The large Lhakhang Karpo holds the oldest paintings at Tsaparang and is probably the most important chapel in all of Ngari. The murals date back to the 15th or 16th century but their influences extend back to 10th-century Kashmiri Buddhist art. Apart from at Tsaparang, very little material evidence of early Kashmiri art remains (notably at Alchi Monastery in Ladakh). Spot the Kashmiri influence in the slender torsos, thin waists and long fingers of the Hindu-inspired deities.

The ceiling of the chapel is beautifully painted, as are the many thin supporting columns made from composite pieces of wood (trees are scarcer than hen’s teeth in Ngari). The carvings and paintings of Sakyamuni that top each column are particularly noteworthy. At one time, 22 life-size statues lined the walls; today only 10 remain and these are severely damaged. Black and white photos of the original statues just underline the sense of cultural loss. In the far left corner are the legs of Jampa; to the right is Yeshe Ö. Originally each statue would have been framed by a torana and a Kashmiri-style plinth. Only partial sections of these remain (look in the far left corner and back recess), but you can still see the holes where these structures were once anchored to the walls.

The doors are flanked by two damaged 5m-high guardian figures, red Tamdrin (Hayagriva) and blue Chana Dorje (Vajrapani). Even armless and with straw protruding from their stomachs they hint at the lost marvels of the chapel.

The huge figure of Sakyamuni that once stood in the recess, the Jowo Khang, at the back of the hall was destroyed by Red Guards. On the side walls at the back were once row after row of smaller deities, each perched on its own small shelf.

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