Monthly Archives: May 2011

Tibetan Nuns

Tibet in Old Photographs


I recently acquired a rather battered and bent version of a book called “Tibet The Sacred Realm” by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa at a local car boot sale. This book, first published by Aperture in 1984 and reprinted in the 1990s, is a collection of rare and very early photographs of Tibet, and an interesting chronicle of the author’s early life in Tibet before the Chinese invasion.

Tibetan Nuns

J Claude White Nuns at Nunnery 1903

As a keen photographer myself (see the Windhorse Facebook pages) I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the photographs in this book and how they record the people and magic of Tibet as it was in the 19th Century and after. The photos are selected from collections of institution archives and private sources in Europe and the United States. They are the  work of several explorer-photographers, including Alexandra David-Neel, Brooke Dolan, Sven Hedin, George Taylor, Ilya Tolstoy, and Claude White. They would had to brave bad weather, the threats of bandits, the objections of the lamas, and countless other hardships, and yet they still managed to capture the essence of Tibet’s mystery and fascination

Officials from Lhasa 1890

Officials from Lhasa 1890

The book is punctuated by interesting quotes including this by Sven Hedin.

“Roads! There are no other paths there than those beaten out by wild yaks, wild asses and antelopes. We made, literally made, our way, while I charted  the country and captured for the pages of my sketch-book as many views as possible of the glorious mountain  giants with snow-capped peaks and labyrinths of winding valleys… Those who imagine that such a journey in vast solitude and desolation is tedious and trying are mistaken. No spectacle can be more sublime. Every day’s march, every league brings discoveries of unimagined beauty.”

Here is another quote from the book.

“Seek a master thoroughly enlightened in spiritual matters, learned, and overflowing with goodness.

Seek a quiet and pleasant place which appears to yo suitable for study and reflection, and remain there.

Seek friends who share your beliefs and habits and in whom you can put your trust.

Think of the evil consequences of gluttony and content yourself, in your retreat, with the amount of food that is indespensible for keeping you in good health. Follow the regime and the mode of living that are calculated to keep you healthy and strong.

Practice such religious or mental exercises as develop your spiritual faculties.

Study impartially all teachings that are accessible to you, whatever their tendencies.

Keep “the knower” within you ever fully active, whatever you may do and in whatsoever state you may find yourself.”  Gampopa


As the technological age threatens to swallow, one by one, the unique civilizations of the world, the lessons to be learned from the age-old traditions of Tibet become all the more valuable. Here we have Tibet’s past superbly illuminated with superb insight and a majestic feast for the eye.

“Whatever the fate of Tibet, the spiritual essence of the Sacred Realm remains in the hearts of the Tibetan people. Our cultural heritage lives, too, in the handful of photographs taken in our country before 1950, all the more precious because they preserve a sense of time and place that now exists only in our memories.”—Lobsang P. Lhalungpa from the Chronicle