Massive stone walls are found everywhere in Tibet, carved out from the vast array of stone found all over the plateau, and dating to a time when towns and villages needed enclosing walls to protect themselves and their animals from potential danger. More than that, though, stone work is a defining element of Tibetan architecture. Still practiced today, it is witness to a centuries old tradition that involves highly skilled masons capable of building walls that will defy time while using local stones held together by mud for mortar.
Though pounded mud walls were even more widespread, and widely used in village homes, Tibet’s most famous architectural landmarks, including the Potala Palace in Lhasa, are made of stone. Walls are left unfinished, or whitewashed in white, yellow, red or grey, the style preferred in Central Tibet.
When we built the Norlha workshop, we chose to make the enclosing wall from stone. The most able mason in the area was available, builder of the nine story tower in Tso, Kanlho, modeled on the one built by Milarepa in Central Tibet in the 11th century. He and his team built our wall. He has retired since, but his son continues in his father’s footsteps. As Tibetan builders are faced with the onslaught of newer, cheaper, lighter (and mostly uglier) building materials, stone emerges as the most handsome and lasting option for those wanting to build a structure with purpose and intent.