Massive stone walls are found everywhere in Tibet, carved out from the vast array of stone material found all over the plateau, a tradition reminiscent of 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 the most defining aspect found in Tibetan architecture. Still practiced today, it is witness to a century old tradition that involves highly skilled masons capable of building walls that will defy centuries using local stones with only 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 finished in many ways, from their natural aspect to whitewashing in white, yellow, red or grey, styles 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, author of the rebuilt 9 story tower in Tso, Kanlho, modeled on the one built by Milarepa in Central Tibet in the 11th century, was available and 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 options now found on the market, ones that totally bypass mud walls, stone emerges as the most handsome and lasting option for those wanting to build a structure that matters.