During May 2008 I visited the Annapurna region of Nepal. Here rammed earth
is used extensively, both in historic and vernacular construction. At the western
end of the Annapurna region is the kingdom of Mustang, an ancient kingdom with
a rammed earth wall surrounding the capital city dating from the 15th century.
The region is dry and arid, due to its position in the rain shadow of the Annapurna
range to the south. The Gandaki river runs through Mustang, and in parts is
the deepest valley in the world, with 7000m peaks separated by only 25km. Foreign
visitors have been allowed to enter the kingdom of Mustang since 1991, but access
to Upper Mustang and Lo Manthang requires a special permit.
Kagbeni is the village at the entrance to the Buddhist kingdom of Mustang.
I did not enter the restricted parts of upper Mustang, and Kagbeni is the part
of Mustang most tourists get to visit.
The old town of Kagbeni is built almost wholly in rammed earth, and is still
a highly active community, even though many people live across the river in
a newer part of the village. The layout of the village is very similar to that
of the Kasbahs of Morocco, where the whole village
is designed to be fortified, and homes are part of the village walls. I was
able to discern the outline and towers of a central fortification. The position
of Kagbeni, on the main trade route between Nepal and Tibet would require fortification,
to discourage the interests of members of the larger kingdoms.
Kagbeni old town, constructed from rammed earth
Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling is the monastery in Kagbeni and was established
by a great scholar of Tibet in 1429, and the monastery contains a number of
rare statues and artifacts. The monastery appears to be in particularly good
condition, with only one section, where a poor roof has allowed water damage
of the wall. The rammed earth is particularly filled with horizontal timber
beams, much more so than I have seen at any other rammed earth site. These beams
are more common in dry masonry construction (a fully fledged version would be
called Cator and Cribbage, where they serve to improve the seismic performance
Seismic protection in the Himalayas
and Cribbage Article Richard Hughes, Arup
Modern Randolph Langenbach, Conservationtech
Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery in Kagbeni
Kagbeni is becoming increasingly visited by tourists. The best evidence for
this is new construction. A new rammed earth hotel was being constructed in
the centre of Kagbeni. The builders were happy to stop and chat about how they
were building and what they were doing. The quality of construction was excellent,
and similar to that described by Jest, Chayet et al. (1990), but slightly different
to that found in Ladakh, Morocco
and Spain. Here tall poles are fixed using the
horizontal timbers, and the formwork moved vertically up the timbers to the
full height of the building. Wedges are driven between the poles and the formwork,
which are fixed using rope at the top. For more details of different rammed
earth building techniques, see my thesis.
A new rammed earth hotel under construction just
outside of Kagbeni
Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C. E. and Gerrard, C.M. Historic Rammed Earth
Structures in Spain. International Symposium on Earthen Structures,
Bangalore, August 2007
Rammed Earth Structures in Spain
Jest, C., Chayet, A. and Sanday, J. 1990. Earth used for building in
the Karakoram and Central Asia – Recent Research and Future trends.
6th International Conference on the Conservation of Earthen Architecture,
Las Cruces, New Mexico, Getty Conservation Institute. Los Angeles.
Jharkot is the main village on between Kagbeni and Muktinath. Here there was
the remains of two very large rammed earth buildings. One appeared to be in
state of major disrepair, with only two of the walls remaining, while one (below)
had been extensively repaired using masonry.
Rammed earth building in Jharkot, repaired with
The Mustang valley continues north from Kagbeni towards Lo Manthang and Tibet,
but the Annapurna circuit turns east toward Muktinath, a place sacred in both
for Hindus and Buddhists. Here, at the foot of the 5415m Thorong La pass, all
the elements are present. A natural gas vent in a stream means that earth, air,
fire and water all exist at the same place.
A small number of the buildings in Mukrinath are rammed earth, the example
shown below shows remarkable similarity to building in Morocco, where new structures
are built adjacent to the old when the old building falls into disrepair. Here,
newer rammed earth has been built down the slope, always on a masonry foundation.
Rammed earth home in Muktinath
Jomsom is a capital of the Mustang District of Nepal, and the only settlement
with an airstrip. The village has thus seen a remarkable growth in tourism recently.
Here I met a family on the outside of the village ramming a wall to protect
the edge of a track along the valley side. The men of the family were ramming,
while the women were responsible for the selection and mixing of the soil.
Family building a rammed earth wall outside Jomsom