Inside one of the Mustang caves in 2008, climber Renan Ozturk helps sort through a pile of ancient Tibetan texts that contain a mix of writings from Buddhism and Bön, an earlier, native Tibetan faith.
The team that found the 15th-century manuscripts suspects the kings of Mustang, a kingdom now part of Nepal, abandoned the Bön sacred texts in the caves as a respectful alternative to destroying them.
But it's also possible the finds tie in with the Tibetan tradition of deliberately hiding religious texts, said Mark Turin, of the Digital Himalaya Project at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.
"There's a real sense of discovery in Tibetan tradition," he said. "People discover hidden texts, or they discover hidden cultural knowledge that is lost or secreted away."
ON TV Lost Cave Temples of the Himalayas and Secrets of Shangri-La premiere Wednesday, November 18, on PBS (check local listings).
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Photograph courtesy Kris Erickson