Achi Association
  • In the Kanji Tsuglag-khang
  • Temple visitors in Wanla
  • Microscopic investigation of paint layer


by Alexandra Skedzuhn and Martina Oeter


  • Introduction
  • Achi Principles
  • Primary Research
  • Transparency
  • Local Needs
  • Architecture
  • Interior
  • Flexibility
  • Conclusion


Ladakh is a region which to a high degree is still imbued with tradition - the village communities as well as the monastic life.

Monasteries and the omnipresent chörten are important components of this tradition and they stamp the tilled landscape and the mental attitude in a decisive way.

The historic wall paintings and sculptures in the temple structures and monasteries are outstanding art objects, not only for their beauty, but also the high quality of technical execution or workmanship. This is one of the main reasons why many of them have survived in this good state of preservation.

A monument and its interior decoration usually have a long history of alterations and changes. But the scarcity of resources and a way of life that has barely changed in centuries has led the people to care for their old buildings through regular maintenance, rather than replacing a damaged structure.

The flat roof buildings made up mainly of earth, stone and wood require constant maintenance work to make them impervious to water. Inappropriate maintenance and repair work have led to severe problems such as static overload and leaking roofs. In addition, the monuments are also exposed to natural decay due to extreme climatic circumstances and natural calamities.

Most of these monuments are ‘living monuments’ as they are still utilized for religious practices and cultural events. This use encourages wear and tear, like mechanical damage through abrasions inflicted by religious practitioners and visitors or accumulation of soot on walls and ceiling from the lamp offerings.

Rapid and radical changes caused by modernisation, tourism and industrialisation have started to significantly affect and alter all aspects of life within the last decades. Now an age has probably been entered where tradition cannot survive by itself, but has to be defended; otherwise knowledge, such as traditional building techniques, will fall into oblivion. There is an obvious trend to use more and more imported building materials like cement and metal. This can be put down to the changing demands for better living conditions combined with an obviously increased intensity of precipitation. For centuries the historic buildings have suffered from higher rainfall which has led to water seeping through the flat roofs and destroying the precious wall paintings. These problems of insufficient impermeability made constant repair and maintenance work necessary. The weight of earth, which consequently has been piled again and again onto the roofs, has weakened the building structures. In many cases the situation was aggravated by foundation problems and earthquakes which are not uncommon in the region. This debility of the historic monuments is mostly the main cause of other, later conservation problems.

Achi Principles

Considering this situation the Achi Association has established the following principles:

  1. The Achi Association aims at preserving the historicity of the monuments and their artefacts, making the preservation of the original fabric the primary goal. Wherever possible renovation or renewal should be avoided.
  2. Conservation work will only be undertaken with the agreement and co-operation of local communities and the Drikung Kargyu Order.
  3. All conservation work carried out under the aegis of the Achi Association will adhere to existing national and international conservation principles starting with the Venice Charter of 1964 and including the discussion upon it until present.
  4. No conservation effort will be undertaken without in-depth scientific research.
  5. All stages of the preparation and conservation will be made as transparent as possible by reporting and discussing planned efforts as well as their outcome.

The way the Achi Association interprets these general principles is detailed below.

The traditional techniques and materials originally used on the monument will be preferred for any preservation measures undertaken. Their long-term behaviour in the specific Himalayan climate is well known. Modern conservation and restoration materials should only be applied where the conservation goal cannot be achieved by conventional methods. Among modern materials those with documented long-term behaviour and reversibility will be given preference. Above all this is important because up to now there is not enough experience of how modern conservation materials will alter or react in this climate. In addition we have to consider the possibility that we may not be able to control and monitor this situation every year.

In order to restore the stability of a monument and re-establish a functioning water drainage and impermeability of a structure, alterations to the building and the use of non-traditional materials might be necessary and justifiable, because a secured architecture is the precondition for a successful preservation of the precious interiors, commonly furnished with sculptures, paintings and artefacts.

Most of the monuments the Achi Association works on are ‘’living monuments’ as they are still utilized for religious practices and cultural events. The interior artefacts have religious significance, but often only parts of the original interior have been preserved. To fulfil their religious function the need may arise for their completion. This concerns mainly the wall paintings as they are connected to the building and thus suffered directly from all structural damages.

On the other hand the Achi Association commits itself to the present international conservation standards which try to avoid the completion of missing parts, especially when the originals are very old.

As the Achi project aims to satisfy modern conservation standards as well as local cultural and religious needs, the above-mentioned general conservation measures may have to be altered to accord with local needs. Thus, although generally aiming to follow the present conservation standards, these needs and the usage of a monument may demand a certain degree of flexibility, resulting in the alteration of these principles during their translation into conservation practice.

All conservation measures are therefore to be preceded by discussions with representatives of the local population and the Drikung Kagyu order. It is essential that a broad consensus is achieved before actual conservation work commences.

The agreement of the concerned population and the Drikung Kargyu Order and the cooperation with local artisans, artists and building experts is the best basis for an enduring survival of the preserved monuments.

In order to approach these often very difficult and complex conservation problems in a well-considered way the project will not aim at fast, short-term results. Instead it will try to find the right balance between cautious action and visible results.

Any conservation measures therefore will be preceded by in-depth research on the building as well as its interior to evaluate priorities and to find the primary causes of the damages. This analysis will constitute the basis for a conservation plan and any conservation measures deemed to be necessary. Any result gained from the research contributes to the knowledge of the history of the Ladakhi heritage.

In addition, each conservation method proposed will be tested and evaluated prior to its application.

In contrast to research per se, preservation work is an active undertaking that might leave permanent visual traces on a monument or its artefacts. Thus preservation demands a high degree of responsibility from the conservator. The Achi Association has tried to meet this responsibility from the very beginning and is concerned to make the working concept and the working process as transparent as possible.

This transparency will be achieved by making all research results, plans, and reports publicly available at the conservation sites and on the Achi Association website.