The Loba (Lowa) are one of the marginalized Ethnic-Tibetan Nationalities in Nepal. The Lowa people live in the Mustang District of northern Nepal, at altitudes between 11,000 and 13,000 feet. Mustang is a windy, arid, high altitude desert. It is surrounded on three sides by Chinese-occupied Tibet. Until 1992, this area was closed to the outside world. It remains a restricted area. A special permit is issued by the Nepal Government to visit this area and a fee is charged. Upper Mustang is a semi-independent kingdom within Nepal. Legends claim that a fierce soldier named Ame Pal founded the Kingdom of Mustang sometime between 1350 and 1380. Its territory includes the source of the Kali Gandaki River. The name "Mustang" is derived from a Tibetan word meaning, "Plain of Aspiration." Socially, the Lowa are divided into three groups, one of which contains those of royal heritage. The highest 'Kutak' sometimes referred to as 'Bista', constitute the Royal's family. The Kutaks are few in the number and used to be concentrated around the town of Lo Manthang. Today they have moved out and live scattered among the other villages of Upper Mustang (Lo). The Second group of Lowa, called 'Showa' constitutes the majority of the population. They are equal in caste status to the Kutaks but are not quite as important socially to the people. These days they are known as 'Gurungs'. A third group known as 'Righin' are the lowest in ritual status. They are considered untouchable. They are not equal in caste status to the Kutaks and Gurung. And those from the lower caste are not allowed to be a monk in the Monastery in the Upper Mustang area but there are several monks from this caste living in monasteries outside of the Upper Mustang region. The structure of their families is also based on these and other traditions. One tradition says that the eldest son will inherit the family's property. If a son is not born to the family, then the eldest daughter will receive the family's property if her husband agrees to stay in her parents' home. When he does, the next son must become a Buddhist monk. Every morning and evening, the head of the family offers water, tea, butter and prayers in worship to the idols.
It is common for a Lowa woman to be married to several men, a practice known as polyandry. This is a unique feature of the Lowa, but one that is slowly diminishing. This is done because the Lowa believe that there is less chance of a woman becoming a widow if she has many husbands. The Lowa people dress very much like several of the other Tibetan tribes living in the Himalayan region. Both the men and women grow their hair long and often wear it braided. Their main food of the Lowa people is Tsampa (flour) and butter tea. They eat Buckwheat and bread and drink Chhang (homemade alcohol).
The Lowa are primarily farmers, shepherds, or merchants. They start to plant seed from the end of March or beginning of April and harvest in September and October. The Lowa farmers grow wheat, barley wheat and buckwheat. They raise animals like yaks, cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and horses. In the beginning of November, as the weather begins to get much colder, the Lowa people begin leaving their villages to travel to the city or warm area (hill and Terai) of the Nepal for 3 to 4 months. They sell herbs by visiting in the different villages for those 3 months. At the end of February, they travel back to their homes in Upper Mustang.
Their homes are built with mud and wood, making the roofs out of thinly chiseled stone squares. On each corner of the roof, a small square is constructed so that prayer flags may be hung there.
The Lowa people speak their mother tongue named "Loke” which is a dialect of the Tibetan Language. Their second Language is the Nepali language which is learned in the government schools from the primary level. Unfortunately, their mother tongue is not taught in schools in Nepal.
The main religion of the Lowa is Buddhism. The Lowa are very religious people. There are two Buddhist sects, the Kargyupa and the Sakyapa, that are dominant in upper Mustang. These days some of the young people are studying the ‘Bunpo’ religion (shamanism which has existed before Buddhism came to Tibet) in the monastery. There are several villages where monasteries are built or are being built. These are being used as teaching centers for Buddhism. Young boys and girls are admitted to these monasteries as monks and nuns. They hang prayer flags on the roof of their houses for protection from evil spirits and in hopes of a better year. They also put prayer flags on the top of the mountains on the way to their villages.
The Lowa celebrate the festivals of Tijee, Fakngi, Yartong, Dhukchu among others, each year.