Pragya Ratna had grown up around brothers, cousins and relatives who had all been to Lhasa to trade. His cousins ran the Ghorasyar trading house from the corner of a Barkhor street square in Lhasa, dealing in everything from textiles to watches and Parker pens. Eventually, in 1956, he too went to Lhasa with a cousin. “I was told going to Lhasa was one big adventure, and you didn’t know whether you’d return or not,” he tells me.
The Newars of Kathmandu (Newar is an anglicized spelling for the Newa people) have long practiced a uniquely syncretic culture that merges aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayana, with Brahminical Hinduism. Nepal valley — as the valley encompassing the three city-states of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan was known even as late as the middle of the twentieth century — was a complex society where Brahminical Hinduism, which had royal patronage, existed alongside Tibetan Buddhism, which gathered momentum as interactions with the Tibetan plateau continued to grow through trade, particularly by those who belonged to the Newar Buddhist merchant caste of Urays.