golden dorje

The Power-places of Central Tibet

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The Pilgrim's Guide

golden dorje


Current edition, 345 pages, 2008
Vajra Publications
ISBN-10 9937506042
ISBN-13 978-9937506045
available thru Amazon third party sellers
18 maps by Meryl Dowman;
33 B&W photographs by the author et al
a visual glossary of buddhas and deities

First edition, 345 pages, 1988
published by RKPLondon
Second edition 1991
Penguin, London
Third edition 1996
Times Books International,
New Delhi, India

The Power-places of Central Tibet

The Pilgrim's Guide

by Keith Dowman

A hands-on guide to pilgrimage in Central Tibet, following the 19th century route of Khyentse The Great.

This pilgrim’s guide to the power places of Central Tibet is based upon Guide to the Holy Places of Central Tibet by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo a 19th century pilgrim.

I spent the summers of 1985-87   wandering about Central Tibet visiting the pilgrimage destinations mentioned by the august Khampa pilgrim Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, in his Tibetan guidebook.

This book, The Power Places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim's Guide is the result of that arduous trip in which trekking, hitch-hiking, tractor rides, horse riding and even a goat ride all moved me on. During those years rebuilding of the gompas was progressing fast and althought the desolation of the ruins and paranoia of the people was still evident it was an exciting time to be in Tibet.

Researching the Guide was a ground breaking exercise as few Europeans had been off the main highways and I was the first  foreigner to enter some valleys. The book remains a milestone in the history of pilgrimage in Tibet.

‘For those visitors to Tibet with time to visit the more remote temples and caves The Pilgrim's Guide  is indispensable. It is written in a style that is accessible to the interested layman as well as the Buddhist scholar.’

A.B.Rowe in the Geographical Journal


Contents of Power Places of Central Tibet

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Yoga of Pilgrimage
  • 2. The Condition of the Gompas
  • 3. 'The Western Storehouse'
  • 4. An Outline of the History of Central Tibet
  • 5. The Schools of Tibetan Buddhism
  • Notes on Pronunciation and Tibetan Names
  • Note on Cartography
  • Glossary of Geographical Terms and Key to Maps
    • 1 The Holy City of Lhasa
    • 2 The Caves of Drak Yerpa
    • 3 North of Lhasa to Reteng
    • 4 To Ganden and Beyond
    • 5 The Drigung Mandala>
    • 6 Tolung: The Karmapa's Domain
    • 7 The Highway from Lhasa to Chaksam Bridge
    • 8 Below Lhasa to Simpo Ri
    • 9 The South Bank of the Tsangpo
    • 10 The Upper Dranang and Drachi Valleys
    • 11 Yarlung: The Heart of Tibet
    • 12 Chongye and the Royal Tombs
    • 13 Dorje Drak and the Caves of Drakyul
    • 14 Samye Chokor
    • 15 The Valley of Yon
    • 16 Sangri and The Woka Valley
    • 17 Dakpo and Lhamo Latso
    • 18 Across Tsang to the Nepal Border
  • Appendixes
    • I The Supine Demoness
    • II Guru Rimpoche's Cave Power-places
    • III Power-places with Treasure Troves
    • IV The Lume Temples
    • V Some Principal Kadampa Gompas
    • VI The Original Kagyu Gompas
  • Notes to the Text
  • Glossary of Tibetan Terms
  • Visual Glossary of Buddhas
  • Index

Book Excerpts

Preface to the Power Places of Central Tibet

This pilgrims' guide is based upon Khyentse's Guide to the Holy Places of Central Tibet. Jamyang Kyentse Wangpo (1820-92), a Khampa lama, made frequent, extended pilgrimages to Central Tibet and wrote his guide at the end of a long life as a contribution to the old and popular genre of Tibetan literature called neyik, guides to pilgrimage. Kyentse Rimpoche was no ordinary lama. One of the greatest figures in the eastern Tibetan eclectic renaissance of the last century, his scholarship and wisdom combined to give his work the highest mark of authority and integrity. His Guide was translated into English and partially annotated by the noted Italian scholar Alfonsa Ferrari, who never visited the East and who died before she could complete her work. The annotation was completed by another Italian scholar, Luciano Petech. His contribution was augmented by Hugh Richardson, the last British Resident in Lhasa. Richardson's clear, concise additions to the notes, detailing observations compiled during his wide travels in Central Tibet over several years, are of vital importance for information on the pre-1959 state of various monasteries. For their annotation, the Italian scholars relied heavily on the accounts of their master, Giuseppe Tucci, derived from his short journey to Central Tibet in 1948.

Khyentse's Guide covers Central, Southern and Western Tibet. The scope of this Pilgrim's Guide is limited to Central Tibet, the old province of Ü, which includes the Kyichu Valley system and the reaches of the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) in its passage from Chaksam to Kongpo. Lhasa is the centre of the province and the places described herein are all within a radius of 250 km from Lhasa, except those listed in the chapter "Across Tsang to the Nepal Border". During the summer seasons of 1986-8 I visited most of the approximately 170 power-places in Central Tibet mentioned in Khyentse's Guide. Information on the majority of his sites omitted from our itineraries (about thirteen) has been supplied by other pilgrims. Those very few places about which I have no contemporary information are so indicated in the text. Each entry in this Pilgrim's Guide enlarges upon the topics that concerned Kyentse Rimpoche: location and chief features of the site, cherished relics and treasures, and the history and importance of the place. Kyentse Rimpoche's description of the temples, images and treasures of the monasteries has permitted a useful comparison between what existed before 1959 and what now remains after the Cultural Revolution. Historical information about the power-places was derived from Khyentse's Guide, from various literary sources (see Bibliography) and from informants at the holy places.

Although Kyentse Rimpoche was involved in an eclectic renaissance, the gompas and shrines built by the Yellow Hats did not form any significant part of his pilgrimage itineraries. He was concerned mainly with the age-old power-places of the Red Hats, not with the relatively recent academies of the Gelukpa School. He mentions the great monastic foundations of Tsongkapa and his disciples - Ganden, Drepung, Sera, and also Chokorgyel for example - but he ignores most of the later Gelukpa monasteries. A few significant ancient power-places were unaccountably omitted from Kyentse's pilgrimages and these have been included here. The main inadequacy of Khyentse's Guide is its brevity. Its principal function was to locate and identify and merely to indicate historical associations and contemporary conditions, rather than to describe and comment upon them. In so far as space allows, that description and commentary has been added here.

The chief purpose of this work is identical to that of Kyentse Rimpoche - to indicate the location and significance of the principal power-places of Central Tibet in the hope that such information may be of practical use to pilgrims. Most of the valley sites are now accessible by jeep-road, although the cave power-places can only be approached by foot. It is also intended that this Pilgrim's Guide will complement studies in the historical geography of Tibet and provide additional information and correct old misconceptions.

In so far as this Pilgrim's Guide is based upon short visits to each site, the information accrued is sometimes partial and lacking corroboration, and insofar as rebuilding, restoration and the gathering in of religious artefacts is still in process The Pilgrim's Guide will require constant updating. We would be grateful to receive corrections and any additional information, particularly concerning those places that went unvisited, for future editions. Please write to the author care of the publisher.

I would like to thank all the Tibetans who spontaneously extended generous and gracious hospitality to us while on pilgrimage, and also to thank the Tibetan guides and informants, monks and laymen, who with great patience and generosity in time and spirit gave us information. I have become indebted to a host of people during the preparation of this book, so many that it is impossible to mention them all by name. In particular, however, I would like to thank Heather Stoddard-Karmay, A. Bradley Rowe, Victor Chen, Steve McGuinness, Katie Hetts, Brot Coburn and Edward Henning; Stone Routes, Raphaele Demandre, Brian Beresford and Ian Baker for their black and white photographs; Meryl White for the maps and line-drawings; and Lokesh Chandra for use of selected line-drawings of Buddhas and Lamas from the charts Three Hundred Icons of Tibet. Finally, I acknowledge a deep debt of gratitude to my Lama, Dilgo Kyentse Rimpoche, who supported this project and wrote a foreword to the book.


The Drigung District still presents the geographical, cultural, political and religious unity that has characterized it for 800 years. The major religious institutions of the Drigung Valley and adjacent tributary valleys belong to the Drigung branch of the Kagyu school founded in the 12th century by Rinchen Pel, an extraordinary, charismatic disciple of Drogon Pakmodrupa, in the lineage of Milarepa. The Drigungpas form one of the four major Kagyu sub-schools with their principal gompa at Drigung Til. In the centuries after their founder's remarkable lifetime, the Drigung Kagyupas were a powerful force in Tibet's religious life. Even in the 1980s the emphasis that this school places on solitary retreat and yoga derived from the original ethos of Milarepa's practice is evident at Drigung Til and Terdrom, where hermitages have blossomed over the hillsides at the expense of monastic reconstruction.

However, in their founder's lifetime the Drigungpas also enjoyed a period of secular ascendancy when they formed a bulwark of Kagyu power against the Sakya hegemony. In this period the school became entrenched in the Kailash and Labchi areas in western Tibet, at Tsari, and also in Eastern Tibet. Then and later other gompas were built in the Drigung area - at Tsel up the Lungsho Valley, at *Yude in a valley running east of Drigung Dzong, and at Drigung Dzong itself. This period generated the wealth for which Drigung Til became famous. It was said that the pilgrim should visit Drigung Til at the end of his pilgrimage through Central Tibet, otherwise the splendours of that gompa would blind him to the inferior glories of less well-endowed monasteries.

The Drigungpas's kinship with the older Nyingma school is demonstrated at several sites in the district, particularly at Terdrom with its caves associated with Guru Rimpoche, Yeshe Tsogyel and the treasure-finders of both schools who have meditated there down the centuries. That the most auspicious and efficacious pilgrimage in the Drigung area circumambulates these caves attests to their power. Further evidence of the importance of the district during the period of empire may be gathered at Shai Lhakang where a pillar records the life of Nyang Tingedzin, the Emperor Trisong Detsen's minister and first Tibetan abbot of Samye, whose birthplace this was. Further, at what may be considered the entrance to the Drigungpa preserve, north-east of Medro Kongkar, are the remains of Katse Gompa, one of the Emperor Songtsen Gampo's four original temples erected to bring the power of Buddhism to Bonpo Central Tibet in the 7th century (p.000).


Three hours by bus, 68 km north-east of Lhasa in the Kyichu Valley lies Medro Kongkar,1 the centre of the new district in which the Drigung valley system is located. The main highway from Lhasa to the East turns south-east up the Medro Kongkar valley, while the jeep-road to Drigung continues for 35 km to the north-east up the Kyichu Valley to Drigung Qu, the administrative sub-centre of Drigung. Here the Kyichu, running down the Lungsho Valley, makes a 100-degree turn to the south-west.

The Drigung Chu, known also as Shorong Chu, is the Kyichu's principal tributary in the north-east, running for 60 km through the broad, fertile valley of Drigung. Before the Lhasa-Chamdo highway was built to the south of Drigung over the Gya La, the Drigung Valley provided an alternative route from the Kyichu Valley to Kongpo and the East. The journey from Medro Kongkar to Drigung Til Gompa takes three hours by jeep or two days by foot.

THE NAME "DRIGUNG" ('Bri gung)

Three etymologies of the word Drigung3 have been offered. Firstly, the Drigung district is said to have been the fiefdom of the Emperor Trisong Detsen's minister Dre, while the second syllable may have been derived from the archaic Tibetan sgar or sgang meaning "camp": thus Dre's Camp. Secondly, the first syllable, Dri, can mean "she-yak": thus Camp of the She-yak. Thirdly, a false etymology provided after the foundation of Til interprets the word as "the hump of the she-yak", indicating the shape of the ridge above Til, which does indeed have that shape.

KATSE (sKa tshal):A Songtsen Gampo Temple

Although Katse is located at the bottom of the Kyichu Valley's eastern scarp, it is close to the confluence of the Kyichu and Medro Valleys and on the far side of the Medro River from Medro Kongkar. Thus it is sometimes referred to as Medro Katse.

The original lhakang of Katse was built by the Emperor Songtsen as the north-eastern temple of the inner mandala of four temples binding the Tibetan Demoness. Katse binds her right shoulder (p.000). Another lhakang was founded here after Guru Rimpoche subdued the lu serpent that had subjected Bonpo devotees. These two lhakangs formed the nucleus of the small Katse gompa until it was partially destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Katse would have been a Nyingma foundation that was adopted by the Drigungpas in the 13th century, and acquired by the Gelukpas in the 17th. Today the Drigungpas are once again in possession. The old gompa still lies in ruins, the monks' original quarters inhabited by the Katse commune, but the lhakang built by the Emperor Songtsen Gampo, the Tukdam Tsuklakang, has been restored on the old pattern.

The original temple struck Hugh Richardson as the most ancient in Tibet, untouched by later restoration. The konyer assured us that the present small, country-built building is identical in design to that which Richardson would have visited. It has a small portico leading into the small pillared dukang with the inner lhakang surrounded by a korsa passage. Above the lhakang on the roof is another small shrine-room. Notable in the dukang are murals of the Drigung lineage, a new image of the Drigung Protectress Apchi in her form of Yudronma, and old tankas of Pelden Lhamo, Guru Rimpoche, Santaraksita and the Emperor Trisong Detsen. Images of the Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future are the principal objects of worship in the lhakang. At the back of the dukang is the lukang, the residence of the serpent that Guru Rimpoche subdued. Few relics of former times remain in Katse.

TANGKYA LHAKANG (Thang skya lha khang)

A few kilometres upstream from Katse is an old bridge that crosses the Kyichu to Tangkya Qu. In the middle of this modern administrative complex the Tangkya4 Lhakang still stands in fair condition, but in 1986 it was locked and barred. It appears that this temple, like Dranang Gompa, is victim to the local Party, which prohibits restoration. The original lhakang built by the Emperor Songtsen Gampo, which stood on the mountainside to the north of the present lhakang, was destroyed long ago, but three of its ancient clay statues were preserved in the later temple. There seems never to have been any Drigung Kagyupa connection here.


The first Tangkya lhakang is believed, like Katse, to have been built by the Emperor Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, perhaps as a temple to subdue the Tibetan Demoness. It was restored by the master Lume in the early 11th century after the period of suppression. In the 12th century a lhakang was built to enshrine the remains of Lama Shikpo Rimpoche (1149-99). Tangkya was the gompa in which Taklung Tangpa took refuge after running away from home in the 12th century, and this connection was sustained by some of his Taklungpa disciples. Later, Tangkya belonged to the Jonangpas until the Gelukpas appropriated all Jonang gompas in the 17th century. Thereafter it became attached to the Namgyel Dratsang in the Potala.

DRIGUNG DZONGSAR ('Bri gung rdzong gsar): The Drigung Fort

The original Drigung D zong was located on the left bank of the Kyichu where the river cuts through a low ridge into the area of its confluence with the Mangra Chu and Shorong Chu. From its height above the rivers it commanded the entrances to both the Lungsho and Sho Valleys. The fortress destroyed during the Cultural Revolution probably dated from the 16th century. The large Drigungpa lhakang within its walls was an important place of pilgrimage. A small lhakang has recently been built on the site. On the opposite side of the Kyichu is the empty site of * Yuna gompa.

SHAI LHAKANG (Zhwa'i lha khang): Nyang Tingedzin's Residence

The Shai Lhakang5 is located in the south-west corner of a village on the left bank of the Mangra Chu, 1.5 km to the east of Drigung Qu. The Nyang Clan of Tibetan antiquity gave its name to the valley that descends from the south-east by Shai Lhakang. The Nyang Clan's most famous son was Nyang Tingedzin Sangpo, who was a strong supporter of the Emperor Trisong Detsen in his efforts to promote Buddhism in Tibet, and who became the first Tibetan abbot of the Samye monastery. Nyang Tingedzin founded Shai Lhakang at the end of the 8th or the beginning of the 9th century.

During the Cultural Revolution the principal lhakang, together with the Guru Tsengye Lhakang and the Rignga Chorten, were totally destroyed. Only the ancient building used as monks' quarters that stands to the north of the site was preserved. Of the two dorings that stood one on each side of the lhakang's portico, the one on the left side of the door still stands on its base carved with a swastika in the empire style, while only remnants remain of the pillar that stood on the right side. Recent and continuing rebuilding has only restored a single small lhakang to the right of the portico. This lhakang contains images of the three Dzogchen Protectors - Ekajati, Rahula and Dorje Lekpa - and of the omniscient Longchempa.


Shai Lhakang's great importance to historians lies in the two inscribed doring pillars that stood one each side of the Lhakang's portico. Both dorings record exceptional grants of land and privilege to Nyang Tingedzin and his heirs by the Emperor Senalek in the early 9th century. It appears that having made himself indispensable to Trisong Detsen and having become Senalek's guardian, when in the year 800 a dispute arose over the Emperor Murub's successor, Nyang Tingedzin assisted Senalek who eventually gained the throne in 804. The ample rewards that this monk obtained for his service to his royal Buddhist masters are attested to by the inscription on the pillar.

Shai Lhakang's early and abiding religious importance was derived from its founder's status as the principal recipient of the essential Dzogchen Precept Class (man ngag sde) instruction of the Indian master and pandita Vimalamitra. As the Emperor's preceptor Nyang Tingedzin induced Trisong Detsen to invite Vimalamitra to Tibet. After Tingedzin had founded the Shai Lhakang in the early part of the 9th century, under the protection of the Guardian Deity Dorje Lekpa, it was here that he hid the Vimala Nyingtik texts as treasures for discovery in a later period. These texts were recovered from Shai Lhakang by Dangma Lhungyel, who was born in nearby Sho in the 11th century. In the 14th century the Shai Lhakang was restored by Longchempa, the synthesizer of the various Dzogchen lineages. Later the Lhakang came under the authority of the Gelukpas, and in the 18th century it was restored by the seventh Dalai Lama.

A fold high on the side of the mountain to the south of Shai Lhakang hides the site of a hermitage of Nyang Tingedzin.

YANGRI GON (Yang ri dgon)

The site of Yangri Gon6 is located 10 km up the Sho Valley at the base of the scarp on the left bank of the river. The Shorong Chu runs in a gorge up to 75 m below the valley floor for this part of its course. The entire gompa was razed to form the site of a military base in the 1960s. It is revealing, however, that although the military would have liked to destroy every last trace of Yangri Gon, until 1985 a single stretch of wall remained standing within the military compound. This wall was a special residence of the Guardian Goddess Apchi. Apchi is said to have been a Kandroma who during the empire period married an ancestor of the Drigung Kyapgon, an exorcist. Apchi, or Drigung Apchi, became the Protectress of the Drigungpas and most of the many sungkangs found throughout Drigung belong to her. As the Protector of Yangri Gon, legend had it that anyone tampering with the goddess' residence would die soon thereafter. A series of deaths amongst those engaged in the destruction left the wall standing for twenty years. Tibetans finally demolished it in 1985. This story may indicate that the destruction of the gompas during the Cultural Revolution was done by the Red Guards out of fear of the power within them, rather than with the clean conscience of scientific rationalists. The Red Guards were undoubtedly burning with a fanaticism that can only be derived from zeal of a religious nature, but millennia of obeisance to the gods was not eradicated by a change of political leadership.

To the east of Yangri Gon, on the northern slope of a side-valley, is a pleasant grove hiding the site of an old hermitage that was attached to the gompa. A new lhakang has been built here and several monks maintain the tradition of Yangri Gon.


A large appendage of the Drigung Til gompa, Yangri Gon was founded by Trinle Sangpo, the eighth incarnation of the Drigung Kyapgon. As many as 500 monks were in residence before 1959. Its enormous wealth, particularly demonstrated by the gilt chortens enshrining Drigung Lamas, attested to the continuity of Drigung prosperity.

DRIGUNG TIL ('Bri gung mthil): Seat of the Drigung Kagyupas

Drigung Til,7 or simply Til, the greatest of the Drigungpas' gompas, is located some 40 km from Drigung Dzong up the Sho Valley. On the right bank of the fast flowing river, 300 m above the broad valley, the monastery is built on the brow of a long ridge. The slope under the ridge was so steep that ladders were used to connect the lhakangs and residences that had been built after excavation of the mountainside. To the east and north-east passes give access to the valleys of Kongpo and the plains of Nakchuka.

The Drigungpas are one of the three surviving Kagyu schools derived from Drogon Pakmodrupa's disciples, and Drigung Til is the Drigungpa seat. Their tradition is rooted in the ascetic practices of Milarepa, but they have absorbed many Nyingma characteristics, so that some would say that there is little distinction between the Drigungpas and Nyingmapas.

The rebuilding of this important institution in Tibet's spiritual and political history began in 1983. The greatest achievement is the reconstructed assembly hall and chief lhakang built upon a high platform with foundations 30 m below. On the same lowest level of construction to the east, close to the site of Drigung Kyapgon Rinchen Pel's original place of retreat, where the hermitage of the present meditation master Pachung Rimpoche is situated, is the gomkang, which is the Guardian Goddess Apchi's principal residence. To the west of the assembly hall is a ruined building enshrining Drigung Kyapgon's broken reliquary chorten. Further to the west the large impressive ruins are of a labrang residence, and then higher up the remains of the Yangri Gon Dratsang and Dukang. On this level is the new residence of the present Drigung Rimpoches. Spread over the ridge are innumerable rustic hermitages belonging to the ninety monks, nuns, yogins and laymen now committed to three years of retreat.

The principal relics enshrined in the Assembly Hall include Drigung Kyapgon's footprint, and his personal conch and trumpet (gyaling). The founder's image takes pride of place on the altar, and on the right side are images of Apchi as Pelden Lhamo and as Dorje Chodron, her wrathful form. Signs of Drigung's original wealth of sculpture can be seen in the many large and small bronzes that have been unearthed during the reconstruction.


The history of Til began in the year 1167, when a yogin disciple of Drogon Pakmodrupa called Minyak Gomring founded a small hermitage on the ridge. Twelve years later, in 1179, another disciple of Pakmodrupa fulfilled a prophecy by accepting the land that Minyakpa offered him and by establishing a major Kagyu lineage. This Lama's name was Rinchen Pel (1143-1217), a Khampa of the Drukgyel Kyura clan, with a background in the Nyingma school, who had left his homeland a decade before to sit at the feet of Drogon Pakmodrupa at Densatil. He was to become known as Drigung Kyapgon, Saviour of the Drigungpas, and Drigung Choje, Master of the Drigung Dharma, and Jigten Sumgon, Lord of the Three Realms, and Kyupa Lama.

The 13th century was Drigung's period of greatest vitality and expansion. Aligned with the Kagyu opposition to the Mongol-supported Sakya power, Drigung Til became a target for the invading Mongol general Dorta in 1240, when its abbot's power saved it from destruction. Legend has it that the Guardian Goddess Apchi was responsible for the Mongols' defeat by imprisoning many of them in her lhakang in the valley below the gompa and incinerating them. However, in 1290 Drigung was destroyed by another Mongol army, this time commanded by a Sakya general. But the Drigungpas were already established in gompas and hermitages throughout Tibet and their future was assured.

DRIGUNG DUNDRO ('Bri gung dur khrod): Til's Sky-burial Site

The Drigung dundro to which bodies were, and still are, brought from as far away as Kongpo and Nakchuka, is as it ever was. This power-place for disposal of the dead is famous throughout Tibet. It is considered identical to the most famous of the Eight Indian Charnel Grounds, Siwaitsel (Sitavana) near Bodh Gaya. Legend has it that a rainbow connects Sitavana with this place and that the Guardian Deity * Yibkyi Chang presides over both. A vulture's footprint in stone still to be seen here is said to belong to Siwaitsel's Protector. The site is located at the western extremity of the ridge on which Til is built, and the path of circumambulation that passes outside the entire Til complex encompasses it.

Within a perimeter of chortens, lhakangs and prayer flags, a circle of boulders 12 m in diameter represents the mandala of Demchok (Cakrasamvara). A larger standing stone at the top and a flat stone near the centre are those employed by the rogyapa butchers. Another standing stone painted red is a self-manifest mani-stone. Behind the stone circle is a shrine-room with new paintings of the Wrathful and Peaceful Deities on its walls. To the right of it is a small room filled with hair shaven from the dead, and further to the right is a chorten that marks the place of Drigung Kyapgon's throne, also marked by his footprint in rock.

SHOTO TERDROM (gZho stod gter sgrom): "Box of Treasures"

Terdrom8 is undoubtedly the pearl in the Drigung oyster. Its spectacular mountain ranges of limestone and schist, its medicinal hot springs, its meditation caves, its historical associations, and the sense of power emanating from the yogins and yoginis who continue the Drigung tradition of solitary retreat in its hermitages, combine to give the pilgrim an initiation into the meaning and purpose of such power-places. Terdrom is located at the head of a side-valley that enters the Sho Valley 2 km west of Til. A rough jeep-road climbs slowly for 16 km to the north-east through the meadows of the narrow Shoto Valley with its sides covered by dwarf rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs. There are several medicinal hot springs by the river.

There are two focal points in the Terdrom area: the lower one is at the confluence of two rivers where the principal hot springs emerge and where the Ani Gompa is situated, and the upper one is at the Guru Rimpoche cave several hours' walk to the north. These two power-places are linked by the Nangkor, the inner circumambulatory path, that may be compared to the outer circumambulation of Kailash in terms of duration, difficulty and sensory and supersensory impact.

TERDROM NANGKOR (gTer sgrom nang 'khor): The Inner Circumambulation

The starting point of the Terdrom Nangkor is the rest house by the hot springs. The two 50 cm deep pools of hot mineral water arise from sacred springs where once only the Drigung Kyapgon could bathe. Residences of the Guardian Goddess Apchi attend both pools. Just below the springs is a ridge of limestone running across the valley through which the river runs in a tunnel 15 m long. Legend has it that a poisonous lake was once contained behind this ridge, its waters so noxious that birds flying over it would succumb to its fumes, and in the lake lived malignant water spirits and other elementals. On Guru Rimpoche's first visit to Terdrom he stayed in a cave at the bottom of the scarp behind the triangular plateau bounded by the rivers that now converge at the springs. Throwing his dorje at the ridge the tunnel was formed that drained the lake. The shape of his dorje can be seen protruding from the rock within the cavern-like opening of the tunnel. Subjecting the elemental spirits of the lake he bound them to serve the dharma and its practitioners, and as a residence he gave them the red-coloured rock that now stands on the right bank of the river just north of the tunnel (more recently a Drigung Lama poked a hole in this rock with his stick). As a further gift to the yogins and yoginis who would later meditate at Terdrom, he caused the hot springs to emerge, promising that their waters would cure every ailment of the body.

From the hot springs the Nangkor path leads to the Ani Gompa close by to the north. Crudely rebuilt on the old pattern, half of the square compound is courtyard and half dukang and lhakang combined. On the altar built of rock and clay, the central image is of Guru Rimpoche. Terdrom's renowned Drigungpa nunnery is the only monastic establishment in Terdrom and it serves now both men and women, monks and nuns, yogins and yoginis. The Drigung Kagyupas place little emphasis on celibacy, and their married ngakpa yogins wear the red and white sash of the Nyingmapas and wear their hair tied up on top of their heads. Their hermitages have been rebuilt around the gompa, along the river valleys and on the low plateau above the gompa. The site of the Ani Gompa is associated with Guru Rimpoche and a rock nearby is called Guru Shuktri, Guru Rimpoche's Throne.

Crossing the bridge to the north of the gompa, the path climbs the ridge to the west, passing a chorten on its crest. From this vantage point the shape of the plateau above the Ani Gompa and the mountain behind it can be seen as the form of the elephant's head and trunk that gives it its name. Further on is a spring said to flow from Guru Rimpoche's cave, and beyond the spring is the ruined gompa of *Tinkye. The path then ascends steeply to the Norbu(?) La, Jewel Pass, and then negotiates a sharp ridge and steep scarp around a large cirque. In the rock-face close to the chorten that marks the point of descent down an ice-covered scree slope into a valley to the north, is a hole in which Guru Rimpoche hid a treasure. Some way down the valley on the north side is an important cave and a ruined circular hermitage called *Bugung Sumdo. Further down, the path ascends the south side of the valley to a place where the bodies of Terdrom anchorites are disposed of through exposure to jackals. A yogin's nest underneath an overhanging boulder close to this power-place is used by practitioners of chod, invoking the demons and spirits of the place to feed on their bodies. The path continues along and up the valley-side over scree slopes, until a pass crosses the ridge. From this point until Kandro Tsokchen Kiri Yongdzong is reached, the path vanishes on a limestone rock face which is traversed following natural hand and foot holds. The cave is located at about 5,400 m in one of the tall limestone pinnacles that form this massif.

The size of the vast cavern at the base of a limestone tower gives this power-place the name Kandro Tsokchen Kiri Yongdzong, The Assembly Hall of the Dakinis. Within this 50 m high cavern are two hermitages of nuns in retreat there and the ruins of a former lhakang. A ladder leads to an ascending passage 8 m above in the side of the cavern roof, and this passage reaches a cell enclosed high in the limestone tower. Ice fills the chimney into which the ceiling vanishes. A small shrine indicates that this is the cell called the Tsogyel Sangpuk, Tsogyel's Secret Cave, in which both Guru Rimpoche and his Tibetan consort, Yeshe Tsogyel, spent periods of retreat.

In the 8th century, after Guru Rimpoche had answered the Emperor Trisong Detsen's invitation to visit Tibet, during an interim of pro-Bonpo sentiment the Guru and his consort were banished from the kingdom. But escaping from their retreat at Yamalung they found refuge in the Kiri Yongdzong cave in Terdrom until the political climate at Samye had improved. Tsogyel received her three Kandro Nyingtik initiations and precepts here, and during the Guru's absence she visited Nepal, returning with her consort, Atsara Sale, to spend seven months in retreat in the Tsogyel Sangpuk. Again, returning from Samye after the initiation of the Twenty-four Disciples, Tsogyel practised her Guru-yoga in Terdrom and afterwards spent three years on the snowline performing austerities as The White-cotton-clad Yogini. Towards the end of her life, after Guru Rimpoche had left Tibet, she performed her final Dzogchen retreat here, and after her ultimate accomplishment she remained to teach in whatever way was required of her. Tsogyel hid part of the Kandro Nyingtik in Terdrom.

To complete the circumambulation, returning across the limestone rock-face, the way of descent is 500 m down one of the steep scree slopes that flank the ridge. In the valley the path leads to the ruins of the *Drang gompa, located on the left bank of the river where a side-valley converges. In the centre of the gompa's ruins is a small hut containing a sleeping-box and altar. This was the hermitage of Rinchen Puntsok, a Drigungpa terton who discovered some of Guru Rimpoche's treasures in Kiri Yongdzong. The rebuilding of the lhakang has begun at this gompa, and a rough track leads down the gorge that descends to the hot springs and the Ani Gompa.

At the end of this circumambulation the path skirts the "elephant trunk" plateau and gives access to the meditation caves at the base of the scarp. The principal cave, associated with both Guru Rimpoche and Yeshe Tsogyel, is only a meditation cave in name, but the hermitage rebuilt in front of it is the residence of the Drigung Kandroma, presently a young yogini considered to be an incarnation of Kandro Yeshe Tsogyel. In her final testament, Tsogyel promised to project an emanation who would always live at Terdrom. Below the cave are the ruins of hermitages, many of which are in process of rebuilding.


A longer circumambulation, the chikor, encompasses the entire Terdrom area and Drigung Til itself. This can take as long as a week to perform. Further, in the limestone folds of the area there are many other meditation caves, some of them associated with Guru Rimpoche.


Two important Dzokchempas are associated with Terdrom. In the 11th century Dzeng Dharmabodhi, a disciple of Padampa and Bagom, meditated here and received a vision of the Deity Dutsi Kyilwa in a cave of rock crystal. Dzeng was a vital link in the Dzogchen Space Precept (klong sde) lineage. The second of the two Dzokchempas who meditated in Terdrom was the Second Royal Terton Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405). He discovered a variety of treasure-texts here. Many of the Drigung Rimpoches were Dzogchen initiates.9


A footnote to the Drigung Mandala: just before the only right-angle bend halfway up the Shoto Valley, below Terdrom, on the north side of the road, are to be found a number of saucer-sized concavities in the rock-face. It was explained by a local informant that these hollows were formed by laymen who would rub the top of their heads in the hollows in prayerful appeal to the Drigung treasure-finders to reveal Guru Rimpoche's teaching, to provide instruction for these difficult times, and to replace the losses of the Cultural Revolution.


Upper Tolung is the stronghold of the Karma Kagyu school. The principal gompa of the Karmapas, the Black-Crown Karma Kagyu Lamas, is at Tsurpu. To the north of Tsurpu is Yangpachen, the seat of the later Shamarpas, the Red-Crown Karma Kagyu Lamas. Below Tsurpu is Nenang Gompa, the seat of the Pawo Rimpoches, belonging to the Shamar school. From the time of the foundation of the Karma Kagyu school in the 12th century until the final suppression of their political power in the 17th century, this school played a notable part in the history of Central Tibet, particularly as Lamas of the Mongol Emperors of China and in opposition to the rise of the Gelukpas. Further, the Karma Kagyupas are the principal holders of the spiritual tradition of Milarepa. Masters of the lineage have immeasurably enriched the spiritual life of Tibet, and also, since the diaspora of the 1970s, of many western countries.


The *Tobing Chu, the chief river of the Tolung valley system, joins the Kyichu 12 km to the west of Lhasa. Before the Donkar Bridge the highway forks, the right-hand road turning north, ascending the Tolung valley on the left bank of the river. Some 30 km up this wide, fertile valley (at km 1897) a jeep-road crosses the Lungpa Sampa bridge and ascends Dowo Lung to Tsurpu. The principal Tolung valley continues to the north, providing a corridor to Yangpachen where the highway divides. The eastern route leads to Damsung, Namtso and Golmud. This is the main route from Lhasa to Qinghai Province and northern China. The highway to the west of Yangpachen forms the so-called northern route to Shigatse from Lhasa.

NENANG GOMPA (gNas nang dgon pa): Residence of the Pawo Rimpoches

Nenang is located thirty minutes' walk over the ridge to the north of the village of *Kado, which is on the north side of the river some 10 km up the Dowo Valley. The gompa was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but restoration has begun. The chief buildings were the Jampa Lhakang and the Lhakang Chempo, both of which will be rebuilt. The relics remaining to the gompa consist of a number of bronze portraits of Lamas of the Shamar lineage. In 1959 110 gelongs studied here; at present eight trapas are attached to the monastery.

The practices of the yogins of this Shamar (Red-Crown) Kagyu gompa, like those of the Shanak (Black-Crown) gompa of Tsurpu, are derived from the teaching of Milarepa, which stresses control of the breath and energies of the subtle body, with the final goal of the Buddha's enlightenment and the relative powers of the siddha.


Nenang was founded in 1333 by the first Shamarpa, Tokden Drakpa Senge (1283-1349), whose relics were preserved here. With the foundation of Nenang the Karma Kagyu school split into two complementary but often rival parts, the Shanak (Black-Crown) and Shamar (Red-Crown). The hierarchs of each school acted as Regents and tutors to the other during the minorities of their respective incarnations. The Shamarpas became engaged in the anti-Geluk movement of the 16th and early 17th centuries. From 1499 to 1523 the fourth Shamarpa, Chokyi Drakpa, was the Supreme Ruler of Tibet, and Yangpachen (see below) was built under his auspices. This was the period in which the Karmapas usurped the authority of Sera and Drepung and built Red Hat gompas in Lhasa to support the Shamarpa's power. After Yangpachen became the chief seat of the Shamarpa, Nenang was guided by the Pawo Rimpoches. The first incarnation was the siddha Pawo Chowang Lhundrub (1440-1503). The second Pawo Rimpoche, the historian Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa (1504-66), is probably the best known incarnation in the Pawo lineage.

TOLUNG TSURPU (sTod lung mTshur phu): Seat of the Karmapas

The Tolung Tsurpu gompa1 is located some 28 km up the Dowo Lung Valley. It is built on the north side of the river and climbs up the valley side. In 1985 the first impression was of a ruined biblical city preserved for millennia by a desert climate, a city that Ozymandias, king of kings, would have been proud to rule. The truncated walls of the 300 m square complex are as much as 4 m thick, bastions standing at the corners. The ruined walls and chimneys of masonry, indicating the former strength of the principal buildings, dwarf the maze of monks' residences on the eastern side. To realize that the destruction of this extraordinary gompa occurred less than a generation ago is to be stunned by the historical forces and human emotions that were engaged. It may be supposed that a gompa with such strong historical connections with China would have been in part preserved; but it is said that the Karmapa's prescience in leaving Tibet with the bulk of Tsurpu's treasure in advance of the Communist invasion, and the later use of the gompa as a haven by Tibetan freedom-fighters, angered the authorities, who vented their wrath on the gompa itself. The sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rikpai Dorje (1924-81), re-established his monastery and his lineage at Rumtek in Sikkim, where many of the portable treasures of Tsurpu are stored. But the late Karmapa's disciple Drupon Dechen Rimpoche is now in residence at Tsurpu, overseeing the work of reconstruction and teaching more than seventy monks.

Restoration of Tsurpu was not far advanced in 1986. In the north-west corner a labrang, now called Dratsang, had been rebuilt. The lhakang on the ground floor is the repository of Tsurpu's surviving relics. The upper storey comprises a gomkang with fine new murals, and the lamas' quarters. Below and to the east of Dratsang are the red-painted ruins of the Lhakang Chempo which contained the most revered relic of Tsurpu, the Dzamling Gyen, the Ornament of the World, an image of Sakyamuni created by the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, in which relics of Sakyamuni were enshrined. This was the largest cast bronze statue in Tibet. During the Cultural Revolution it was packed with dynamite and blown to smithereens, and fragments of its metal are to be found throughout the ruins. Below and to the east of the Lhakang Chempo the immense Tsokang that was the Karmapas' residence was being reconstructed in 1986. East of the Tsokang are the ruins of another monastic college, called *Suri Dratsang. The fine workmanship of these great buildings is evidence of the wealth and eminence of the early Karmapas.

On the higher ground at the top of the compound are the ruined walls of the vast 17th-century, five-storey residence and college of the Gyeltseb Rimpoches called Chogar Gong. Gyeltseb means "regent", and the Regents of Tsurpu governed their own independent monastic establishment contiguous to that of the Karmapas after the tenth Karmapa had given the college to the sixth Gyeltseb. The first Gyeltseb, Goshi Peljor Dodrub (c.1427-89), installed the seventh Karmapa.

Outside the walls of Tsurpu are several important remnants of the past. About 150 m above the gompa, perched on a spur, is a reconstructed drubkang, a retreat building, and behind this is the drupuk where Karma Pakshi and also the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, performed their retreat. It is called Pema Kyungdzong, the Lotus Eagle Citadel. A footprint of Karma Pakshi is found in the lhakang. This reminds the pilgrim that, despite the evidence of his eyes, of all Tibetan schools the Karma Kagyupa were concerned with emulation of the arch-ascetic Milarepa, and particularly with control of the subtle energies within the body. Perched on crags to the west of Pema Kyungdzong are the ruins of several other tsamkangs - two for anis and one for monks - in which only one of the four rooms in each building had windows. On the south bank of the river are steeply inclined steps upon which gigantic tankas were exhibited on festival days.

The korra of the entire site can be entered upon by way of the southern gate of the monastery. The path leads west to the confluence of two valleys dominated by Jampa Ri, and here is the site of a garden where the Gyelwa Karmapas had a wooden summer residence. A short distance to the north, at the dundro site, the path climbs the mountainside to connect several places of importance as it weaves its way back to the Pema Kyungdzong. On the spur to the east of this retreat is the rebuilt sungkang residence of Pelden Lhamo, and above it are the ruins of the lhakang of the Protector Tamdrin. Then descending, by the road is a painted engraving of the principal Karma Kagyu Protector Bernakchen. This korra takes about three hours to complete.


The founder of the Karma Kagyu school and Tolung Tsurpu was Dusum Kyempa (1110-93), who, like Drigung Rimpoche and Pakmodrupa Dorje Gyelpo, was born in Kham. His principal Lama was Je Gampopa, but he received instruction also from Milarepa's disciple Rechungpa and various Kadampa sages. He was considered to be an incarnation of the Indian siddha Saraha. He was known as the Black-Crown Lama (Shanakpa) after he had been presented with the crown of Indrabodhi, a hat made of the hairs of Dakinis. After travelling widely throughout Tibet, meditating at many power-places, towards the end of his life, in 1187, he settled at Tsurpu. The institution of a series of incarnate lamas or tulkus attached to a particular gompa and office was established by Dusum Kyempa when he prophesied his immediate rebirth as the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1202?-83). Karma Pakshi spent most of his life propagating the Kagyu dharma while travelling in Tibet and at the Mongol court of Kublai Khan in China. Particularly, his feats of magic, for which he is renowned, impressed the Mongol Emperor - they were remarked upon by Marco Polo. The enormous wealth he received as gifts in China allowed him to rebuild Tsurpu which had been destroyed earlier. The Lhakang Chempo (1287) and the Tsokang date from this period. The political power of the Karma Kagyupas vis-à-vis the Sakya school was rooted in this wealth. The third Karmapa was Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), who repeated his predecessor's visit to the Chinese court. He installed the Emperor Toghon Temur (r.1333-68) in office during his first visit (1332-4). He died in the third year of his second visit (1339). This third Karmapa, like the first two, spent much of his life meditating in caves, notably at Samye Chimpu and in Pema Kyungdzong. He was an initiate of the Dzogchen Nyingtik of Vimalamitra. Both the fourth and fifth Karmapas also visited China, the fourth at the end of the Yuan dynasty, and the fifth at the beginning of the Ming.

During the decline of the Pakmodrupa hegemony in Central Tibet, the Karmapas were associated with the Princes of Rinpung in eastern Tsang in their stance against the Gelukpas. In the 17th century when the King of Tsang made a strong stand against the unifying policies of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and the rising Geluk power, as the King's Lama the tenth Karmapa was aligned with the anti-Geluk forces. After the Gelukpas' Mongol general Gusri Khan had subjected eastern and central Tibet he marched on Shigatse, and in the subsequent battle defeated the King of Tsang and captured and executed him. Gusri Khan then marched on Tsurpu and the Karmapa fled to Bhutan. With the sacking of Tsurpu by the Mongols in 1642 the political influence of the Karmapas ended.

DORJELING (rDo rje gling)

This Kagyu Ani Gompa is located two days' walk to the north of Tsurpu. Taking the path up the north-western branch of the valley just beyond Tsurpu, after half a day's walk the village of Lagen is reached. Above this village the valley divides and the northern branch crosses *Tang La (approx. 5,300 m) and descends into the valley of an affluent of the Lhorong Chu. Beyond the pass the landscape is more reminiscent of the Changtang than of Central Tibet, with the high Nyenchen Tanglha range forming a backdrop to the north. Dorjeling is also accessible from Yangpachen in a day's walk.

Magnificently situated at the bottom of the eastern side of a long ridge, the lhakang and domestic quarters of Dorjeling Ani Gompa have been rebuilt and some thirty anis are in residence. In 1986 the lhakang had yet to be decorated.

TUBTEN YANGPACHEN (Thub bstan yangs pa can): Seat of the Shamarpas

The Shamarpa's Kagyu gompa of Yangpachen2 is located on the northern side of the Lhorong Chu valley just above the Lhasa-Shigatse highway. It is accessible from Dorjeling Ani Gompa after a half-day trek. The road from Lhasa follows the *Tobing Chu for some 75 km to Yangpachen Qu passing through Dechen Dzong. To the west of Yangpachen Qu are the hot springs that were once a place of pilgrimage but which now are engulfed by a geothermal plant that irrigates the hot-houses that provide vegetables for Lhasa. 10 km further west is the village of *Shungtse. The gompa is located above it.

Tubten Yangpachen was totally destroyed, but it is now in process of rebuilding. The principal lhakang contains some new images; the Pelkor Gomkang contains an original image of Chakdrukpa (Mahakala) that resisted attempts to destroy it; but the image of Chakdrukpa in the Sinon Gomkang has vanished, along with the glory of Yangpachen.


Yangpachen Gompa was founded by Murab Jampa Tujepel in 1490 under the auspices of the fourth Shamarpa and financed by the Prince of Rinpung. It was the residence of the Shamarpas for only 300 years. The Shamarpas' ties with Nepal were their downfall. When the Gorkhalis under Pritvi Narayan Shah, king of the newly unified Kingdom of Nepal, invaded Tibet in 1792 to be defeated by a Chinese army, the tenth Shamarpa was accused of traitorous support of the Nepalis. Yangpachen was confiscated by the Gelukpas, the Shamarpa's hat was buried and recognition of future incarnations was prohibited. In Nepal the present thirteenth Shamarpa has resumed his full status amongst the Karma Kagyupas.


Just beyond Tsurpu the Dowo Lung Valley divides. Ascending the north-western branch for half a day, just beyond the village of Lagen the valley again divides. Here the western branch ascends to the Tsurpu Lagan La and passes into the upper reaches of the Lhorong Chu. Another pass takes the pilgrim into upper Nyemo Lung, called Nyemo Shu. This valley descends to the larger Nyemo Valley and thence to the Tsangpo to the east of Rinpung and west of Chushul (see map p.000). A power-place of Guru Rimpoche is located in Nyemo Shu, and Nyemo Gyeje is the Nyemo Jeke that was the birthplace of Bairotsana. Kyungpo Neljorpa (990-1138?) was born in Nyemo Ramang; this was the Bonpo yogin and Dzokchempa, and disciple of Niguma (Naropa's wife) at Nalanda, who founded the Shangpa Kagyu school at Shang Shong.


To the north of Yangpachen is the Nyenchen Tanglha range. Its highest peak at 7,088 m is "a peak resembling a chorten of pure crystal". This is the residence of the very important Mountain God of the West, Nyenchen Tanglha. This Protector was an ancient Bonpo deity, and by the Buddhists he is considered to be the god-king of all the oath-bound Protectors and as such he is one of the most powerful Guardians of the Buddha-dharma. His retinue consists of the mountain gods of the 360 lesser peaks of the range. Nyenchen Tanglha, or simply Tanglha, is also a Protector of the Potala's Marpo Ri.

Beyond this range of mountains to the northwest is the holy lake called Namtso, better known to Europeans by its Mongolian name, Tengri Nor, Heaven Lake. Access to this lake is gained via Damsung over the *Large La.

Sarva Mangalam!
May all beings be happy!