Tibet 1986 and Beyond

Tibetan travel & study

Small Addition to Kessler Derge Map

Below are some temples not on Dr. Peter Kessler’s maps of Khams. Dr. Kessler was a longtime scholar in Rikon Institute, Switzerland. In 1986, I hiked between Derge and Drolmalhakhang mostly along the Dri Chu. The blue circles represent temples my hiking companion (He happens to be Swiss) and I visited. One monastery is Sakya, two are Bonpo.

The latitude and longitude figures are not accurate. I am fairly certain of the locations of སྟག་ཞི་དགོན་པ་ and དབོན་སྟོད་. ཞེ་ཞེ་དགོན་པ་ not so much.

It was rather surprising to find that much of the area along the west bank of the Dri Chu south of Drolmalhakhang is Bon.

Additionally, I have other information about a couple towns and passes. I was also given the names of other monasteries along the DriChu by people along the way that we spoke to.

This is the area on the magnified Kessler map for perspective.

Asia map showing area of interest.

Asia map showing area of interest.

Below is Dr. Kessler’s map of Derge & Ling magnified (sorry for the poor resolution). I have added monasteries that we visited that are not on his maps. Dr. Kessler contacted me after I wrote him a letter in the late 1980’s. By the time he responded, all my notes were in storage so I never got back to him. For this, I feel rather guilty. Recently, I learned that he passed away a couple years ago so I was not able to make a modest contribution to his work. Below is a small attempt to atone for the lapse.

Confirmed monasteries

Filling in Dr. Kessler's maps.

Below is a sketch of additional monasteries that a local resident gave me at a town near Onto Gompa. I did not visit most of these places as we crossed the Dri Chu about half a day walk north of Onto Gompa. We stayed on the West side of the river until reaching Drolma Lhakhang.

Dri Chu Gompas 2

Additional monastery names provided by local folks. Most are not confirmed


Please pardon the lack of penmanship.


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2 thoughts on “Small Addition to Kessler Derge Map

  1. Amazing travels! How did you guys get to roam Tibet in 1985? I was following the possibilities from Nepal at that time, and as I recall the border there was not opened until 1986. I cycled from Lhasa back to Kathmandu in ’87, and at that time Kham was supposedly still very much prohibited, though we met one couple who snuck through to Lhasa, and they traveled a lot by night.

    • Well, you must have been in better physical condition to do the ride to Khatmandu. Maybe you met Bradley from the U.K.????

      Andy, I was not in Khams until 1986 but travel restrictions were about the same. In 1985, I flew into Lhasa from Chengdu then took two+ weeks to get to the border with a number stops including Sakya. We came overland from Chengdu in 1986. We crossed from Sichuan to T.A.R. via coracle up river from Derge. Our intention was not to avoid the border crossing (although we did just tat), but rather we just wanted to visit Yena Gompa and other little towns.

      We never traveled by night but did find a few tricks. I can mention them now because 30 years later, they no longer work. We did not stay in the hotel during the day. The police went out of their way to avoid foreigners in off limits areas as it was too much work to send foreigners away. If you were in the hotel, they felt compelled to confront you.

      In more than a six weeks traveling in “off limits” areas, were we talking with police only twice. In Chamdo, my friend’s visa was close to expiration so we went to the police station to get it renewed where they told us we traveled illegally – “but the hotel registration was in english” we explained. It was comical as we had tri lingual conversations. I attempted to understand Khampa dialect and Frank’s chinese was pretty good; we would compare notes in english then respond.

      The other police experience was in Drolma Lhakhang, at the end of the trek. We were in our hotel room and the police brought an english teacher to translate. We pleaded illness and lacking in supplies. They asked us to leave in the next day or two. We avoided the hotel during the day and stayed five days without incident.

      I *Believe* the restrictions were less enforced because the authorities were testing the waters to see where foreigners would go. They had everything well under their control as far as protests and dissent. Few Tibetans wanted the p.r.c. taking over their country and they grumbled a great deal but few did anything publicly.

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