My mother, Lodey
Lhawang (née Tethong) passed away, very peacefully,
on the morning of January 9, at my home in Monteagle, Tennessee.
Her daughter Rigzin Dolkar, daughter-in-law Tenzing Chounzom,
grand daughters Namkha Lhamo and Namtso Kyi, and myself
were at her side. We are tremendously grateful to Kyabje
Trijang Rinpoche, my mother’s root lama, for his prayers
and spiritual advice and the Drepung Loseling Monastery
in Atlanta, Georgia, whose monks performed all the necessary
prayer services and rituals at our home.
With the gradual passing away of my mother’s generation
our memories of Tibet as a real living nation, with a rich and
valid history and a complex human culture, will surely weaken
and slip away – if we do not commit them to writing, or
at least rekindle them, every so often, with loving recollection.
Therefore, in memory of my mother, I would like to share with
the reader this episode from her long and eventful life, which
also illustrates an interesting moment in Tibetan diplomatic
When I was around nine years old my father took me to Dzachukha,
the north-eastern limit of our frontier with Chinese-occupied
Eastern Tibet. Two of the most powerful Golok chiefs were arriving
there from their tribal lands further north and were to be awarded
Tibetan government ranks and honours. I remember it all very
clearly. The occasion was a welcome break from my normal routine
of copying Tibetan alphabets on my wooden writing-board (jangshing),
day after day, at Derge. I had started learning my letters a
few years before and could now read whole sentences. When I
was some years older and my writing had improved I was given
the task of making copies of Tibetan government proclamations
to circulate around the various dzongs and monasteries in Eastern
Tibet. That was when the 13th Dalai Lama appointed my father,
Tethong Gyurme Gyatso, governor-general of the whole of Eastern
|Lodey Lhawang with her granddaughter Namkha Norbu.
But at the time of my trip to Dzachukha my father was only
governor of Derge and shared administrative responsibilities
with his uncle, Thangpon, who was co-governor. My father also
commanded the Shigatse regiment. Thangpon commanded the Dhingri
regiment. The Gyangtse regiment was under Chapay. Earlier my
father’s co-governor had been his cousin, Khyungram, who
had by then left for Lhasa. I was born just after the Chinese
were defeated at Kanze (1918).
My father and his cousin Khyungram, both dapons (generals)
at the time, had successfully driven out Chinese forces from
that area. Both generals were billeted at the home of an important
chieftain of Kanze, Adug Lagatsang, and it was there that the
Tibetan government courier (atrung) brought my father a letter
from my mother, informing him of my birth in Lhasa city. Coincidentally,
my uncle Khyungram also got a letter from Lhasa announcing the
birth of a son to their family. As a military man I am sure
my father was disappointed that his first child was a daughter,
but he never so much as even hinted about that to me. He was
a very thoughtful and kind person. Some of the older servants
would sometimes tease me by saying how I had let down the Tethong
family on that occasion. Later, I became good friends with Khyungram’s
son. We were not only of the same age but also cousins. Some
years later when Khyungram was degraded and sent into exile
because he had offended the Regent, his son, through no fault
of his own, also lost his rank and wealth.
My father’s official career was mostly served in Eastern
Tibet, about twenty years according to him. He wanted to return
to Central Tibet but was never relieved of his duties in Kham.
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama was strong-willed and expected unquestioning
obedience of his officials. My father was the same age as Tharchin
Babu la (the founder/editor of the Tibet Mirror Press) who was
a friend of his. He married my mother, Dolma Tsering (née
Rong Dekyiling) when he was twenty-seven and she only fifteen.
There was an age difference of twelve years between them. Both
had the same astrological sign – the tiger.
I was born two years after the marriage. Four years later,
when my father made a brief visit to Lhasa from Kham my sister
Tsering Wangmo was born. A year later following another visit,
my brother Tomjor was born. After that the whole family moved
to Eastern Tibet and my brother Rakra Rinpoche was born in Derge.
My sisters Sopal, Tsering Lhamo (who died young), and Tashi
were born at Derge also. A brother Migmar Thondup was born to
my mother at our estate in Shigatse when my father finally got
to return to Central Tibet, but this child did not live long.
My youngest brother Tsewang Chogyal was born in Chamdo during
my father’s last tour of Eastern Tibet.
Behind the castle was a park where we had picnics and archery
contests. The castle had many rooms most of which were dark
and gloomy. It was a high, cold building and the governor’s
offices and residence were on the top, while at the bottom
were dungeons where bandits and murderers were locked up...
The headquarters of the governor and the military headquarters
were at Derge Changra, which is on the other side (east) of
the Drichu river. Years later (in 1932 when Ngabo was governor-general)
the Chinese got the upper hand in Kham and pushed us back, the
headquarters were relocated to Derge Jamda, west of the river.
There were two military camps at Derge, one occupied by the
Dhingri regiment and the other by the Shigatse and Gyangtse
regiment. The camp of the Dhingri regiment was on a hill, about
a mile-and-a-half from headquarters. The camps were permanent
arrangements with administrative buildings and stores located
at the centre and surrounded by barracks. The governor’s
residence was a large castle nearby. It was a very old structure
built of rammed earth and stone. Behind the castle was a park
where we had picnics and archery contests. The castle had many
rooms most of which were dark and gloomy. It was a high, cold
building and the governor’s offices and residence were
on the top, while at the bottom were dungeons where bandits
and murderers were locked up. The castle was said to be haunted.
The first person to experience this was the artist (driba)
Jamyang, a stout monk from Palpung monastery who my father had
hired to paint some thankas for us. He had the ability to see
spirits. He stayed in a small wooden hut at the top of the castle,
where the national flag was flown. One day, looking down from
the roof of the castle, he noticed some strange children playing
outside the Gyangtse regiment camp. They did not appear every
day but whenever they did it seemed that they were playing a
little closer to the castle. Finally, they came inside. Immediately
after that a rash of gambling, especially of the Chinese domino
game thu bai chu, broke out among the soldiers. It got so bad
that a soldier even sold his rifle to pay off his gambling debts.
To restore discipline my father had all offenders punished and
domino sets burnt. You see, the little children were actually
imps (theurang), and imps are known to be very fond of gambling.
They are also mischievous and harmful.
The famous Sakya lama, Khenpo Samten Lodroe, abbot of the great
monastery of Derge (Derge Gonchen), once stayed at the castle
with some of his retainers to perform some religious services
for us. One of his servants fell down a flight of stairs and
died. The great lama became very angry and looked under the
stairs as if he could see something or someone. He then ordered
preparations for a fire-puja and performed a drakpoe jinsek
(wrathful fire-puja exorcism) and rid the place of the malicious
We later moved to the residence of Tana dapon (who died in
1927 campaigning in Powo against the feudal baron of Powo, Kanam
Depa, who had rebelled against the Central Government). The
house was east of the castle and on the side of a low sunny
hill. It was a cheerful house, two stories high in the front
and one at the back. There was a large walled-courtyard in the
front where the stables and store-houses were located. Later
on the building was enlarged to accommodate the office of the
From this headquarters in Derge the governors kept in touch
with a number of small garrisons located all along the frontier
with Chinese-occupied Kham. A military outpost (sung-ja, sa-sung)
manned by fifty soldiers from the Gyangtse regiment was maintained
at Dzachukha. It was at this outpost where the Golok chiefs
and their tribesmen were to gather to swear allegiance to the
Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government, and receive official
ranks and honours in return.
Our entire family accompanied my father on this expedition:
my mother, my brother Tomjor, who was about six then, and another
brother, an incarnate lama, Rakra Trulku, who was just a baby.
They probably won’t remember anything about this journey.
They were too young. I had a sister, Tsering Wangmo, who was
about five, but she was in Lhasa under the care of my grandmother,
from my mother’s family, the Dekyiling.
I have vivid memories of the landscape on the way: steep
gorges, high mountains and rivers – many rivers. It
seemed to me that we were constantly fording a river or
crossing a bridge, then getting to another river, crossing
that and coming up against another. The names of those places
were indicative of their nature – Khorlo–do,
Dama–do (The “Wheel Confluence”, the “Drum
Confluence”) and so on.
It was mid-summer when we set off. It is almost impossible
to travel in those parts in winter. From Derge it took us about
six to seven days to get to Dzachukha. I remember the first
main stop we made was at Dankhog. I have vivid memories of the
landscape on the way: steep gorges, high mountains and rivers
– many rivers. It seemed to me that we were constantly
fording a river or crossing a bridge, then getting to another
river, crossing that and coming up against another. The names
of those places were indicative of their nature – Khorlo–do,
Dama–do (The “Wheel Confluence”, the “Drum
Confluence”) and so on.
There were also gold prospectors along some stretches of these
rivers. They were all poor Chinese coolies from Dartsedo, most
of them opium smokers. They were employed by the governor of
Derge to pan gold. The accumulated gold dust was sent to Lhasa
to the Central Government. The king of Derge also had certain
rights to extract gold from this area. The coolies pumped the
sand up from the riverbed with equipment that looked like large
tea-churns without bottoms.
On arriving at Dankhog I saw the monastery of Choengor-gon
from a distance. It looked very grand and impressive, but I
didn’t get to visit it. We stayed at the home of the 16th
Karmapa’s father, Athup Tepo. His new house was just nearing
completion, so we were lodged at his tro-khang (pleasure house),
a kind of summer-house. It was designed like a Chinese temple
and had a large pond with ducks and geese. We had an enjoyable
stay there. Once the new house of the Athup-tsang was finished,
they hosted a banquet for us. They borrowed our chef, Nyima,
who was from our estate, Kharak, in Shigatse. Our major-domo,
Po (Grandfather) Phuntsok supervised the whole affair. He was
the maternal uncle of our maid meme Sona. I remember attending
the banquet. Gyalwa Karmapa was not there. I don’t know
why. Probably he was sleeping. He was just a baby then –
about three. But he was famous all over Kham. His mother and
father were, of course, at the dinner. Whenever they came to
Lhasa they would visit us, especially Tepo. He was a quiet,
sober man of eminent respectability. He didn’t have any
teeth and very little hair – but he had great dignity.
Our party had a military escort of about twenty-five soldiers.
That was not counting members of the band: bagpipers, drummers
and buglers. The soldiers who carried the regimental flag and
the large banners (tan-dung) of the protective deities were
physically outstanding men. There were also those soldiers who
fired the Chinese mortar (da-phor) which signalled the arrival
of important officials. Nine rounds were fired to announce the
arrival of the governor.
After Dankhog the landscape changed and the precipitous mountains
and gorges gradually gave way to broad grassy plains. I remember
galloping my pony wildly on such stretches. I had my very own
pony – a small Tibetan pony (yul-ta) brought all the way
from Tsang. He was called Kyangtruk or baby “kyang”
(Equis hemionus). He was light brown in colour. I rode
him everywhere. Whenever we travelled my father liked me to
dress as a boy, which I really loved doing. So I wore a man’s
robe (chub-jen), boots, a charm-box (ghau), and even had a small
sakchukha pistol (.22 Berreta) in a leather holster with a belt
tied securely around my waist.
On the day that our party would arrive at an important stop,
all the younger servants, maids, and us children would be
sent early on ahead, so that our presence wouldn’t
undermine the dignity of the ceremonial arrival of the governor
My friend and companion was a servant girl, Phurbu Dolma, who
was probably fourteen at the time. She was later your uncle
T.C’s (Tsewang Chogyal) nanny when he was a baby. Whenever
we got to a flat grassy stretch Phurbu Dolma and I would race
our ponies. The younger servants would shout encouragements
at us. But the older servants would later scold us for our wild
behaviour. On the day that our party would arrive at an important
stop, all the younger servants, maids, and us children would
be sent early on ahead, so that our presence wouldn’t
undermine the dignity of the ceremonial arrival of the governor
Just before reaching Dzachukha we came to the outpost of the
Gyangtse regiment, manned by about fifty soldiers. The outpost,
which looked like one of those US army forts in cowboy movies,
came as a surprise to me. It was the only solid structure in
the whole area. For the last few days all we had seen were the
black tents of nomads and, and not many of them either. A little
way from the fort, a large tent encampment (gar-drik) had been
prepared, and a reception committee arrived to escort us there.
At the centre of the encampment tent-quarters had been prepared
for the governor and his entourage.
I remember my mother telling me that the next day the Golok
chiefs would receive government ranks. In one of the other tents
our servants were unpacking and laying out the ceremonial costumes,
indicative of official rank, to be presented to the two Golok
chiefs. There were the yellow zogoe brocade robes, changda hats
with red silk string fringe and turquoise crest, silk belts,
boots, and the gya-dri pu-shuk knives. The chiefs were not issued
the sogchil ear-rings as it was mandatory that you had long
hair to wear one. Even when Golok men didn’t shave their
heads altogether they kept their hair short.
The next day the ceremony took place in front of a large tent
called a ta-summa (three-section). This kind of tent is rectangular
and has one of the longer sides open and is used mostly for
ceremonial purposes. It is made of white cotton and decorated
with auspicious designs. Inside the tent, the ground of which
was covered with many rugs, a throne was erected and a large
photographic portrait of the 13th Dalai Lama in an ornate gilt
frame belonging to our family, was placed on it.
Then the two chiefs rode up and dismounted. They were dressed
in the ceremonial costumes that our servants had earlier taken
over to their tents, and helped them put on. The servants later
told us that when the chiefs tried to mount their horses the
animals became skittish as they did not recognize their masters
in their new outfits. One of the chiefs nearly got thrown off.
The two chieftains were accompanied by their aptrugs (lieutenants)
who were dressed in their traditional best.
One of the chiefs was a thin man seemingly in his twenties,
Trulku Tendrak of Golok Arkhyong Gongmatsang, chief of the Ri-mang
tribes. The other, Rinchen Wang gi Gyalpo, was a stout man in
his forties of dark, bluish complexion. He was chief of the
Sershul nomads. They approached the throne and prostrated before
it, performing the sar-jel (audience) formalities. They offered
white silk khataks to the portrait of the Dalai Lama and also
to my father and the Golok lama Jampel Rolpai Lodroe who was
also officiating at this ceremony. This thin, humble Gelukpa
lama was respected and venerated by most Goloks. He was also
well known in Lhasa for his scholarship. In fact it was his
persistent advice and effort that had persuaded the two Golok
chiefs that their lawless independent existence was a precarious
one and that they should submit to the Tibetan government and
once again become part of the nation with which they shared
their religion and way of life. Jampel Rolpae Lodroe had also
approached my father and, after some negotiations and letters
to the Dalai Lama and the kashag (cabinet) at Lhasa, the matter
was arranged to everyone’s satisfaction.
After the sar-jel formalities, the ritual for the long-life
of His Holiness (mendrel-tenthoe) was performed. A proclamation
from the Tibetan government was read out conferring the ranks
of rimshi (fourth rank) on the two chiefs. Then our soldiers
paraded to martial music from the band, and a number of rounds
were fired from the Chinese mortars.
Many hundreds of Golok tribesmen and their women, the subjects
of the two chiefs, had turned out for this occasion and
the area around the ceremonial tent was covered, for miles
around, with hundreds of black yak-hair tents.
Many hundreds of Golok tribesmen and their women, the subjects
of the two chiefs, had turned out for this occasion and the
area around the ceremonial tent was covered, for miles around,
with hundreds of black yak-hair tents. In the subsequent days,
there were less and less tents, until one day there was no one
else on that vast empty grassland but us. My mother told me
that the tribesmen had probably gone off to raid caravans.
A mile or so from the site of the ceremony was a small solitary
monastery – probably Kargyupa. It was said to be very
sacred. We went to pay our respects and worship there. A few
monks came out to receive us at the monastery gate. Further
away was the Gelukpa, Sershul monastery, the largest in the
area. The abbots and disciplinarians of the monastery, along
with a ceremonial train, came out to receive us. They showed
tremendous respect to my father. They were also genuinely grateful
to him as he had earlier helped them to rebuild their monastery
which had been largely destroyed by the Chinese. When the abbots
approached us my mother remarked how they appeared to be just
like abbots of the “Three Great Seats” (densa sum)
of Lhasa – even wearing the special raven-eye capes, and
their tse sha (the caps like Roman helmets) back to front. From
the fort, the Sershul monastery was about the distance of Drepung
monastery from Lhasa city, or so I thought – but I was
only a child then and my sense of distance could have been wrong.
Also the precious Dzochen Rinpoche passed by Dzachukha.
His monastery was not very far away. He had lunch with us
and talked for sometime with my father. He was somewhere
between fifty-five and sixty then, and quite stout. His
nose was red, but that could have been because of a cold.
He was wearing a large khampa style overcoat called the
ring-gag. He appeared to be a completely un-selfconscious,
unworldly lama – like a real siddha.
We stayed at Dzachukha for some time. My father requested a
Jigje Powo Jigpa empowerment ritual (wang) from the Lama Jampel
Rolpae Lodroe. Also the precious Dzochen Rinpoche passed by
Dzachukha. His monastery was not very far away. He had lunch
with us and talked for sometime with my father. He was somewhere
between fifty-five and sixty then, and quite stout. His nose
was red, but that could have been because of a cold. He was
wearing a large khampa style overcoat called the ring-gag. He
appeared to be a completely un-selfconscious, unworldly lama
– like a real siddha. He was greatly respected by all
Khampas, Goloks and other Tibetans. When his servitor came out
to the corridor with his tea-cup, our servants and others crowded
around to get a drop of the remains (sha) of his tea.
I also got a little in my hand and licked it up. In Kham everybody
is very pious and I became like that too. (note)
I even remember kissing a flag-stone that a holy lama had just
On our way back to Derge we once again stopped at Dankhog,
but this time stayed at the Dolma Lhakang or the “Tara
Temple”. My father also went to visit the stupa of a very
holy lama far up in the mountains, but we children stayed behind
at the temple. When he returned my father presented a set of
jewel ornaments to an image of Tara there. The temple had three
images of Tara, one of which was said to have spoken. Our offering
went to this speaking Tara. I vaguely remember the ornament
having zi stones and pearls.
After that we returned to Derge.
Note: In his condolence letter, my friend
Tashi Tsering la mentioned this about my mother “She was
very fortunate to have been ordained by no one else than Khenchen
Shenga of Kham when she was only 6-7 years old in Derge. Between
1925-1936, she met and was blessed by all the leading Kagyu,
Nyingma, Sakya and Geluk Lamas in Kham. She met Lamas such as
the famous 11th Situ Rinpoche, the 5th Dzogchen Rinpoche, Khengen
Samten Lodro of Derge Gonchen, Geshe Jampel Rolpae Lodro, Kathog
Mogtsa, Khenpo Ngagga, and Khunu Lama Tenzin. (Return
| This account was first published
in Lungta No.8 (1994) as “The Conferring Of Tibetan
Government Ranks On The Chieftains Of Golok”, as told
by Lodey Lhawang to Jamyang Norbu. It might also be noted
that this account receives credible verification in Joseph
Rock’s great monograph, The Amnye Machen Range and
Adjacent Regions, (Is.M.E.O., Roma, 1956) Rock mentions
that when he travelled across Golok territory in 1926 he
was told that Arkhyong Trulku the chief of the “largest
and most important” Golok tribe, the Ri-mang, was
absent from his encampment and said to have gone “…to
make his submission to the Tibetan government.”