Specialists in small group, in depth travel to SW China and Tibet, including Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang Tibet.
Comments welcome...
"I'm going to follow the waving grasses, 
Across the steppe   And through the passes. 
I will see   All there is to see. 
I'll be free. I'll be free.

Ancient Times
Lord Tonpa Shenrab Miwo [Mibo], living some thousands of years ago, is considered the legendary founder of Bön. His status to Bön (the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet) is akin to that of Shakyamuni's (Padmasambhava) to Buddhism. He reformed and systematised the primitive animism of ancient Shen people into ordered doctrines and rituals, and then devoted the rest of his life to propagating this new religion. His disciples spread his teachings to India, Zhang-zhung [alt. Shangshung] (roughly in present-day W Tibet, later to become heartland for Bön religion), China, and eventually Tibet, where it was translated from Zhang-zhung into Tibetan.
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Mythological beginnings
The mating of a monkey and an ogress, whose progeny gave birth to Tibetan people in Yarlung valley. DL5 embellished story in 5c, adding that monkey was emanation of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezi) and ogress was emanation of goddess Tara. In Kham, the epic hero King Gesar is considered founding ancestor of Kham Tibetans.

2nd mill. BC

Xichang tribes (in present-day Shaanxi, Gansu and Sichuan) first mentioned in Chinese records (in 1700 BC), consisting of over 100 tribes, whose culture distinct from Chinese Shang Dynasty culture. Parts of Xichang group are ancestors of Qiang, as well as Naxi, Pumi and other Yunnan ethnic groups.

1st mill. BC

First mention of Qiang ('shepherd') tribes, nomadic and pastoral people living on steppes of NW China in Tarim Basin (present-day Xinjiang), from whom Tibetans probably descended.

Cir. 500 BC

Birth of Shakyamuni Buddha in India

Tsenpo Kings, 127 BC - 842 AD
Enthronement of immortal king Nyatri Tsenpo, 1st of Tibet’s 42 Tsenpo kings, was start of lineage that lasted over a thousand years. The Tsenpo kings initially ruled over pre-Buddhist society who believed in an animistic, shamanistic religion, practices of which varied from region to region, but which are considered today to have constituted original Bön religion (which has little in common with New Bön, which itself is almost entirely indistinguishable from Tibetan Buddhism). Later, Buddhism was welcomed and in 792 adopted as state religion (thus marking start of demilitarisation of Tibet, previously an expansionist empire). Most illustrious kings from this line – ‘Three Great Kings’ - were Songtsen Gampo (unified Tibet, promulgated Tibetan script), Trisong Detsen (est. Buddhism as state religion) and Ralpachen (further elevated status of Buddhism in Tibet).

140-67 BC

Reign of Han emperor Wudi who, in response to attacks on trade routes in W frontier regions by Xiongnu and Qiang tribes, wages military campaigns. By 121 BC, Chinese military garrison in place near Xining, and Chinese colonisation of Qing-Tib plateau (betw. Lake Kokonor and Yellow R. source) soon follows.

127 BC on

Official Tibetan Royal Year begins with legendary enthronement of Tibet's first historical king, Nyatri Tsenpo, in 127 BC (according to White Annals), who either a) commuted between heaven and earth via sky-cord (as did his successors up until 100 BC, when the 7th Tsenpo king, Drigum Tsenpo, accidentally cut his sky-cord, thus having unfortunate distinction of becoming Tibet's first mortal king); or b) was a native of India who, upon losing battle in Indian epic Mahabharata, fled to Tibet, where locals mistakenly believed him to have come from heaven.

Culture known as Böd (present-day Tibet , word comes from 'Bön', the culture/religion prevalent at time there) comes into existence in Yarlung and Chongye valleys around time of King Nyatri Tsenpo (who is credited with uniting several of these small kingdoms - speculative!). Böd will continue to grow until whole of today's greater Tibet is united under King Songtsen Gampo.

65 AD

Buddhism becomes established in China.

late 6c-early 7c

Major tribes of Qing-Tib Plateau at this time: Yangtong (NW of Tibet), Supi (present-day Nakchu, Chamdo, Jyekundo), Duomi (upper reaches of Yangtze), Dangxiang (present-day Gansu), Xishan (present-day Sichuan), Yarlung (present-day Shannan area), and Tuguhun (est. jointly by Xianbei tribe and Xiqiang tribe (present-day N Qinghai to S Xinjiang).


More reliable Tibetan history starts here. Local ruler from Yarlung valley, Namri Songtsen (considered 32nd Tsenpo king), unifies much of central Tibet under an alliance of petty rulers. He is known in Chinese (Sui Dynasty) records as 'Commander of 100,000 Warriors'.


Beginning of Tang dynasty, which soon attacks western tribes. Dangxiang, Tuguhun, Xishan and Yangtong tribes send envoys pledging allegiance to Tang gov't.


Reign of Songtsen Gampo (son of Namri Songtsen). Crowned 33rd Tsenpo king, he's also 1st of the 9 Religious Kings ('Chogyal'), who altogether reigned from 630-836. Under his reign (considered zenith in Tibet history), whole of today's greater Tibet unified, capital at Lhasa. Tibet begins to expand into China, India and Nepal. This period of military expansion, lasting into 9c, known as Tubo Empire (in Tang dynasty, Tibetans referred to as Tubo. Incidentally, English word 'Tibet' derived from 'tubo'), and is the only time that greater Tibet was unified under one government.

Yarlung annexes Yangtong and Supi, thus expanding area under its control E and N. Marks establishment of Tubo kingdom.

King Ligmincha of Zhang-zhung assassinated on orders of Songtsen Gampo, and Zhang-zhung, up to now a fully independent kingdom, annexed by Tibet, where it is eventually fully assimilated into Tibet (though some say not until 14c).

Re Zhang-zhung - it's said that it was Zhang-zhung priests who, invited to central Tibet, introduced their shamanistic religion (which is considered early Bön and is speculated to have come to Zhang-zhung from Persia) to Tibet for the first time. These teachings, translated from Zhang-zhung language into Tibetan, constitute first Bön scriptures. Zhang-zhung was a kingdom now considered to have comprised lands to west of today's Lhasa/Shigatse area, from Gilgit in the west to Namu Cuo in east, from Khotan in north to Mustang in south, incl. Mt. Kailash, in a great confederacy of states, whose origins possibly from E Tibetan region. Located as it was by culturally rich centres such as Gilgit and Khotan, it was natural corridor through which many religious ideas spread into Tibet. Ruled by dynasty of 18 kings up until 9c (quite speculative, still lots of research and digging to be done).

Nepal subjugated. Then in 632, king marries Nepalese princess Bhrikuti, and in 641, in hopes of curbing Tibet's expansionist tendencies, Chinese emperor Taizong (Tang dynasty) offers Songtsen Gampo his daughter, Princess Wencheng, to take as a wife. These two princesses considered influential in introducing Buddhism into Tibet, though Songtsen Gampo himself continued to adhere to Bön.


Construction of Potala Palace, and Jokhang and Ramoche temples to house Buddha images.

Written history only dates back to this period, when Songtsen Gampo sends his minister Sambhota and other scholars to India to study Sanskrit, which they then modified to make a Tibetan script. Previously had been no written Tibetan language. However, some say that a pre-cursor to Tibetan script was already in existence in Zhang-zhung, which had long had its own fully developed script.

During this period, Tibet (whose culture at this time still Bön as opposed to Buddhist) brought into contact (owing to its warrior ways) with many other cultures, and ends up adopting some Indian Buddhist principals, such as that of cause and effect, cyclic existence and a state beyond suffering.

7c and 8c

Increasingly difficult times for Bön religion - many Bönpo scholars, lamas hide sacred texts and flee Central Tibet. Drenpa Namkha, one of greatest Bönpo masters of that time, embraces Buddhism out of fear of being killed and for sake of preserving Bönpo teachings in secret.


Far-eastern Tibet (today's Kham and Amdo) brought into fold of Tibetan Empire of Yarlung kings. Both Bön and Tibetan Buddhism have been strong in these regions ever since.


After brief stalemate beginning with Songtsen Gampo's death, conflict between Tibet and Tang China starts up again, mainly to do with trade controls over Central Asian Silk Routes.

Tibet conquers Amdo, Tarim Basin.


Tibetan army has advanced as far as Nanzhao kingdom (based in today's Dali).


Chinese, under Emperor Ming Li, allies with Nanzhao Kingdom and others to face Tibetan expansion which threatens SW China frontier.


Commissioned by Emperor Ming Li to repel danger at China's SW border, King Pilaoko of Nanzhao kingdom in Dali launches war against Tibet.


King Kolofeng of Nanzhao kingdom now allies with Tibet.


King Trisong Detsen (reigning from 742-797, during which Buddhism really takes off in Tibet) converts from Bön to Buddhism. He then holds a debate between Bön priests and Buddhists and,  surprise surprise, declares Buddhists the winners.


Tibet captures Tang Dynasty capital Changan (present-day Xian). China must pay annual tribute (50,000 rolls of silk).


Encountering difficulties establishing Buddhism in Tibet, King Trisong Detsen invites Padmasambhava (a.k.a. 'the Lotus Born', a.k.a. Guru Rinpoche), Tantric* master from Indo-Iranian country of Uddiyana. He is able to suppress native Tibetan demons and convert them into guardians of the Dharma, thus clearing way for Buddhism in Tibet.

*the ‘tantric’ path to enlightenment involves prayer of mind, mouth and body (mandala, mantra, mudra)


Founding of Samye Gompa (Nyingmapa), first major monastery in Tibet (made possible by Padmasambhava's converting of the local gods into protectors of the Dharma). Indian and Chinese monks begin work of translating Buddhist scriptures into Tibetan. Subsequently native Bön religion is generally discouraged, at times actively attacked. Still many Bön adherents among both commoners and aristocrats, and Bön survives. Little known about development of Bön from this period up until 11c. This period of Buddhism is known as the Early Translation (or First Translation), as opposed to 'New Translation' which took place 10c/11c.


Conflict arises between Chinese monks (adherents of Zen - 'sudden enlightenment' - to achieve enlightenment one should empty the mind so to fill the heart with compassion) and Indian monks over doctrinal interpretation, so King Trisong Detsen calls for second debate, to determine which form of Buddhism would prevail in Tibet. Indian monks declared winners, and in aftermath of great debate, Buddhism established as state religion of Tibet , and Chan (Zen) Buddhist tradition effectively proscribed. The adopting of Buddhism as state religion marks beginning of demilitarisation of Tibet and shrinking of empire.


China and Nanzhao Kingdom having become allies again, king Imoshun of Nanzhao kingdom invades Tibet, capturing 16 towns.


Reign of Ralpachen. Peace with China established, Buddhism further elevated, many temples built, new system of weights established (based on Indian model). Ralpachen ordains that every 7 households should support 1 Buddhist monk.


Peace treaty signed with China. It's to be final one.


King Ralpachen assassinated by his brother, Lang Dharma, a Bön follower.


Reign of Lang Dharma, 42nd and last Tsenpo king. Whether it was hate of Buddhism, or his need to support Bön so to secure throne (aristocracy at time was more Bön), under his reign Buddhism severely persecuted, monasteries, images, sacred books destroyed. Many Buddhist monks flee to Qinghai, setting up monasteries there. Its ties with India thus broken off, religion of Tibetan Buddhism comes more into its own as an independent branch of Buddhism. In 842, Lang Dharma is assassinated by Buddhist monk, resulting in political fragmentation of Tibet and more than a century of civil disorder and wars.

Collapse of Empire & Rise of Sarma ('New') Traditions, 842 - 1247
With collapse of Yarlung Dynasty, the Tibetan Empire ceases to exist, replaced by islands of local hegemonic rule. This time serves as an incubator period during which shamanic and clerical Buddhism become firmly established, with Buddhist and Bön religious centres initially under the patronage of various local powers, but they soon become involved in competition for political influence in their own right. In 11c, with return of exiled Buddhist monks, a second period of translation occurs which is to give rise to Kagyüpa, Sakyapa and Gelukpa traditions, among others. Period ends with head of Sakyapa submitting to Godan Khan, thus establishing precedence whereby Mongols are heavily involved in central Tibetan politics. Kham forms into various states, kingdoms, etc. (ruled by regents, kings, chieftains, etc.), which for the most part maintain their independence - from Lhasa, from China and from each other.

From 971

Second dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet begins in small kingdom of Ngari in W Tibet, whose king, Yeshe O, sends 21 young monks to India so to bring back teachings to Tibet. One of these was Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055 AD), who became gifted translator of Sanskrit scriptures into Tibetan. These translations and all which followed came to be called Sarma ('new ones'), while any translations before his time were called Nyingma ('old ones').


Dangxiang people set up Tangut empire of Xi-xia on stretch of Northern Silk road in Amdo. Its people were partly Tibetanised - they believed in Buddhism, spoke Tibetan and used Tibetan alphabet. [Xi means west, Xia is ancient name for China ]

Around this time, fellow named Gusiluo unites Tibetan tribes in present-day Qinghai and Gansu.


Discovery of hidden texts by Shenchen Luga (of Shen clan, descendents of Kongtsha Wangden, whose father was Tonpa Shenrab, the legendary founder of Bön) marks Bön revival, ending its long slumber (at least by all appearances - there's a lack of historical data from 8c to 11c on this). With him, Bön tradition now becomes fully systematised. During his time first Bön monasteries built with intent to study and practice the tradition. These monasteries, close to Shigatse Yeru, were Wensakha (destroyed by flood in 1386, it was replaced by Menri), Kyikhar Rizhing, and Zangri. Since Bön communities rather small, they never posed a threat to institutionalised Buddhist traditions and thus were able to establish themselves in Tibet. Later many more monasteries built in Khyungpo, Kham, and Amdo (all told over 330), while aforementioned ones remained most important Bön monasteries until Chinese takeover in 1959.


Kalachakra doctrine (a.k.a. tantric mysticism) introduced into Tibet. It had first become prominent in India in early 10c, spread by Indian master Chilupa.


To resist powerful Xi-xia empire, natural alliance formed between Song empire and Gusiluo, who was granted official title 'general' by Song emperor. During this time, Song also maintained economic ties with Tibetan tribes of Qing-Tib plateau via 'tea-horse trade'. Gusiluo regime crumbles end of 11c, and Song dynasty admin. prefectures est. to fill void.

c. 1039

The translator Marpa travels to India, receives tantric teachings from Naropa and returns to Tibet. During his lifetime he undertook a number of arduous journeys from Tibetan plateau, periodically retrieve Vajrayana teachings to take back to Tibet. He passed them on to his foremost student Milarepa (who along with Marpa is considered founder of Kagyüpa order).


Famous Bengali scholar Atisha (founder of Kadampa tradition) arrives, also at invite of King Yeshe O of Ngari. Atisha and translator Rinchen Zangpo are the two major driving forces of 'Second Translation', the movement responsible for reintroducing Buddhism into Tibet (and which directly gave rise to both Kagyüpa and Sakyapa traditions).


Sakyapa monastery founded in Tsang (today's Shigatse and Gyantse regions) province by Khon Konchog Gyalpo (1034-1102), founder of Sakyapa order. His son and successor, Sakya Kunga Nyingpo, further establishes Sakyapa tradition.


Karmapa I founds Karma Kagyüpa (one of the many sub-branches of the Kagyü order) monastery of Kampo Nenang in Ronko township (80 km fr. Litang). This is in Puborgang mtn. range (which forms watershed between Yangtze around Batang and lower Yalong basin), an area traditionally a stronghold for both Karma Kagyüpa and Katokpa branch of Nyingmapa.


Genghis Khan becomes first leader of unified Mongol nation, and the next year sends envoys to Tibet demanding submission. Tibetans agree to pay tribute, so friendly relations established. Mongol tribes to dominate grasslands for some 500 years, up into 18c.

Outside Tibet, Muslim rampage across India in 12c and 13c results in destruction of countless Buddhist centres, one effect being to force self-sufficiency on Tibetan monasteries in producing scholars, rather than relying on India to produce them.


Mongols defeat Xi-xia empire (which stretched from Lanzhou W to Qilian mtn range), leaving rest of Tibet very exposed.

Genghis Khan dies.

Period of Sakya, Pagdu [P'agmodrupa] and Karmapa Rule, 1247 - 1642
During this period, 3 political powers successively rule over Tibet. Rule of thumb is that religious order which enjoys favour of the strongest Mongols is that which has the political power. Sakyapa's rule lasted from 1254 to 1350 with succession of Sakyapa lamas, then followed by Pagdu's rule in Lhaoka and finally by Karmapa's rule in Tsang region (Shigatse).

1247 Having ignored Tibet up to this point, Genghis' grandson Godan Khan orders Sakya Pandita ['scholar from Sakya'], the head lama of the Khon family (who were believed to possess a particularly powerful body of ritual practices) and hereditary abbot of the main Sakyapa monastery, to his court. Seeing resistance as pointless, Pandita offers Tibetan submission. Thus Mongols' western frontier is neutralised, while head lamas of Sakyapa would be first religious rulers of Tibet . While some say Mongolian khans were eager to receive blessings/religious teachings of Tibetan monks, and a patron-priest relationship was thus established between Tibetan Lamas and Mongol Khans, others scoff at this notion, maintaining Mongols were Shamanists who had no need for such blessings, and used foreign religions to serve their political purpose only, and that Mongols only became Buddhist during Ming dynasty, after creation of reformist Gelukpa order.


Kublai Khan leads Mongols from Sichuan into Yunnan. Tibetan tribes of Do-kham (refers to Amdo and Kham regions) offer allegiance to Kublai as he passes through on his way to conquer Yunnan.


Sakyapa heavily strengthened when Sakya Phagpa (1235-80), nephew of Sakya Pandita, given title of Supreme Authority over Tibet by Kublai Khan. From this year up to 1350, Tibet will be ruled by succession of 20 Sakyapa lamas. In general, power of Sakyapa rulers will rise and fall in proportion to rise and fall in power of Mongol khans in China.


Yunnan taken by Mongols, for the first time becoming an imperial province.


Mongol conquest of China's Song dynasty is complete.


With death of Kublai, influence of Sakyapa priest-rulers gradually declines.


Tibetan nationalist movement led by Changchub Gyaltsen (who had close ties w/ Drigungpa and Phagmodrupa - both sub-orders of Kagyüpa) wrests power from Mongol-backed Sakyapa order (read: Yuan Dynasty). He assumes title of Gongma (king) over secular dynasty of Sitya. The Mongol  (Yuan) dynasty in China, themselves on the way out, have little choice but to accept matters.


Birth of Tsongkhapa (died 1419), monastic reformer and founder of Gelukpa order, in Amdo (Kumbum later built at site).


Central provinces Ü and Tsang fall into hands of monk of Phamo Drugpa (sub-order of Kagyüpa). For next 86 years, 11 lamas of Phamo Drugpa tradition rule Tibet. They're based at Neudong, in Ü province.


Mongol empire falling fast as ethnic Han Ming Dynasty gains control of China.


Ming forces crush Mongol resistance in Yunnan. However, from 14c on the , Amdo region is still under control of Mongol tribes.


Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) founds Ganden Gompa. Although doubtful he intended to found new tradition, many attracted by his return to original teachings of Atisha. Especially as by this time, the 2 major traditions - Sakyapa and Kagyüpa - politically tainted. The new tradition that sprung up was called Gelukpa ('virtuous order'). A monastic reformer, he imposed that monks should be celibate, monks and nuns should depend on donations and should not seek worldly powers, and instituted Geshi system (similar to PhD in theology).


Founding of Sera Gompa (Gelukpa). Together, Ganden, Drepung (founded 1416) and Sera are 3 'Pillars of Buddhism'.


Period of constant power struggles between Tibet's 2 central provinces - Ü (ruled by Gelukpa) and Tsang (ruled by Karmapa) - but from 1435-1481 it's Karmapa supporters who, having wrested control from Sitya court,  hold power.

c. 1448

Ladro Tobden, 31st generation of ancient Gar family (from which kings of Derge descended), moves his capital to present-day Dege (extreme W Sichuan).


Gelukpa temple Khe'ong Dewachen Sonam Dargyeling founded in Mili by Lama Dampa Neten Tsultrim Zangpo.


16c is the start of large-scale conversion of Mongol tribes to Tibetan Buddhism's Gelukpa school, contributing to Tibetanisation of the Mongols (who are to become active in central Tibet 's politics). This year, Gelukpa leader Sonam Gyatso (the 3rd reincarnation of Tsongkhapa's youngest disciple) visits Mongolia and is successful in converting Mongol leader Altan Khan, who then gives Sonam Gyatso the title 'Dalai' (ocean), and he in turn posthumously gives titles of Dalai Lama I and II to first 2 incarnations (thus making he himself the 3rd DL).


DL3 Sonam Gyatso oversees founding of Lithang Gompa (Gelukpa), thus firmly eclipsing Karmapa (Kagyüpa sub-order) tradition, which had been dominant in this area (kings of Jang Sadam (Lijiang) were patrons of Karma Kagyüpa, and Litang's Kampo Nenang Gompa (Kagyüpa) had been founded by Karmapa I).


Birth (or finding) of DL 4 (died 1616), a Mongol prince (possibly great-grandson of Altan Khan) and only non-Tibetan DL


Founding of Ganden Shedrub Namgyeling (Gelukpa) by Pakti Rabjampa Samten Zangpo. Gelukpa tradition well on its way to becoming the dominant order in region.  


Collapse of Ü province (Gelukpa) by victorious Tsang provincial forces, resulting in rise in power of Karmapa order


Gushri Khan (leader of Khoshut Mongols, and descendent of younger bro of Genghis Khan) establishes Mongol empire in Lake Kokonor region.


Despite intertribal rivalries, Kham states (present-day W Sich. and E. TAR) noted for their religious tolerance. Nyingmapa, Kagyüpa, Sakyapa and Gelukpa traditions represented, as well as Bön religion. Kagyüpa strongest in Nangchen (Nangqian) and Derge (Dege); Sakyapa strongest in Jyekundo (Yushu) and Derge (Dege); Nyingmapa strongest in Zelmogang, Nyarong (Xinlong) and S Derge (Dege); while Gelukpa strongest in Chamdo (Changdu) and Litang.


From 1635-1642 much of Tibet in civil war, power of kings of Tsang (Kagyüpa adherents) of Shigatse challenged by kings of Ü (Gelukpa adherents) of Lhasa. The former backed by Tsanba Khan and his armies, the latter backed by Gushri Khan and his armies. Gushri Khan will win out, killing the last of the Tsang kings and causing Karmapa to flee Tibet. DL 5 then sets about consolidating his power, waging war in Kham and forcibly converting monasteries (esp. Bön and Kagyüpa ones) to Gelukpa.

In 1639, Gelukpa establishes itself in Batang valley, and 2 monasteries constructed - Batang Chode and Jakhyung Rito Pendeling Gon. In 1640, Mongols subdue Litang area, allowing the Gelukpa Lithang Gompa to become largest in Puborgang, and dominant influence on local cultural life. Today, it rivals Chamdo and Kandze as one of most influential Gelukpa monasteries in Kham.

In 1641, all the way from kingdom of Beri (13 km NW of Ganzi) down to Drango (present-day Luhuo), subdued. Up until this time, Beri had been cultural centre of this part of Kham as well as Bön stronghold - the Beri tusi (native local admin. leader) was pro-Bön, and Gushri's principal opponent. Mongol armies establish Trehor ('Hor States', with Hor referring to populations of Turkic origin) - 5 overlapping states in Ganzi valley (largest tract of cultivated land in Kham): Beri, Kangsar, Masur, Trewo and Drango - each led by hereditary lay ruler.

In 1642, construction of Kandze Gompa and Khangsar and Mazur castles make Kandze largest and most important town in Trehor region, and monastery second only to Chamdo Gompa in size. Altogether, Mongols built 13 monasteries in region of present-day Ganzi, Luhuo and Daofu, known as 13 Hor monasteries. Its inhabitants, who intermarried with Mongols, have since been known as Trehor Khampans.

Gradually, new admin. at Lhasa is able to exert its influence on other regions to south, incl. Drayab (Zaya), Markham (Mangkang), Bathang (Batang), Chaktreng (Xiangcheng) and Chakla. However, monasteries in Nangchen (Nangqian county, includes Chichu) area manage to avoid Gushri's armies and maintain their Drukpa (Kagyüpa sub-order) heritage. This may be due to area's inhabitants' nomadic lifestyle and hostile terrain. Today, 70% of 78 monasteries located in Nangqian county are Kagyüpa.

Period of Ganden Podrang's Administration, 1642 - 1951
Period in which DL is undisputed ruler of Tibet (his gov't constituted central Tibet, parts of W. Tibet and those parts of Kham west of Mt. Bönri), starting in 1642 AD when DL 5 gazumped ruling power from Tsang faction. In 8c, rule of 8th to 12th DLs all quite ineffectual. DL rule in Tibet ends de facto in 1951, with arrival of 'liberation' army.

c. 1642 Abbot of Tashilhunpo Gompa, teacher of DL 5, declared 1st Panchen Lama by his student DL 5.


Manchu armies capture Beijing, overthrow Ming dynasty, establish Qing dynasty. Qing dynasty policy was to patronise and support Gushri Khan and the DL.

c. 1650

King Thangtong of Dêrge completes Lhundup Teng, which becomes most important centre for Ngorpa (one of the two major sub-schools of the Sakya) in Kham.


DL 5 invited to Beijing to meet Qing Emperor Shunzhi. Following year he's given title 'all-knowing, vajra-holding DL', while Gushri Khan given title 'righteous and wise Gushri Khan'. Following wars in Kham, there is increasing strife as Muslim overlords from Kokonor (Amdo) rival Tibetan gov't and Chinese warlords for control of profitable (owing to junction of major trade routes there) Jyekundo (Yushu) region.


Reign of Tenpa Tsering. Derge reaches height of its power by conquering outlying N districts of Dzachuka. While this kingdom was primarily of Sakyapa tradition, it gave wide scope to non-Sakyapa traditions, particularly Nyingmapa and Kagyüpa.


DL 5 dies, but death concealed for 14 years by his regent, Sangye Gyatso (Sanjie), during which time he finds and raises DL 6 to adulthood, thus hoping to avoid period of instability which usually follows death of a DL. Especially important now, as Mongol power on the wane and the new Manchu power begins to threaten Tibet.


Choice of DL 6 proves to be less than auspicious - he was overly fond of women, poetry and songs. A weak leader, a new and strong dynasty (Manchus) ruling China, and increasing dissension amongst Tibet's Mongol allies all bode ill for Tibet.


Unhappy with his nation's relationship with Tibet, Lhabzang [alt. Lhazang] Khan of Khoshut [alt. Qosot] Mongols (and son of Gushri), after successfully appealing to Qing Emperor Kangxi for support, invades Tibet.


Lhabzang Khan kills regent Sangye Gyatso, and deposes DL 6 (whom he considered false), who is taken to appear before Qing court. Though he dies en route, during his kidnapped journey to Beijing while staying at Kumbum monastery, he has vision that his incarnation will be found in Kumbum area. However, Lhabzang Khan, still in Lhasa, goes ahead and enthrones a monk of his own choice as the 'real' DL 6. Nowadays, true DL 6 is considered to be the first one.


A reincarnation of the deposed DL 6 discovered. He takes refuge in Kumbum Monastery


Dzungar Mongols, who were angered at Lhabzang's actions, or just needed a good excuse, invade Lhasa and kill Lhabzang, plundering city and looting DL 5's tomb in the process.

Founding of Pelpung Tubden Chokhorling Gompa (Kagyüpa) - largest Kagyüpa monastery within kingdom of Derge. It rapidly becomes most important centre in Kham for study of Kagyüpa tradition.


DL 7 discovered in Lithang (Litang), and struggle ensues between Mongols and Manchus to gain control over him, so to be able to exercise their influence in Tibet. Manchus succeed, and so it was when Emperor Kangxi sent military expedition to Lhasa to vanquish Dzungar Mongols (who were or weren't still there) and avenge death of their ally Lhabzang, they brought with them young Kelsang Gyatso, who they installed as DL 7, who would rule until his death in 1757. Emperor declares Tibet protectorate of China, and places 2000-strong garrison in Lhasa. This start of 200 years of Manchu overlord-ship. It was after this mess that the Lhasa government adopted the Kashag (cabinet) system, idea being that it would ease confusion of future DL successions.


Qing abolish system of leaving Tibet political affairs to Mongolian khans and Tibetan regents, instead placing 4 galoons in charge of Tibetan admin. affairs.


Manchu troops leave Lhasa.


As result of anti-Manchu campaigns by Khoshut [Qosot] Mongols in Amdo, new Qinghai province annexes Amdo and Nangchen (Nangqian), placing them under direct military control. With Mongols pacified, political vacuum in Amdo gets filled by Muslims, who encroach SW from Xining towards Jyekundo (Yushu), dominating trade routes.


Qing court delineates Yangtze as border between Tibet and Sichuan. The area to the west handed over to rule of DL while Tibetan chiefs of land to the east of the Yangtze were given seals as semi-independent territories of China. In reality, kingdoms and tribes of east Tibet remained de facto independent.

Following fighting between Tibetans and Muslims in Amdo, the land occupied by the 79 nomadic tribes around Yellow R. headwaters was divided into Qinghai (land of 40 of the tribes) and Tibet (land of the other 39 tribes - became known as 39 Hor tribes) administrative areas.


Qing gov't places Amban ('Residential Commissioner') in Lhasa, as symbol of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, responsible for carrying out daily administrative routines. Working through interpreter, with very small staff, the position was more impressive on paper than anything else. Practically speaking, it was still DL along with the Kashag who exercised real control.

Muslim clan of Ma ('Ma' being the Chinese rendering of the first syllable of Mohammed) gains control of area that is today's Qinghai province. They will continue to control entire Amdo area up until mid 20c.


With support of Manchus, Pholhanas - a Tsang nobleman - has effective rule of Tibet until his death. He'd been supporter of Lhabzang Khan.

starting 1746

Emperor Qianlong (grandson of Kangxi) sends armies into Gyarong area (present-day Kangding, Danba, Xiaojin, Jinchuan, Ma'erkang, Heishui and Lixian counties), an area comprised of 18 independent mini kingdoms who managed to keep imperial armies at bay for 10 years, and maintained de facto independence all the way up until 1949. 


DL 7 dies. In 120 years from his death to when DL 13 took over temporal power, DLs only wielded actual power for 7 years, rest of time Tibet run by Regents.


Start of conflict between Nepal and Tibet, whose relations had been tense for awhile.


Gurkha troops invade Tibet, capture Shigatse. DL 8 requests help from Emperor Qianlong, who sends Manchu troops which chase Gurkha troops out and seal off border.


Feeling they were kept uninformed by Tibetan gov't, Manchu court uses its leverage to up status of Amban, empowering him to deal direct with DL, supervise treasury, and be conduit through which all foreign communications must pass. Further, Qianlong sends golden urn to be used for picking future reincarnations of DL and Panchen Lamas. Still, records indicate Amban was still kept out of the loop of state affairs. However, as long as lamas were submissive and posed no threat, and Tibet did not try to break away, this state of affairs was acceptable to both sides.


Nyarong (present-day Xinlong) chieftain Gompo Namgyel embarks on military campaign against neighbouring Kham kingdoms. Trehor, Derge (Dege), Dzachuka, Lhato, Nangchen (Nangqian), and Jyekundo (Yushu) in NW, Bathang, Lithang, Chaktreng (Xiangcheng), and Gyalthang (Zhongdian) in far south, and Chakla, Trokhyab and Tawu (Daofu) in east, all succumb. In the end, he controls most of Kham.


Lhasa sends army to subdue forces of Nyarong chieftain, bringing an end to his conquests and restoring original rulers back to power. Derge, Lingtsang, the Hor States and Nyarong, which had been independent of Lhasa, now become Lhasa's protectorates (this continues until 1904). However, the relationship was a fairly lax one.


Hui and Salar populations (Chinese Muslims settled in farming areas around Xining) are involved in major rebellion, and sporadic fighting continues between Muslim and Chinese government troops well into the 20c.


DL 13, Thupten Gyatso, age 19, takes over temporal power from the regent. He's the first DL since 1757 to rule in his own right.


Tibetan gov't refuses to have dealings with British, who were dealing over their heads with Chinese. This coincided with new contacts between Russia and Tibet around 1900-1 (a Tibetan monk had visited the Tsar of Russia in 1898).


Resulting from British fears about Russian involvement in Asia, the Col. Younghusband 'expedition', after defeating hundreds of poorly armed Tibetan soldiers, arrives victorious in Lhasa. DL 13 flees to Mongolia.

Trade agreement signed between Abbot of Ganden Gompa and Great Britain on September 7 - a face-saving measure for Britain, to add some legitimacy to their uninvited presence in Lhasa. About as meaningful as an invading force into England signing a treaty with the Archbishop of Canterbury.


In the wake of the British incursion into Tibet, Manchus respond with a more interventionist policy in Kham, forcibly removing the governments of the various petty states and replacing them with a network of Chinese magistracies. Chao Er-Feng is dispatched to adopt a 'forward policy' which sought to carve out a new 33-district province (Xikang), an area covering most of E Kham.


The new Qing dynasty policy leads to a general uprising. War is soon raging in Kham between locals and forces of Chao Er-Feng. Derge, Chamdo and Kandze occupied by Chinese troops, and castles of Mazur and Khangsar (in Kandze) destroyed.


With Chinese now in control of much of Kham, troops enter central Tibet. DL 13 appeals to Britain for help and is rebuffed.

During Monlam festival, 2,000-strong force of Chinese soldiers enters Lhasa, causing misery and mayhem. DL 13 flees to India.


Manchu Dynasty collapses. When news reaches Lhasa, fighting breaks out between Chinese troops and their Manchu officers. The following year, Chinese troops in Lhasa, along with the Amban, are expelled by Tibetans, and Tibet enjoys real de facto independence for first time in ages.


Bilateral treaty signed between Tibet and Mongolia, both countries declaring themselves free and separate from China, with DL 13 proclaiming Tibet a 'religious and independent nation'.


DL 13 preoccupied with warfare in Kham and the Simla talks (post-treaty conference which resulted from Brits calling a conference to clarify its relationship with Tibet and China. Talks resulted in China and Tibet recognising nominal Chinese suzerainty but giving Tibetans complete internal authority. However, China disavowed the action of its representative and refused to sign the Convention; the Tibetans interpreted China’s action as renouncing benefits of suzerainty).

While making no effort to seek diplomatic recognition, DL 13 was able to preserve a precarious balance of forces between the Brits in India, Chinese warlords to the immediate east, China's weak central government, and the Soviet Russians. He embarked on ambitious plan, strengthening contact with the people, improving the rule of law, minimising bribery and corruption, introducing a more merciful judicial system (no more losing an eye for looking askance at a monk), and creating Tibet’s first professional army, over the objection of the clergy. [Prior to this the Lhasa govt’s army had been outnumbered by at least 2 to 1 by the ‘fighting monks’ of the 3 main Gelukpa monasteries around Lhasa.] DL 13’s insistence upon no interference by clergy in secular affairs caused a dispute leading to the Panchen Lama fleeing to China in 1923, where he eventually died.


Tibet defeats Chinese forces in Kham, recovers Chamdo (lost in 1910).


Chinese and Tibetan troops engage in fighting around Beri, Kandze and Dargye Gompa (Sichuan). Eventually a peace deal is reached between Beijing and Lhasa, whereby Lhasa recognised all areas east of the Yangtze, with the exception of Baiyu and Dege, as being under Chinese rule (although DL would still retain control over the monasteries there).


Feeling his authority challenged, DL 13 dismisses British-trained officers. Army goes into decline.


China captures Derge in Kham in first Sino-Tibetan clash since 1918. The fighting results in a general power vacuum throughout all of Kham, with Tibetan outlaws ruling in lieu of Chinese magistrates or Tibetan chiefs or princes.


Truce ends China-Tibet fighting, with Lhasa losing control even of the monasteries east of the Yangtze. Also DL 13 dies this year. Tibet falls under control of Reting Rinpoche the following year. During his reign, and up until DL 14’s official accession of throne in 1950, the conservative influence of the large Gelukpa gompas is reasserted, causing Tibet to undergo period characterised by extreme conservative social order rigidly opposed to change and completely cut off from the outside world.


Tibet allows China to open Lhasa mission, re-establishing communication between the two.


Present DL born in Tsongkha Khar (Amdo). Amdo had been firmly under control of the Muslim warlord Ma Bu-feng* ever since start of 20c (and will continue to be so until 1949); consequently Tibetan government has to pay him a large ransom to ensure DL's safe passage to Lhasa.

*At the start of 20c (in the power void left by the collapse of the Qing dynasty), the Ma clan, who ruled over much of Qinghai as well as parts of Gansu, commenced ambitious consolidation of their power by, among other things, constucting motorable road from Xining to Yushu, as well as establishing goldmines in the Amnye Machen range. From 1917 to 1941 occurred constant military expeditions against the fiercely independent Golok, who objected to the Ma clan's incursion of their territory (around Amnye Machen).


Tenzin Gyatso, age 5, enthroned as DL 14. China invited to witness ceremony, and based on this claims to have presided over ceremony.

1949 Founding of the People's Republic of China.


Mao moves against Tibet, sending 40,000-strong PLA force which by October has routed Tibetan army at Chamdo - capital of Kham HQ of Tibetan Army's Eastern Command. Chinese forces also stealthily infiltrating Tibet 's north- eastern border province, Amdo.

Also this year, at tender age of 15, DL 14 assumes full spiritual and temporal powers.


On Sep. 9, a 3,000-strong 'liberation force' marches into Lhasa. Having appealed to western democracies, but to no avail, in May the DL sends a negotiating team to Beijing, which is pressed to supersede their authority and signs the '17-point Agreement' for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet. This gave post facto consent to PLA's entry into Tibet and recognised Chinese sovereignty over Tibet (first time in Tibetan history). In return, Beijing recognised the right of DL's gov't to continue to govern Tibet, and promised to leave the social and religious system - along with DL's status and local officials' positions - unchanged.

Post 1951
For accounts of this much debated period of history, read Melvyn Goldstein's A History of Modern Tibet, Tom Grunfeld's The Making of Modern Tibet, and Tsering Shakya's The Dragon in the Land of Snows.

by 1954

Over 200,000 members of PLA now stationed in Tibet , causing rampant famine conditions as country's subsistence agricultural system gets stretched beyond capacity. DL and Panchen Lama visit Beijing. At airport met by Zhou En-lai and Zhu De. DL, age 19, made Vice-Chairman of Standing Committee.


Despite revolutionary nature of new Chinese government, no attempts at first made to 'liberate' (socially reform) Tibet and other 'minority areas' on China's periphery - so long as Tibet willing to accept Chinese sovereignty, then Beijing is willing to accept 'feudal serf system', and the Tibetans were allowed a degree of political autonomy to run local affairs. This setup given name 'United Front'. In practical terms it meant alliance between Communists and Tibetan ruling class. However, this was not the case in areas east of the Yangtze, which were integrated directly into the administrative structure of the PRC, and social reforms were immediately pursued, thus attacking the power of the ruling class. So no surprise that it was in this area where the fighting began. In February, active resistance to Chinese occupation breaks out in several areas in Kham and Amdo, with heavy casualties inflicted on the Chinese army. Chinese troops relocate from western Tibet to Kham to strengthen forces to 100,000. PLA then began bombing and pillaging monasteries in Kham, arresting nobles, senior monks and guerrilla leaders.

late 1950's

With the imposition of communism, immigrants outnumbering Tibetans, alienation of the children (many of whom were shipped off east for a 'better' education), subversion of Tibetan culture, and the loss of Tibet’s self-rule, Tibet - and Lhasa in particular - was becoming increasingly politicised. Tibetans from all ranks are uniting in opposition of Chinese occupation.


Resistance leaders from Kham form Chushi Gangdruk ('Four Rivers, Six Ranges' - another name for Kham) guerrilla movement. Litang tribesmen (Lithangpas), renowned even amongst fierce Khampas for their fighting skills, take to hills and begin guerrilla campaign. CIA begins to arm and secretly train Khampan resistance fighters, in Colorado of all places. Another resistance movement, Tensung Danglang Maggar ('Volunteer Freedom Fighters for Tibet '), is formed; recruits soon number more than 5,000. They will eventually fight over 100 battles with Chinese, but in the end are out-manned and out-gunned. By Dec., Chinese military command threatening to bomb Lhasa and DL's palace if unrest not contained. To Lhasa's S and NE 20,000 guerrillas and several thousand civilians engaging with Chinese troops.

The Golok people, located largely in SE corner of Qinghai, were at first not completely averse to being ‘liberated’; the establishment of simple schools, hospitals and trading posts was quite well received. But by 1958, tired and wary of China’s increasing influence, they too finally joined the anti-Chinese resistance movement.


On 10 March begins start of a mass uprising in Lhasa. On night of March 17th the DL, along with family members and high officials, secretly leaves the Norbulingka, and crosses the Indian border 13 days later. Tens of thousands of refugees will follow in his path. On Mar. 19, fighting breaks out in Lhasa and continues for two days. An estimated 87,000 Tibetans die in anti-Chinese revolt.

Post Liberation, 1959 on


Current DL, going against tradition, attempts to merge all four orders under his authority. Although the late 16th Karmapa recognised DL's political authority, he led the other three in fighting consolidation.


Tibet's peasants herded into communes by collectivisation campaign.


DL approves democratic constitution for Tibetan exile community - a first in Tibetan history.


Panchen Lama arrested after sending Mao an open letter widely criticising party's treatment of Tibetans, especially policies of the Great Leap Forward.


China sets up Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which comprises an area equivalent to the pre-1950s Tibetan state which was governed from Lhasa, comprised of Ü-Tsang and W Kham.


United States recognises China's sovereignty over Tibet.


Cultural Revolution. Red Guards vandalise temples, attack 'four olds' (old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits).


Tibet put under PLA military rule in order to suppress overzealous Red Guards.


Following Nixon's rapprochement with China, the CIA cuts off military aid to Tibetan resistance fighters, effectively leaving many for dead.


Under pressure from China, Nepal forces Tibetan resistance fighters, who'd carried on in spite of the ending of US support, to abandon its base in Mustang. Many were then killed or imprisoned in Nepal.


DL receives Nobel Peace Prize.


DL recognises Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, age 6, as 11th Panchen Lama. Beijing denounces DL's choice, whisks boy away and proffers their own choice. DL-recognised Panchen Lama is youngest person on Amnesty's list of political prisoners.

1999 The 17th Karmapa (Urgyen Trinley Dorje), age 16, who'd been living in Lhasa, surprises everyone by fleeing to India. He's now being tutored by the DL.

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