Pema Dzong

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Landscape of Pema County, courtesy of

Pema (Tib. པདྨ་, Wyl. pad+ma), aka Pema Dzong (Tib. པདྨ་རྫོང་, Wyl. pad+ma rdzong, Chin. Bainma 斑玛), Padma, locally pronounced ‘Parma’, Banma County, is a county division of Golok.[1]

It is one of the most beautiful parts of Tibet. It lies south of the watershed range that divides the rolling grasslands of the Ma Chu (Yellow River) from the forested gorges of Gyalrong. Specifically, it occupies the upper reaches of the Mar Chu and Do Chu rivers. It is a county of south-eastern Qinghai Province, China, bordering Sichuan to the south.

Pema is the southernmost county-level division under the administration of Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. It is often thought of as the home of the wild Ngolok tribes feared throughout Tibet. The county is a sanctuary for protected wild animals such as white-lipped deer, leopard, snow leopard, pheasant, and golden eagle.[2][3][4]



Pema county occupies the upper reaches of the Mar Chu (Tib. སྨར་ཆུ་, Wyl. smar chu) and Do Chu (Tib. མདོ་ཆུ་, Wyl. mdo chu) (aka Dokok Chu) and shares borders with Darlak (Tib. དར་ལག་, Wyl. dar lag) in the north and west, Chikdril (Tib. གཅིག་སྒྲིལ་, Wyl. gcig sgril) in the north, Ngawa (Tib. རྔ་བ་, Wyl. rnga ba) in the east, Dzamtang (Tib. འཛམ་ཐང་, Wyl. ‘dzam thang) in the south and Serta (Tib. གསེར་ཐར་, Wyl. gser thar) in the south and west.[5]


Map of Pema, courtesy of Stewart Smith, The Monasteries of Amdo, Volume 1: East and South Amdo, 2017.

In the county’s west the Dokog Chu (Tib. མདོ་ཁོག་ཆུ་, Wyl. mdo khog chu) is the dominant river flowing southwards, later entering Dzamtang as the Dochu. In the east, the Mar Chu (Tib. སྨར་ཆུ་, Wyl. smar chu) is the county’s vein of life coming from Chikdril in the north and leaving to Dzamtang as well. [6].


Pema is a mountainous region with overlapping peaks, rivers, deep valleys, small grasslands and narrow river valleys. The altitude is about 4000 – 5000 meters. The main peak of Duoniang Mountain is 5,050 meters above sea level. Its terrain is relatively large with a slope of 40-60 degrees, and even 80 degrees at the maximum. The air is thin making it difficult to climb.


Pema County has a continental plateau climate, and temperature decreases with increase in altitude. July has an average monthly temperature of 11℃, while the end of January has an average monthly temperature of -9.8℃. However, there is rapid heating, rapid cooling, and temperature drop often is greater than temperature rise. Average annual precipitation in Pema county is between 665 mm and 767 mm. Annual average wind speed is 1.7 m/s. Among those, average wind speed from March to April is relatively high, above 2.0 meters per second, and from July to January about 1.5 meters per second.[7]


The main cities of Pema County are the following:

  • Chakri Tang (Tib. ལྕགས་རི་ཐང་, Wyl. lcags ri thang, Ch. Chakri Tang 江日堂) as about 3,000 residents and an elevation of 3,507 metres.[8]
  • Dimda (Tib. རྡི་མདའ་, Wyl. rdi mda’, Ch. Dimda 灯塔) has about 3,540 residents and an elevation of 3,281 metres.[9]
  • Dogongma (Tib. མདོ་གོང་མ་, Wyl. mdo gong ma, Ch. Dogongma 多贡麻) has about 2,140 residents and an elevation of 3,685 metres.[10]
  • Drupchen (Tib. གྲུབ་ཆེན་, Wyl. grub chen, Ch. Drupchen 知钦) has about 2,350 residents and an elevation of 3,740 meters.[11][12]
  • Kyimkar(Tib. ཀྱི་མཁར་, Wyl. kyi mkhar, Ch. Gyimkar 吉卡) has about 2,210 residents and an elevation of 3,865 metres.[13]
  • Markhok (Tib. སྨར་ཁོག་, Wyl. smar khog, Ch. Markog 泽达) as an elevation of 3,834 metres. [14]
  • Pema (Tib. པདྨ་རྫོང་, Wyl. pad+ma rdzong, Ch. Banma 斑玛) aka Selitang has about 7,000 residents and an elevation of 3,522 metres. It is the county seat. It lies in the upper Mar Chu valley. It is a small garden town, pleasantly situated amidst coniferous forest, which is being exploited for timber.[15]
  • Takar (Tib. སྟག་མཁར་, Wyl. stag mkhar, Ch. Tamkhar 多拉昂松多) has about 2,760 residents and an elevation of 3,971 metres.[16]
  • Yartang (Tib. ཡར་ཐང་, Wyl. yar thang, Ch. Yartang 亚尔堂乡) has about 2,500 residents and an elevation of 3,397 metres.[17]


In the valley of the Mar Chu river, which is 50 to 60 km long, about 45 sites of the Bronze Age were found certifying the early settlements within the Tibetan Plateau. According to historical records Tibetan farmers arrived to the region some 900 years ago and opened up the land for agriculture. Only three centuries later, the population had grown so much that some people had to become herdsmen and gradually taking possession of the vast grasslands in today’s Golok Prefecture. At that time, Buddhism started to spread among the Golok tribes (15th century). This early period is marked by activities of Nyingmapa teachers. More than a hundred years later, monks (and nuns?) of the Kagyü and Jonang found their way into the Goloks’ country with the Geluk latecomers not following until the mid-18th century. Pema county is different from the rest of the prefecture, not only because it owns some considerable expanse of forests in the southern valleys cutting into the highland steppes, but also for its cultural background. While most of the areas in Golok land were without monastic institutions until the 19th and even 20th centuries, Pema’s monasteries date back as far as 1493. The architectural features of the 23 monasteries are often extraordinary, and the large number of stupas of different shapes and sizes makes the valley of Pema a country of chorten. Long rows of these reliquary stupas and places of worship line roads and monasteries, seemingly numbering several hundreds, if not thousands, within the county bounds. Simply rebuilding and repairing the older sites did not satisfy the locals until they have set up new records. In 1996 a completely new monumental stupa was about half way to completion, probably exceeding 50 or 60 m in height. This huge structure at the lower end of Pema county seat, Selitang, is certainly the largest chorten all over the Tibetan Plateau, a single example of many more in the valley.[18][19]


Dharma Lineages

Pema county is dominated by the Nyingma school, with the sole exception of a single Jonang and a single Kagyü monastery.

Main Dharma Places

  • Chakri Tang Gon (Tib. ལྕགས་རི་ཐང་དགོན་, Wyl. lcags ri thang dgon) is a Nyingmapa establishment, founded by Khenpo Ngawang Palzang as a branch of Katok Monastery in 1937. The monastery is only 4 km southeast of town and its towering Zangdok Palri-style temple can be clearly seen from the town. The three storeys temple, which are partly original, are dedicated respectively to Padmasambhava, Avalokiteshvara, and Amitabha—the three buddha-bodies. The impressive hilltop building is encircled by a spacious ring of some 100 stupas and here high mani stone walls, which are all focal point for pilgrims.
  • Dodrup Chöde (Tib. མདོ་གྲུབ་ཆོས་སྡེ་, Wyl. mdo grub chos sde) is 107 km from the county town, it holds allegiance to Dzogchen and maintains the tradition of Rigdzin Jikme Lingpa.
  • Dodrupchen Monastery (Tib. རྡོ་གྲུབ་ཆེན་དགོན་གསང་ཆེན་དངོས་གྲུབ་དཔལ་འབར་གླིང་, Wyl. rdo grub chen dgon gsang chen dngos grub dpal ‘bar gling) aka Tsangchen Ngödrub Palbar Ling has 150 Nyingma monks in Drupchen. It was founded by the Second Dodrubchen, Dodrupchen Jikmé Puntsok Jungné, in the mid-19th century when the monks of its mother monastery, Yarlung Pemako in Sertal, fled north to escape the marauding army of Nyarong Gonpo Namgyal. An older tented monastery had been founded here in 1527 but destroyed by Mongolian forces during the civil war. At Dodrup Chode the tradition which is maintained is that of the 18th century tertön Jikme Lingpa, whose Longchen Nyingtik  cycle is widely practised throughout Tibet. The Second Dodrupchen Jikme Phuntosk Jungné, moved the monastic community from Tseringjong Monastery at Yarlung Pemako (also called Pemako Tsasum Khandroling) in neighbouring Serta to its present location in Pema Dzong, seeking to avoid the Nyarong disturbances, and building anew on the site of an ancient 13th-century Sakyapa monastery (once visited by Drogon Chögyal Pakpa). Subsequently, the new monastery was developed and expanded by the Third Dodrupchen Tenpei Nyima (1865-1926), the first son of Dudjom Lingpa. He was a renowned scholar who built the great temples of Dodrup Chode, and established a non-sectarian college as well as a meditation hermitage. The woodblocks for his published words were formerly housed here. In all, the monastery had 13 incarnate lamas and 250 monks until the 1950s. The woodblocks for his published works were formerly housed here. In all, the monastery had 13 incarnate lamas and 250 monks until the 1950s. Recent construction at Dodrupchen is largely due to the activity of Tulku Loyang. The present Fourth Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Thubten Trinle Pezlangpo [resided] at Chorten Monastery in Gangtok, Sikkim; and he also established a Buddhist temple in Massachusetts (USA).
  • Dogongma (Tib. མདོ་གོང་མ་, Wyl. mdo gong ma) is in the valley of the Kyilho Chu, a tributary of the Mar Chu. This important monastery is a branch of Katok Monastery, founded in 1840, with over 200 affiliated monks in Dogongma. Outside the temple by the river bank, there is a fine set of stupas symbolizing the deeds of Shakyamuni Buddha.
  • Dotok Mardo Tashi Gakyil (Tib. མདོ་ཐོག་དགོན་སྨ་མདོ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་དགའ་འཁྱིལ་ཆོས་གླིང་, Wyl. mdo thog dgon sma mdo bkra shis dga’ ‘khyil chos gling), aka Mardo Tashi Chöling Monastery has 150 Nyingma monks, and is located in Selitang. Dudjom Lingpa codified many of his treasures at this place, as numerous colophons in his works inform us about the location of Mardo Tashi Kyil.
  • Dimda (Tib. སྡི་མདའ་དགོན་བདེ་ཆེན་ཆོས་གླིང་, Wyl. sdi mda’ dgon bde chen chos gling) has 150 Nyingma monks. In Dimda. A branch monastery of Pelyül founded in the early decades of the 20th century.
  • Ekyong Gya (Tib. ཨེ་སྐྱོང་རྒྱ་དགོན་ངེས་དོན་རྟག་བསྟན་བཤད་སྒྲུབ་འཕེལ་རྒྱས་གླིང་, Wyl. e skyong rgya dgon nges don rtag bstan bshad sgrub ‘phel rgyas gling) has 150 Jonang monks. In Chakri. This was originally a Nyingmapa site, founded by Lama Trinlé Namgyal in 1367. Later, in 1716, it converted to the Jonangpa school under the authority of Lama Ngawang Tendzin Namgyal (1691-1738). The reconstructed assembly hall contains murals and statues representative of the Jonangpa tradition, along with the reliquary stupa of Tulku Sangye Dorje (d. 1984). An adjacent Serdungkhang contains the reliquary stupa of Lama Shel Drukpa and some original bronzes. These remarkable 30-m stupas, originally dating from 1856, have also been renovated within the complex. Their harmikas have painted eyes, somewhat reminiscent of those at the great stupas of Bouddha and Svayambhub in Nepal.
  • Getse (Tib. དགེ་རྩེ་, Wyl. dge rtse) has 30 Nyingma monks. In Dimda. A branch monastery of Pelyül founded in the early decades of the 20th century.
  • Gyüde (Tib. རྒྱུད་སྡེ་, Wyl. rgyud sde) is an isolated Kagyü monastery that survived in Pema county, 58 km south of Pema town, which was founded at the behest of the Eight Karmapa Mikyö Dorje in 1520. The monastery is impressively set with a narrow agricultural belt between the forested canyon and the rushing waters of the Mar Chu, spanned by an iron chain suspension bridge. [20][21]
  • Karnang Gongma (Tib. མཁར་ནང་གོང་མ་དགོན་ཐུབ་བསྟན་ཆོས་འཁོར་གླིང་, Wyl. mkhar nang gong ma dgon thub bstan chos ‘khor gling) has 130 Nyingma monks. In Tagkar.
  • Kyilung (Tib. ཀྱི་ལུང་དགོན་ཐུབ་བསྟན་བཤད་སྒྲུབ་དགའ་ཚལ་ནོར་བུའི་གླིང་, Wyl. kyi lung dgon thub bstan bshad sgrub dga’ tshal nor bu’i gling) has 150 Nyingma monks. In Kyikar.
  • Penak (Tib. པད་ནག་དགོན་, Wyl. pad nag dgon) has 50 Nyingma monks. In Sele. A Nyingma monastery of the Palyul tradition, founded in 1824, which was visited by noted female teacher Sera Khandro.
  • Taktok
  • Tsimda (Tib. རྩི་མདའི་དགོན་, Wyl. rtsi mda’i dgon) has 60 Nyingma monks. In Markok. It was founded by Apang Tertön in 1925.
  • Wangda

Main Teachers


  1. Emeric Yeshe Dorje, The History of the Düdjom Tersar Lineage, Volume 1: “Golok”, forthcoming.
  2. Gyurmé Dorjé, Tibet, Footprint, 3rd edition, p.645.
  4. Emeric Yeshe Dorje, The History of the Düdjom Tersar Lineage, Volume 1: “Golok”, forthcoming.
  5. Stewart Smith, The Monasteries of Amdo, Volume 1: East and South Amdo, 2017, Stewart Smith, p.246-247.
  6. Emeric Yeshe Dorje, The History of the Düdjom Tersar Lineage, Volume 1: “Golok”, forthcoming.
  12. Stewart Smith, The Monasteries of Amdo, Volume 1: East and South Amdo, 2017, Stewart Smith, p. 274-275
  18. Andreas Gruschke, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet’s Outer Provinces, Amdo, Volume 1. The Qinghai Parts of Amdo, White Lotus, 2001. Pp. 85-86
  19. Emeric Yeshe Dorje, The History of the Düdjom Tersar Lineage, forthcoming.
  20. Gyurmé Dorjé, Tibet, Footprint, 3rd edition, p.645.
  21. Stewart Smith, The Monasteries of Amdo, Volume 1: East and South Amdo, 2017, Stewart Smith, p. 139-140
  22. He might have been originally from the Geluk monastery of Sershul

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