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Larung Gar, in Serta, Golok

Serta (Tib. གསེར་རྟ, Wyl. gser rta, Chin. Sêrtar 色达县 ) aka Sertar (Tib. གསེར་ཐར་, Wyl. gser thar), Serthang (Tib གསེར་ཐང་, Wyl. gser thang), Sertal (Tib. གསེར་ཐལ་, Wyl. gser thal) is a county division in present day Gardzé prefecture (Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture), Sichuan (PRC), but culturally belongs to Golok.[1]

Serta is a stronghold of the Nyingma tradition, especially of the Dudjom Tersar lineage as it is the birthplace of Dudjom Lingpa. Serta is also where happened a lot of the activities of Sera Khandro and Khenpo Jikmé Phuntsok, who established there the famous Larung Gar there. It is also the home to many treasure places of the Dudjom Tersar. [2]



Serta is high in northwest and low in southeast. The entire terrain slopes from northwest to southeast, with an average elevation of 4127 meters. A few peaks protrude from the plateau surface at 700-900 meters. The plateau above 4000 meters is a typical hilly plateau landform, with a relative height of 500- 1000 meters. As such, Serta can be divided into two distinct geographical sections.

First, the nomad pasturelands of the north and central area known as Golok Serta, aka Golok Sertar (Tib. མགོ་ལོག་གསེར་ཐར་, Wyl. mgo log gser thar) which lies within the Amdo sphere of influence. Since these hills are less steep than the gorges downstream, they have been heavily logged. Until the recently imposed ban on logging, many convoys of trucks could be seen transporting lumber to Chengdu. The administrative seat of Serta county, Serkhog, lies in the upper part, circa 650 km from Chengdu. Second, the lower-lying of the south is quite densely forested. It falls largely within the Gyal Rong (Tib. རྒྱལ་རོང་, Wyl. rgyal rong) sphere of influence. [3]

There are many streams and rivers in the northwest, dense swamps, and Se’erba (Serwa) valley below 3500, the rivers are deep and severely eroded by flowing water. Serta has a total area of 9,339 square kilometers, of which the plateau area accounts for about 84%; the mountain plains account for 15%; and flat field area accounts for 1%.

Serta is bordered by Darlak (Tib. དར་ལག་, Wyl. dar lag) and Pema Dzong (Tib. པདྨ་, Wyl. pad+ma) counties in the north, Dzamtang (Tib. འཛམ་ཐང་, Wyl. ‘dzam thang) in the east, Drak Go (Tib. བྲག་མགོ་, Wyl. brag mgo) in the south and Kardzé (Tib. དཀར་མཛེས་, Wyl. dkar mdzes) in the west. [4]

Consequently, the north western edge of Serta county gradually leads into Kham, by way of Kandse first and then heading into Dzachukha/Serchul counties. The mountain range to the south marks the borderline with the Geluk realm of Drango in Kham, although monasteries in the northern part of Kham are predominantly adherents of the Nyingma.


The climate in Sertar county is severe with a long winter and no summer. Frost and snow may appear during all four seasons. The oxygen content of the atmosphere is less than 60% of the standard. Annual average sunshine time is 2451 hours. Annual average temperature is -0.16℃, average temperature in January is -11.1℃, average temperature in July is 9.9℃, the extreme minimum temperature is -36.3℃, and the extreme maximum temperature is 23.7℃. Average precipitation is 654 mm, the monsoon lasts for 7 months, and strong winds above level 8 reach 68 days a year on average. The multi-year average frost-free period in the whole territory is 21 days. The area below 3700 meters above sea level is slightly longer, and there is no absolute frost-free period in high-altitude areas. [5]


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

Serta is structured around the valley of the Ser Chu (Tib. གསེར་ཆུ་, Wyl. gser chu), with its source from the western part of the county flowing west to east

Below the Serwa township, the Ser Chu joins the Do Chu, keeping the name of either Ser Chu or Do Chu, it continues to flow east before its confluence with the Mar Chu where it is known as the Gyal Rong Gnul Chu (Tib. རྒྱལ་རོང་དངུལ་ཆུ་, Wyl. rgyal rong gnul chu) aka Gyalrong or Gyarong (itself a tributary of the Yangtsé (Tib. དྲི་ཆུ་,Wyl. dri Chu, Ch. Jinsha Jiang/Huang Hé).

Serta county is crossed by several other rivers, among them the Nyi Chu (Tib. རྙི་ཆུ་, Wyl. rnyi chu) and the Da Chu (Tib. ཟླ་ཆུ་, Wyl. zla chu), whose valleys run parallel from north to south through the county. As in the southwest, Serta is framed by the Yangtsé river where it touches one of the typical gorges of Kham, its lower part is considered to be part of Kham.[6]


The main mountains of Serta county are the following:

  • Drongri Mukpo (Tib. འབྲོང་རི་, Wyl. ’brong ri), aka Zhuri mountain.


The main road in Sertar county follows the Ser Chu downstream from Serkhok to an important intersection at Serwa, above its confluence with the Do Chu. In the summer months this road may be blocked due to flooding waters of the Ser Chu. [7]

The county capital is located at Serkhog (Wyl. gser khog, Ch. Sêrtar) also called present-day Kandzé prefecture, 159 km southeast of the Qinghai-Sichuan border. [8]

The main towns of Serta county are the following:

  • Choktsang (Tib. མཆོག་གཙང་, Wyl. mchog gtsang, Ch. Tazi 塔子乡)[9]
  • Dartsang (Tib. བརྡར་ཚང་, Wyl. brdar tshang, Ch. Dazhang大章乡)[10]
  • Drango
  • Golatang (Tib. གོ་ལ་ཐང་, Wyl. go la thang, Ch. Gēlètuó 歌乐沱乡 )[11]
  • Gyashö (Tib. རྒྱ་ཤོད་, Wyl. rgya shod, Ch. Jiaxue 甲学乡)[12]
  • Horshül (Tib. ཧོར་ཤུལ་, Wyl. hor shul, Ch. Horxü 霍西乡)[13]
  • Khekor (Tib. ཁེས་སྐོར་, Wyl. khes skor, Ch. Kègē 克戈乡)[14]
  • Khenleb (Tib. མཁན་ལེབ་, Wyl. mkhan leb, Ch. Kainiep 康勒乡)[15]
  • Nubzur (Tib . གནུབ་ཟུར་, Wyl. gnub zur, Ch. Loro/Nubsur 洛若镇)[16]
  • Nyenlung (Tib. གཉན་ལུང་, Wyl. gnyan lung, Ch. Nyainlung (年龙乡)[17]
  • Nyitö (Tib. རྙི་སྟོད་, Wyl. rnyi stod, Ch. níduǒ zhèn 泥朵乡)[18]
  • Pomda (Tib. སྤོ་མདའ་, Wyl. spo mda’, Ch. Wengda 翁达镇)[19]
  • Raktram (Tib. རགས་བཀྲམ་, Wyl. rags bkram, Ch. Ranchongxiang 然充乡)[20]
  • Serkhog (Tib. གསེར་ཁོག་, Wyl. gser khog, Ch. Sêrtar 色达县)[21]
  • Serwa
  • Sheldrup (Tib. ཤེལ་གྲུབ་, Wyl. shel grub, Ch. Xuji 旭日)[22]
  • Taktse (Tib. སྟག་རྩེ་, Wyl. stag rtse, Ch. Daze 大则乡)[23]
  • Yango (Tib. ཡངས་འགོ་, Wyl. yangs ‘go, Ch. Yangge 杨各乡)
  • Yarlung (Tib. ཡར་ལུང་, Wyl. yar lung, Ch. Yalongxiang 亚龙乡)[24]


Serta county remained out of the public eye for obvious reasons just as the many areas of the western world have, in order to be of importance, there needs to be the prospect of something to gain. The same goes for the regions in Europe, imagine France’s Auvergne, Nova Scotia in Canada or any other region you are familiar with.

Serta was off the long-established trade routes from Central Tibet to far above Amdo and below in Kham. Settling in Serta was no of no objective either as the land provided little sustenance. Given Serta’s proximity to China, there has likely been a considerable cultural influence throughout the centuries culminating in the coexistence of ethnic Tibetan and Chinese students living in Larung Gar as of now. Apart from mentioning its name, the county of Serta is almost absent in regard to historical Tibetan sources as well western travelogues. As an exclusively pastoral region, Serta had never been a centre of cultural history in eastern Tibet. Furthermore, it was part of the realm of the ill-famed Golok Serta tribes, usually seen as led by warlords marauding in the neighbouring provinces of Kham and Amdo. It is likely that Serta was never visited by foreign enquirers before the Chinese communist invasion. Although the main part of Serta county itself is pastoral, it is replete with large and small- monasteries. As of now, the area is not open to foreigners, however in recent years many westerners have visited Larung Gar, one of the world’s biggest Buddhist monasteries and the largest settlement in Serta.

Also, the lower Ser Chu valley is a country of wealthy peasants who have built huge fortress-like farmhouses which reflect the region’s abundance in stone and wood.

The houses in Serta county are often grouped in hamlets or small villages; they are of sone and square-shaped, of fortress-like dimensions, with low doors and occasional slit windows pierced only in upper floors to guard against attacks and thunderstorms. The houses are usually perched on high eminences. The have either two or three floors, with wooden overhanging balconies, and are topped by enormous open lofts used to store and dry the corn.[25]


Dharma Lineages

Serta county is a stronghold of the Nyingma tradition, and especially of the Palyul lineage, which predominates there with many larger and smaller institutions all over. The main monasteries are on the right and left bank of the Ser Chu river, but there are several small monasteries in the villages and on the grasslands further north. The main tradition lineages practised are those related to:

Main Dharma Places

  • Awo Sera (Tib. ཨ་བོ་སེ་ར་དགོན་ཐེག་ཆེན་ཆོས་འཁོར་གླིང་, Wyl. a bo se ra dgon theg chen chos ‘khor gling) is a monastery of the Palyul Nyingma tradition, housing 180 monks at present.
  • Dartsang Kalzang Gompa aka Kalpa Zangpo Gompa (Tib. བརྡ་ཚང་བསྐལ་བཟང་དགོན་, Wyl. brda tshang bskal bzang dgon), with 135 monks at present is the historical seat of Dudjom Lingpa.
  • Dungkar Monastery (Tib. དུང་དཀར་དགོན་གསང་སྔགས་སྨིན་གྲོལ་གླིང་, Wyl. dung dkar dgon gsang sngags smin grol gling) is a monastery of the Nyingma tradition of Mindroling, housing 305 monks at present. It is located the Sekhog township.
  • Gogen Chorten or Düdül Chorten means “Stupa that subdues demons“, it is 1.5 kilometers away from the county seat. The tower was built in 1913. Its base is about 100 meters long, 52 meters high, a total of 9 floors, it is stone and wood structure. It is the highest Tibetan Buddhist stupa in Sichuan Province.
  • Horshul Gön (Tib. ཧོར་ཤུལ་དགོན་, Wyl. hor shul dgon) is a branch of the Palyul tradition of the Nyingmapa. The famous Degyal Rinpoche, founder of the Namkha Khyung Dzong Tradition tradition, was originally ordained there. At present, it houses 150 monks.
  • Khordong Monastery (Tib. འཁོར་གདོང་དགོན་, Wyl. 'khor gdong dgon) aka Khandong Gon, the Jangter (Wyl. byang gter), Northern Treasures) was the seat of the late Chimé Rigdzin Rinpoche, the 3rd Khordong Terchen. The monastery was founded by the 1st Khordong Terchen who revealed sibling-treasures to the Northern Treasures of Rigzin Gödemchen. Along with Bane Gon, another monastery of the Khordong, it is in the Nyi valled. The nomads of this area are tough and not particularly hospitable to strangers. Shugchung monastery in the Do valley is third monastery of Khordong, which had at times up to 300 monks.
  • Larung Gar (Tib. བླ་རུང་སྒར་, Wyl. bla rung sgar) is not only the biggest monastery in the Sertar area, but the biggest worldwide.
  • Lhatsé Sangngak Tenpel Ling (Tib. ལྷ་རྩེ་གསང་སྔགས་བསྟན་འཕེལ་གླིང་, Wyl. lha rtse gsang sngags bstan ‘phel gling) is a monastery of the Nyingma tradition, housing 300 monks at present. It is located the Gyashö (rgya shod) township. In the center of the monastery, a nine-storied tower has been erected indicating a close connection to the Kagyü tradition as those towers are built to honor the hardships of Milarepa under his master Marpa the translator.
  • Nubzur Gön (Tib. གནུབ་ཟུར་དགོན་, Wyl. gnub zur dgon) aka Ser Nubzur Gön, is the principal monastery in the town of Nubzur. It was the original seat of Khenpo Jikme Phuntsok before he moved to Larung Gar. At present, it houses 200 monks.
  • Nyenlung (Tib. གཉན་ལུང་, Wyl. gnyan lung) Monastery was rebuilt since the 1980’s forward by Tare Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche. Both of them lived there together from 1980 until Tare Lhamo’s death in 2002. Bochung Rusal Me Gon is close by.
  • Rahor Monastery (Tib. ར་ཧོར་དགོན་, Wyl. ra hor dgon) in Tsangto township, is a branch of Dzogchen Monastery which is the seat of Rahor Khenpo Thubten, now a resident in Switzerland.
  • Shyichen Kharmar Sang-me Monastery (Tib. གཞི་ཆེན་མཁར་དམར་གསང་སྔགས་བཏེན་རྒྱས་གླིང་, Wyl. gzhi chen mkhar dmar gsang sngags bten rgyas gling)) aka Shyichen Monastery in Nyichu, is a branch of Katok Monastery with over 1,000 monks. It was the home to Shyichen Bairo Rinpoche, father to the present Gyalwang Drukpa.
  • Taklung Gon (Wyl. stag lung dgon) is a smaller monastery with 200 monks is located nearby Shyichen Monastery.
  • Tengye monastery (Tib. བསྟན་རྒྱས་དགོན་དཔལ་རི་འོད་གསལ་ཆོས་འཁོར་གླིང་, Wyl. bstan rgyas dgon dpal ri ‘od gsal chos ‘khor gling) is a monastery of the Nyingma tradition, housing 400 monks at present. It is located the Shedrup (shel grub) township.
  • Yarlung Pemako (Tib. ཡར་ལུང་པདྨ་བཀོད་, Wyl. yar lung pad+ma bkod) aka Pemako Tsasum Khandro Ling aka Tseringjong Monastery is only 11 km north of the county capital Serkhog. It was founded by the First Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Dodrupchen Jikme Trinle Özer, on his return from Central Tibet, and therefore follows the Longchen Nyingtik tradition of Jikmé Lingpa. There is a Guru Lhakhang below the motor road. It contains a large image of Padmakara above floor level, with assorted images of Vajrasattva, Shakyamuni and other figures beneath. The murals are in the Repkong style and are kept covered for protection. The side walls also have 1,000 small icons of Shakyamuni and Padmasambhava. The assembly hall (Dukhang) is located above the motor road, alongside the Mani Lhakhang and a set of the eight stupas symbolizing the deeds of Shakyamuni Buddha. The head Lama called Yarlung Dodrupchen, has supervised the reconstruction since 1984, generally resides at Serkhog. At present about 100 monks reside in the monastery.[26]

Main Teachers


  1. Emeric Yeshe Dorje, The History of the Dudjom Tersar Lineage, Volume 1: “Golok”, forthcoming.
  2. Emeric Yeshe Dorje, The History of the Düdjom Tersar Lineage, Volume 1: “Golok”, forthcoming.
  3. Gyurmé Dorjé, Tibet, Footprint, 3rd edition, p.645.
  4. Stewart Smith, The Monasteries of Amdo, Volume 1: East and South Amdo, 2017, Stewart Smith, p.129.
  6. Emeric Yeshe Dorje, The History of the Dudjom Tersar Lineage, Volume 1: “Golok”, forthcoming.
  7. Gyurmé Dorjé, Tibet, Footprint, 3rd edition, p.645.
  8. Gyurmé Dorjé, Tibet, Footprint, 3rd edition, p.645.
  25. Andreas Gruschke, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet’s Outer Provinces AMDO, Volume 2. The Gansu and Sichuan Parts of Amdo, White Lotus, 2001
  26. Stewart Smith, The Monasteries of Amdo, Volume 1: East and South Amdo, 2017

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