Kham: Introduction

IMG_2182 Kham is the most geographically diverse area in Tibet. The grasslands of Kham are home to nomadic herders of yak, goats, and sheep. Kham also consists of evergreen forests as well as gorges and canyons formed by the Mekong, Yangtze, Yellow, and Salween Rivers, Numerous glaciated mountain ranges traverse the area including the Hengduan, Daxue, and Himalayas. The river valleys consist of small farms where food crops such as barley, chilies and cabbage, are raised.

Kham, for most of its history was, not governed from Lhasa. Kham sometimes referred to as being “far from Lhasa,” has a history of independent kingdoms fiercely defended by their inhabitants. As a consequence, Kham became known for being the home of the “warriors of Tibet.” Scholars have identified more than fourteen distinct ethnic groups, speaking variations of Tibetan or Qiangic languages, within Kham. All are now considered to be a part of a Tibetan nationality by the Chinese government.

Khampas may be Buddhist or Bön. Buddhist Gompas in Kham are associated with the Nyingma, Kagyu (pa), Sakya, Gelug, or Jonang schools. Kham is also home to the Rimé or non-sectarian Buddhist movement founded on Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo‘s (1820-1892) and Jamgön Kongtrül’s (1813-1899) efforts to collect Buddhist teachings from the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schools from across Tibet.

Bön, a religion believed to have originated in the eleventh century, while distinct from Buddhism, does share some teachings and practices with Tibetan Buddhism. Bön, is distinctive in the terma, or secret and hidden teachings, upon which it is based. Bön Gompas exist through out Tibet including Kham. People who primarily practice the Bön religion, or Bönpos, comprise an estimated ten percent of the Tibetan population.