This Lithang Monastery blogpost is the first of an occasional series I plan to write about historic sites in Kham from the perspective of their architecture and secular history. My main objective is to draw from the writings of explorers and others whose accounts covered a lot of ground geographically but whose timespan was only a few years, and then rearrange those records into histories that are tightly focused on a single place but look back deeply in time. Local histories do much to explain the feelings and attitudes of people living in those places today.
As readers of my books know, I have long been active in documentation and conservation of historic structures in Kham; this series will give me an opportunity to bring to light unpublished materials I’ve collected. Added to this is my personal library of books written by early foreign visitors to Kham – books that contain a wealth of observations of places like Rongpatsa and Bathang. Without access to (and ability to read) primary sources, I cannot pretend that these blogposts will be groundbreaking, and they will be far from comprehensive, but I hope they will inspire scholars to take up a more complete study of these places that are often viewed as peripheral but that are, to their inhabitants at least, centers of large and important worlds.
Where my sources disagree on factual matters, I give the information that I feel is most credible. If better information comes along, I will update the blogs. If you, dear reader, have better information, please use the contact page to let me know and tell me your source.
For internal consistency, I have liberally adjusted spellings, but I have not converted units from imperial to metric, leaving them as originally written in the source documents. In my own writing, I have adopted the terms “chieftain” and “chiefdom” in place of the words “king” and “kingdom” because they are a better fit for a place and time where political power was not absolute, but rather was maintained through negotiation and accommodation with one’s neighbors.