Dolpo is a high-altitude snowy region located in the Dolpa district of the Karnali province in western Nepal. Nepal’s deepest lake, the famous 145 meter deep Phoksundo lake, is also found in Dolpo. As evident in historical documents, there were traditionally three regions—Tö Dolpo, Tsang Dolpo, and Ngari Dolpo. Furthermore, Nangkhong Tsosum, Bentsang Tsosum, Dotak Tsosum, and Dengshong Tsosum were known as the four corners of Dolpo. In modern times, the Nepali government has divided Dolpo into the three village districts of Dolpo Buddha, Shey Phoksundo, and Chharka Tangsong. Though the entire Dolpa district has a population of 36,700, Dolpo itself has a population of a little over 10,000. The principal livelihood of Dolpo is farming and pastoralism.
In the past, this region was subject to the eighteen Charu Jen kings of the Zhangzhung empire. During the period of fragmentation in Tibet, it came to be ruled under the Purang king, Tashi Gon, and his later descendants such as Yatse and so forth. Later, it became one of the thirteen sections of Ngari Gungthang and was progressively claimed by the king of Mustang, the Dolpo Ranag king, the Dzumlang king, and others. Around the year 1789, the Gorkha king brought Mustang and Dolpo under his control and, since then, it has been a part of Nepal.
As evident in the autobiography of Katok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu, the great master Padmasambhava first blessed the set of stupas known as “The Three Containers”—Riwo Bumpa, Padma Bumpa, and Guru Bumpa—in the 8th century, during the first spread of Dharma. The physician Khyolma Rutse, who was one of the nine court physicians summoned by Dharma King Trisong Detsen, was also from Dolpo. During the later spread of Dharma, Dolpo Sangye is said to have studied the Nyingma teachings in Dolpo’s earliest monastery, Kyideng Dolgyi Gonchik, which is clearly stated in his biography. The five children of Ngari Dolpo, the Dharma companions of the venerable Milarepa (d. 1135), were also from Dolpo. Later, the combination of Ngari Panchen Pema Wangyal (1487—1542) traveling three times to this area and Kathog Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (1698—1755) arriving to benefit beings acted as a cause for the Nyingma school to greatly flourish. In the same manner, Dolpo Jangchub Nyingpo, one of the four pillar students of the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (958—1055), came to Dolpo. The Sakya school also flourished in Dolpo due to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092—1158) giving teachings to the thirty Mahasiddhas and his student known as the “Yogi from Tsarkha” also travelling here. It was also at this time that the lamas and yogis of the Yangel family lineage of the Yungdrung Bon school arrived in Dolpo and established the Samling monastery, bringing about a vast proliferation of the Yungdrung Bon teachings. Students of Drikung Kyopa, such as Senge Yeshe, Nagpo Dzampa, and others founded holy site such as Shel Riwo Drugdra which brought about a flourishing of the Kagyu school as well. The elucidator of the Jonang school, the omniscient Dolpo Sangye (1292—1361) and his heart son, Jonang Chokle Namgyal, were both born in Dolpo.
The people of Dolpo are an ethnically Tibetan people who settled in this land some thousand years ago. Later, not only did a significant populace arrive from Ngari and Central Tibet, but also from the Kham region of Eastern Tibet. These migrations can be seen in traditional genealogy texts. The language of Dolpo is pure Tibetan and is remarkably similar with the Ngari dialects. Dolpo’s clothing and adornments are essentially identical to upper and lower Ngari, southern and northern Latö, and the majority of the Himalayan regions in Nepal such as upper and lower Mustang, Solukhumbu, and so forth. Yet, there are also many unique colors, patterns, and symbols exclusive to Dolpo.
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