Kham is found in the southeast region of the Tibetan Plateau. It covers nearly 900,000 square kilometers and has a Tibetan population of over 2 million.
Kham is spread across 4 provinces of China after 1959...the eastern area of the centrel Tibet (TAR), southern Qinghai, western Sichuan and far northwest Yunnan.
The western part of Kham consists more or less of what is now the Chamdo district of Tibetan Autonomous Region, the northern Kham lies in Qinghai's Yushu , its southernmost part is in Sichuan's Muli, and Yunnan's Dechen (Chi. Deqing or Zhongdian).
Kham has a wide range of geography. The northern parts consist mostly of high elevation grasslands above 4000m (13,120 feet). Many nomads can be found here herding their yaks and sheep. The eastern areas sit between 2500m and 3500m (8200 feet and 11,480 feet) and are covered in thick evergreen forests. High snow-capped mountains are found throughout Kham.
Kham Tibetans are known as the warriors of Tibet. Men often wearing a black or red sashe woven in the long hair (it is called Daori in Tibetan ). Knives are often carried on side. Despite the fierce looking appearance, the people of Kham are very friendly and fun loving. Kham is far from the cities of Lhasa, Xining or Chengdu. There are no large cities in Kham. Some of the largest towns are Chamdo, Nagchu,Jyekundo, Nangchen, Kangding, Litang, and Dege. Few foreign travelers make it to this remote, but amazing region of Tibet. A trip to Kham promises to be adventurous and memorable.
The region of Kham was traditionally known as chuzhi gangdruk, i.e. 'four rivers and six ranges'. The four rivers are: the Salween (Tib. Ngul-chu, Chi. Nu jiang), the Mekong (Tib. Da-chu, Chi. Lancang jiang), the Yangtze (Tib. Dri-chu, Chi. Chang jiang), and the Yalong (Tib. Dza-chu/Nya-chu, Chi. Yalong jiang). The six highland ranges which form the watersheds for these river systems are the Tsawagang range (5100-6700m) which includes the fabled snow peaks and glaciers of Mount Kawa Karpo (6702m) and which lies between the Salween and the Mekong; the Markhamgang range (Chi. Ningjing Shan 5100-5700m) which lies between the Mekong and the Yangtze; the Zelmogang range (4800-5400m) between the northern reaches of Yangtze and Yalong; the Poborgang range (4800-5600m) lies between the southern Yangtze and the lower Yalong; the Mardzagang (5100-5700m) occupying the area between the upper Yalong and the Yellow River; and lastly the Minyak Rabgang range (4800-7750m) including Mount Minyak Gangkar (7756m), the highest mountain in Kham, which lies between the lower Yalong and the Gyarong.
Since the disintegration of the Tibetan Yarlung Dynasty following the death of King Langdarma (the infamous king who destroyed Buddhism in the 10th century), for most part of their history, the kingdoms and tribal confederations of Kham, whether nomadic or sedentary, until the last century had aggressively maintained their independence from Lhasa and were always at war with each other. In recent history, the most important states in Kham were the five kingdoms of Chakla, Derge, Lingtsang, Nangchen and Lhathok, ruled by hereditary kings (Tib. gyalpo); the five agricultural states of Trehor Drango, Kangsar, Mazur, Trewo and Beri, ruled by hereditary chieftains (Tib. ponpo); the nomadic clans of Dzachuka, Nyarong, Sangen, Gonjo and Khyungpo, also ruled by hereditary chieftains; the southern states of Batang, Litang, Markham, Tsawarong and Powo, governed by Lhasa-appointed regents; and the western states of Chamdo, Drayab, Riwoche, Gyarong and Mili, governed by aristocratic lamas. Today, the 47 counties of Kham are included in the four provinces, namely Tibet Autonomous Region, Yunnan, Qinghai and Sichuan.
There are many sacred sites in Kham, blessed by Padmasambhava who concealed many terma teachings in many places, particularly in the great twenty-five power places, which have primary and secondary affinities with either Buddha's body, speech, mind, attributes or activities. A few of them are in Nangchen - Khala Rongo (secondary site for Buddha's attributes); Nabun Dzong (secondary site for Buddha's mind); and Khandro Bundzong in lower Nangchen (secondary site for Buddha's attributes).
The renowned Khampagar Monastery, abode of the successive reincarnations of Khamtrul Rinpoches, is located in Lhathok (Chi. Latuo), one of the five formerly independent kingdoms of Kham, presently within the Chamdo prefecture. Khampagar Monastery, also known as Phuntsok Chokhor Ling, was founded by the Third Khamtrul Rinpoche Ngawang Kunga Tenzin (1680 - 1728), under the patronage of the local king Og Lhathok. From here, the Drukpa Lineage flourished. Tshechu Monastery and its various branches are actually branches of Khampagar Monastery.
The people of Kham, or Khampa, are very different from other Tibetans, not only by their robust physique, colorful dress and braided coiffure, but also their dialects and social customs.