Yolmo (Helambu) is an area that lies on the southern slopes of the main Himalayan range within Nepal, northeast of Kathmandu, mainly in Sindhupalchok district. It is often mentioned as Sbas yul Yol mo gangs ra in old Tibetan sources, the ‘Hidden Land of Yolmo Snow Enclosure’. The area is located between two old trade routes, one leading from Kyirong, the other from Nyalam to the Kathmandu valley.

There was relatively little research done in Yolmo compared to its easy access and close proximity to the Kathmandu valley, however, some great scholars like Graham E. Clarke, Robert Desjarlais and Franz-Karl Ehrhard made lasting contributions to the study of Yolmo and its unique culture and history. The Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project conducted extensive field research photographing old manuscripts in the area, still, many of the Tibetan texts have never been researched and published, although they are available on microfilm at the National Archive in Kathmandu or in a digital form on BDRC (Buddhist Digital Resource Center). Therefore, the aim of my contribution is to explore a few of these Tibetan texts, mainly biographies of Tibetan lamas, who played an important role in the 17-18th century in the religious life of Yolmo, and also acted as intermediaries between Tibet and Nepal. Two texts I will extensively quote from are biographies of the fourth Yolmowa Tulku Zilnon Wangyal Dorje (1647-1716), and Nyima Sengge (1687-1738), the founder of Tarkeghyang village.

Rigzin Zilnon Wangyal Dorje (1647-1716) in his early age was recognized as the Forth Yolmowa Tulku, the reincarnation of Tenzin Norbu, the regent of Dorje Drag Monastery, the centre of the Northern Treasure tradition in Tibet. He completed his monastic studies already at the age of eleven, and he was ordained when he turned thirteen by the 5th Dalai Lama, who gave him the name Zilnon Wangyal Dorje. He received all the teachings, transmissions and empowerments of the Northern Treasure lineage from the 5th Dalai Lama. Zilnon Wangyal Dorje not only travelled widely in Tibet, but also spent years of meditation in Yolmo Gangra and had a close contact with the kings of Gorkha and Kathmandu. His sister was given in marriage to King Pratap Malla (1641-1674). As many other Yolmowa Tulkus, he renovated and consecrated the Bodhnath stupa twice during his lifetime and he was the overseer of the temples of Yolmo Gangra.

The biography of Terbon Nyima Sengge (1687-1738), the Chariot of Certainty (Nges shes ’dren pa’i shing rta), was recorded by his son Thrinle Dudjom, the 5th Yolmowa Tulku. According to this account, Nyima Sengge was born in Mangyul, and he was active as the steward of the Jamtrin (Byams sprin) Temple in southern Tibet. He widely travelled in the Himalaya doing meditation retreats and visited the Kathmandu Valley to renovate the two great stupas, the Jarung Khashor (Bya rung kha shor) and the Swayambhu (’Phags pa shing kun). After his return to Mangyul, plague broke out in the Kathmandu valley, and King Jagajjaya Malla (1722-1734), the ruler of independent Kathmandu invited him back to perform Tantric rituals in order to stop the epidemic. After his success, he was granted land by the king in Yolmo, and this gift was documented on two copperplates.

By a close reading of these old, so far unpublished manuscripts, I hope to shed some light not only on the political and religious contacts between Tibet and Nepal, but also on the relationship between borderland and centre, the Himalayan region and the Kathmandu valley during these centuries.

[1] Monica Lohani Rani Pokhari reconstruction halted; to be restored to Malla-era design. The Himalayan Times. 28/12/2017. https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/rani-pokhari-reconstruction-halted-to-be-restored-to-malla-era-design/

[2] Dipesh Risal In the name of love: The Rani Pokhari Story 14/1/2018 Kathmandu Post

[3] Mahlmann, Heinrich [Editor]; Oriolla, … von [Editor]; Humboldt, Alexander von [Auth. o. Intro.] Zur Erinnerung an die Reise des Prinzen Waldemar von Preussen nach Indien in den Jahren 1844 – 1846 (Band 2) — Berlin, 1853

[4] Prakriti Giri. (2009). Song: Gorkhaland ko nimmti. Album: Hamro Chinha Gorkhaland Jo Pura Hunchaiyeh Huncha. Dawa Bomzon, Lyrics. Ajnish Rai, Comp., Music. Darjeeling: Gorkha Prathamik Siksha Sangathan (GPTA).

[5] Bhanu ra Pala. Part 2. (2009). (Drama). Kalimpong:  Pratibimab Natak Dalli.

[6]  Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991).