Patrul Rinpoche was born in the Male Earth Dragon Year (1808), at Karchung Khormo Olu, in the Dzachukha region of Kham.8 Located near the northernmost of the six ranges of Kham, Dzachukha is the remote high-altitude grassland along the Dza River, the faraway source of the Mekong.
The air there is thin, the sky horizon vast and bright. The region features wide plains curling between rolling hills that later rise up into glaciered snow mountains.
There are few farmers in Dzachukha, as only a handful of crops can survive the harsh, short-summered climate. Most who dwell on the high-altitude pastures are nomadic herders whose livelihood has depended for thousands of years on raising horses, yak, and sheep. With no permanent abode beyond their yak-hair tents, these pastoral nomads are constantly on the move, changing locations two to four times a year, driving their precious livestock from one high grassland to another, moving according to the seasons, in search of the best pasturage for grazing.
At the time of Patrul’s birth, the Chögyal (King) of Derge ruled Dzachukha. Patrul’s father’s family belonged to the Upper Getse branch of the celestially descended Mukpo Dong clan that had provided thirty-five hereditary ministers to the Kings of Derge. Patrul’s father was called Gyaltok Lhawang; his mother was Drolma, daughter of the Je-Ngö family of Dromza. They lived in a prosperous nomadic community at Dru Karchung Khohor, also known as Khormo Olu, in Upper Getse, in Dzachukha.
He thus spent his early years in the peaceful, vast, and open landscape of the high-altitude plateaus and rolling hills surrounding the upper course of the Mekong River, blanketed with a myriad of flowers in the height of summer and parched by frost in the harsh winters. These are places where the outer landscapes are naturally conducive to an expansive inner life and contemplative practice.
- The Dza River (rdza chu) becomes the Mekong after it leaves Tibet.
- The Mukpo Dong (“Maroon-Faced”) clan belongs to the Dongshakar (gdong zhwa dkar) family lineage that produced many ministers to the King of Derge.