The Accidental Pilgrimage of a Rich Beggar: The Account of tshong dpon Kha stag ʼDzam yag’s Travels through Tibet, Nepal, and India (1944–1956)


Lucia M.S. Galli

PhD defended at: 

University of Oxford


The Tibetan literary corpus offers a wide array of (auto)biographical accounts; Tibetans have been recollecting—and narrating—life stories in earnest since the “later diffusion” (Tib. phyi dar) of Buddhism in the 11th century. The hybrid essence of life writing, suspended between fact and fiction, finds a perfect expression in the text at the core of the present dissertation, i.e. the journal (Tib. nyin deb) of a 20th century Khams pa trader, Kha stag ʼDzam yag. The text records the events, travels, and impressions experienced by the author between 1944 and 1956; structured like a diary, this autodiegetic text, originally written in a scroll–paper format, was later edited and finally published in India in 1997.
Two different heuristic devices, i.e. narratology and socio–economic analysis, are used in the present dissertation to analyse the structure and content of the nyin deb, as well as the author’s idiosyncrasies emerging from the process of narrativisation. Whereas the narratological approach allows the identification of the interplay of memory, self, and culture in the socio–historical context of mid–20th century Tibet, the socio–economic analysis reflects on the nyin deb as a form of social history rather than personal narrative. The identification of “true”, historical facts confirms the author’s claims to factuality, thus providing unique information and insight regarding the political and economic role of Khams pa traders in 1940s–1950s Tibet, as well as the development of new pilgrimage rituals and the emergence of forms of “spiritual tourism” in modern India.