Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Antiquities of Zhang Zhung
by John Vincent Bellezza
Edited by Geoffrey Barstow, Mickey Stockwell and Michael White
Tibetan & Himalayan Library
Published under the THL Digital Text License.

I.1. Residential Structures Occupying Summits: Fortresses, breastworks, religious buildings, palaces, and related edifices

Nam DzongGnam rdzong

Basic site data

  • Site name: Nam DzongGnam rdzong
  • English equivalent: Sky Fortress
  • Alternative site name: SemBsam rdzong brag dkar
  • English equivalent: Meditation Fortress White Rock Formation
  • Alternative site name 2: Semdzong DrakkarBsam rdzong brag mkhar
  • English equivalent: Meditation Fortress Rock Formation Castle
  • Site number: A-48
  • Typology: I.1c
  • Elevation: 5000 m to 5070 m
  • Administrative location (township): BaryangBar yangs
  • Administrative location (county): Drongpa’Brong pa
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: April 13, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS XI, HAS C5
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Sky Fortress is located just east of Dragon’s Nest (Drukmö Tsang’brug mo’i tshang), the relatively low-lying pass (4710 m) connecting BaryangBar yangs with TaraRta ra monastery. The site is named for Lhamo DrukmoLha mo 'brug mo after the wife of the epic hero, Ling GesarGling ge sar. The ancient fortifications are situated on subsidiary summits of the west half of the approximately 5300 m high Sky Fortress formation. The installation enjoys good views to the west and north and, in some places, to the southwest as well. Its defensive capability was certainly focused in these directions as Sky Fortress affords no protection from or advance notice of attack from the east. Sky Fortress consists of a broad network of dry-stone random-work defensive walls lacing the upper flanks of an eponymous limestone mount. The ramparts appear to have been less than 2 m in height, and were constructed from uncut pieces of limestone up to 1.2 m in length. The northern and western orientation of the site supports the oral tradition that military incursions took place from these directions. The ramparts, staggered at various levels across Sky Fortress, must have provided the defenders with significant vertical and lateral mobility, allowing the rock formation to function as an integrated defensive feature. In recent years, manima ṇi mantras have been carved into the limestone walls of the formation, reflecting the sacred nature of the locale.

Oral tradition

According to local legend, the Tibetan epic hero, Ling GesarGling ge sar, came to the Sky Fortress region to battle the king of TakzikStag gzig, King of Wealth (Norgyi Gyelponor gyi rgyal po). King of Wealth is said to have had his stronghold in the Tiger Gorge (Takrongstag rong) and ZikrongGzig rong valleys to the northwest. This king was very powerful like a tiger and very wealthy because the luklu (water spirits) were his patrons. The defeat of King of Wealth came when his army was routed in a surprise attack from Sky Fortress. GesarGe sar is said to have been so powerful that from Sky Fortress he could hit an enemy position with his bow and arrow, some 30 km to the north, a place which came to be known as Benkar Deu’Ben dkar rde’u (White Target Hill).

Site elements

East complex

This highest group of ruins consists of a retrenchment built on a narrow, flat summit. It measures 25 m in length and up to 1.3 m in height.30 In close proximity there remain small segments of other walls. Also in the vicinity there is a small natural tunnel called Wolf's Lair (Changtsangspyang tshang) and a natural archway, which are said to cure goats and sheep of diseases when they pass through these hidden features in the formation.

Central east complex

The central east complex is located farther west at a slightly lower elevation. This comprises the vestiges of an approximately 50 m long wall, set in a narrow ravine, which is squeezed between two steep limestone slopes. As this site has no open vistas, the relatively secret and sheltered location may have been used to garrison troops or store supplies. The area between the manmade wall and formation is only around 2 m wide. Potentially, this space could have been covered with tarpaulins to produce temporary shelters.

Central west complex

The central west complex is located farther west at lower elevation. This group of ruins straddles the top of a saddle with sweeping views to the north and west. The dispersion measures 80 m (north-south) by 30 m (east-west). There are also minor structural remains atop the formation west of the saddle. On the east side of the saddle, a wall seems to have spanned the 11 m wide base of a natural archway. This wall has been reduced to 7 m in length, and is a maximum of 1.5 m in height and 1.2 m in width. There are smaller structural traces found underneath and on top of the arch. Also on the saddle are four small limestone outcrops, with a total of at least six ruined structures each around 9 m² in area and 1.5 m or less in height. Called GesarGe sar’s incense brazier (sangkhangbsang khang), these structures must have functioned as surveillance posts or donjons. There may have been a rampart wall along the north rim of the central west complex saddle but not enough remains to make a determination. Just below the south side of the saddle, there is a defensive wall (30 m long, up to 1.5 m in height) enclosing the flanks of the formation.

West complex

The west complex is located directly below the steep south face of the central west complex. The most prominent ruin is known as GesarGe sar’s house (khangpakhang pa), a residential structure measuring 8 m (east-west) by 6 m (north-south). Walls up to 3 m in height have survived. These walls have a random-rubble, dry-stone fabric, in the same fashion as the ramparts. In the vicinity of GesarGe sar’s house, there are the vestiges of a lengthy rampart (100 m long) and other smaller structural remains. At approximately 20 m lower down there are walls 19 m and 21 m in length, enclosing a level area on the side of the formation. These walls are up to 1.6 m in height. A little to the west and at a slightly higher elevation there is another defensive wall (18 m long) that also appears to have once enclosed a shelf, which is now obscured by rock fall deposits.


[30] Unless otherwise noted dimensions provided throughout this work are for the maximum visual extent of the structure under appraisal. The dimensions of some structures can only be approximately determined because they do not readily lend themselves to measurement. In some cases, structures are partially obscured by soil or rubble, or sections are missing, rendering measurement difficult. Uncertainties may also arise in reference to the interface between manmade structures and the natural terrain. This has the effect of creating more or less arbitrary baseline measurements.

Note Citation for Page

John Vincent Bellezza, Antiquities of Zhang Zhung: A Comprehensive Inventory of Pre-Buddhist Archaeological Monuments on the Tibetan Upland (Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010), .

Bibliographic Citation

John Vincent Bellezza. Antiquities of Zhang Zhung: A Comprehensive Inventory of Pre-Buddhist Archaeological Monuments on the Tibetan Upland. Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010.