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

Hala KharHa la mkhar East

Basic site data

  • Site name: Hala KharHa la mkhar East
  • Site number: A-59
  • Site typology: I.1b
  • Elevation: 4320 m
  • Administrative location (township): Change Place of Residence Mountain Face
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda'
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: May 4, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, UTRS X, HAS C3
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Hala KharHa la mkhar East is situated on the opposite side of the HalaHa la valley from Hala KharHa la mkhar West (A-58). It is perched on the top of a badland crest at a significantly higher elevation. As such, Hala KharHa la mkhar East enjoys much more panoramic views than its counterpart. Both kharmkhar of HalaHa la are in eyeshot of one another. Hala KharHa la mkhar East is of a particular design found only at two other sites in GugéGu ge: Little Castle (Kharchungmkhar chung) (A-136) and Manam KharMa nam mkhar West (B-77). This earthen structure is composed of three parallel rows of tiny compartments. This edifice is likely to have functioned as a fortress or religious center, an installation that required many rooms (probably for the billeting of personnel). The higher, more difficult location of Hala KharHa la mkhar East may mean that it was a defensive bulwark against a fiercer, more persistent or wider-ranging enemy than those faced by Hala KharHa la mkhar West. At any rate, it exhibits a very different design pattern than the neighboring residential facility. This singular structure measures 32 m (north-south) by 14 m (east-west), and appears to have been built of adobe blocks. The very small size of the compartments and their relatively large number (around 18 in total) is not in keeping with the spatial arrangement of Buddhist monasteries in GugéGu ge nor elsewhere in Tibet. There is no permanent source of water at Hala KharHa la mkhar East and this essential commodity must have been hauled up from the valley below.

Oral tradition

Evidently none exists in the locale.

Site elements


Hala KharHa la mkhar East appears to have contained three rows of rooms with at least six rooms in each, which are oriented along the east-west axis of the structure. The south and north rows of compartments are set at a lower elevation than the middle or summit portion of the edifice. Very little of the ground plan remains in place and, due to the advanced level of degradation, the interface between the building and formation is not very clear in certain places. This extremely dissolved structure was probably built of adobe blocks. Had it been constructed of rammed-earth, traces of the orifices used in the assembly of the shuttering, should still be visible. Some of the light-colored mud walls are set on 50 cm high stone foundations. Below the summit, on the south side of the structure, there is a line of at least six rooms poised above the precipitous slopes of the formation. These rooms were divided by both stone and adobe partitions. In one room with standing wall segments (up to 1.2 m in height), the rear wall and one side wall are made of stone while the other side wall is of adobe. Each room in this row measures 2.5 m in width (east-west). The length of the south facing rooms is no longer determinable because their forward sections have slipped down the mountainside. The south line of rooms does not extend all the way to the east and west extremities of the remaining portion of the structure. Interposed between the summit row and south row of compartments there is a terrace or corridor (1 m to 1.5 m wide).

There also appears to have been a row of rooms along the north side of the structure, with a passageway between it and adjoining summit portion of the edifice, creating a symmetrical ground plan. The north line of rooms, however, is even more deteriorated than the south row. In the west half of the north row, some traces of partition walls are evident, while much of the east half of the row has disappeared down the slopes. Through erosive forces the summit portion of the building has been largely leveled. Small wall segments (up to 1.5 m in height) that abut the summit side of the two axial corridors have persisted. There is also an isolated interior wall partition (1.5 m high), which managed to remain standing in the middle of the summit. All other traces of the summit row of rooms have been washed away.

Affiliated sites

HalaHa la Buddhist ruins

In the bottom of the HalaHa la valley, there are a number of ruined chötenmchod rten, made with adobe blocks and wooden superstructures. There also appears to have been a small temple (a Mani LhakhangMa ṇi lha khang?) amid the chötenmchod rten. To the north there are the ruins of a larger temple. These Buddhist temples were destroyed before living memory. There was also a small Buddhist monastery suspended in the side of an escarpment north of the ruined castles, which was razed in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This site has around 12 caves, some of which were integrated into the buildings of the monastery. It is reported by local sources that this monastery once belonged to the SakyaSa skya sect, but in more recent times it devolved to NyingmaRnying ma practitioners. According to a knowledgeable native elder named dorjéRdo rje, one of the monastery’s main protectors was a tsenbtsan deity called Hala GyelpoHa la rgyal po.

Tönlo KharMthon lo mkhar

On the right side of the Change Place of Residence Mountain Face valley there are the remains of substantial historic epoch ruins called Lofty Harvest Castle (Tönlo Kharmthon lo mkhar). These remains are associated with a historical figure called Tönlo PalaMthon lo pha la. According to local lore, Tönlo PalaMthon lo pha la was a district leader (depönsde dpon) under the authority of nearby Dawa DzongMda' ba rdzong. He became displeased that a mountain to the east of his castle blocked much of the sunlight. He ordered his men to cut down the mountain, but this was an insuperable task and the workers eventually revolted and slew him. The west complex of the castle is found on a small outcrop and is dominated by two high elevation adobe block structures, the largest of which measures 8.5 m by 7.5 m. There are also the remains of stone-wall footings on the summit of the outcrop. On the steep south side of the outcrop, there is a dense collection of primarily stone foundations and fractional walls split between four main levels (20 m by 30 m). The east complex is situated on the opposite side of the main road and covers an area of no less than 700 m². It is comprised of highly degraded ruins of several large adobe and stone buildings.

ShediShel did

ShediShel did (sp.?), an extensive but highly dissolute dispersion, is located on an undulating shelf above the west bank of the Dongpo ChuGdong spo chu near the main bridge crossing (31° 07.4΄ N. lat. / 80° 07.2΄ E. long. / 4130 m). One elder of Change Place of Residence Mountain Face claimed that this was the original monastic site of the valley, but this information was contradicted by other local residents. It is said that some of the pits on the site represent the vestiges of old gold mining operations. The erstwhile cobble structures of ShediShel did appear to be the remains of a settlement. These structures have been reduced to piles of rubble and depressions in the ground. There are no cave complexes in Change Place of Residence Mountain Face so early forms of settlement would have had to rely on alternative forms of habitation. The northwest sector of the site (170 m maximum by 200 m) covers at least 12,000 m². The main road cuts right through this dispersion. A rammed-earth carcass (5 m by 13 m), found amid the northwest sector debris, is in keeping with monastic construction. The smaller southeast sector (90 m by 100 m) is concentrated on a prominence jutting out into the Dongpo ChuGdong spo chu. This dispersion contains disintegrated revetments concealed in the blanket of rubble, a clear sign that structures of some kind once stood here. Revetment fragments reach 1.5 m in height. A chötenmchod rten was built in the southeast sector in recent times, indicating the presence of a collective memory pertaining to a sacred site.


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.