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

TsarangRtsa rang

Basic site data

  • Site name: TsarangRtsa rang
  • Site number: A-62
  • Site typology: I.1b
  • Elevation: 3980 m
  • Administrative location (township): TsarangRtsa rang
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda'
  • Survey expedition: UTAE, and during the production of the documentary film Guge: Tibet’s Lost Kingdom (June 2006)
  • Survey date: May 9 and October 23, 2001; June 2006
  • Contemporary usage: Restored Buddhist temples and a museum.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: Many types.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C2
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The large Buddhist monastic complex and elite residence of TsarangRtsa rang was founded well after the second diffusion of Buddhism (tenpa chidarbstan pa phyi dar).48 On the summit of the flat-topped hill there are the ruins of a GugéGu ge palace as well as a network of tunnels and chambers inside the formation. These were used for the storage of provisions, not as a winter palace, as is sometimes claimed. No archaic structural remains have been detected at TsarangRtsa rang. Nevertheless, there is speculation among the BönpoBon po that TsarangRtsa rang was occupied in prehistoric Zhang ZhungZhang zhung times. Its status as the Buddhist capital of GugéGu ge, located in the midst of an important agricultural pocket, may possibly indicate that it has enjoyed a very long period of tenure. If so, superficial traces of the earlier period of habitation have disappeared along with much of the agricultural potential of the locale.

Oral tradition

It is often conjectured by BönpoBon po that a major pre-Buddhist stronghold in the badlands region of GugéGu ge was located at TsarangRtsa rang.

Affiliated sites

On the opposite side of the Sutlej valley there is a 15 km long string of defunct agricultural settlements known as KarruKar ru, GiriGi ri, GogyamSgo gyam, Yellow Chest (Sergamser sgam), and MangdrakMang brag. Ruined Buddhist temples and cave complexes are found in these long-abandoned villages. No monumental traces of the archaic cultural horizon were found at these sites. It is thought by some elders of the region that these settlements collapsed along with the GugéGu ge kingdom in the 16th century CE. After crossing the bridge upstream of TsarangRtsa rang to the north bank of the Sutlej, one enters a thorn forest. Heading downstream, the first abandoned village reached is KarruKar ru (31° 29.0΄ N. lat. / 79° 41.2΄ E. long. / 3670 m). Extensive farm fields once existed here but now there are just barren flats. There are a few caves in the escarpment bounding the former agricultural lands. These caves contain arched niches and other signs of habitation. It is reported that in the Chinese Cultural Revolution some farming took place in KarruKar ru for a short while, but this activity was abandoned because of water problems.

A thorn forest and an intervening valley called TsachuRtsa chu (sp.?) demarcate the border between KarruKa ru and the next abandoned agricultural village of GiriGi ri. There are several dozen caves in the escarpment at GiriGi ri, at least one of which has Buddhist murals. On top of the escarpment are the ruins of Giri KharGi ri mkhar with its tall adobe walls. In the valley bottom are the ruins of a significant Buddhist monastery (31° 29.4΄ N. lat. / 79° 39.3΄ E. long. / 3640 m). The next community down valley, separated by a narrow constriction, was called GogyamSgo gyam. Intensive agriculture was once practiced here but there are few caves and no monumental remains. Continuing down valley, the next derelict village is Yellow Chest. Yellow Chest had its own monastery in the valley bottom (31° 30.0΄ N. lat. / 79° 37.5΄ E. long. / 3620 m), and nearby there is a small group of adobe buildings referred to as Sergam KharSer sgam mkhar. There are many defunct agricultural lands in Yellow Chest. As of 2001, Chinese farmers had been brought in to resuscitate some of these fields. Continuing downstream, the last village before the Sutlej enters an impassable gorge is MangdrakMang brag (31° 30.4 N. lat. / 79° 35.3 E. long. / 3610 m). There is a cave complex in the multicolored escarpment and the remains of old arable lands at MangdrakMang brag. One of the caves contains a chapel with circa 13th century CE murals. Among them is a panel with portraits of ten of GugéGu ge’s territorial deity with mostly intact inscriptions naming them, an extremely important cultural resource.

On the south side of the Sutlej, several kilometers east of TsarangRtsa rang, there is a cave complex in the escarpment at TangThang. In addition to around 30 caves that were once inhabited, there is a large area of disused fields at TangThang. Several ruined chötenmchod rten are found in the vicinity. It is reported that ancient urn burials were discovered at TangThang by local residents and patterned agates (zigzi) removed from them.


[48] Püntsok DéPhun tshogs lde, the son of Namgyel DéRnam rgyal lde (1372-1431 CE), shifted the capital of GugéGu ge to TsarangRtsa rang during a period of considerable prosperity. According to the Shantipa NamtarShanti pa rnam thar, TsarangRtsa rang and TodingMtho lding were unsuccessfully attacked by a combined force from RutokRu thog, JangByang, MönMon, LowoGlo bo and MangyülMang yul, sometime after 1539. In 1630, the king of LadakLa dwags, Senggé NamgyelSeng ge rnam rgyal, conquered TsarangRtsa rang, ushering in a half century of Ladakhi rule in GugéGu ge. For these historical references, see Roberto Vitali, Records of Tho.ling: A Literary and Visual Reconstruction of the “Mother” Monastery in Gu.ge (Dharamsala: High Asia, Amnye Machen Institute, 1999), 37, 44, 45, 47, 48.

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.