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

Kharlung KhargokMkhar lung mkhar gog

Basic site data

  • Site name: Kharlung KhargokMkhar lung mkhar gog
  • English equivalent: Castle Valley Ruined Castle
  • Site number: A-66
  • Site typology: I.1x
  • Elevation: 4730 m
  • Administrative location (township): winter settlement
  • Administrative location (county): GarSgar
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: May 14, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The once large citadel of Kharlung KhargokMkhar lung mkhar gog is situated on a ridge-top more than 400 m above the GarSgar valley. It is one of a chain of archaic strongholds occupying lofty locations above the arable GarSgar valley.51 The castle commands excellent views of the GarSgar valley, especially to the north and east, and enjoys a defensibly tenable position. Castle Valley Ruined Castle is found above the right side of the Kharlung ChuMkhar lung chu, in proximity to where it debouches into the main valley. This was an extensive complex composed of a cluster of small buildings built with cobble walls. The dispersion blankets an area of 190 m along the axis of the hill (north-south) by 13.5 m to 30 m (east-west). A count of wall footings indicates that this site consisted of around 100 rooms and/or buildings. Most structures have been reduced to their foundations or low-lying wall fragments. The high elevation of this site and style of construction, whereby tiny rooms predominate, are archaic cultural horizon situational and morphological traits.

Oral tradition

Castle Valley Ruined Castle is said by local sources to be an ancient MönMon citadel.

Site elements


The south end (13.5 m wide) and the north end (19 m wide) are the narrowest parts of the ridge-spur. Most of the remaining sections of the summit are around 30 m wide. Ruined buildings are dispersed across the summit. Structures were made with random-work cobble-stones. Walls must have been lightly mortared, however, no mortar remains in the seams. Walls are between 50 cm to 80 cm in thickness, but nothing above 1.5 m in height has survived, so an assessment of upper wall design is not possible. It could not be judged whether the walls were possibly constructed with adobe blocks supporting fixed roofs or alternatively, if they were low elevation stone structures with semi-permanent roofs made of materials such as animal hides or yak hair. On the east rim of the summit there was an interconnected line of buildings. These mostly had very small rooms (4 m²) but more commodious specimens (12 m²) are also present. On the higher west edge of the hill, which overlooks a defile, there is a sparser line of structures. The slightly inclined summit is dominated by slopes around 10 m in height interspersed between the east and west rims of the formation. These steeply inclined slopes tend to be devoid of buildings. What appears to have been the largest single structure at the site is found on the south side of summit (6 m by 11 m). Other ruins in this area have exterior dimensions of around 5 m by 6 m.

On the east side of the Castle Valley Ruined Castle hill, around 10 m below the summit, the slope was cut to create a level walkway averaging 3 m in width. North, or down slope, of the fortress there is a superficial funerary-like structure (3 m by 3 m), which protrudes 70 cm above the ground.

Affiliated sites

Old Castle Valley (Kharlungmkhar lung) village

The old Castle Valley (Kharlungmkhar lung) village site (32° 02.2΄ N. lat. / 80° 01.9΄ E. long. / 4370 m) is located some 5 km north of Castle Valley Ruined Castle, outside the range of its protective embrace. Covering an area of more than 15,000 m², this sizable habitation was founded on the foot of a hill bounding the west side of the GarSgar valley. Hundreds of people must have once resided here in a dense agglomeration of houses. Unlike the nearby contemporary village of Castle Valley, with its five households, the height of old Castle Valley affords it protection from floods, which have been particularly severe in the last decade. According to local residents, old Castle Valley is connected to a Tibetan ruler who ruled the region before the NamrupönGnam ru dpon of the Ganden Podrangdga' ldan pho brang period (1660-1959 CE). The settlement, however, is also associated with the MönMon, which may suggest that its foundations date to the prehistoric epoch or early historic period. It is certainly possible that important magnets of sedentary settlement in the moist and fertile GarSgar valley enjoyed a very long period of tenure.

The buildings of the old settlement have been largely leveled and only fragmentary wall footings, wall segments, pits, and rocky mounds are left. In recent years, some of the stones have been used to build corrals on the site. At the upper end of the village there are a few adobe wall segments heralding the location of a Buddhist temple, which included a chapel called Kharlung GönkhangMkhar lung mgon khang. This protector chapel was destroyed long before living memory. It is reported that the deities Penden LhamoDpal ldan lha mo and GönpoMgon po were worshipped here. In the vicinity are several ruined chötenmchod rten. Approximately 1 km southwest of the village is a ruined residential structure said to have been the residence of a district headman. Agricultural lands run right up to this ruined homestead. This once substantial building (19 m by 23 m) contained at least eight large rooms. It was primarily constructed of mud-mortared cobble walls, 50 cm to 80 cm in thickness. Wall fragments up to 2.5 m in height have survived. Most walls are partially intact, thus the structure is in far better condition than those in old Castle Valley village. In a central wall partition (runs north-south) there is a window (30 cm by 60 cm) whose lintel of tamarisk rounds is intact. Immediately to the south is a less well-preserved building (6 m by 14 m), said to have been a kitchen (taptsangthab tshang). South of the headman’s homestead are highly eroded plaques with carved inscriptions of the manima ṇi mantra in lentsalan tsha script. This style of inscribed stone appears to have been produced in the period of the early Ngari KorsumMnga' ris skor gsum kings (roughly late 10th to 13th century CE). The ruins of the headmen’s estate have been partially converted into a livestock pen (lharalhas ra,corral) and tent camp (nangranang ra).

Old MalhéMa lhas village

Like old Castle Valley village, old MalhéMa lhas village is situated at the foot of the Ayi LaA yi la range, on a broad low-lying ridge-top (32° 04.7΄ N. lat. / 79° 59.3΄ E. long. / 4340 m). In contrast, new MalhéMa lhas village is located in the rather marshy valley bottom, and only supports around one dozen households. The precedent for permanent settlement in the valley bottom extends back to at least the late 17th century CE, and the establishment of Ganden TsewangDga' ldan tshe dbang’s NgariMnga' ris headquarters near the GarSgar river.52 Old MalhéMa lhas covers an area of approximately 5000 m², and contains a dense collection of fragmentary mud-mortared cobble footings and wall segments. There is a number of ruined chötenmchod rten on the site. On the north or higher end of the ruined village there are the remains of a Buddhist temple, where the local territorial deity Mé PawongMes pha bong (Ancestor Boulder) is supposed to have been propitiated. The much degraded cobble and adobe block walls of the temple reach a maximum height of 2 m. The relative position of the Buddhist temple, paralleling the placement of the temple in old Castle Valley, supports a chronological connection between the two settlements, as attested in the oral tradition.

GarSgar agriculture

The origin of farming in Castle Valley and MalhéMa lhas is ascribed to the Kel MönSkal mon, an ethnic group that may have formed part of the aboriginal substrate of western Tibet. By the sheer amount of defunct farm fields attributed to the ancient MönMon, it would appear that agricultural production in GarSgar was at its zenith in the prehistoric epoch. Grain output in GarSgar may have once been sufficient to feed several thousand people, engaging hundreds of farmers. Nowadays, in stark contrast, a handful of farmers in each village struggle to produce any barley at all. The subsistence economic focus has shifted to animal husbandry. It appears from anecdotal evidence that the agrarian way of life has been waning for centuries. The evidence presented by the old Buddhist villages of Castle Valley and MalhéMa lhas indicates that agriculture was still an important occupation during the period of the NgariMnga' ris kings, but it probably was already in a state of decline.

Modern MalhéMa lhas and Castle Valley still have extensive arable lands but only a small fraction is exploited in any given year. This is due to a lack of manpower and a chronic shortage of water. A water shortfall also affects other agrarian communities in GarSgar such as TarchangThar lcang53, NamruGnam ru and Upper Fields (Zhing Khagongzhing ka gong).54 In recent years, flash floods and an explosion in the rabbit population have had a detrimental impact on farming as well. Floods in the last decade have destroyed more than ten km² of farmland and pastureland in the GarSgar valley, eliminating the essential land-base of scores of families. In greater Castle Valley alone, 35 families lost their winter grazing grounds in the devastating floods of 1999.


[51] Although it is commonly stated that GarSgar (Military Encampment) received its name from the military headquarters established here by Ganden TsewangDga' ldan tshe dbang (fl. 1680) in the late 17th century CE, the origin of this toponym may also have something to do with the eight ancient (MönMon) fortresses (A-22, A-23, A-41, A-42, A-43, A-44, A-66, A-67) that encircle the valley.
[52] Unlike Ganden TsewangDga' ldan tshe dbang’s MönMon predecessors, no attempt was made to create unassailable bastions in the heights by the old LhasaLha sa government. This certainly signaled a further decline in Upper Tibet’s defensive capability, leaving it vulnerable to attacks originating from various sources.
[53] For another discussion of agriculture in this locale see Bellezza, Antiquities of Upper Tibet, 36.
[54] The presence of extensive disused MönMon fields at this locale is noted in Bellezza, Antiquities of Upper Tibet, 78.

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.