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

Dzong PipiRdzong pi phi

Basic site data

  • Site name: Dzong PipiRdzong pi phi
  • Site number: A-49
  • Site typology: I.1a
  • Elevation: 4800 m (lower site), 4840 m (upper site)
  • Administrative location (township): BaryangBar yangs
  • Administrative location (county): Drongpa’Brong pa
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: April 15, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: Almost none at the upper site. The lower site has been used for many years as a pastoral shelter. It is only inhabited very infrequently.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS XI, HAS C5
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The upper site of Dzong PipiRdzong pi phi is dominated by a single five-sided building planted on top of a pyramidal limestone formation, which rises 150 m above the south margin of the TsachuTshwa chu basin. This site has commanding views of this large basin and the Transhimalaya to the north. In the proximity are two small caves that were modified for human habitation. The lower site consists of a cave with a three-story masonry façade. Significant early inscriptions in red ochre are found here.

Oral tradition

Local sources believe that the upper site of Dzong PipiRdzong pi phi was built and inhabited by a sinmosrin mo demoness, which was subdued by the Vajrayāna hero, Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che (eighth century). The site is considered ka nyenpobka' gnyan po (potentially hazardous).

Site elements

Upper site
Summit edifice

The edifice of Dzong PipiRdzong pi phi31 has a modified square plan. The existence of a stone-roof in one section of the building and its general design and constructional characteristics indicate that it was an all-stone corbelled structure. The four main walls of Dzong PipiRdzong pi phi are quite closely aligned in the cardinal directions and each measure 4.5 m in length. A fifth or southwest wall facet is 2.2 m in length. The random-rubble block-work walls (50 cm to 60 cm thick) appear to have been lightly mortared. Variable-sized slabs were used to build the walls, a common archaic style of construction. The walls rise up to a height of 3 m to 4 m on the exterior side and 2 m to 2.5 m internally. The entranceway was in the south. There are windows in the north wall (20 cm by 30 cm) and east wall (30 cm by 35 cm). A southwest room has survived largely intact while other internal partitions have been nearly effaced. The southwest room (outer dimensions: 2 m by 2.5 m) is set 50 cm below the rest of the floor level. An opening in the lower portion of its outer wall may indicate that it functioned as a lavatory. The roof of the southwest room is entirely intact: two bridging stones (each more than 1.5 m long) support the stone-slab roof sheathing.


Approximately 200 m south of the summit edifice, on a limestone shoulder, there is a very small cave with the remains of a façade (3 m long, 1 m high) built around it. Just below this façade there is a retaining wall built into the rock face. Approximately 200 m southwest of the summit edifice there is a cave (3.5 m deep) with the remnants of a stone façade (3 m long). In the rear of this cave there are niches and a stone bench that could have had either utilitarian or ritual functions. The cave is now used to store the belongings of a local drokpa'brog pa family such as winter coats. Long ago a hole was bored into the roof of this cave, ostensibly as a smoke vent. In front of the façade there are the remains of walls (4 m by 3.5 m) that seem to have once been part of an anteroom.

Lower site
Cave house

The lower site of Dzong PipiRdzong pi phi is situated below the stronghold, on the east side of the formation. It is dominated by a narrow cave (6.5 m deep), which has a three-story stonewall built around its mouth. This structure was made of variable-sized stone slabs laid in random-work courses, which appear to have been lightly mortared. The lowest tier of the outer wall incorporates a stairway that is now almost completely destroyed. At the base of the stairway there is a landing. The middle level of the façade contains the entranceway, which is 1.7 m in height and 60 cm wide on its exterior side. There are several steps, set inside the entranceway (1 m long), which access a much smaller inner portal. The 1 m long lintel over the entranceway is the largest stone used in the construction of the façade. The upper level of the façade encloses much of the cave and supports a small window. The middle and upper levels of the façade form a single masonry expanse, 5.4 m in height and nearly 3 m in width.

Near the entranceway of the cave, “Om A Humoṃ a hum” and a counterclockwise swastika were inscribed in red ochre in a vertical row. Nearby, there is another red ochre counterclockwise swastika. In the formation above the façade, there is a red ochre clockwise swastika, and a Wuchendbu can inscription that seems to read: “Jenso nampé chijan gso nam pa'i 'chi.” This inscription appears to convey the Buddhist depreciation of the site. In the rear of the cave there is a panel consisting of a red ochre sun and moon, a tree-like depiction, two rudimentary specimens of the letter “a,” and several heavily obscured compositions, all of which form a horizontal array. Like the letters and swastikas near the entrance, this panel was almost certainly painted by the Bönpobon po. The motifs on the panel, on the basis of style and paleography, however, seem significantly older than the pictographs near the entrance. The existence of these letters and symbols establishes the BönBon occupation of Dzong PipiRdzong pi phi, a period of tenure that must be related to the local tale of the sinmosrin mo.

Other structures

Just south of the cave, there is a wall (4 m long, up to 1.5 m high) that bounds a level area in the formation 2.5 m deep. This appears to have been the base of another building but not enough remains to be certain. A little higher up is a shallow southeast-facing cave with the vestiges of a façade and an inferior retaining wall.


[31] Pipipi phi may have a Zhang ZhungZhang zhung language etymology. In the ninth century CE, the Tibetan military governor of ShenShan, Zang PipiZang pi pi/Zang PeipeiZang pei pei, was of Zhang ZhungZhang zhung origin (Beckwith 1987: 169).

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.