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

Gyammuk KharGyam smug mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Gyammuk KharGyam smug mkhar
  • English equivalent: Brownish Red Rock Shelter Castle
  • Alternative site name: Gyammuk KharGyam mug mkhar
  • English equivalent: Pigeon Castle
  • Site number: A-68
  • Site typology: I.1b, II.2d
  • Elevation: 4370 m.
  • Administrative location (township): GyammukGyam smug
  • Administrative location (county): GarSgar
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: May 16, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: Wholesale extraction of stones.
  • Identifiable Buddhist Constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS I, HAS C1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The small, compact castle of Gyammuk KharGyam smug mkhar is situated on the west side of the agricultural GyammukGyam smug valley. The ruined buildings begin a little above the valley floor and continue upward to a small summit, situated approximately 30 m above the valley bottom. Its position, directly above the valley, indicates that it played a prominent role in the defense of this locale. The buildings spill down the steep hillside for about 30 m in a swath around 15 m in width. Examination of the extant remains suggests that there were six tiers of buildings. Only some external walls persist, as all interior partitions have been recently destroyed. The mainly coursed-rubble mud-mortared walls were constructed from pinkish brown sandstone blocks, 30 cm to 60 cm in length. Walls are 60 cm to 70 cm in thickness. Large quantities of stones were removed from the walls of Purplish Brown Cliff Shelter Castle for building projects in the nearby NgariMnga' ris prefectural headquarters. This pilferage has seriously affected the integrity of the archaeological site, eliminating most evidence of its ground plan.

Oral tradition

Purplish Brown Cliff Shelter Castle is variously attributed by local sources to MönMon, SingpaSing pa or the Tibetans of the NgariMnga' ris kings period.

Site elements


The most intact part of the castle is its upper or most westerly structure. Its upper wall is 13 m in length and 4 m to 5 m in height, with much of it revetting the slope. Like the early tenth century CE Rala KharmarRa la mkhar dmar (see PemochéSpe mo che, A-65), this wall contains several herringbone masonry courses. This distinctive design feature is fairly unusual in residential buildings, and seems to indicate that the two fortresses are chronologically and culturally linked. The geographic aspect of the two sites is also similar in that the installations are closely flanked by higher ground, hence they were potentially vulnerable to attack from above. From the structural evidence remaining it appears that the buildings of Purplish Brown Cliff Shelter Castle had wooden roofs. The central section of the complex contains various broken wall footings. The lower section of the complex is especially fragmentary and part of the hillside in this area has collapsed.

Funerary mound

To the south, in the plain below the castle, there is a rectangular mound aligned in the cardinal directions. The geographical aspect, orientation and morphological characteristics of this structure provisionally identify it as a funerary structure (bangsobang so or quadrate mound). It was built on gently inclined sandy terrain, strewn with rocks. Made of the same type of stone as the castle, this mound is elevated as much as 80 cm above ground level on its uphill or north side. Its south side is highly eroded, making measurement of its length and height difficult. The south side seems to have been elevated about 1.5 m above the surface. The approximate measurements of the structure are 3.8 m (east-west) by 9 m (north-south). In close proximity to the tumulus there is a wall footing of the type that may have once supported a crude masonry structure used to display plaques inscribed with Buddhist mantras and prayers.


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.