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

DrakgozhakBrag mgo bzhag

Basic site data

  • Site name: DrakgozhakBrag mgo bzhag
  • English equivalent: Split Formation Head
  • Site number: A-77
  • Site typology: I.1b, I.2c
  • Elevation: 3730 m to 3750 m.
  • Administrative location (township): TodingMtho lding
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda’
  • Survey expedition: UTAE and HTCE
  • Survey date: May 10 and August 21, 2001; May 15, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C2
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

On the north bank of the Langchen TsangpoGlang chen gtsang po (Sutlej river), opposite TodingMtho lding monastery, there is a group of more than 30 small habitational caves in an escarpment called DrakgozhakBrag mgo bzhag. The caves face south and east, the two preferred orientations of caves used for occupation in Tibet. The summit of DrakgozhakBrag mgo bzhag is surmounted by cobble structural remains. The summit complex measures 100 m by 7 m to 15 m. Most of the ruins seem to have long since slipped down the sides of the escarpment. This strategic and defendable facility overlooks the confluence of the Sangdar ChuSangs dar chu and the Langchen TsangpoGlang chen gtsang po. Just west of the site there is a highly weathered four-sided brown sandstone pillar in the valley bottom. This broken pillar has been reduced to 50 cm in height. The absence of adobe walls, the extreme degradation of the site and lack of evidence for Buddhist occupation seem to indicate an archaic cultural origin.

Oral tradition

None was obtained.

Site elements

Summit complex

The arc-shaped summit is situated 60 m above the Sangdar ChuSangs dar chu, situated to the east. Access is via a steep ravine that winds around north and east sides of the formation. There also may have once been a route up from the main group of caves but no signs of one remain. The other flanks of the formation are blocked by conglomerate outcrops. The original character and extent of the structures is not clear as very little remains of the site. On the highest part of the summit there are wall segments built against the formation approximately 6 m in length, which attain a height of 1 m to 1.5 m. These mud-mortared walls (up to 80 cm thick) were constructed of cobbles, 20 cm to 50 cm in length. There are several small caves on the summit as well.

Affiliated sites

Sangdar JoSangs dar jo

On the opposite or west side of the Sangdar ChuSangs dar chu, in the Langchen TsangpoGlang chen gtsang po valley, there are a number of ruined chötenmchod rten at Sangdar JoSangs dar jo. Some of these Buddhist monuments may date to the tenpa chidarbstan pa phyi dar (circa 980-1200 CE). This site is associated with a Buddhist god also named Sangdar JoSangs dar jo. At Sangdar JoSangs dar jo there is a ruined settlement and long abandoned agricultural fields as well.

TodingMtho lding castles

Rising above the plain of TodingMtho lding, on the summits of the mesas bounding the south side of the Langchen TsangpoGlang chen gtsang po Valley, are three sites called “kharmkhar.” They include Khar BarmaMkhar bar ma (Middle Castle) located directly behind the town of TsamdaRtsa mda’, Khar OkmaMkhar ’og ma (Lower Castle) located to the west, and BurikharBu ri mkhar (sp.?) further to the west. The former two sites are visible from the township headquarters while the later site is situated several kilometers to the east. Reportedly, there are no manmade ruins at BurikharBu ri mkhar.

Khar OkmaMkhar ’og ma

According to the local oral tradition, Khar OkmaMkhar ’og ma was established by the founder of the GugéGu ge dynasty Nyima GönNyi ma mgon (tenth century CE).58 There are no longer clear signs of Buddhist monuments at this hilltop location (no chötenmchod rten, manima ṇi stones, fixtures for statuary, red ochre tinting, etc.). The main residential complex (34.5 m by 22 m) sits on the south summit of the Khar OkmaMkhar ’og ma formation (31° 28.23 N. lat. / 79° 47.34 E. long. / 4020m). This high point of the formation has excellent views of TodingMtho lding and adjoining areas of the Langchen TsangpoGlang chen gtsang po Valley. It is dominated by two tall mud-brick and rammed-earth edifices with massive walls. Timber fragments litter the area around one of the structures. On the lower-elevation north summit there is a single adobe and rammed-earth structure aligned in the cardinal directions containing seven rooms (31° 28.34΄ N. lat. / 79° 47.33΄ E. long. / 3970 m). Below the south summit, the highly eroded trail passes by various caves before entering a tunnel 23 m in length. This steeply inclined tunnel accesses the more open lower northern slopes of the formation and the monastic complex of Trashi GönBkra shis mgon (founded circa 1000 CE). Perennial sources of water are found in the gorges flanking both sides of the Khar OkmaMkhar ’og ma formation.

Khar BarmaMkhar bar ma

The south summit complex of the smaller Khar BarmaMkhar bar ma is dominated by two large mud-brick and rammed-earth buildings (31° 28.31΄ N. lat. / 79° 47.93΄ E. long. / 4000 m). The lower structure contains a large hall with the faint remnants of tenpa chidarbstan pa phyi dar period frescoes at the base of the southeast corner. Four figures, three holding a baby Buddha, are visible. Below the paintings there is a band with highly damaged wumédbu med inscriptions. In close proximity there is a cave with an adobe block cubicle in front of it. On the rear wall of this cubicle there was a large fresco, which has been defaced by paint applications and by Chinese characters gouged into the surface. Below the south summit there are around two dozen caves en route to a prayer flag mast and ruined chötenmchod rten. A tunnel below the north summit accesses the northern flanks of the formation. On these flanks are the remains of an adobe block monastic facility (31° 28.54 N. lat. / 79° 48.01΄ E. long. / 3830 m).

Roughly 60 m to the east of the Buddhist center, on the edge of a steep east-facing slope, there are the remains of a building (22 m by 14 m) built of sandstone. It was constructed with three distinct elevations. Revetments and freestanding wall segments reach a maximum height of 1.5 m. There is a subterranean room (7 m by 4 m by 1.7 m) below the second tier of the structure. Its east-facing entrance is accessed from the lower tier of the structure. This is the only edifice of its architectural type surveyed in the environs of TodingMtho lding. Its age and function are enigmatic. The architectonic qualities of this edifice may suggest an early foundation date.


[58] This is also reported in Vitali, Records of Tho.ling: A Literary and Visual Reconstruction of the “Mother” Monastery in Gu.ge, 21. According to Vitali’s sources, Trashi GönBkra shis mgon, the son of Nyima GönNyi ma mgon, built his headquarters halfway up the same hill. This is the site of substantial monastic ruins (31° 28.5΄ N. lat. / 79° 47.5΄ E. long. / 3800 m). There are the remains of seven or eight substantial earthen structures located here with walls that tower more than 5 m in height. In addition to walls composed of ordinary adobe blocks, there are those constructed of specially hardened small mud bricks.

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.