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

Drakla DzongBrag la rdzong

Basic site data

  • Site name: Drakla DzongBrag la rdzong
  • English equivalent: Rock Hill Fortress
  • Site number: A-78
  • Site typology: I.1x
  • Elevation: 4780 m
  • Administrative location (township): ZangzangZang zang
  • Administrative location (county): NgamringNgam ring
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: April 20, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS XIII
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Drakla DzongBrag la rdzong is located on a summit southwest of TrazangBkra bzang monastery. This site is situated approximately 80 km east of Tsanglha PudarGtsang lha phu dar, the mountain that traditionally divided Zhang ZhungZhang zhung from Bod.59 Only fragments of a revetment that encircled the summit (24 m by 10 m) remain in place. The circumvallation of the summit is reminiscent of some of the “möngyi kharmon gyi mkhar” of western Tibet. Steep ravines surround this well protected site on all but the north side. None of the revetment extends above the rim of the summit. It was built of both stone and sod bricks. This is the only instance of the use of sod at an ostensibly ancient site. There are no structural elements visible within the encircling walls. Fragments of defensive walls are also found below the summit.

Oral tradition

According to local sources, Drakla DzongBrag la rdzong was a stronghold of the ancient HorHor, a tribe that dwelt in the region before the time of Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che. According to local tradition, Tibet was invaded by three HorHor Kings called GurkarGur dkar, GurnakGur nag and GurserGur ser. It was Hor Gurser GyelpoHor gur ser rgyal po who is believed to have invaded TrazangBkra bzang and adjoining areas from the northwest.60 The local cultural expert Künga DöndrupKun dga’ don grub opines that this figure may have originally come from the BhatahorBha ta hor region (in Central Asia) in the imperial period.

Site elements


The north side rampart is 2.5 m to 3.5 m in height. The lower half is built of variable size stone blocks up to 1 m in length, which were hewn flat on their exterior faces. The upper half of the rampart is composed of highly eroded sod blocks at least 50 cm in length. This part of the retaining wall appears to have been around 1.5 m thick. The south rampart was entirely built of stone, and is 1.1 m thick and about 1 m in height. The remaining traces of the east and west walls are of similar construction. On the south flank of the hill there are faint remains of other walls. On the southwest side of the hill, a highly deteriorated defensive wall extends for 20 m up to the summit. About 10 m below the east and north sides of the summit, a continuous level band (100 m long and around 5 m wide) was excavated from the hillside. Much of the center of this level strip of ground has eroded into a shallow gully. Evidently, this structure was built to protect the installation on its two most vulnerable flanks. Even from this position, it is still 20 m vertical down to a connecting saddle. An earthen embankment resembling the cut of a modern road was constructed north of the summit. There is a spring situated around one-half km from Drakla DzongBrag la rdzong.

TrazangBkra bzang monastery archaeological sites

TrazangBkra bzang monastery is the most important NyingmapaRnying ma pa Jangterbyang gter(Northern Treasure) tradition site in Tibet. It was founded by the great treasure revealer (Tertöngter ston) Rindzin Gödem TruRig ’dzin rgod ldem ’phru (14th century CE). He is believed to have been born at the site of the current abbatial residence (ladrangbla brang). Although most of the Nyingmarnying ma textual treasures were discovered at Zangzang LhadrangZang zang lha brag, 40 km to the northwest, it was in TrazangBkra bzang that Rindzin Gödem TruRig ’dzin rgod ldem ’phru opened the portal of scriptural treasures. The current lama of the monastery is Rindzin Pema GyurméRig ’dzin pad ma ’gyur med (born circa 1955), the 25th in a biological lineage beginning with the great Tertöngter ston himself. This lineage traces its genealogy to Hor Gurser Gyelpohor gur ser rgyal po. According to local lore, Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che spent seven days at the monastery’s Pema DruppukPad ma sgrub phug (Lotus Religious Attainment Cave) (4860 m), propitiating the deity PurpaPhur pa. Local tradition also says that the son of King Tri SongdetsenKhri srong lde btsan, Muné TsenpoMu ne btsan po (late 8th century CE), and the son of the last Tibetan emperor, Ö Sung’Od srung (late 9th century CE), sojourned at Pema DruppukPad ma sgrub phug.

Below the ladrangbla brang, cultivation is said to have once taken place in the narrow Nemo LungSne mo lung valley. Foundations of small houses of unknown age are found in the valley bottom. Currently, the upper extent of cultivation (where barley fully matures) is found a few kilometers to the southeast, in the village of DrungkhoDrung kho.

On the very peak of Riwo TrazangRi bo bkra bzang, rising 400 m above the valley, there is the temple of Lhakhang TséLha khang rtse (4950 m). Between it and the lower but larger temple complex of Bar LhakhangBar lha khang, there are a number of wall remnants that appear to have been part of an archaic rampart network. These traces of a stronghold are not connected to Buddhist deeds or buildings in the sacred geographic tradition of TrazangBkra bzang. Although there is no local tradition regarding Riwo TrazangRi bo bkra bzang being inhabited before the time of Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che (eightth century CE), the close proximity of a “HorHor fortress” suggests that it also may have been an important site before the period of Buddhist occupation. The summit at Lhakhang TséLha khang rtse has a much better panorama than Drakla DzongBrag la rdzong; therefore, it seems likely that, at the very least, it functioned as a surveillance post for the fortress. The most prominent of the old defensive walls is found on a formation called Drak BuchungBrag bu chung (Little Child Rock), which is said to look like a mother holding a young child in her lap (4920 m). This structure consists of two revetments interconnected by a parapet wall constructed above a rocky overhang (total length 7 m). The two revetments each create a level area of approximately 25 m². These structures were well built with thin pieces of masonry using no mortar, in the archaic technique of construction. They have undergone much erosion and subsidence, which in itself is indicative of considerable age. Near Pema DruppukPad ma sgrub phug is a site called Tori KéMtho ris skas (Ladder of Heaven), a steeply inclined masonry ramp (1 m to 3 m wide and 10 m high) wedged into a notch in the formation. This also appears to have been a defensive feature founded prior to Riwo TrazangRi bo bkra bzang becoming a Buddhist center. A similar construction is found at Shawa DrakSha ba brag (A-3).


[59] A discussion of this geographic demarcation is found in John Vincent Bellezza, “Territorial Characteristics of the Archaic Zhang-zhung Paleocultural Entity: A Comparative Analysis of Archaeological Evidence and Popular Bon Literary Sources.” Paper prepared for the International Association of Tibetan Studies Conference X, Oxford, 2003. Currently in press.
[60] The oral tradition of the HorHor occupation of this region is discussed in Bellezza, Calling Down the Gods, 282, 283.

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.