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

Jiu KharByi’u mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Jiu KharByi’u mkhar
  • English equivalent: Little Bird Castle
  • Site number: A-82
  • Site typology: I.1x
  • Elevation: 4650 m
  • Administrative location (township): BargaBar ga
  • Administrative location (county): PurangSpu rang county
  • Survey expedition: HTCE and TUE
  • Survey date: May 7, 2002 and September 8, 2005
  • Contemporary usage: As an integral part of the JiuByi’u monastic complex. Over the years, stones have been appropriated from the site for various monastic constructions. In 2003, much of the remainder of the site was dismantled to build a new Buddhist temple on the summit.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: A tiered shrine known as Guru Bumpagu ru ’bum pa and a cubic protector shrine (tsenkhangbtsan khang) were constructed in the east crags of the summit from pre-existing building materials. It is reported that these two shrines withstood the Chinese Cultural Revolution largely unscathed.
  • Maps: UTRS X, HAS C4
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Until its final eradication several years ago, Jiu KharByi’u mkhar was situated atop the 60 m high pyramidal rock formation of JiuByi’u (Little Bird). Located on the northeast shore of Mapam YutsoMa pham g.yu mtsho, the summit of JiuByi’u is 80 m long and a maximum of 24 m wide (west side). The circumambulatory path around the holy lake and the important route between Mapam YutsoMa pham g.yu mtsho and Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho (links the Himalayan conduit of PurangSpu rang and the uplands around the pilgrimage center of Mount TiséTi se) could have been effectively controlled from this position. It does not seem likely that such a strategically and economically vital location would have been ignored during the archaic cultural horizon. Immediately east of Jiu KharByi’u mkhar is the famous monastery of JiuByi’u with its Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che cave. As such, the Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che myth may have been contrived to supplant or suppress awareness of an earlier occupation. The probable archaic cultural origin of the fortress is supported by:

  1. The absence of a Buddhist narrative associated with the stronghold.
  2. Its highly strategic position on important lines of communication.
  3. Its prime geomantic placement on the waterway linking two sacred lakes.
  4. The presence of cave shelters, hot springs and ample fresh water resources nearby.
  5. The existence of archaic cemeteries and isolated pillars in the vicinity.

Oral tradition

According to the local oral tradition, the name Jiu KharByi’u mkhar comes from a small bird that flew into the cave of Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che. It is also said that from this location Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che went to the southwest country of the sinposrin po (man-eating ogres) in the form of a little bird (Jiubyi’u). However, the current head of the Nyingmaparnying ma pa JiuByi’u monastery, Pema ChömpelPad ma chos ’phel (born circa 1939), has not been able to confirm either of these stories. The local Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che myth also states that the Vajrayāna master meditated in his cave for seven days, and during that time a miraculously speaking sandalwood image of himself appeared from Mapam YutsoMa pham g.yu mtsho. This highly valued statue was enshrined at JiuByi’u monastery until it was stolen in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Originally, the Buddhist holy site was known as Pema Gyepé LhakangPad ma rgyas pa’i lha khang (Temple of the Spreading Lotus) and successively as Jiu Pemé KharByi’u pad ma’i mkhar (Castle of the Little Bird Lotus), Jiu Zamzo KharByi’u zam bzo mkhar (Little Bird Fashioned Bridge Castle), and finally under the Drukpa Kagyü’brug pa bka’ brgyud subsect, as Jiu GönpaByi’u dgon pa. In the Chinese Cultural Revolution, texts recording the history and lore of the monastery were lost. Recently, at the behest of prefectural authorities, the head lama of JiuByi’u monastery, Pema ChömpelPad ma chos ’phel, authored a four folio text that contains much of the same information recorded above. Locally, it is said that the formidable fortress on the summit once had a wall encircling it. In this period, the Ganga ChuGanga chu at the base of the formation was supposedly much deeper and spanned by a bridge that was guarded from the stronghold.62

Textual tradition

According to BönBon lore recorded in Tisé KarchakTi se dkar chag by Karru DrupwangDkar ru grub dbang, JiuByi’u, known as Jakyip DrakBya skyibs brag (Bird Shelter Formation), was visited by great BönBon saints circa the 11th and 12th century CE: “On Bird Shelter Formation there is the religious practice cave of Guru NöntséGu ru rnon rtse, Dampa BumjéDam pa ’bum rje and [PatönSpa ston] TsengyelBstan rgyal [ZangpoBzang po]. These three were actually sanctified with the blessings of Gyelwa ShenrapRgyal ba gshen rab.”63 A recently written supplement to the Tisé KarchakTi se dkar chag confirms that JakyipBya skyibs was indeed an ancient BönBon religious center:

JakyipBya skyibs monastery of the west bathing head: In the time of the early speech doctrine, the bird shelter of the golden bluff, was known as the divine community (lhadélha sde) of Yungdrung KöpaG.yung drung bkod pa (Well Arranged Swastika). In later times, Drigung Chennga Sherap Jungné’Bri gung spyan snga shes rab ’byung gnas (13th century CE) and his circle of 500 meditators stayed here for a long time, and the Drigungpa’Bri gung pa took ownership [of this place].64

Site elements


As of 2002, the long-term Buddhist redevelopment of the site and the wholesale removal of the old stone structures made it extremely difficult to assess the original architectural character of the stronghold. The radical recasting of the site since that time now makes the task of assessment virtually impossible. As of 2002, the east side of the summit was under the complete domination of the monastery. Other sections of the hilltop, however, appeared to host the obscured remains of a defense facility. There were structural traces of a 1 m-thick circumvallating parapet wall on various parts of the rim of the summit. There were also vestiges of what were probably ramparts on the abrupt west and north flanks of the formation. On the southeast side of the hill, sections of revetments up to 2 m in height were extant. Some vestiges of these defensive works are still in situ. A considerable amount of stone rubble was found on the summit and spilling down the east, west and south sides of the hill. Now the rubble has been cleared and the entire hilltop has been given over to Buddhist activities. Several monastic residences were built from the structural detritus of the old fortress on the flat west summit. Some of these houses were destroyed before living memory and others reportedly built just 60 years ago. All buildings on the west summit were recently razed and are now undergoing reconstruction.


[62] Historical information on the JiuByi’u locale is recorded in Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po, Ngari Chöjung Gangjong DzegyenMnga’ ris chos ’byung gangs ljongs mdzes rgyan (Lha sa: Böjong Mimang Petrün KhangBod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang. 2006), 152. He asserts that Pema KharPad ma mkhar is a site with impressive stone walls, wooden building materials and many shards of ceramics scattered about (Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po, Ngari ChöjungMnga’ ris chos ’byung, 154). It is not clear, however, what site the author actually has in mind. Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po confirms that an account in the Tsünmo KatangBtsun mo bka’ thang regarding a pilgrimage to Mapam YutsoMa pham g.yu mtsho by King Tri SongdetsenKhri srong lde btsan and his queen, Lhacham Trülgu GyurmaLha lcam ’phrul dgu sgyur ma, refers to the JiuByi’u locale (Pema Gyepé LhakangPad ma rgyas pa’i lha khang) (Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po, Ngari ChöjungMnga’ ris chos ’byung, 154). According to Tsünmo KatangBtsun mo bka’ thang, the sandalwood statue of Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che was fashioned by King Tri SongKhri srong in memory of his religious master.
[63] For this account, I have use the copy of the Tisé KarchakTi se’i dkar chag recently published in the journal Zhang Zhung RiknéZhang zhung rig gnas (kar ru drup wang ten dzin rin chenDkar ru grub dbang bstan ‘dzin rin chen. “Dzamling Ganggyel Tisé Karchak Tsangyang Yitrok’Dzam gling gangs rgyal ti se’i dkar chag tshangs dbyangs yid phrog.” Zhang Zhung RiknéZhang zhung rig gnas: 35.)
[64] See Tendzin WangdrakBstan ’dzin dbang grags, “Gangtsö Nyenkhorgi Gönpa KhakGangs mtsho’i nye ’khor gyi dgon pa khag,” 54: nub kyi khrus sgo bya skyibs dgon/ gsung bstan thog ma’i dus gad pa gser gyi bya skyibs can g.yung drung bkod pa’i lha sde zhes ba ste/ dus phyi ’bri gung spyan snga shes rab ’byung gnas ’khor sgom chen lnga brgya dang bcas pas yun ring du bzhugs shing ’bri gung pas bdag tu bzung /.

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.