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

Wangdrak PukDbang brag phug

Basic site data

  • Site name: Wangdrak PukDbang brag phug
  • English equivalent: Power Rock Cave
  • Site number: A-83
  • Site typology: I.1, I.2c
  • Elevation: 4240 m to 4310 m
  • Administrative location (township): DungkarDung dkar
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda’
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: May 15, 16, 2002.
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C2
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Wangdrak PukDbang brag phug is situated on the south side of the WangchuDbang chu, a tributary valley of the Dungkar ChuDung dkar chu. It consists of a series of terraces and much building rubble spread over the lower slopes of a hill, as well as a highly degraded summit complex. The site appears to be that of a fortified settlement consisting of a stronghold built above a village. No contemporary centers of sedentary occupation are found in the WangchuDbang chu valley. The WangchuDbang chu watercourse now only flows intermittently. Wangdrak PukDbang brag phug must have been founded when the locale still possessed a more reliable supply of water. The lower site covers approximately 3000 m² and begins at the base of the hill. The easily defended summit complex contains various protective wall fragments and several small caves. The highly dissolute state of the ruins, the small staggered rampart fragments, the absence of Buddhist landmarks and its weak representation in the local oral tradition point to the archaic status of Wangdrak PukDbang brag phug. The physical evidence demonstrates that the WangchuDbang chu valley was very marginal to the important Buddhist centers of DungkarDung dkar and ChiwangPhyi dbang, of which it is closely allied geographically. There is very little potential arable land around Wangdrak PukDbang brag phug, probably an important factor in the neglect of the site during the Buddhist era.

Oral tradition

According to villagers of ChiwangPhyi dbang and DungkarDung dkar, Wang DrakpukDbang brag phug is an ancient settlement.

Site elements

Lower site

The terraced lower site begins at the base of the Wangdrak PukDbang brag phug hill and extends upwards for about 20 m vertical. The large amount of building rubble dispersed on the terraces seems to support the local belief that a village once stood here. Traces of the footings of retaining walls are found along the edges of the terraces. The largest intact wall fragment is 11 m in length and 50 cm in height. On one of the terraces structural disjecta membra was converted into a now disused sheepfold. At the northeast corner of the site two wall segments were built into the slope. One of these segments (1m by 1m by 1m) appears to be part of a retaining wall. The other wall segment is 1.6 m in length and 60 cm in height. Smaller superficial traces continue for several meters around.

Summit complex
Defensive structures

Above the lower site, the slope gradient progressively increases until the flanks of the summit are vertically aligned. The summit complex is almost entirely surrounded by escarpments that could not have been easily scaled. All extant structures have a mud-mortared random-rubble texture made of unhewn stones (generally 15 cm to 60 cm long). These structures are highly disintegrated and few coherent wall segments remain. Below the summit on a small shoulder is a building site (8 m by 14 m) reduced to scattered stones. Just below the shoulder is a wall segment built into the slope, 2 m in length and 60 cm in height. Higher up, in a steep gully below the summit, there are two defensive walls segments spaced 8 m vertical apart. The lower specimen is 2.2 m in length and 1.2 m in height. The upper specimen (located just below the rim of the summit) is 1.5 m long and 1.5 m in height. Between these two walls, which must have fully spanned the gully, there is what appears to be the footing of another wall. These structures must have functioned to protect the summit (40 m by 8 m) from approaching attackers. The south summit (side most vulnerable to incursion) seems to have been fully encircled by a wall but little of it is still extant. The largest fragment of this defensive wall is only 1 m in length and 1 m in height, and contains just 20 stones (up to 50 cm in length). The summit is strewn with rubble, but there is very little indication of what kinds of structures were once fixed here.

Summit caves

In the earth and gravel formation of the east side of the summit there are six small caves. The easternmost cave (3 m by 4.5 m) contains an oblong niche and two deep arched recesses hewn from the walls. These are typical design features of caves throughout GugéGu ge in all periods of occupation (the architectural precedent for this type of design can be traced to the archaic cultural horizon). Directly above the easternmost cave is a cave (2.5 m deep) with dual chambers and a very small entrance. Between these two caves there is a 1 m long, 40 cm high wall fragment that may have been part of an upper cave anteroom. Adjacent to the easternmost cave there is another cave whose entrance has been destroyed. Immediately west of this cave there is a chamber (4 m by 4.5 m) that has been partially filled in by rubble. Directly above this obstructed cave is a smaller specimen (2.5 m by 2.5 m). To the north of this smaller cave there is a partially collapsed specimen.

Khartsé Chiwang NamgyelMkhar rtse phyi dbang rnam rgyal

The most substantial locus of past settlement in the area is found near ChiwangPhyi dbang village. On a strategically vital formation, set above the confluence of the village’s two main agricultural valleys (Dungkar ChuDung dkar chu and Chiwang ChuPhyi dbang chu), there is the great Buddhist fortress of Khartsé Chiwang NamgyelMkhar rtse phyi dbang rnam rgyal. According to the local oral tradition, it was founded by a scion of LangdarmaGlang dar ma, the last Tibetan emperor of the imperial period. This may refer to Nyima GönNyi ma mgon, the founder of the Ngari KorsumMnga’ ris skor gsum kingdom. The adobe block and rammed-earth walls of the castle are found on the east side of the summit, and many of them still attain a height of 4 m to 6 m. No structural remains that could be attributed to the archaic cultural horizon were detected at the site. On the sides of the large formation and on an adjoining badland hill to the west there are upwards of 3000 caves, making it probably the largest cave complex in GugéGu ge. Many of these caves have cut niches and recesses and fire-blackened ceilings, which is clearly indicative of human habitation. The ruins of a large monastery destroyed in the Chinese Cultural Revolution dominate the north side of the summit. Reportedly, it belonged to the sakyapasa skya pa, and was the chief monastery of this sect in GugéGu ge. It appears to have been in decline for a long period, and before the Chinese Communist period, there were only a handful of monks in residence.

Local officials report that the current population of ChiwangPhyi dbang village is between 80 and 90 people. According to the legend collected during survey work, the west side of the Chiwang NamgyelPhyi dbang rnam rgyal formation is called NangtongNang stong (Inner One Thousand) and the east side ChitongPhyi stong (Outer One Thousand), each of which is said to have been home to 1000 households. On the other hand, Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po reports that, at the height of Buddhist GugéGu ge power, 1000 households residing inside Khartsé Chiwang NamgyelMkhar rtse phyi dbang rnam rgyal and 1000 households outside the walls of the citadel.65 The massive depopulation is attributed to an epidemic that hit in the distant past. It is very likely, however, that regional desiccation and falling agricultural production, as well as the declining fortunes of the GugéGu ge kingdom, played critical roles in the reduction of population. At present, the spring-fed streams that run through the Dungkar ChuDung dkar chu and Chiwang ChuPhyi dbang chu valley systems are only sufficient to bring a fraction of the fertile lands under the plow in any given year. The presence of so many caves, perennial water sources and an ample agricultural land-base may point to the Chiwang NamgyelPhyi dbang rnam rgyal formation as having been inhabited since the prehistoric epoch. The existence of three cemeteries in the area, dated to the second half of the first millennium BCE, indicates that the environs around Khartsé Chiwang NamgyelMkhar rtse phyi dbang rnam rgyal was indeed an important cultural center in the Iron Age.66


[65] Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po, Ngari ChöjungMnga’ ris chos ’byung, 226.
[66] For information on these prehistoric funerary sites see Chinese Institute of Tibetology, Sichuan University, “Trial Excavation of Ancient Tombs on the Piyang-Donggar Site in Zanda County, Tibet,” Kaogu 6 (2001): 14-31; Chinese Institute of Tibetology, Sichuan University, “Survey of Gebusailu Cemtery in Zanda county,” Kaogu 6 (2001): 32-38; and references to these sources in Bellezza, Zhang Zhung.

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.