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

KharpochéMkhar po che

Basic site data

  • Site name: KharpochéMkhar po che
  • English equivalent: Great Castle
  • Site number: A-86
  • Site typology: I.1a, I.2b
  • Elevation: 4360 m to 4440 m
  • Administrative location (township): DerokSde rog
  • Administrative location (county): RutokRu thog
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: May 22, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS I, HAS A1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Both a summit stronghold and a lower residential site are found at KharpochéMkhar po che in the DerokSde rog Valley. The summit complex is comprised of small contiguous structures built in the crenellations of a granite formation (27 m by 3 m to 4.5 m), as well as structures situated on the southwest flank of the formation. Although there are no stone roof appurtenances at the upper site, these buildings were small enough and of the requisite design to have accommodated all-stone roofs.

Beginning at the north foot of the formation, 80 m below the summit installation, there are the remains of walled terraces and foundations. They are situated on rocky slopes with a 20º to 45º gradient. The lower settlement covers an area of approximately 18,000 m². This is one of the largest archaic residential complexes surveyed to date. Most building foundations are concentrated at the upper end of the site. Like Posa KhargokSpo sa mkhar gog (A-84), lower KharpochéMkhar po che was protected by the presence of a bastion in the heights. The fortification of such centers of habitation in RutokRu thog might possibly be connected to its geographic crossroads position, and invasions originating from the north and west.68 The housing structures were purposefully built into the slopes and against boulders, giving them a proximity to the earth that probably had both utilitarian (less stone needed for construction) and ritual (ideal for the worship of chthonic deities) implications. The impression given by the ruins is that of a bustling settlement of many dozens of rudimentary rock shelters and associated structures built on top of one another. Conceivably, many hundreds may have once populated lower KharpochéMkhar po che. Nevertheless, there are no cultivatable lands in the locale, and it is devoid of contemporary permanent settlement.

Oral tradition

According to residents of DerokSde rog township, KharpochéMkhar po che was an ancient Kel MönSkal mon castle.

Site elements


The ancient stronghold is accessed by the little that remains of a stairway, which ascends the near vertical walls of the formation. It begins at the northwest foot of the granite spire. On the high north end of the summit there are four buildings and/or rooms, reached via an entryway on the east side of the formation. This portal still has its gray stone lintel in place. Below the entranceway there is a chamber in the formation that is at least 2 m deep. Along the east flank of the formation, what remains of a passageway on a ledge leads to the three rooms of the south summit. There are also the vestiges of two rooms along the side of this passageway. From the edge of the summit a collection of ruined buildings follows the southwest side of the ridgeline downward. This line of small structures contained at least nine interconnected buildings (38 m by 7 m to 9 m). There are several outlying structures in extremely poor condition to the south of this row of buildings. At the south base of the formation there are a few ill-defined structural remains as well. The tallest extant wall segment at the KharpochéMkhar po che castle is 3 m. The 50 cm to 60 cm thick walls of the various structures are composed of mud-mortared random-rubble containing pieces of granite, mostly 10 cm to 50 cm in length.

Ancient village

The zone of terraces and foundations making up the ancient village extends to within 20 m vertical of the RusumRu gsum valley floor. The many stones found here provided ample building materials for the construction of the settlement. In total, there are at least 150 walled terraces and no less than 60 structures that appear to be the footings of buildings. The terraces are irregularly shaped and average around 50 m². The retaining walls creating them are made of chunks of granite (up to 1 m in length), which were laid without mortar. These highly disintegrated walls are up to 1.5 m in height. The function of this system of terraces is not immediately obvious. They possibly served as a base for the erection of temporary shelters such as tents or other types of domestic operations. Due to the deterioration of the site, the building foundations are not well delineated from the retaining walls. Only small sections of double-course mud-mortared wall footings have survived. These walls are 60 cm to 80 cm in thickness and contain variable-sized stones to 1 m in length. The sub-rectangular foundations (15 m² to 40m²) often integrate large naturally occurring boulders. In one place, three stone beams (60 cm, 80 cm and 80 cm long) rest tenuously upon the top of the wall of a small room. Two of these in situ members are made from granite and one from a tan metamorphic stone. This evidence demonstrates that at least certain structures at lower KharpochéMkhar po che were built with all-stone roofs.


[68] For an analysis of north Inner Asian cultural influences buffeting RutokRu thog in the prehistoric epoch, see 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.