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

Wangchuk Gönpo KharDbang phyug mgon po mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Wangchuk Gönpo KharDbang phyug mgon po mkhar
  • English equivalent: Mighty Protector Castle
  • Site number: A-51
  • Site typology: I.1a, I.1b
  • Elevation: 4970 m to 5000 m
  • Administrative location (township): HorpaHor pa
  • Administrative location (county): Drongpa’Brong pa
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: April 21, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist emblems: A manima ṇi wall and chötenmchod rten (chötenmchod rten).
  • Maps: UTRS XI, HAS C5
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Castle of Wangchuk Gönpo KharDbang phyug mgon po is perched on the top and southern flank of a hill that rises out of the basin of Owl Valley (Ukpa Lung’ug pa lung). The hill is not impregnable, in that access along its western and southern approaches is relatively easy. The strength of the geographic setting comes from the fact that it is highly isolated (it is far removed from other archaic residential sites as well as modern centers of settlement). There are the ruins of some 60 formidably constructed buildings at Wangchuk Gönpo KharDbang phyug mgon po mkhar. Many of these structures were two or even three stories in height. Covering an area of nearly 6000 m² (118 m by 49 m), Castle of Wangchuk Gönpo is one of the largest citadels surveyed to date. Most structures were built of random-work masonry, using a light-colored mud-based mortar adhesive. Roofs were mainly constructed with stone corbels, fitted into socket-holes, upon which timbers must have rested. In some instances, a band supported by corbels was constructed to act as a load-bearing structure for the timbers of the roof. A single manima ṇi wall and chötenmchod rten are found north of the castle complex. These Buddhist structures appear to have been constructed at a much later date.

Oral tradition

According to local sources, Wangchuk GönpoDbang phyug mgon po was the powerful bdud demon ruler of the region. He came under attack by a Tibetan Buddhist army who laid siege to his castle. For a few months the castle withstood the assault, but its water supply was finally extinguished. Not wanting to let this vital fact be known to the Tibetans, Wangchuk GonpoDbang phyug mgon po ordered that his troops smear butter on their hair to simulate that they had just bathed. This ruse had the intended effect and the Tibetan king believed that the castle still possessed ample water reserves. Not willing to wait much longer, the Tibetan king wanted to storm the castle but his army had used up their salt supply. Consequently, retreat was imminent. That night, the great Vajrayāna adept Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che (eighth century) manifested in the dream of the Tibetan king as two yellow ducks which led him to a nearby salt mine. The next morning, using the geographic cues provided in his dream, a minister of the Tibetan king was able to find the salt mine. The attack of the castle could now go ahead and it proved successful, leading to the defeat of the bdud king.

Site elements


The legend claiming that castle of Wangchuk GönpoDbang phyug mgon po belonged to the bdud (a class of indigenous demon/deity) suggests that it was part of the archaic cultural infrastructure of the region. This oral tradition may chronicle a localized incident in the fall of Zhang ZhungZhang zhung and its annexation by the PugyelSpu rgyal state of Central Tibet. According to Loppön Tendzin NamdakSlob dpon bstan 'dzin rnam dag, the foremost BönBon scholar, it seems likely that the Castle of Wangchuk GönpoDbang phyug mgon po citadel is actually that of Gegi Jiwa KharGad gi byi ba mkhar, one of the premier prehistoric Zhang ZhungZhang zhung centers according to the BönBon textual tradition.32 The castle possesses archaic architectural features such as corbelled stone roofs, small windowless rooms (3.5 m² to 12 m²) and low entranceways (1.1 m to 1.4 m in height). Its great elevation is another indication of considerable antiquity, as no major facilities in Upper Tibet were built at 5000 m in the historic epoch. Another indication pointing to an archaic cultural origin is the lack of Buddhist monuments contemporaneous with the Castle of Wangchuk Gönpo (Wangchuk Gönpo KharDbang phyug mgon po mkhar).

The main collection of buildings at Castle of Wangchuk Gönpo is found on a limestone outcrop. Other structures are scattered below on the south flank of the hill. The citadel seems to have been built with locally quarried limestone cut into flat blocks 40 cm to 1 m in length. The upper walls of a few buildings were constructed of rammed-earth. Wall elevations of 2 m to 4 m are common throughout the site, and the tallest extant fragments reach 8 m. The highest rammed-earth segment is 5 m. Wall thickness ranges between 50 cm and 80 cm. Buildings that may have had relatively large halls are located in the upper northwest corner of the site. All entranceways appear to have been built with stone lintels, many of which are still in situ. These doorways are only 50 cm to 70 cm in width. At the junction of the ground and first floors of buildings, square socket-holes are in evidence, some of which still have stone corbels inserted in them. These structural elements were employed to support the flooring of the first story. The roofs must have been built in a similar fashion, using sockets and corbelling. The corbels are not massive (around 5 cm thick) and project a maximum of 50 cm from the walls. Given these dimensions and the wall spans involved, the floors and roofs could only have been made of timbers and not with heavy stone members. No pieces of wood, however, were recovered from the site.

In the lower west sector of the complex there is a passageway (interior dimensions: 2.7 m by 50 cm) with an all-stone corbelled roof, built under a larger room. Another similarly constructed passageway lies adjacent to it, but it is filled with rubble and only a few corbels remain in place. In the lower central sector there is also an alcove (interior dimensions: 80 cm by 1.3 m) with an all-stone roof, which is part of the lower level of a building. On the west side of the hill, below the main group of ruins, there are three narrow semi-subterranean rooms that also appear to have had all-stone roofs.


[32] Bellezza, Zhang ZhungZhang 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.