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

Khaser Ramo Gyamo KharKha ser ra mo rgya mo mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Khaser Ramo Gyamo KharKha ser ra mo rgya mo mkhar
  • English equivalent: Yellow Mouth Black Female Goat Castle
  • Site number: A-93
  • Site typology: I.1c
  • Elevation: 4340 m to 4380 m
  • Administrative location (township): RutokRu thog
  • Administrative location (county): RutokRu thog
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: May 31, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: A small flagpole on summit for the local yüllhayul lha.
  • Maps: UTRS I, HAS A1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Khaser Ramo Gyamo KharKha ser ra mo rgya mo mkhar was an archaic cultural stronghold of some importance. It is located on the upper flanks and summit of a 100 m high hill that rises above the northeast side of the RutokRu thog basin. Both DzongriRdzong ri (A-17) and Luring NakhaLu ring sna kha (A-92) are visible from this position. In part, the name of the site must be derived from the tan sandstone found here, which has a yellowish cast from a distance. The steep walls of the formation endow the fortress with a strong geographic posture. The structures found here are in an advanced state of ruin, consequently there is only a limited amount of information that can be gleaned about the layout and design of the installation. The bulk of the stronghold consists of a series of defensive walls arrayed across the summit and upper flanks of the formation. Only tiny traces of what were ostensibly buildings have survived. All structures are built of small pieces of sandstone (primarily 10 cm to 30 cm in length) laid in random-rubble courses.

Oral tradition

According to the villagers of Rutok NyingpaRu thog rnying pa, Khaser Ramo Gyamo KharKha ser ra mo rgya mo mkhar was the first fortress of RutokRu thog. While it was being built by the ancient MönMon, the local yüllhayul lha in the form of a giant black female goat with yellow markings on her face destroyed the installation with her horns. An attempt was then made to relocate the castle at the foot of the DungkhyiDung khyi (Conch Dog) formation, but this yüllhaYul lha appeared as a giant conch dog and molested the site, thus construction was aborted.72 Thereafter, a fortress was finally established at DzongriRdzong ri.73 The name KhaserKha ser (Yellow Mouth) is also said to relate to gold mining that took place in this area well in the past.

Site elements

East summit complex

An examination of the tiny sections of freestanding walls on the summit suggests that a mud-based mortar was used in the construction of the buildings. Near the east end of the summit a freestanding wall segment is 1.8 m in length and 60 cm in height. It appears to have been part of a building roughly covering 12 m². The rim of the east summit (40 m by 4 m to 6 m) is lined with the remains of a defensive wall up to 1.5 m in height. Just below the summit, on the south side of the hill, there is a 1 m to 1.2 m high revetment wall, creating a level area (5 m by 2.5 m) that may have also supported a residential edifice. Likewise, just below the north side of the summit, a revetment (up to 1.7 m high) creates another flat (5.2 m by 5.8). There appears to be a wall footing on top of the upper edge of this structure. This revetment continues around to the southeast flank of the formation to produce another level area of narrower proportions.

Southeast spur ramparts

At the junction of the east summit and a southeast spur there is a small but well-defined area of defensive walls. The rocky backbone extends southeast for about 70 m, on which there are the remains of a defensive wall running the entire length. On an eastern spur-tip, a revetment (up to 1 m in height) forms a level area (5.5 m by 4.5 m). On the nearby western spur-tip there is a similar structure (5 m by 14 m) that supports a parapet wall (50 cm high). This latter revetment is in close proximity to the breastworks on the south flank of the formation.

Southern ramparts

Across the breadth of the south side of the hill there are a series of ramparts that extend about halfway down to the basin. They are a maximum of 1.2 m in height on the downhill side and usually flush with the uphill slope. Any freestanding masonry masses have long since disappeared. There appear to be five main structures following the natural inclination of the slope, which converge at different points and elevations to create a network of interconnected walls and protected pathways. This type of breastworks must have been predicated on a defensive strategy in which the hillside itself was the fasthold, obviating the need for many buildings. Using these walls as cover, defenders could be deployed at will along the formation. Tactically, this style of ramparts seems to reflect the existence of a highly mobile force of archers and slingers who could sweep across the hillside, unleashing a curtain of fire.

West summit complex

The west summit is directly linked to the east summit, but it is around 4 m lower in elevation. The west summit (33 m by 4 m to 14 m) is blanketed in quite a bit of structural debris. Flanking the summit crest there are revetments that may have hosted buildings. On the east end of the summit there appears to be a building foundation (6 m by 4.5 m). Immediately below this foundation on the south side of the hill there appears to be another slightly smaller foundation. Near the west end of the summit there is another building foundation (6.5 m by 5 m). Beyond this point, the summit crest continues for an additional 18 m, but it is only around 2.5 m wide. There are traces of a wall along the length of this narrow stretch of the summit, especially on the south side.


[72] DungkhyiDung khyi is the name of a cliff and small settlement just north of DzongriRdzong ri. It is the site of a shrine for JangtsenByang btsan, the yüllhayul lha of O JangO byang, who is said to have passed this way en route to his present residence.
[73] DzongriRdzong ri (4340 m) (A-17) is set in the middle of northwestern Tibet’s most important nucleus of settlement, Rutok NyingpaRu thog rnying pa. The prime location of Rutok DzongriRu thog rdzong ri at the center of a network of agricultural valleys rich in archaic cultural sites, indicates that this was a very important location since antiquity. The large flat-topped 100 m high Rutok DzongriRu thog rdzong ri is where the HorHor (a tribe that came from the north) chieftain Shenpa MerutséBshan pa sme ru rtse is traditionally thought to have established his headquarters in ancient times (Bellezza, Antiquities of Northern Tibet, 102–104). Shenpa MerutséBshan pa sme ru rtse is supposed to have called this stronghold Dzomo RudzongMdzo mo ru rdzong (Female Yak Hybrid Army Division Fortress). After the epic hero Ling GesarGling ge sar defeated the HorHor of RutokRu thog, Shenpa MerutséBshan pa sme ru rtse became an ally of the Tibetans. What was thought to be the embalmed body of Shenpa MerutséBshan pa sme ru rtse was enshrined at Rutok DzongriRu thog rdzong ri for many generations. The salt used in the embalming process was considered a great sacramental substance (jinlapsbyin brlabs). Local legends speak of ShenpaBshan pa (Butcher) having this name because he killed many bdud demons, including his mother and father. He is also believed, however, to have been an incarnate deity. In one RutokRu thog legend, en route to DomarRdo dmar, Shenpa MerutséBshan pa sme ru rtse along with the armies of GesarGe sar attacked Juru NordzongByu ru nor rdzong, a stronghold of the bdud demons, and destroyed it. Shenpa MerutséBshan pa sme ru rtse is said to have been mortally wounded in this campaign. This is refuted by other RutokRu thog elders who believe that Shenpa MerutséBshan pa sme ru rtse died of old age. The monasteries and fortress of Rutok DzongriRu thog rdzong ri were entirely destroyed the Chinese military invasion of 1959 and during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. According to one local legend, the name RutokRu thog was derived from the first army division (ruru) of the HorHor that was established here (ChöngakChos ngag, Tö Ngarikyi Göndé Logyü Daksel Tongwé MelongStod mnga’ ris kyi dgon sde’i lo rgyus dag gsal mthong ba’i me long, [Lha sa: Böjong Mimang Petrün KhangBod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang. 1999], 100). A more credible etymology upheld by the eminent BönBon scholar Loppön Tendzin NamdakSlob dpon bstan ’dzin rnam dag and others is that RutokRu thog (surmounted horns) refers to the ancient Zhang ZhungZhang zhung custom of enshrining the horns of wild ungulates on the top of houses, temples and castles. According to Könchok TseringDkon mchog tshe ring of the GyapönRgya dpon clan (born Wood Ox Year, circa 1925), who is now widely recognized as Rutok NyingpaRu thog rnying pa’s most knowledgeable elder, the oldest village of RutokRu thog was situated on the lower flanks of DzongriRdzong ri. It was destroyed before living memory and the village relocated to the adjacent valley bottom. The base of the hill used to be encircled with a defensive wall punctuated by gateways in the four cardinal directions. Könchok TseringDkon mchog tshe ring states that when he was a child remnants of this wall were still visible. A tale is told by RutokRu thog elders that during a LadakLa dwags siege of Rutok DzongriRu thog rdzong ri (A-17), the protectress Penden LhamoDpal ldan lha mo washed her hair in butter, letting it pour down the hillside. This is supposed to have fooled the LadakLa dwags army into believing that the citadel still had ample water reserves, so they withdrew from RutokRu thog. The hill of Rutok DzongriRu thog rdzong ri is said to have the shape of an elephant and to be the residence of the territorial god (yüllhayul lha) known as LangbochéGlang bo che. According to local mythology, this elephant hill reared up during a LadakLa dwags attack, saving its inhabitants from harm. So high did LangbochéGlang bo che rise up in the sky that the fortress came to be known as Rutok NamdzongRu thog gnam rdzong. Other highly respected elders of Rutok DzongRu thog rdzong interviewed for this work include the late Penwa TseringSpen ba tshe ring (born in the early 1920s), a highly adept singer of local ballads, and the late Lozang TenpaBlo bzang bstan pa (born circa 1934), the last head of Lhündrup ChödingLhun grub chos lding. According to the Tisé KarchakTi se’i dkar chag, King Mumar TokgöMu mar thog rgod, holder of the resplendent entaeṇta horns of the bird, dwelt at RutokRu thog, as one of the monarchs of prehistoric Zhang ZhungZhang zhung (Bellezza, “Territorial Characteristics of the Archaic Zhang-zhung”). The Bönpobon po commonly identify Rutok DzongriRu thog rdzong ri with the Zhang ZhungZhang zhung castle. The ancient Zhang ZhungZhang zhung citadel is also known as Rutok NamdzongRu thog gnam rdzong and Rutok Khyungdzong KarpoRu thog khyung rdzong dkar po.

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.