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

Balu KharBa lu mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Balu KharBa lu mkhar (PulingSpu gling)
  • English equivalent: Dwarf’s Castle
  • Site number: A-102
  • Site typology: I.1a
  • Elevation: 4590 m
  • Administrative location (township): TsarangRtsa rang
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda’
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: October 21, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C2
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

At Balu KharBa lu mkhar seven all-stone corbelled domiciles (dokhangrdo khang), containing around 30 rooms in total, were constructed on the summit of a Himalayan outlier. The highly remote site has stunning views of both the Great Himalaya and the Transhimalayan Ayi LaA yi la range. Cliffs on all sides encircle the location, providing it with an excellent defense capability. Access is via a 20 m high rock chimney in the formation, which must have once supported a stairway. The seven dokhangrdo khang are built of locally-occurring brown sandstone in the typical fashion (with buttressed walls, stone corbelling, bridging stones, and stone sheathing). These detached buildings were raised on the sandy and brush-covered summit, which is inclined at around 30º. Balu KharBa lu mkhar is one of the only sites of this typology to be discovered in the badlands region of GugéGu ge. This monument constitutes one piece of evidence that demonstrates GugéGu ge’s close architectural relationship and cultural affinity with the high plateau to the east. The all-stone structures of Balu KharBa lu mkhar appear to represent an elite residential (religious?) center of the archaic cultural horizon. The walls are constructed of dry-stone random-rubble slabs and blocks, 20 cm to 60 cm in length. Walls are 50 cm to 60 cm in thickness.

Oral tradition

Given its remote location and culturally marginal position, only a very small handful of people from the nearby village of PulingSpu gling ever reached Balu KharBa lu mkhar. Two reasons are given for the site name:

  1. It is associated with bears (interestingly, balu is the Hindi, Nepali and Pahari word for the Himalayan black bear).
  2. Dwarfs called baluba lu built this castle (bala is the Hindu dwarf incarnation of the god Vishnu). Local sources cite the tiny doorways of the complex as verifying this belief.75

Site elements

Residential Structure RS1

Very little of residential structure RS1, the most easterly habitation (3.4 m by 9.6 m), has survived. Its walls appear to have been oriented in the compass points. Fragments of the forward or downhill wall reach 1.6 m in height. The rear wall has been almost obliterated.

Residential Structure RS2

Residential structure RS2 (8 m by 8.3 m) is located 24 m west of RS1. This largest edifice of Balu KharBa lu mkhar was split into three levels. The upper tier probably contained three rooms. The west room of the upper tier (2.7 m by 1.2 m) is the only one at Balu KharBa lu mkhar to have a partly intact roof. The stone roof was built in the customary way with corbels and bridging stones overlaid with stone sheathing. The longest roof member is 1.2 m. The uphill edge of the roof is flush with the ground, creating a semi-subterranean aspect. The current floor-to-ceiling height of this room is just 1.1 m. The 1.1 m long lintel over the entranceway (1 m by 60 cm) is in situ. Naturally occurring boulders form the rear walls of the other two rooms in the upper tier. The rear walls of these rooms were built 1.1 m into the ground and they are each about 2 m wide. Very little of the upper tier east room remains. The middle tier consists of two relatively large rooms that had an entrance independent from the upper tier. A good portion of the walls of the west room (2.1 m by 3.2 m) are still standing. The forward wall has a maximum internal height of 1.7 m. The rear wall of the west room was built into the slope directly below the upper tier rooms. The intact entranceway (1.3 m by 70 cm) also accesses the middle tier east room. Only some of the stone flooring in the east room has endured. Below the flooring there is a 1.1 m-deep, 80 cm wide recess that opens onto the lower tier east room. The lower tier of RS2 contains five rooms. The separate entrance to the lower tier east room is in the east. The forward wall of the lower tier middle room attains 2.3 m in height, with 60 cm of this as a revetment. There is a recess built into the rear wall of the middle room. There are also three highly deteriorated west rooms in the lower tier. The rear wall of these rooms was constructed about 1 m into the slope, and their forward or south wall has a maximum elevation of 2 m.

Residential Structure RS3

Residential structure RS3 (3.8 m by 4 m) is located 5.5 m east of RS2. The rear wall is set into the slope to a depth of 1.6 m. There is one in situ corbel bearing down on the rear wall. The side walls (east and west sides) are freestanding to a height of 2.3 m. The forward wall has been destroyed.

Residential Structure RS4

Residential structure RS4 (10 m by 4 m) is located 11.6 m southwest of RS2 at the same elevation. It appears to have contained two relatively large rooms. The remains of a 1.2 m thick partition wall divide the two rooms. Also, between the rooms there appears to have been an 85 cm wide interclose, which would have helped support the heavy roof. Very little else of this structure is extant.

Residential Structure RS5

Residential structure RS5 (3.1 m by 4.5 m) is located immediately above RS4. Due to the movement of the slope its rear wall has been eradicated. The forward wall has a maximum exterior elevation of 1.6 m and an interior height of 90 cm. The 85 cm wide entrance to the building is in the east. The lintel is 1 m in length, but the height of the entrance was not measurable due to the deposition of earth inside the structure.

Residential Structure RS6

Residential structure RS6 (8.9 m by 3.7 m) is located 4 m west of RS5 at the same elevation. The failure of the slope has destroyed the rear wall. The forward wall is also missing; only segments on its east and west sides remain. A room partition is also partly intact. The east side of this 1 m high partition wall fragment has a niche (30 cm by 35 cm).

Residential Structure RS7

Residential structure RS7 (3.8 m by 7.4 m) is located 2 m west of the upper tier of RS6. This structure appears to have had an upper tier of rooms, at least along some of its breadth, adding nearly 3 m to its north-south dimension. However, due to the slippage of the slope, very little structural evidence is visible. The lower tier had three rooms. The rear wall of the west room has a niche lined with stone slabs (55 cm by 35 cm). The forward wall of RS7 has been destroyed. A freestanding west wall segment is 1.4 m in height.


[75] In the oral tradition of western Tibet balusba lu/baluba lu are anthropomorphous creatures empowered by the yüllhayul lha. They can be bearers of wealth. They are said to have built walls known as Balu Kharba lu mkhar in mountains. In the GesarGe sar epic, baluBa lu was a spy working between the countries of HoryülHor yul and LingyülGling yul (Rohit Vohra, The Religion of the Dards of Ladakh: Investigations into their Archaic ’Brog-pa Traditions [Ettelbruck: Skydie Brown, 1989], 120). In Dardic drokpa’brog pa mythology, baluba lu is a dwarf who roams on the wind (Vohra, The Religion of the Dards of Ladakh, 120). In LadakLa dwags there is a ruined castle called Balu KharSba lu mkhar/Balu KharBa lu mkhar*. Its walls are built of shuttered earth that rest upon mud mortared stone foundations. On the basis of inscriptions and petroglyphs found in the proximity, LadakLa dwags’s Balu KharBa lu mkhar may have been founded as early as 800-1000 CE. See Neil Howard, “The Development of the Fortresses of la dwags c. 950 to c. 1650 AD,” East And West39 (1989): 281, 282. According to Francke, the probable spelling is Balu KharSba lu mkhar (located 3 km from Khalatse) (August Hermann Francke, “Archaeological Notes on Balu-Mkhar in Western Tibet,” Indian Antiquaryxxxiv (1905): 203).

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.