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

Belpa KharSbal pa mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Belpa KharSbal pa mkhar
  • English equivalent: Frog Castle
  • Site number: A-106
  • Site typology: I.1x
  • Elevation: 4500 m
  • Administrative location (township): O JangO byang
  • Administrative location (county): RutokRu thog
  • Survey expedition: HTAE
  • Survey date: October 2, 2003
  • Contemporary usage: A small disused prayer flag mast is on the summit.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS I, HAS A1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

On the top of a 20 m high conical hill, heaps of stones mark the location of a small citadel known as Belpa KharSbal pa mkhar. This site is located at the head of a narrow valley called Belpa YudongSbal pa g.yu gdong (Frog Turquoise Face). The summit (9.5 m by 10 m) of this limestone formation is blanketed in rubble, which pours down the flanks of the hill for a distance of 2 m to 5 m on all sides. The steep hillside gives the site a fairly good defensive position, however, higher ground to the north and south could potentially have been used to harass the occupants with volleys of arrows and stones. The structures were built of uncut limestone blocks of variable size (15 cm to 80 cm). Only small sections of the rampart that encircled the summit are still intact. They were constructed of random-rubble. Cultivation once took place in the Belpa YudongSbal pa g.yu gdong valley below the citadel. This narrow valley has a good spring, which drains into the BarBar basin before disappearing underground. From Belpa KharSbal pa mkhar there are excellent views of the long and narrow Tsomo Ngangla RingtsoMtsho mo ngang la ring mtsho.

Oral tradition

Belpa KharSbal pa mkhar is said by local sources to have been an ancient fortress.

Site elements

Summit complex

On the south and east sides of the summit, ramparts between 60 cm and 1.5 m in height have persisted. There is also a small bit of an integral revetment on the north side of the summit. The substantial wall-bases and copious amounts of rubble suggest that substantial structures once stood at Belpa KharSbal pa mkhar. Approximately 5 m below the summit, on the east slope, there is a foundation (5.2 m by 4.1 m), where ostensibly a building once stood. Most of the footings are intact and they incorporate naturally occurring boulders within them. The west foundation wall is built 70 cm into the uphill slope, while the east wall footing rises 1.2 m above the downhill slope. These walls are around 60 cm thick and were built of random-work. There may also have been a small edifice on the slope below the west side of the summit, but structural evidence was largely effaced by the construction of a now disused drokpa’brog pa shelter.

Lower site

At the southern base of the hill, on the edge of a gully, there are the remains of another foundation (4.8 m by 5.8 m). It was built of large stones that drew in situ boulders into its construction. The uphill wall of the structure is set 90 cm into the ground. Some tens of meters farther south there is another structure that appears to have had a domiciliary function (6.4 m by 3.9 m). Parts of all four walls are intact and they are generally aligned in the cardinal directions. The rear or west wall is built 80 cm into the slope. The east wall stands freely to a height of 1.1 m. The 40 cm to 60 cm-thick walls are made of random-work. This structure was partitioned into east and west rooms. Its constructional features and physical decay seem to suggest that this is a monument of significant age. Its relationship, if any, to the hilltop fortress is unknown.

Affiliated sites

Buddhist monastery

The historic sedentary occupation of the locale is represented in a small Buddhist monastery or hermitage situated on a low-lying ridgeline, enclosing the opposite side of the Belpa YudongSbal pa g.yu gdong valley. This site consists of three small and highly eroded adobe buildings. The largest of the buildings measures 4.8 m by 4.8 m, and has standing walls that reach 2 m in height. The lower building encloses a cave that now functions as a shepherd’s camp. This cave has courses of masonry lining its lower walls and a stone bay, probably marking it as a place of religious practice (druppuksgrub phug). Below the monastic buildings there is the base of a simple chötenmchod rten, and what appears to have been a Riksum GönpoRigs gsum mgon po chöten mchod rten; these are still especially popular in RutokRu thog (they have three bumpabum pa of contrasting colors).

Old agriculture

From the summit of Belpa KharSbal pa mkhar it can readily be seen that the vale of Belpa YudongSbal pa g.yu gdong hosted one contiguous strip of arable land. These lands are surrounded by the roots of a wall and are subdivided by the remains of other walls. Roughly 2 km south of Belpa YudongSbal pa g.yu gdong there is a smaller agricultural parcel. According to an O JangO byang township resident named TranamBkra rnam (born circa 1924), when he was a young boy, this land was being cultivated by an individual named Sönam NorgyelBsod nams nor rgyal. This pre-modern cultivation appears to mark the last significant occupation of the site.

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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.