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

Gya Nyima KharRgya nyi ma mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Gya Nyima KharRgya nyi ma mkhar
  • English equivalent: Big Sun Castle (?)
  • Site number: A-53
  • Site typology: I.1b
  • Elevation: 4670 m
  • Administrative location (township): KhyunglungKhyung lung
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda'
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: April 29, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, UTRS X, HAS C3
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The castle of Big Sun Castle is located on a flat summit, which rises approximately 150 m out of the expansive Gya NyimaRgya nyi ma basin. The site enjoys views in all directions and a panoramic sweep of the Uttarakhand Himalaya. A dry-stone random-rubble parapet was constructed around the entire rim of the summit, which measures 160 m (east-west) by 32 m (north-south). A number of ruined buildings are located within this wall, the most prominent of which is an earthen and stone structure on the east end of the summit. Both adobe block and rammed-earth were used in the construction of Big Sun Castle. At this juncture, none of the rammed-earth wall structures found at GugéGu ge sites, such as Gya NyimaRgya nyi ma, can be confidently attributed to the archaic cultural horizon. It is also worth noting that rammed-earth constructions are very seldom encountered at JangtangByang thang residential centers attributed by local sources to the prehistoric epoch. It seems likely that at least some of the remains at Big Sun Castle represent a Lamaist era facility.

Oral tradition

Some local residents claim that the fortress of Gya Nyima KharRgya nyi ma mkhar was built before Horned Eagle Valley Silver Castle (Khyunglung Ngül Kharkhyung lung dngul mkhar), the fabled capital of prehistoric Zhang ZhungZhang zhung, but it was never inhabited. As little wealth had been allocated for its construction by the holder of the bird-horns (jaru chenbya ru can) Zhang ZhungZhang zhung king, the fortress was small and poorly built. When it was completed the king was pleased, however, and offered the head builder a large sum of gold. People encouraged the king not to inhabit Big Sun Castle, as it was of substandard construction. It was believed that its geographic aspect is inauspicious because to the east there is a mountain in the form of a wailing man, to the north there is a wild yak butting in the direction of the fortress mountain, to the south a howling wolf mountain, and to the west the blackened lid of an upset cauldron (langngaslang nga) mountain. Residents of KhyunglungKhyung lung township also tell a similar tale set in the historic epoch. It is also said that Big Sun Castle had a military rivalry with the castle of Mistress Mountain Castle (Jomo Rirang Kharjo mo ri rang mkhar) (A-54), located 10 km to the north.

Site elements


Much of the random-rubble, dry-stone parapet built around the summit has been leveled, nevertheless, there are sections reaching 1.5 m in height and 1.4 m in thickness. On the east end of the summit, there are the remains of a heavily built edifice (7.5 m by 7.5 m). It was constructed of white stones, red adobe blocks with a high stone matrix and rammed-earth, representing all three major wall types found in the GugéGu ge region. The east wall of rammed-earth still attains 3.2 m in height. On the highest part of the summit, 8 m away, there is a stone building foundation that measures 18. 6 m (east-west) by 12 m (north-south). At a distance of 16 m from this foundation, there is an adobe block structure (8 m by 9 m), which is nearly leveled.

Much of the central portion of the summit is devoid of structures. On the western extremity of the summit, there are the ruins of a building (7 m by 9.5 m) built on a 1 m-tall stone revetment, upon which rammed-earth walls stand a maximum of 1.7 m in height. Above the rammed-earth walls, there are courses of adobe blocks totaling up to 70 cm in height. These adobe blocks are 80 cm in length. The original height of this building must have been in excess of 4 m. There is a circumvallating terrace approximately 10 m in width situated 5 m to 7 m below the summit. This manmade feature was probably built with a defensive function in mind. An encircling defensive walkway is also found at the Rock Formation Cave (Drak Pukbrag phug) citadel (A-35), in RutokRu thog.36

Affiliated sites

Yama ChötenG.ya’ ma mchod rten

Another locally well-known archaeological site in the region is Yama ChötenG.ya' ma mchod rten (Slate Stupas) (30º 39.8΄ N. lat. / 80º 35.0΄ E. long. / 4950 m to approximately 5100 m elevation). This extraordinary site is in direct view of sacred Mount TiséTi se, located 90 km to the northeast. Yama ChötenG.ya' ma mchod rten is situated on the border of PurangSpu rang and TsamdaRtsa mda' counties, at the northern foot of the Himalayan passes of Shau LaSha'u la and Kodé LaKo sde la (sp.?), in the Chukar TsangpoChu dkar gtsang po headwaters. Yama ChötenG.ya' ma mchod rten consists of more than 200 red sandstone chötenmchod rten, which local sources say were built by the RongpaRong pa traders of Darchula (members of the so-called Bhotia tribes) over a period of several centuries. These shrines are 1 m to 3.5 m in height, each of which consists of three to five tiers (pangrimpang rim). They were constructed in a rudimentary manner; no attempt was made to sheath or paint the stones. The chötenmchod rten are scattered on a steep mountainside and on a ridgeline below. The chötenmchod rten found on the ridgeline were grouped together by low-lying interconnecting walls. On some of the monuments rest plaques inscribed with the manima ṇi mantra. It is reported that the chötenmchod rten were erected by those who lost a family member in the preceding year. It has not been determined if they had a reliquary function.

Also at Yama ChötenG.ya' ma mchod rten there are around 20 rock shelters with circular plans (2.5 m to 4.9 m across). They were built and used by Bhotia traders as a staging post for their Transhimalayan journeys. These shelters have high, beehive-shaped roofs made of large overlapping sandstone slabs (constructed in a much more rudimentary manner than the all-stone corbelled structures of the archaic cultural horizon). Established over an area of 19 m by 46 m, many of the shelters have small south-facing enclosures, which functioned as simple courtyards. At this encampment, several short devanagari inscriptions were carved into stones. Fortunately, the chötenmchod rten and rock shelters were not damaged during the Chinese Cultural Revolution; the only threats they face are the extremely harsh weather conditions of the Great Himalayan range.


[36] Bellezza, Antiquities of Upper Tibet, 32.

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.