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

KharkarMkhar dkar

Basic site data

  • Site name: KharkarMkhar dkar
  • English equivalent: White Castle
  • Site number: A-109
  • Site typology: I.1x
  • Elevation: 4730m to 4790 m
  • Administrative location (township): ChakkhangLcags khang
  • Administrative location (county): RutokRu thog
  • Survey expedition: HTAE
  • Survey date: October 6, 2003
  • Contemporary usage: A single string of prayer flags was recently hung on the summit.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS I, HAS A1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The large citadel of KharkarMkhar dkar sits astride a dark-colored conical hill in the midst of a now uninhabited plain. The main portion of the facility is located on the summit of this 130 m high steeply inclined formation, well out of reach of higher terrain. This protected geographic position is typical for ancient Upper Tibetan strongholds. The site has encompassing views to the east, south, and west. To the west is the Tibetan frontier region extending to the Indus (Senggé TsangpoSeng ge gtsang po) valley. Like many other archaic castles in the region, few standing walls remain at KharkarMkhar dkar. The footings and revetments that have endured clearly show, however, that this was a large and puissant facility, which potentially had wide regional significance. Wall textures consist of mud-mortar and dry-stone random-work of variable-sized stones. Many of the dark-colored (metamorphic?) blocks used in construction were dressed.

Oral tradition

Area residents say that KharkarMkhar dkar was an ancient castle.

Site elements

Summit complex
Northern outworks

The most northerly structure at the site is situated just below the east side of the summit. It is an isolated defensive wall segment (1.6 m by 1.6 m by 1.2 m). Some tens of meters to the south, on an east-facing rib of rock, a rampart immunized the castle on its most vulnerable flank. This defensive wall extends down from the summit for 38 m and, with its revetments, reaches a maximum height of 1.8 m. At the lowest point of this rampart there are the remains of a small battlement (2 m by 2 m). There is another ruined habitational structure (4 m by 5 m) where this wall joins the summit. The walls of this habitation now have a maximum elevation of 90 cm, most of which is taken up by the revetment. The large summit complex is located 32 m south of this structure.

North building

From the south, one enters a 5 m long section of footings on the narrow northern edge of the summit complex. The main cluster of edifices begins just south of this point. Its 35 m long axis is roughly oriented north-south. The north building (9.1 m by 5.8 m) is slightly higher than others on the summit. This edifice has maximum exterior wall elevations of 2.7 m and interior elevations of 1.4 m, the difference being made up by an underpinning revetment. From the remaining wall partitions it can be seen that this building contained four or five rooms of varying size. The interior wall joints show that a mud mortar was used in construction, although most of it has washed away. The stonework consists of rocks 20 cm to 70 cm in length used to construct walls 45 cm to 65 cm in thickness. There are openings in the north and east walls near the floor level. These defensive or ventilation features are between 20 cm and 40 cm in width. Immediately south of the north building, on both rims of the summit, there are the remains of parapet walls that extend 10 m to the south. These parapets are 50 cm to 80 cm thick and up to 1.3 m in height, 50 cm of which is freestanding. The summit in this area is 5 m wide.

South aggregation of buildings

On the east side of the summit, south of the parapet walls, there are the highly fragmentary leavings of a building, which contained two rooms (7.3 m by 6 m). There is a gap of 3.6 m between this structure and those situated on the south side of the summit. The south summit probably consisted of four interconnected buildings covering an area of 10.7 m by 16.5 m. Standing walls here only reach 50 cm, but revetments add another 1.5 m to their elevation. Three meters below the south buildings, on the east flank of the hill, there are the vestiges of a single building (4.8 m by 3.7 m). Ten meters below the south buildings, lies the only structure built on the west flank of the summit. This outlying defensive-work (4 m by 3.1 m) sits on a revetment 1.8 m in height. No standing walls have survived.

Southeast and south ramparts

Below the summit, on the southeast and east sides of the KarkharDkar mkhar hill, there are a series of no less than 15 dry-stone ramparts sequenced at various elevations. These were generally constructed on ledges interspersed between nearly vertical expanses of rock. The network of ramparts extends down from the summit for 60 m vertical. The sheer west side of the formation required no such protective treatment. The ramparts are comprised of 1 m to 3 m high walls bounding the ledges or slopes. They range in length from 3. 5 m to 9 m, and create level spaces between them and the formation. In a few spots there is evidence of standing walls up to 50 cm in height, indicating the existence of a parapet or possibly the base of a small edifice. The staggering of what appear to have been fighting platforms across the outer face of the formation is a typical design feature of archaic strongholds in Upper Tibet.


Near the lowest extension of ramparts there are the remains of a well-built solitary shrine, which is probably of the tenkharrten mkhar or sekhargsas mkhar class. Finely dressed stones were used in this dry-stone construction (1.9 m by 1.7 m). Its four walls are oriented in the cardinal directions and have been reduced to around 40 cm in height. On the quadrate base of the shrine there are traces of a small hollow stone bumpabum pa-like structure, which adds another 60 cm its elevation.


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.