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

Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar
  • English equivalent: Manima ṇi Plain Castle
  • Site number: A-121
  • Site typology: I.1x
  • Elevation: 4200 m
  • Administrative location (township): TiyakTi yag
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda’
  • Survey expedition: HTAE
  • Survey date: October 15, 2003
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C2
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The impressive citadel and surrounding ancient settlement of Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar is one of GugéGu ge’s most important archaic cultural sites. It is one of three castles in the region related to the Kel MönSkal mon that were surveyed by the renowned Tibetologist Giuseppe Tucci in the early 1930s.82 Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar was founded on a rise some 3 km south of the village of NuSnu. It was more heavily constructed and occupies a less lofty location than the local stronghold of Drakkar KharBrag dkar mkhar (A-120). Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar stands above a large ruined village and defunct agricultural lands that are also attributed by local residents to the ancient MönMon. The formidable extent and majestic form of this site seems to indicate that it supported a population significantly larger than that of contemporary NuSnu (75 persons). The Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar castle is situated on an old route leading across the Langchen TsangpoGlang chen gtsang po river to the ZarangZa rang district and on eastern ones accessing important valleys of ShangtséShang rtse. A small stretch of the Langchen TsangpoGlang chen gtsang po can be seen from the site.

Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar consists of a single conterminous complex, which measures 44.5 m (east-west) by 16 m (east wall) to 22 m (west wall). Its plan is not well aligned in the cardinal directions. What remains of the superstructure of this powerful installation rests upon heavily built 2 m to 3 m high revetments, most of which are still intact. All structures are composed of mud-mortared random-rubble texture walls containing hewn stones (generally 20 cm to 80 cm in length). Freestanding wall segments reach 1.8 m in height, but most are 1 m or less in height. The heavy walls of Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar (50 cm to 80 cm thick) call into question whether this was an all-stone facility of the dokhangrdo khang type. There is no evidence, however, of stone sheathing or corbels on the site.

Oral tradition

Some villagers of NuSnu claim that Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar was a Kel MönSkal mon castle.83

Site elements

Elite architecture

The citadel contains 13 separate apartments, raising questions as to the nature of occupancy. Were these the various residential units of an aristocratic extended family or ruling elite, or did they have an alternative function? What is clear is that there are no commodious rooms such as ceremonial halls or large common spaces in the castle (these are characteristic features of large Buddhist edifices). It may be that the decentralized plan of the installation (like many other early monuments in Upper Tibet) reflects strong tribal features in the social makeup of the ancient upper class. In other words, domestic decentralization may possibly allude to leaders who ruled in a consensual fashion or in close consultation with their people. While the apartments may possibly have housed unrelated groups of ministers or other personnel, the chieftain or king possibly resided in sequestered quarters found within the complex.

Grand entrance

The large entrance to the citadel is in the east. It is flanked by a 7 m long wall in the south and a 2.2 m long wall in the north, forming a sheltered and prestigious ingression. The walls flanking the entrance are spaced 2 m apart. There must have been steps leading 3 m up from the foot of the revetment to the floor of the interior but none have survived. Below the entrance, a 5 m wide path turns south. It is buttressed on its east side by a retaining wall up to 1.4 m in height. The path disappears in the terraces below the castle.

Floor plan

Set slightly south of the inner entrance there is a 1.7 m to 2.1 m wide axial corridor running nearly the entire length of the citadel. The installation is full of standing wall fragments permitting a general assessment of its ground plan. East of the south entrance wall there is a group of perhaps three rooms set off from the rest of the complex. On the south side of the east-west axial corridor there are seven apartments, each consisting of a pair of rooms. To the north of the corridor there are six more such apartments. The partition walls dividing the two rooms of each suite run parallel to the axis of the facility. These apartments vary somewhat in size; typical interior dimensions being 8 m by 3.5 m. Each suite had a walled off area (less than 2 m by 2 m) with an opening onto the medial corridor. These openings were built at the floor level and measure around 50 cm by 50 cm. Some of the apertures still have in situ stone lintels, 60 cm to 70 cm in length. The ground plan and design of these apartments recalls a similar feature in the nearby Drakkar KharBrag dkar mkhar installation (A-120). As discussed above, the function of these masonry pigeonholes in each apartment is not clear. Perhaps they were part of a sophisticated heating system. If they were indeed latrine pits, does the fact that they open internally and not outwards in the direction of the old village point to a citadel closely allied to the villagers that lived below? In other words, the architectonic evidence may suggest the existence of a strong tribal framework. Identifying these enclosures as latrine pits presupposes a careful system of waste management. Instead of sullying the outer community with waste it would have had to be collected and disposed of properly. This prospective domestic scenario seems to reflect a society with a confederated or consensual form of government. West of the 13 apartments there is a section of the complex (10 m by 12 m) raised 2 m higher. This elevated area contained around nine small rooms. Perhaps these rooms represent the apartments of the controlling individual or family of Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar.

Old village

Beginning 7 m below and just south of the entrance to the citadel there is a terraced belt (40 m by 18 m), which extends around the entire north side of the complex. There are two main terraces hosting contiguous structures that appear to be the vestiges of domiciliary foundations. There are, however, few coherent wall sections remaining. The north terraces merge on the west side of the citadel with analogous structures extending farther west along the broad slopes. The west zone of rubble filled pits covers an area of 150 m by 60 m (approximately 7000 m²). There is about a 20 m vertical difference between the higher and lower ends of the west zone of dispersion. The terraces were cut on a north-facing slope, an unusual aspect for habitation (although the site gets good east and west exposure). There are no less than 200 tight-knit autonomous structures on the terracing north and west of the citadel. In some places small sections of coherent wall-footings are discernable. Even where relatively well preserved, the foundations are usually level with the surface or elevated above it no more than 50 cm. Larger specimens measure around 11 m by 6 m, and the footings indicate that they contained at least six small rooms. Smaller specimens are around 8 m by 4 m in size. These structures were built with the same type of stones and block-work as the citadel. It appears that some of the domiciles had walled courtyards on the downhill side. Other more irregular structures found on the site may have had livestock and/or agricultural functions. Immediately north of the village remains there is disused agricultural terracing, which local residents call Kel MönSkal mon farmlands. All other arable lands in NuSnu are still under cultivation.


On the western edge of the old settlement dispersion there is a lone structure resembling the base of a shrine of the tenkharrten mkhar or chötenmchod rten class. It was built of random-work masonry. It is well aligned in the cardinal directions, and its base measures 4 m by 4.5 m. On the 1 m high base there are the remains of another masonry tier that is also quadrate in shape (2.4 m by 2 m, 50 cm in height).


[82] Tucci, Cronaca Della Missione Scientifica.
[83] Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po speaks of a rivalry between the upper (Drakkar KharBrag dkar mkhar) and lower (Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar) castles of NuSnu (he refers to this village as NupSnub), where Mani Tang KharMa ṇi thang mkhar was victorious leading to the pilferage and burning of the property of Drakkar KharBrag dkar mkhar (Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po, Ngari ChöjungMnga’ ris chos ’byung, 250, 251). Both of these castles are said to have belonged to the Buddhist kings of GugéGu ge (Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po, Ngari ChöjungMnga’ ris chos ’byung, 250, 251).

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.