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

Chuti KharChu sti mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Chuti KharChu sti mkhar
  • English equivalent: Water Castle
  • Site number: A-130
  • Site typology: I.1x
  • Elevation: 4140 m and 4200 m
  • Administrative location (township): ZarangZa rang
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda’
  • Survey expedition: HTWE
  • Survey date: July 18, 2004
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: A lone stone plaque inscribed with the manima ṇi mantra and Tsatsatshwa tshwa enshrined on rock ledges, both of which are found at the lower site of Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C2
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Clinging to the right side of the huge defile that restricts access to the amphitheatre of RiwaRi ba is the complex of Chuti KharChu sti mkhar, as well as two lower complexes known as Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa. Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa and Chuti KharChu sti mkhar are primarily built of limestone and sandstone blocks (10 cm to 50 cm long) laid in random-work courses. There are also a few adobe-block walls at Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa. The lack of Buddhist architectural elements and the extreme location of Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa seriously call into question its Buddhist identity. I am of the opinion that Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa was an integral part of Chuti KharChu sti mkhar, the analogously designed facility rising above it. Their morphological congruencies suggest that they share both temporal and functional qualities. Religious activities notwithstanding, Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa is likely to have had military and political functions. This spectacular site appears to have had significant strategic and geomantic value.

Oral tradition

According to the oral tradition of RiwaRi ba,90 Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa was founded before Lhakhang KarpoLha khang dkar po, a temple attributed to Lotsawa Rinchen ZangpoLo tsa ba rin chen bzang po of the 11th century CE.91 Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa is said to be the vestiges of an ancient Buddhist monastery. On the other hand, the analogously constructed Chuti KharChu sti mkhar is thought to have been a castle. Some in RiwaRi ba believe that Chuti KharChu sti mkhar was occupied by the epic hero Ling GesarGling ge sar.

Site elements

Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa

The two complexes of Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa sit upon revetments up to 3 m in height. About 5 m below the main complex (27 m by 2 m to 5 m) there are the faint remains of another complex (20 m by 14 m) built on steep east-facing slopes.

Main complex

Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa occupies a well-guarded position above steep slopes of scree. The trail that accessed the site from the east has disappeared with time. The main complex (axis runs northwest-southeast for 27 m) is built on a rock spur that is only 2 m (southeast side) to 5 m (northwest) wide. This is hardly the setting for a Buddhist monastery. The main complex contained around five buildings or rooms. Except for a small break in the southeast, these structures are contiguous. What may have been a defensive work on the southeast edge of the spur constitutes a separate structure. The higher northwest side of the spur boasts the best-preserved room at the site with walls reaching 2.5 m in height. These high wall fragments have mud plaster on both their exterior and interior sides. The interior dimensions of this room are 5.6 m by 4.6 m. Near the northwest wall of this room there is a damaged masonry structure 2 m in width and 1 m in height. Its length is no longer determinable. The local guides are of the opinion that this structure was an altar. Small rounds of wood (maximum circumference: 25 cm) are embedded in the floor of this room. There are also twigs in some of the walls of Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa.

On the northeast side of the main complex, near its entrance, there is a highly degraded adobe wall fragment. In the northeast wall of the main complex there is an opening (25 cm by 25 cm) located near ground level. Above it is the stone sill of what must have been a window opening. The entrance on the northeast side of the complex (situated about half way along its axis) passes through a corridor approximately 1 m in width. Below the entrance there are the remains of a stone-lined trail. About 30 m north of Wuti GönpaDbu sti dgon pa, at the same elevation, there is a small outcrop with masonry remnants. This appears to have been the outer entrance of the installation.

Lower complex

Only bits of the outer walls of the lower complex have survived. The entrance to the complex in the northeast has partly survived. It is 2.2 m wide and flanked by walls that are still 1.7 m to 2.7 m in height. These are the only surviving freestanding walls in the lower complex. The remainder of the structures have been reduced to the revetments, which reach a maximum height of 3 m.

Chuti KharChu sti mkhar

Chuti KharChu sti mkhar (12.7 m by 3.6 m) appears to have been a companion facility, and may be where the highest status residents of the site dwelt. Access to Chuti KharChu sti mkhar is up over very steep exposed slopes. It is poised on the tip of a spur on the edge of the RiwaRi ba defile. It was during the survey that the local guides first visited Chuti KharChu sti mkhar, a good indication of how marginal this place is to contemporary sacred geographic conceptions. The single edifice (12.7 m by 3.6 m) of Chuti KharChu sti mkhar contained three rooms. The axis of this structure parallels that of the spur upon which it was built. The two upper rooms are highly deteriorated, but the lower room has wall fragments up to 2 m in height.

Affiliated sites

KhartöMkhar stod

Across the defile, on the opposite side of the Riwa ChuRi ba chu, are extensive cliff dwellings called KhartöMkhar stod (Upper Castle). They are situated at around the same elevation as Wuti GönDbu sti dgon. Not only is this location highly dramatic, it is well insulated against attack. KhartöMkhar stod can only be approached via almost vertical slopes to the east. The structures of KhartöMkhar stod are placed against sheltered ledges and are constructed from adobe and random-work masonry. They are spread over a transection of roughly 120 m. On the east side of the site there are two lines of structures, one set on top of the other. Along the lower line are substantial stone structures, one of which has an entrance with its timber lintel intact. On the west side of the site there is a much more degraded complex of structures. In total there were approximately 40 buildings/rooms at KhartöMkhar stod. The morphological character of the site is not in keeping with Buddhist monuments and no Buddhist emblems could be detected with binoculars. KhartöMkhar stod is no longer accessible without technical climbing aids.


[90] My two main informants in RiwaRi ba were TseringTshe ring lhun grub (the monastery caretaker) and Ngödrup TendzinNgo grub btsan ’dzin (born in the Tiger Year, circa 1950). The village of Rinti GangRi sti gang (population of 170) has an extremely fine geographic setting in the midst of a relatively well-watered amphitheatre. On its low end is a rocky defile rising perhaps 500 m or more, which cuts the site off from the ZarangZa rang valley. Access from the ZarangZa rang valley to RiwaRi ba is via the Chuser LaChu gser la (4480 m). Below the village of RiwaRi ba there are the remains of another settlement called TiriSti ri. Reportedly, it was forcefully vacated circa 1970. According to local lore, RiwaRi ba was once considerably larger and more populous. The sheer number of archaeological sites at this locale seems to bear this out.
[91] For information on Lhakhang KarpoLha khang dkar po see Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po, Ngari ChöjungMnga’ ris chos ’byung, 314, 315.

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.