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

Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar
  • English equivalent: Shang rtse BönBon castle
  • Site number: A-139
  • Site typology: I.1b
  • Elevation: 4300 m
  • Administrative location (township): ShangtséShang rtse
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda’
  • Survey expedition: WYLE
  • Survey date: May 19, 2007
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: Tsatsatshwa tshwa litter the cave floors.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar is perched on the summit of a precipitous badlands formation, rising 100 m above the confluence of a narrow gorge and the ShangtséShang rtse valley. The important GugéGu ge agricultural enclave of ShangtséShang rtse still boasts a relatively high volume perennial stream. On the top of the formation there is a rammed-earth and adobe block carcass (approximately 14 m by 8 m), which faces southeast towards the ShangtséShang rtse valley. The severe gradient of the slope suggests that this single edifice was split between three different elevations. Most of the structure, however, has disappeared down the slopes. Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar commands an excellent position over the north side of the broad ShangtséShang rtse valley, supporting its stronghold attribution in the oral tradition. Arrayed below the summit are 12 to 15 shallow caves that were once inhabited. The scant structural evidence remaining is insufficient to positively identify Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar as an archaic facility.

Oral tradition

According to ShangtséShang rtse township elders, Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar was an ancient BönBon castle. This is verified in a manuscript entitled Tö Ngari Shangtsé Göngi Logyü DordüStod mnga’ ris shang rtse dgon gi lo rgyus mdor sdus, by Sönam DorjéBsod nams rdo rje. The information pertaining to Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar in this eight page manuscript came from the GugéGu ge physician, Penden YeshéDpal ldan ye shes (a disciple of Kyungtrül Namkha Jikmé DorjéKhyung sprul nam mkha’ ’jigs med rdo rje [died 1956]). It records that the BönpoBon po of prehistoric Zhang ZhungZhang zhung had their kharmkhar built on a square knob to the west of the main Shangtsé KharShang rtse mkhar. It is stated that many BönBon folios were buried in the caves at Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar, among which was a BönBon divination text.

Site elements


The little of the carcass that remains has undergone quite a bit of erosion, but the earthen walls have retained much of their mass (they are around 50 cm thick). The uppermost portion of the outer wall of the structure (the bulk of what still exists) appears to be primarily composed of rammed-earth. The orifices for the shuttering pins are regularly distributed across this wall segment (maximum height: 2.5m). Each orifice has a small stone header. There are also a few unbaked mud-brick wall fragments that formed interior wall partitions, but they are too heavily degraded to yield information on the ground plan of the facility. In several of the caves there are Buddhist Tsatsatshwa tshwa (votive clay plaques) with impressions of chötenmchod rten, manima ṇi mantras, the god Chakna DorjéPhyag na rdo rje, and a sitting Lokeśvara (?). These Tsatsatshwa tshwa appear to mark the symbolic occupation of the site by the Buddhists. No Buddhist monuments, however, appear to have been founded here.

Affiliated sites

Shangtsé KharShang rtse mkhar

On a hill above the north side of the ShangtséShang rtse township headquarters there is a large cave complex and the extensive remains of a monastery known as Shangrap Tenjampa LingShang rab brtan byams pa gling. Reportedly, a fortress occupied the summit (25 m by 11 m). The ruins here consist of substantial adobe walls built upon cobble foundations set at various levels. The fortress site is situated approximately 2 km east of Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar. Dating to after 1000 CE, Shangtsé KharShang rtse mkhar appears to have been well integrated into the Buddhist infrastructure of the site. Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po reports that the kings of GugéGu ge spent their summers at Shangtsé KharShang rtse mkhar (a cooler location than TsarangRtsa rang).98 The entire monastic complex was destroyed in the Chinese Cultural Revolution and no attempt has been made to rebuild any of it. A new Buddhist temple has been established in the valley bottom. With over 100 caves, the troglodytic settlement of ShangtséShang rtse must have constituted the heart of residency in the ShangtséShang rtse valley. This locale is rich in arable land, much of which is still under cultivation. Given its natural endowments, the Shangtsé KharShang rtse mkhar site may also have been an important habitational center in the archaic cultural horizon. There is no obvious reason why the early inhabitants of the region would have chosen to ignore this prime location for the far less valuable site to the west. The much smaller and more marginal site of Shangtsé BönkharShang rtse bon mkhar may be where the BönpoBon po (either physically or symbolically) were shunted to after the tenpa chidarbstan pa phyi dar and the Buddhist domination of GugéGu ge.


[98] Gugé Tsering GyelpoGu ge tshe ring rgyal po, Ngari ChöjungMnga’ ris chos ’byung, 235.

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.