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

Rula KharRu la mkhar

Basic site data

  • Site name: Rula KharRu la mkhar
  • English equivalent: Horde Hill Castle
  • Site number: A-141
  • Site typology: I.1b
  • Elevation: 4090 m
  • Administrative location (township): ShangtséShang rtse
  • Administrative location (county): TsamdaRtsa mda’
  • Survey expedition: WYLE
  • Survey date: May 20, 2007
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS V, HAS C2
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Rula KharRu la mkhar sits on a rocky prow that rises about 40 m above the broad valley bottom of RulaRu la. Old terracing and the eroded surfaces of once tilled land fill the valley. The locale is now completely devoid of people and agriculture. A ShangtséShang rtse township subdivision headman from the nearby settlement of ShizhéShis bzhad estimates that RulaRu la once supported well over 2000 mu of farmland (1 mu = .067 of a hectare). As the ShangtséShang rtse river still flows quite strongly through this pocket of the valley, environmental degradation is not likely the only factor explaining the demise of RulaRu la and other nearby settlements. While a relatively large population (potentially hundreds of people) may have once resided at this location, robust physical signs of their presence were not detected. Nevertheless, a little to the east of Rula KharRu la mkhar there is an old settlement consisting of 30 to 40 caves hewn out of the earthen formation, which bounds the edge of the valley. As in many other GugéGu ge locations, these caves are likely to represent an original locus of settlement.

Rula KharRu la mkhar is comprised of a contiguous installation made of blue limestone laid in random-rubble courses. There are also a few adobe-block upper wall fragments. This site is liable to have once formed the social and economic nerve center of the breadbasket of RulaRu la. Its not particularly lofty aspect and the absence of defensive works indicate that it was not a fortress per se, but rather a palace and/or religious complex. Much of Rula KharRu la mkhar has been leveled to its foundations. The installation has a southeast-northwest axis, in line with the ridge it is poised on. There are two building sectors: southeast/lower and northwest/upper. A 3.5 m tall expanse of rock separates the two sectors. Various wall sections in both sectors contain herringbone courses of masonry. The oral tradition, lack of Buddhist emblems, herringbone stonework, and prominent revetments all indicate that Rula KharRu la mkhar is an archaic cultural facility. This has been corroborated by the radiocarbon dating of a structural timber extracted from the northwest edifice of the facility. A foundation or reconstruction date of circa 565 to 705 CE is indicated for the northwest edifice of Rula KharRu la mkhar (see below). The relative position of the dated sample confirms that adobe-block constructions were indeed part of the archaic architectural canon of GugéGu ge.

Oral tradition

According to a township subdivision headman residing in the village of ShizhéShis bzhad, Rula KharRu la mkhar long predates the establishment of the region’s Buddhist temples and monasteries. The local oral tradition maintains that RulaRu la and the adjoining locales of ShizhéShis bzhad and GyadéBrgya sde once supported sizable, thriving communities. The sheer amount of arable land, ruins and troglodytic settlements in these locations supports this view of history.

Site elements

Southeast sector

The southeast sector is 35 m in length. Its southeast/downhill side is 6 m wide, while towards the northwest this sector widens to 15 m across. Freestanding wall fragments are no more than 80 cm in height. Revetments add 1 m to 1.5 m of elevation to the structures. Much of the perimeter wall surrounding the southeast sector has been leveled and no interior partition walls have survived. The mud-mortared random-work walls are around 60 cm to 70 cm in thickness. Variable-sized pieces of limestone (up to 70 cm long) were used in construction, but most of the stones are small. The floor plan has been almost totally obliterated. Scant footing fragments suggest that the southeast sector was divided into at least four sections. The walls flanking the entranceway have a maximum elevation of 2.2 m. These walls extend beyond what must have been the actual opening to the interior, creating an inlet 2.1 m in width. This passageway must have once supported a stairway but all that is left is a natural ramp of stone. On the southwest/exterior wall comprising the inlet, above the 70 cm or 80 cm of freestanding stonework, there are the faint remains of adobe-block courses. These add 20 cm or less to the total height of the wall. The adobe wall traces have been eroded to the point that they are no more than 20 cm in thickness. The inner wall of the inlet reaches 2.5 m in height, including its revetment, the highest elevation structure in the southeast sector.

Northwest edifice

The northwest or upper sector of Rula KharRu la mkhar consists of a single edifice (11.5 m by 4 m), which sits atop a highly prominent revetment. The high walls of this edifice and its position at the vertex of the site, suggests that this was the highest status habitation at the site. No interior wall partitions are intact in this stone and adobe structure. The limited structural evidence suggests that it was divided into two rooms: southeast (forward) and northwest (rear). The revetment on the northeast side of the structure attains 2 m in height. The rear or northwest face of the edifice rests upon a revetment with rounded corners, which extends 2 m laterally beyond the superstructure. This unusually designed revetment is 1.8 m in height, and the walls above it add another 1.6 m to the height of the structure. The rear freestanding wall segment is made entirely of adobe blocks, which have been subjected to extreme erosion. Most other freestanding walls fragments are less than 1 m in height. In the southwest corner of the northwest edifice there is a highly degraded adobe wall segment (2.5 m in height) resting upon a high revetment (around 1.8 m in height).

At the base of the interior rear wall of the northwest edifice, wood bonding materials are still in situ. I was able to extract a well-preserved piece of dramagra ma wood (15 cm long, 10 cm in circumference) for radiocarbon analysis.99 The excellent physical condition of the sample facilitated species identification. This piece of wood was structurally integral to the construction of the adobe-block wall. Along with similar pieces of wood it helped to stabilize the interface between the stone revetment and adobe superstructure. These bonding materials lie perpendicular to the axis of the wall and could be extracted with relative ease and with minimal disturbance to the structure. The sample tested yielded a conventional radiocarbon age of circa 565 to 705 CE, corresponding to the late protohistoric and early imperial periods. Given the relatively small diameter of the piece of wood assayed, it is not likely to have been cut down too many years before it was used in the construction of Rula KharRu la mkhar. It is likely, therefore, an excellent indicator of when the northwest edifice was either founded or rebuilt. It is possible that rather than reflecting the establishment of the installation, the chronometric evidence may be applicable to a reconstruction process. In any event, adobe-block superstructures are relatively easy to demolish and rebuild. If a foundation date is indicated, it may well reflect chronological values pertinent to the southeast/lower sector of the facility. Both sectors of Rula KharRu la mkhar share the same ensemble of constructional traits (system of revetting, adobe-block upper courses, random-rubble limestone fabric, and close structural integration).

The raising of Rula KharRu la mkhar is probably linked to the agricultural land-base of its environs, which must have provided the cereal surpluses needed to support an elite monumental and social infrastructure (regional and interregional trade notwithstanding). We can be quite confident that a viable farming community existed at Rula KharRu la mkhar until at least the seventh or eight century CE. The genesis of agriculture in the area, however, is likely to date to a much more remote period, given the generally more conducive environmental conditions of earlier times and the inherent economic and strategic significance of extensive arable lands. If Rula KharRu la mkhar was founded before circa 630 CE, it was built as part of an indigenous (Zhang ZhungZhang zhung) polity. A later foundation date (circa 630 to 750 CE) would indicate that this facility arose within the pan-Tibetan imperium before the reign of King Tri SongdetsenKhri srong lde btsan.


Southeast of the residential complex, 15 m lower in elevation, there are the remains of a cubic shrine (1.7 m by 1.7 m). This ceremonial structure shares the same axial alignment as the kharmkhar. Probably of the tenkharrten mkhar or sekhargsas mkhar class, the heavily damaged masonry structure is now 1 m or less in height. This type of monumental form and its relative placement are typical of many Upper Tibetan archaic cultural residential facilities.

Affiliated sites

Rulakhar GokpoRu la mkhar gog po

The Lamaist complex of rather diminutive size known as Rulakhar GokpoRu la mkhar gog po has design features that date it to the 11th to 14th century CE (31° 46.7΄ N. / 79° 30.5΄ / 4050 m). It was primarily constructed of adobe blocks in the midst of the RulaRu la agricultural holdings. The faint outlines of aureoles on the walls, auxiliary chapels and outlying chötenmchod rten are some of its more conspicuous features. Although there is some speculation among area residents that this was a BönBon temple, this seems very unlikely given the general religious complexion of GugéGu ge in the period in which it was built. The existence of a temple at this location may suggest that agriculture persisted at RulaRu la at least until the vestigial period.

Down-valley settlements

Just down valley from RulaRu la there is the contiguous agricultural settlement of GyadéBrgya sde. It is now totally abandoned. Its name is said to be derived from the 100 households that are supposed to have once lived among its vast farmlands. A small summit stronghold built of earth stands guard over GyadéBrgya sde. It is no longer accessible. GyadéBrgya sde merges with another extensive old agricultural settlement called LhakarLha dkar. Recently, a residential complex was established here and a small portion of the arable land brought back into production. Down valley from LhakarLha dkar there is an old agricultural settlement known as AtsenA brtsan. Reportedly, a large cave complex and a ruined Buddhist monastery and fortress are found here. Beyond AtsenA brtsan the ShangtséShang rtse valley drops off into an uninhabited gorge that terminates at the Langchen TsangpoGlang chen gtsang po.


[99] Radiometric, sample no. Beta 235999; Conventional radiocarbon age: 1370 +/-70; 2 Sigma calibrated result: Cal 1390 to 1170 BP (years before present); Intercept of radiocarbon age with calibration curve: Cal 1290 BP; 1 Sigma calibrated result: Cal 1330 to 1270 BP.

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.