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.2. Residential Structures in Other Locations: Religious and Elite Residences

Dechö GönpaSde chos dgon pa

Basic site data

  • Site name: Dechö GönpaSde chos dgon pa
  • English equivalent: Buddhist Division Monastery
  • Site number: B-34
  • Site typology: I.2a, I.2b
  • Elevation: 4460 m and 4470 m
  • Administrative location (township): DerokSde rog
  • Administrative location (county): RutokRu thog
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: May 22, 25, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: Inscribed plaques and the base of a chötenmchod rten
  • Maps: UTRS I, HAS A1
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The two significant residential structures (south and north) of Dechö GönpaSde chos dgon pa were established below the confluence of the branch valleys that form the main DechöSde chos valley. This religious center (sekhanggsas khang/sekhargsas mkhar) was built on the gently sloping valley floor. The surrounding terrain is sandy and rocky but arable lands are also found in fairly close proximity. The equal degradation of the structures and the uniform wall types suggest that the two buildings formed an integral installation. In total, the structures contain about 24 rooms as well as three latrines. This domestic arrangement might point to the tenancy of two dozen or more people at the site. The existence of this religious complex is probably attributable to the extensive agricultural base that was once found in the DechöSde chos valley (see A-85). The old agrarian economy likely generated the resources necessary for the maintenance of this fairly large nucleus of habitation.

The floor level of the two buildings is situated entirely above ground. The two edifices were constructed with both all-stone and timber roofs. These structures therefore represent an unusual hybrid type of residential monument. As with other all-stone structures, Dechö GönpaSde chos dgon pa does not have large central halls or regularly shaped and arranged rooms. Exterior walls and partitions are largely intact and commonly reach 2 m in height. Much of the mud-mortar used in the 45 cm- to 60 cm-thick random-work walls is extant. The granite blocks used in construction are primarily 20 cm to 50 cm in length. Although Buddhist monuments are located at the site, it is not at all clear who founded Dechö GönpaSde chos dgon pa. Either the BönpoBon po or Buddhists could have established this archaic facility. The early inhabitants of Upper Tibet, however, did not usually favor valley bottom sites and a fully above-ground aspect for the construction of their sekhanggsas khang. Taken as a whole, the structural evidence seems to point to a transitional phase in the construction of Upper Tibetan religious edifices (from sekhanggsas khang to gönpadgon pa), presupposing an early historic periodization for Dechö GönpaSde chos dgon pa.

Oral tradition

The elders of DechöSde chos state that Dechö GönpaSde chos dgon pa was an ancient monastery established before the Buddhist monasteries of RutokRu thog’s DzongriRdzong ri.

Site elements

South edifice

The outer walls of the south edifice (4460 m) are irregularly-shaped and are configured with 21 different wall planes. The perimeter of this structure measures approximately 70 m. In addition, there is a forward or east courtyard that measures 10 m (north-south) by 5 m (east-west). The walls enclosing this open space have crumbled to their foundations. There appear to have been three east entrances to the south edifice. On the exterior south side of the south edifice there is a 50 cm high parapet wall, adding significantly to the building’s elevation.

The 60 m wide north entrance is positioned outside the courtyard and accesses a north wing that seems to have constituted five rooms. None of the internal entrances between these rooms have survived in the fragmentary wall partitions. The northeast room (2.2 m by 2.8 m) of the north wing has a niche in the north wall. An L-shaped room measures 3 m by 3 m on its long sides. The other three rooms of the north wing are each around 8 m². None of the roof has persisted in the north wing, but evidence from other parts of the south edifice suggests that it was constructed with both stone and timber roofing materials.

The entrance to the central wing of the south edifice was obliterated along with the wall in which it was built. The central entrance was situated inside the courtyard. The central wing of the facility apparently had six rooms. Among the rooms in this portion of the structure is a latrine in the southeast corner of the building. It has a hole in the floor that is conveyed to a privy pit with an east-facing opening at the base of the exterior wall. The largest room in the central wing is the central north room (5 m by 3.5 m). This relatively large room with its long straight walls must have been built with a timber roof. The other five rooms are significantly smaller and may have had stone roofs. There is a niche in a wall of the northwest room and one in the southwest room.

The south entrance gains entry to the south wing of the building with its seven small rooms and latrine. The irregularly-shaped rear room has corbels attached to the tops of the walls, indicating that a stone integument covered them. The largest room in the south wing is the central north specimen (2.7 m by 3.2 m). There are two niches in the north wall of this room. From the central north room there is an entranceway (1 m by 50 cm) to the west compartment and an entranceway (1.1 m by 50 cm) to the south compartment (situated in the southwest corner of the south edifice). There are two niches and a recess (1 m by 50 cm) in the west compartment. Many of the roof corbels in the tiny west room are in situ. The maximum floor-to-ceiling height of the west room is 1.8 m. Accounting for the corbels, bridging stones and sheathing slabs, the total height of the west room must have been around 2.2 m. The stone roof in the south room (1.8 m by 1.5 m) is partly intact. The floor-to-ceiling height of this room is around 1.6 m. There was also a central south room as well as three forward rooms in the south wing of the south edifice.

North edifice

The north edifice (4470 m) is situated 75 m northwest of the south edifice, at slightly higher elevation. It measures 8.3 m (east wall) by 11 m (south wall) by 9.7 m (west wall) by 10.4 m (north wall). This building is generally aligned in the cardinal directions. Although none of the roof is extant in the north edifice, the walls are much straighter than the south edifice, indicating that it was largely or entirely constructed with a timber roof. Many of the walls still reach 1.5 to 2 m in height. The north edifice contains five rooms: northwest (3.5 m by 2.7 m), southwest (3 m by 3.1 m), northeast (2 m by 2.6 m), southeast (2.7 m by 2.5 m), central (6.5 m by 3.6 m), as well as a small entrance vestibule. The latrine is accessed from the southwest room. The latrine comprises a small extension of the main body of the structure. The latrine privy pit and its exterior wall opening are still intact. There is also a small courtyard on the east side of the building. Inside the courtyard there is a broken stone mortar formed from a hollowed boulder.

DechöSde chos shrine

Two meters north of the south edifice there is a rectangular masonry structure (5.6 m by 1.9 by 1.3 m). Local elders report that it is the base of a Riksum GönpoRigs gsum mgon po chötenmchod rten that was destroyed in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Beside it is a crudely built wall with a few shards of old inscribed plaques.

Chöten DünbuMchod rten bdun bu

A couple kilometers down valley from the agrarian village of DechöSde chos there is a row of ancient chötenmchod rten called Chöten DünbuMchod rten bdun bu. They are set in the midst of defunct agricultural fields. According to village elders, these chötenmchod rten were built by that ancient tribe, the Kel MönSkal mon, and were destroyed before living memory. This oral tradition, the absence of inscribed plaques and the fact that no contemporary observances are held at the site may suggest that these shrines were built by the BönpoBon po. The six chötenmchod rten (perhaps there was once a seventh specimen as the name suggests) form a north-south line 28 m in length. They were primarily built of granite blocks and corbels but some adobe blocks are also interspersed in the constructions. Structures are composed of random-rubble walls, containing stones 20 cm to 70 cm in length.

The two north and two south chötenmchod rten each have a single bumpabum pa, and were designed in a similar fashion to modern variants. The two middle chötenmchod rten had multiple bumpabum pa (local accounts claim that each of these specimens had five bumpabum pa). The number given to each chötenmchod rten reflects their sequential position from south to north:

ChötenMchod rten 1

The MT1 shrine (2.75 m by 2.75 m) is approximately 3 m in height and was apparently covered in a mud-based veneer tinted with red ochre. The base and cylindrical bumpabum pa are hollow. The base appears to consist of two tiers: a lower main tier and an upper tier of lesser height. The corbels, stacked diagonally on top of one another to create the top section of the base, are visible. These corbels are all less than 1 m in length. The lower two rungs of the spire (khorlo’khor lo) are extant. This spire was probably short and squat as is common in early chötenmchod rten architecture.

ChötenMchod rten 2

MT2 (3 m by 3 m) is of the same design and construction as MT1. The cylindrical bumpabum pa tapers slightly outwards towards the top.

ChötenMchod rten 3

There is a portal (1m by 70 cm) in the east wall of the 1.6-m high base of MT3 (4 m by 4 m). The 50 cm to 70 cm thick exterior walls enclose a substantial interior, which is divided by a north-south partition wall into two sections. A 1.6 m long bridging stone spans the partition wall and exterior south wall. A 1.2 m long capstone still covers the northeast corner of the base. What ostensibly are the remains of a small bumpabum pa rest upon this stone slab. A very small fragment of the southeast bumpabum pa has also survived.123 In situ corbels are also found on top of the east wall of the chötenmchod rten base. The exact purpose of this hollow base is not known, but it is likely to have had an enshrining function.

ChötenMchod rten 4

MT4 (4 m by 4m) is of the same design and construction as MT3. Its base has been reduced to an incomplete shell.

ChötenMchod rten 5

MT5 (3 m by 3m) is of the same type as MT1 and MT2.

ChötenMchod rten 6

The 1 m high base of MT6 (2 m by 2m) was mud plastered. Some adobe blocks cap the base but not enough of them remain in place to gauge the type of structure they created.


[123] Chötenmchod rten with elongated bases and rows of small bumpabum pa, which were almost certainly built by the Bönpobon po, are found at the DodrilbuDo dril bu site at Trari NamtsoBkra ri gnam mtsho (B-13) (Bellezza, Antiquities of Northern Tibet, 243) and on the north shore of DaroktsoDa rog mtsho (Bellezza, John Vincent. “A Preliminary Archaeological Survey of Da rog mtsho.” The Tibet Journal 24, no. 1 [1999]: 66).

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.