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

Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding

Basic site data

  • Site name: Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding
  • English equivalent: Soaring Red Derelict Monastery
  • Alternative site name: Chakgo DrakLcags sgo brag
  • English equivalent: Iron Portal Formation
  • Site number: B-120
  • Site typology: I.2c
  • Elevation: 4700 m
  • Administrative location (township): ZhungméGzhung smad
  • Administrative location (county): ShentsaShan rtsa
  • Survey expedition: HTCE
  • Survey date: October 1, 2002
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS VIII, HAS D4
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

The residential complex of Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding is elevated 90 m above the east side of the narrow Chaksgo DraklungLcags sgo brag lung valley. The precipitous red and white limestone formation provides the facility with an isolated aspect and a good defensive position. Sheer limestone walls tens of meters above and below the site potentially insulated it from unwanted incursions. Many of the masonry walls are covered in orange climax lichen, an indication of considerable age. The walls were built with a limestone random-rubble texture and are 50 cm to 70 cm in thickness. Variable-sized stones went into the construction of the walls. Many of the standing structures are found on a large rock ledge and the steeply inclined slopes that extend below it. In the contemporary period, the nearest permanent water source is located in the DarlungDar lung valley, approximately 1 km away. Unlike nearby Tara MardingRta ra dmar lding (B-124), no attempt was made to materially alter the archaic cultural character of Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding. This highly inaccessible site appears to have been abandoned for a very long time.

Oral tradition

A local tale is told about a BönBon magician (ngakpasngags pa) who once stayed at Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding and used to fetch water with a magic vessel.

Textual tradition

According to the text entitled Pel Zimpuk Orgyen Chölinggi Jungwa Jöpa Kalzanggi GatönDpal gzims phug o rgyan chos gling gi byung ba brjod pa skal bzang gyi dga’ ston, by Rindzin ChömpelRig 'dzin chos 'phel (published by Böjong Mimang Petrün Khangbod ljong mi dmangs dpe skrun khang), the Tsuklakkhanggtsug lag khang of Chakgo DrakLcags sgo brag (Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding) was brought under the control of Lodrö TayéBlo gros mtha’ yas, the founder of nearby Pel ZimpukDpal gzim phug (established in 1095).131 This event seems to mark the demise of the archaic cultural facility (the account notes that the founder and history of the Tsuklakkhanggtsug lag khang are not clear). As there are no palpable Buddhist emblems at Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding, this Buddhist occupation may have been largely symbolic. Given this textual reference, it appears that the original name of the site was Chakgo DrakLcags sgo brag (still the name of the abutting valley). Whether the Tsuklakkhanggtsug lag khang referred to a specific structure at the site or to all its residential loci collectively is a moot point.

Site elements

Habitational tunnels and revetments

After climbing up the flank of the formation, a small ledge with two revetment fragments is reached. These retaining walls are 3.2 m in length and a maximum of 2.3 m in height, and 6 m in length and a maximum of 2.9 m in height. The revetted ledge accesses a 13 m long natural tunnel that leads to the west side of the formation. The remains of a barricade wall are found in the mouth of this south tunnel (6.8 m wide). Much of the rubble from this barricade is strewn around the floor of the south tunnel. On the west side of the south tunnel there is a sloping ledge, 3 m to 10 m wide and 108 m in length. This ledge forms the main portion of Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding. All along the north and west edges of the main ledge there are the remains of revetments, which may have once supported walls that enclosed the entire complex. A particularly well-preserved revetment fragment on the south end of the main ledge is 4.4 m in length. A façade (7.5 m long) on the north side of the ledge bends to the east and bounds a natural tunnel (20 m by 7 m). The remains of a wall are also found in the west mouth of this north tunnel. Inside the north tunnel there is a small freestanding wall fragment that is thickly covered in a cracked mud veneer. Like the south tunnel, the north tunnel must have constituted a habitational venue.

Unusual structure

On a 6-m wide portion of the main ledge, south of the north tunnel, there are the vestiges of an approximately 11 m long edifice. A wall fragment (3.6 m in length) of this structure, which runs perpendicular to the escarpment, is covered in a red ochre-tinted mud veneer. This masonry fragment is a maximum of 2.8 m in height and is surmounted by a tiered structure (85 cm in height) reminiscent of the lhatenlha rten, lhatsuglha gtsug or tenkharrten mkhar class shrines. Painted white, this structure has a square pedestal (35 cm in height) topped by four graduated square tiers, which are capped by a rounded upper tier. These five tiers have a total height of 50 cm. This stepped structure must have once been suspended above the forward portion of the freestanding building, perhaps flanking its entrance as a ritual protective device. This building enclosed a narrow cave 19 m deep. On the walls of this cave are six smallish red ochre counterclockwise swastikas, documenting the BönBon occupation of the site. There are two swastikas on the right wall, three on the left wall and one near the mouth of the cave. Also on the right wall are two faint red ochre spoked-circles and an incomplete letter a.132 The circle that is most distinguishable has eight spokes.

Other freestanding structures

Further north are the vestiges of another structure that was established on the main ledge at the foot of the overhanging escarpment, which rises above Gönro MardingDgon ro dmar lding. This habitational structure measures approximately 6 m by 10 m. In close proximity there is a masonry wall fragment (2 m long) that runs perpendicular to the escarpment. In this wall there is an entranceway (85 cm by 90 cm) with an intact lintel. This lintel is primarily made up of three stones 60 cm to 70 cm in length. Closer to the south end of the site, on the 3 m- to 4 m- wide main ledge that stretches out below the escarpment, there is a zone 25 m in length comprised of footings that once supported buildings. These structures enclosed two caves. One of these caves is 14 m deep and has the remains of masonry façade (5.7 m in length) around its mouth. The other cave is quite large but does not have standing room.


[131] Rindzin ChömpelRig 'dzin chos 'phel, Pel Zimpuk Orgyen Chölinggi Jungwa Jöpa Kalzanggi GatönDpal gzims phug o rgyan chos gling gi byung ba brjod pa skal bzang gyi dga’ ston (Lha sa: Böjong Mimang Petrün KhangBod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2006), 10. See textual tradition section in the B-124 entry for more information about this text.
[132] Illustrated in Bellezza, Zhang Zhung, 188 (fig. 352).

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.