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

SemodoSe mo do West

Basic site data

  • Site name: SemodoSe mo do West
  • Alternative site name: SinmodoSrin mo do West
  • English equivalent: Island of the Srin mo
  • Alternative site name 2: NangdoNang do West
  • English equivalent: Inner Island
  • Site number: B-127
  • Site typology: I.2c
  • Elevation: 4730 m
  • Administrative location (township): PochéSpo che
  • Administrative location (county): PelgönDpal mgon
  • Survey expedition: TILE
  • Survey date: February 12–14, 2006.
  • Contemporary usage: Occasional use of the site by religious practitioners and shepherds.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS IX, HAS D5
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

SemodoSe mo do West is situated on the west side of SemodoSe mo do, the largest island in NamtsoGnam mtsho. This site is closely integrated with SemodoSe mo do South in terms of its geographic aspect and monumental composition (see B-126). It hosts both Phase I and Phase II residential ruins, as well as ceremonial structures. A rocky saddle divides SemodoSe mo do West from SemodoSe mo do South. The east side of this saddle (we call it NamlaGnam la) is very rocky. On its west side, however, there is a trail with the remains of a retaining wall that makes five or six switchbacks. This trail accesses a wide rocky bench on the western tip of the island, the nucleus of SemodoSe mo do West.

Oral tradition

Same as SemodoSe mo do South: a place of meditation for the Buddhist saints of yore.

Site elements

West point house

In the middle of the rocky bench there are the ruins of a habitation (6.7 m by 4 m) with parts of all four walls intact. With standing walls (around 70 cm thick) now attaining a maximum height of only 1.3 m, it could not be positively determined whether this well-built random-rubble structure had a roof. There is no evidence for room partitions. There is a rectangular shrine (1.8 m by 2.5 m by 1.6 m) 9.5 m northeast of this habitational structure. The upper 80 cm portion of this ceremonial structure is comprised of a smaller upper tier, which is slightly concave on top. This structural evidence may suggest that this was a stepped structure with multiple tiers, as is commonly depicted in Upper Tibetan rock art.

DzongmarRdzong dmar

The main residential complex of SemoSe mo West is called DzongmarRdzong dmar, the three-story meditation palace of the Buddhist lama Dopa DarshéDo pa dar shes (born 1228) (49.88΄ / 22.78΄).159 This residential complex (18 m by 13.5 m) is supposed to have originally belonged to Drabü NgongenBra bu’i ngo ngan, a prominent BönpoBon po figure of NamtsoGnam mtsho (probably a local chieftain). The attribution of the establishment of DzongmarRdzong dmar, the main residential complex at SemodoSe mo do West, to Drabü NgongenBra bu’i ngo ngan is the clearest acknowledgment of the indigenous religious identity of SemodoSe mo do found in Buddhist literature to date.160 This reference indicates that BönpoBon po were active at SemodoSe mo do until well into the 13th century CE. Much of the upper tier of DzongmarRdzong dmar was built under a large overhang in the escarpment. It consists of a Lamaist or Phase II façade that was lightly constructed and covered in a red ochre-tinted mud veneer. Most of this structure has been leveled so little can be said about its ground plan. In front of the Phase II cliff shelter there are the even more dissolute traces of Phase I structures. These older structures were built at two distinctive elevations and subdivided into four main sections. Only small vestiges of the well-designed and robustly-built walls are extant. These wall fragments are up to 2 m in height. The middle tier (18 m by 4.3 m) ruins are divided into two main parts. The lower tier (6 m by 5.2 m) is situated 2 m below the middle tier, and appears to have consisted of just one building.

Ten meters away from DzongmarRdzong dmar in the direction of NamtsoGnam mtsho there is an isolated Phase I foundation (7.7 m by 4 m). Eight meters east of DzongmarRdzong dmar there is a Phase II façade at the base of the escarpment. This façade (around 2 m high) is covered in a mud veneer and encloses a space measuring 2.5 m by 2.3 m.

There is also a shallow cave in the formation that has faint wall traces, another Phase I settlement locus (49.94΄ / 22.75΄). The base of a square shrine sits on a bench in close proximity to this cave shelter (49.96΄ / 22.76΄). This ceremonial structure (3.6 m by 3.6 m) is not aligned in the cardinal directions, and has been reduced to 1 m or less in height. The base of a second tier is barely visible, but indicating just the same that this was a tiered structure. At the base of the escarpment there is another cave, which has the remains of a façade that appears to be of limited age (50.135΄ / 22.88΄). This cave faces west.

Affiliated sites

SemodoSe mo do summit

On the very summit of SemodoSe mo do there are extensive ceremonial remains (49.93΄ / 23.10΄ / 4850 m). The monuments (mostly consisting of stone altars [lhatolha tho] and cairns [latséLa btsas]) appear to be of composite construction, with the Buddhists having used older foundations for their own purposes. The most westerly structure is rectangular (2.5 m 1.7 m by 80 cm) and consists of heavy outer walls and a depressed flat center filled with small stones and gravel. The interior is set 40 cm below the exterior walls, giving the structure the appearance of a crib. The other main rectangular structure on the summit (3.7 m by 2.5 m by 1 m) has a conical cairn placed on top of it. These two ceremonial structures appear to be part of the original monumental assemblage of the SemodoSe mo do summit. Next to the larger rectangular structure is the biggest cairn (latséla btsas) on the summit (3.5 m by 3.5 m by 2.5 m), one of a number of such cairns.


[159] See kang tuk en ten dzin nam gyelRkang bstugs and bstan ‘dzin rnam rgyal, ed. Nyenchen Tanglha Dang Namtso Chukmö Neshé Dzubmo RitönGnyan chen thang lha dang gnam mtsho phyug mo’i gnas bshad mdzub mo ri ston (Lha sa: Böjong Mimang Petrün KhangBod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2003), 21; Bellezza, Divine Dyads, 162.
[160] See Drupwang Gongmi Jingi Lapwé NéGrub dbang gong mi’i byin gyis brlabs ba’i gnas, by Kalzang ChödrakSkal bzang chos grags (published by PelgönDpal mgon county in 1991), 12. For other references to Drabü NgongenBra bu’i ngo ngan (name spelled in various ways) see Bellezza, Divine Dyads, 40, 119, 161, 212, 220 (n. 11), 264, 265; 2001, 79-81; 2008, 261 (n. 172).

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.