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

DoserDo ser

Basic site data

  • Site name: DoserDo ser
  • English equivalent: Yellow Island
  • Site number: B-132
  • Site typology: I.2a
  • Elevation: 4610 m to 4630 m
  • Administrative location (township): BargaBar ga
  • Administrative location (county): PurangSpu rang
  • Survey expedition: TILE
  • Survey date: March 1, 2006.
  • Contemporary usage: None.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: A wall with inscribed plaques.
  • Maps: UTRS X, HAS C4
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

DoserDo ser is so named because the rocks of the island have a distinct yellowish hue. The backbone of this 2.5 km long island is encircled by a rocky beach and a narrow shelf. Traveling via DomukDo smug (B-133) it is about a 7 km journey to DoserDo ser from the mainland, including two expanses of Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho that must be crossed (2 km and 3 km wide). A shorter route (about 2.5 km) to the island heads south from the lakeshore (4580 m). There are sweeping views in all directions from DoserDo ser. To the north, the legendary mountain TiséTi se (6656 m) stands 45 km away. To the southeast there is the gigantic sacred massif known as Takri TrawoStag ri khra bo/Nemona NyiGnas mo sna gnyis (7728 m), the soul mountain (LariBla ri) of the BönBon divine warrior queen, Dralé GyelmoSgra bla’i rgyal mo. Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho is the soul lake (LatsoBla mtsho) of Dralé GyelmoSgra bla’i rgyal mo, known in the Zhang ZhungZhang zhung language as Tsatsa MéTsa tsa med/MutsaméMu tsa med (Woman of the Heavens)/Muting TsaméMu ting tsa med (Turquoise Lake Woman).165 According to BönBon ritual texts, this goddess resides on a poisonous victory mountain in the midst of the lake, a reference to either DoserDo ser or DomukDo smug (B-133), or both islands. DoserDo ser therefore is an extremely important holy location (Gnas), the cultural antecedents of which can be traced to the fairly large archaic residential settlement that was established here. This appears to have been one of the prime archaic religious centers in the Gangritso SumGangs ri mtsho gsum region (TiséTi se, Mapam YutsoMa pham g.yu mtsho and Pori NgedenSpos ri ngad ldan) of southwestern Tibet.166

The DoserDo ser site is located on the east side of the island on top of a bluff and in a sheltered vale. It consisted of four or five residential edifices that have undergone much anthropogenic degradation (as indicated by the lack of roof members on the site, the destruction of revetments and Buddhist reconstruction at the site). No least of all, this tampering was related to an effort to Buddhicize the site. However, there are no signs of a permanent Buddhist presence on the island. Perhaps the archaic religious aura of DoserDo ser was too strong for Buddhist colonists. Moreover, the geomantic perfection of DoserDo ser was not such an attraction in Buddhism with its stress on mental operations rather than on environmental dimensions. Perhaps due to its proximity to TiséTi se and Mapam YutsoMa pham g.yu mtsho, vital Buddhist pilgrimage sites, the buildings of DoserDo ser were the focus of especially harsh treatment. Likewise, the archaic structures at SemodoSe mo do (B-126, B-127) in NamtsoGnam mtsho also appear to have been the victims of extreme vandalism. DoserDo ser never had the economic and cultural significance of TiséTi se with its more than 60 dokhangrdo khang spread out over nine sites (A-46, B-9, B-10, B-20, B-21, B-22, B-33, B-41, and B-42). This may be yet another reason why Buddhist reoccupation of the site appears to have been marginal. The extant structural evidence at DoserDo ser and data from other islands indicates that the remains are those of all-stone corbelled edifices. The random-rubble walls of DoserDo ser were built from a gray and bluish metamorphic (?) rock and a white calcareous concretion (up to 60 cm long). Walls appear to have been 40 cm to 50 cm in thickness, quite light for dokhangrdo khang architecture.

Oral tradition

According to local drokpa’brog pa, the DoserDo ser habitations emerged with the beginning of existence (sipa chakpé khangpasrid pa chags pa’i khang pa).

Site elements

Residential Structure RS1 complex

The residential structure RS1 complex (20 m by 16 m) is situated on a bluff directly overlooking the east shore of DoserDo ser (30° 39.51΄ N. lat. / 81° 11.09΄ E. long. / 4620 m). The complex is in line with both TiséTi se and Takri TrawoStag ri khra bo, affording it a geomantic position par excellence. The conspicuous location, geomantic centrality and the Buddhist reoccupation of RS1 indicates that this was the ritual heart of Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho. Only very small fragments of the original walls are still extant. These random-work walls are around 50 cm thick and up to 1 m in height. Virtually none of the mortar remains in the seams. With so little of the original structures to go by the ground plan of RS1 is unclear. The in situ structural evidence and general character of the site suggest that one or more medium to large dokhangrdo khang dominated this location.

A few roof members (70 cm to 80 cm long) have been integrated into an enclosure (8 m by 3.5 m) on the east side of the RS1 dispersion. Many other pieces of the roof must have been carried off. Some original wall footings were incorporated into the west side of this enclosure. Such enclosures were used as rudimentary shelters by man and beast. The west end of the RS1 dispersion consists of highly degraded footings divided into two sections (the two rooms of a building?), covering an area of 6 m by 3.7 m. It is in the center of the RS1 dispersion that original wall segments are the most developed. These probably represent the remains of two or three rooms (5.3 m by 5 m). The west end of the central sector of the dispersion is dominated by the remains of a rectangular structure, which is generally aligned in the cardinal directions. This adobe wall fragment is encased in random-work masonry walls and measures 3 m (east-west) by 4.5 m (north-south) by 1.8 m maximum height. The mud bricks used in construction are now highly eroded. The precise architectural character of this composite structure is not clear but almost certainly it was a shrine of some kind.

The north end of the RS1 dispersion is dominated by a wall 8 m in length, made from stones extracted from the ancient residences. On this wall there are around 70 highly eroded inscribed plaques. The physical condition of these plaques (highly worn, heavily repatinated, friable state of the stone) indicates that they are of great age. It seems likely that most or all of these plaques were produced in the tenpa chidarbstan pa phyi dar. Their production may have been an act of purifying the location from archaic cultural influences, thereby claiming DoserDo ser for the Buddhists. All but one of the plaques was carved with Wuchendbu can lettering. The other plaque has lentsalan tsha script. The six-syllable manima ṇi mantra is by far the most common inscription but there are also a few plaques bearing the vajra and Riksum GönpoRigs gsum mgon po mantras. This Buddhist occupation of Doserdo ser, nevertheless, appears to have been largely symbolic, because nowhere are there signs of their permanent habitation on the island (the Buddhists generally consider Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho a demonic lake (dütsobdud mtsho).

Residential Structure RS2

Residential structure RS2 is situated roughly 300 m northwest of RS2, and was built into a slope that affords the structure protection from the north (39.58΄ / 11.00΄ / 4630 m). As with RS3 and RS4, RS2 is not in eyeshot of TiséTi se. RS2, with its southern aspect, was set into a gravelly slope and measures about 6.5 m (north-south) by 4.3 m (east-west). The uphill/north side of the structure has been completely obliterated, and only small dissolute fragments of the side and forward (up to 50 cm high) walls are extant. Given the overall site characteristics (as well as those of Upper Tibetan islands in general), RS2 must have been an all-stone corbelled edifice.

Residential Structure RS3

Residential structure RS3 (6 m by 6.4 m) is located at the head of a small valley and has a southern aspect (39.55΄ / 10.94΄ / 4630 m). RS3 was built at two or three distinct elevations but little else can be said about its design. Only tiny wall fragments, 50 cm or less in height, have endured. A wall segment 1.5 m long has survived on the uphill side of the structure.

Residential Structure RS4

Residential structure RS4 was the largest of DoserDo ser’s ancient buildings (39. 50΄ / 11.05΄ 4610 m). It has a southwestern aspect and measures 18 m (north-south) by 6 (east-west). It was built directly below RS1 on the inner side of the bluff. In the nearby valley bottom there is a derelict corral that was built with stones extracted from RS4. Like RS2 and RS3, RS4 is protected from the brutal north winds. The structure is divided longitudinally (north-south) into four main parts, each of which has a forward (west) tier and rear (east) tier. Little of the rear tier has survived; it has been engulfed by the slope. The fragmentary footings and wall segments of the rear wall of RS4 show that it was built into the moderately angled uphill slope. Except for a forward wall fragment (1.5 m high), all other outer walls and partition walls of RS4 have been reduced to 60 cm or less in height.

Residential Structure RS5

As residential structure RS5 consists only of extremely faint structural traces, its architectural composition is ambiguous (39.54΄ / 11.04΄ / 4610 m). Its aspect on a fairly steep slope, nonetheless, matches that of the other residential structures. There is a forward wall footing, 7.5 m in length, and west wall footing, 2.5 m in length, otherwise the slope has absorbed the entire structure.


[165] For BönBon lore on Dralé GyelmoSgra bla’i rgyal mo and Langa TsoLa lnga mtsho see Bellezza, Zhang Zhung, 309, 312, 313, 325-331.
[166] Ironically, not even our local guide (who has repeatedly visited DoserDo ser with his flock of goats and sheep) was aware of the ancient ruins located here. This reflects the extreme obscurity of the site to the contemporary inhabitants, a not uncommon situation as regards archaic cultural remains all over Upper Tibet.

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.