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

Rechen PukRas chen phug

Basic site data

  • Site name: Rechen PukRas chen phug and Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong
  • English equivalent: Mighty Mountain Fortress
  • Alternative site name: Nyangpo Ri DzongMyang po ri rdzong
  • Site number: B-22
  • Site typology: I.2a
  • Elevation: 4930 m to 4990 m
  • Administrative location (township): BargaBar ga
  • Administrative location (county): PurangSpu rang
  • Survey expedition: UTAE
  • Survey date: April 27, 2001
  • Contemporary usage: Rechen PukRas chen phug is a Buddhist pilgrimage site.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: Rechen PukRas chen phug has various religious accoutrements. Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong is festooned with minimum prayer flags.
  • Maps: UTRS V, UTRS X, HAS C4
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Floorplan
  • View Site Images

General site characteristics

Two lofty all-stone complexes known as Rechen PukRas chen phug and Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong are found upwards of 150 m above ChökuChos sku monastery, and some 230 m above the LhachuLha chu valley. These two facilities were established on rocky shelves suspended in the mostly vertical slopes of the mountain known as Gangri Lhatsen PodrangGangs ri lha btsan pho brang. Located on the opposite side of the LhachuLha chu from TiséTi se, this rugged formation is popularly known as the dwelling place of Gangri LhatsenGangs ri lha btsan, the fierce protector of the Gang RinpochéGangs rin po che pilgrimage center. A deep couloir separates the Rechen PukRas chen phug and Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong sites. These facilities probably represent religious centers of the sekhanggsas khang/sekhargsas mkhar class.

Rechen PukRas chen phug and Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong have the typical design and constructional characteristics of the all-stone edifices known as dokhangrdo khang. These structures have random-rubble walls composed of cut stone blocks primarily 30 cm to 70 cm in length. A minimal amount of mud-mortar was used to cement the joints of some walls while other walls appear to be of the dry-stone variety. These walls generally exhibit much higher quality stonework than that found in the Buddhist monastic facilities of ChökuChos sku, situated directly below the site. The presence of these important residential monuments helps to establish the cultural prominence of TiséTi se during the prehistoric epoch and/or early historic period. Unlike the Buddhist monastery of ChökuChos sku, the placements of Rechen PukRas chen phug and Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong were chosen for their inherent strategic qualities. It can be readily imagined that the entire LhachuLha chu valley was once controlled from this point.

Oral tradition

Local sources state that Rechen PukRas chen phug and Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong are Buddhist religious complexes that once also hosted BönpoBon po. The BönpoBon po ecclesiastic presence is now symbolically relegated to a small cave on the opposite side of the LhachuLha chu valley. The local oral tradition acknowledges that the two facilities devolved to the Buddhists after 1000 CE.

Site elements

Rechen PukRas chen phug

On the west side of the couloir that plunges down the steep flanks of Gangri Lhatsen PodrangGangs ri lha btsan pho brang is the so-called Rechen PukRas chen phug (8 m by 13 m). Rather than a cave or small retreat house, this facility was actually a high social status building belonging to the archaic religious milieu of Upper Tibet. A few cairns (latséla btsas) and prayer flags (lungtarlung rta) are found at the site. According to the tradition preserved by the monks of ChökuChos sku monastery, MilarepaMi la ras pa (1040-1123 CE) and/or his disciple Rechungpa Dorjé DrakRas chung ba rdo rje grags (1084-1161 CE) meditated at Rechen PukRas chen phug, explaining why it is a Buddhist pilgrimage place, albeit of minor importance. Whether this tradition is apocryphal or not, it nicely illustrates the way in which archaic cultural assets were shorn of their original identity and function and invested with Buddhist meaning and legitimacy.

The well-built edifice of Rechen PukRas chen phug has walls up to 1 m thick, which are not aligned in the cardinal directions. The well-cut roof members strewn about the site reach 1.5 m in length. This building contained two main tiers of rooms: forward/south and rear/north. The forward or south wall of the edifice is upwards of 2 m in height in the vicinity of where it affronts the two rooms of the west portion of the forward tier. There is also a southwest wing (2.5 m by 2.3 m) in Rechen PukRas chen phug, which consists of one or two ruined rooms. There is still a lone corbel in position on the rear wall and one on the southwest wall of the southwest wing. East of the southwest wing of Rechen PukRas chen phug there is the 1.8 m wide central forward room, much of which has collapsed upon itself. The east section of the forward tier (4.6 m by 2.4 m) of the edifice probably contained two rooms. Near the northeast corner of Rechen PukRas chen phug some corbels remain in situ.

The forward wall of the rear tier of Rechen PukRas chen phug is 2 m in height, while its rear wall was built into the slope, thus giving the structure a semi-subterranean aspect. The main entrances to the surviving rear tier of rooms is from the east forward section. A south-facing entrance (1 m by 70 cm) opens to a fully intact room (1.6 m by 1.5 by 1.8 m), which now functions as a rudimentary Buddhist shrine. Adjacent to the south-facing entrance is an east-facing entrance (1 m by 60 cm) with a 1.2 m long lintel still intact. This entrance accesses a well-preserved separate suite of compartments. Entering inside Rechen PukRas chen phug from this point, a narrow 4.5 m long passageway makes four right angle turns to reach a relatively large room (3.2 m by 2.5 m by 1.3 m), set deep inside the building. This room also functions as a Buddhist shrine. Rather than merely providing tortuous access to a single room, the elaborate plan of the passageway, with its four turns and two small alcoves, may have been accorded with residential or ritual functions. The short wall spans thus created also help to support the extremely heavy stone roof.

Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong

The probable sekhanggsas khang complex of Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong is situated nearly 1 km east of Rechen PukRas chen phug. This large installation is perched on a slanting rock shelf that protrudes from the precipitous south flank of Gangri LhatsenGangs ri lha btsan. This magnificent location before the south face of Mount TiséTi se is very inaccessible and defensible. There may have once been a spring supplying Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong with water but presently there are no signs of it. Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong consists of the remains of seven buildings rarely visited by pilgrims, and it is only marked by a small prayer flagpole. A tally of buildings and rooms of Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong suggests that when fully active this installation could have sheltered as many as 50 people. Worked stones up to 90 cm in length are found in the walls, and tiny flat pieces of stones were frequently used to chink the joints between larger stones.

There are no Buddhist inscribed plaques or shrines at Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong, so it seems likely that Buddhist reoccupation of the site was largely symbolic. According to the monks of ChökuChos sku monastery, Nyenpori DzongGnyan po ri rdzong was inhabited by the early BönpoBon po and subsequently brought under Buddhist control by MilarepaMi la ras pa. The monks are under the impression that the Kagyüpabka’ brgyud pa physically occupied the site as part of their first religious center at Gangri Lhatsen PodrangGangs ri lha btsan pho brang. Any such physical occupation must have been relatively short-lived because no effort was made to establish permanent Buddhist monuments here.

Residential Structure RS1

Residential structure RS1 (7 m by 7 m) is situated near the top end of the site, and probably contained around six rooms split between forward/south and rear/north tiers. Three large stone steps lead up to the east-facing entrance (1.3 m by 60 cm). In the east wall (up to 2.5 m in height), north of the entrance, there appears to be a small window. The entranceway opens to a relatively large forward east room (perhaps more than one room?) of which little remains. In addition to the forward east room, there is a very small room extending further east but very little of it survives. There are also two forward west rooms, the inner one of which has an intact entranceway (90 cm by 50 cm). The wall between this inner west room and the rear tier east room is intact. The entranceway (1 m by 50 cm) and roof of the rear tier west room (2 m by 1.6 m by 1.8 m) are intact. There are four niches built into the south wall of this room. The rear tier central room has lost its roof. The rear tier east room is of a similar size to the rear tier west room. Its roof is still partially in situ.

Residential Structure RS2

Residential structure RS2 is situated 13.5 m southwest or 10 m vertical below RS1. Very few traces of this structure have survived, save for a 6-m long wall fragment a maximum of 2.4 m in height.

Residential Structure RS3

Residential structure RS3, the largest dokhangRdo khang of the site, is located 22 m south of RS1, at roughly the same elevation as RS2. It measures 13.5 m (east-west) by 9.8 m (north-south). Its forward or south rooms have been largely obliterated. The rear west room is also highly fractional. The smaller of the two rear central rooms has its roof partly in place. There is a large niche in the rear wall of the larger central room. A typically small entrance between these two rear central rooms has endured. There are also two rear east rooms that share a common west-facing entrance (1.2 m by 70 cm). The combined length of the two rear east rooms is 3.1 m (north-south) and the width of the rooms is 1.3 m and 1.6 m respectively. The stone roof of the narrower room is in situ and the roof partially intact in the wider room. The floor-to-ceiling height of the two rear east rooms is around 1.8 m. Two meters to 2.5 m west of RS3 there are the vestiges of a retaining wall built into the side of the couloir.

Residential Structure RS4

Residential structure RS4 is situated 8 m down slope of RS3. It measures 8 m (east-west) by 3.5 m (north-south). Only scant structural fragments have persisted, the highest of which is 1.9 m.

Residential Structure RS5

Residential structure RS5 is found 15 m northeast of RS6, at the same elevation. This small building (6 m by 3.6 m) was built against a rock, and contains a forward room and a rear room. On the partition wall between the two rooms there is one in situ corbel.

Residential Structure RS6

Residential structure RS6 is located 12 m north of RS5 and 16 m east of RS1. It consisted of three tiers of rooms, and measures 10.4 m (east-west) by 5.2 m (north-south). The east side of the building has been mostly destroyed and most outer walls have been reduced to rubble. In the southeast corner of the structure there are partition wall segments and one corbel in place. The forward room of the west half of RS6 has been leveled to its wall-footings. The entranceway (1 m by 65 cm) between the forward west room and forward central room has nonetheless endured. There is also another entrance on the east side of the forward central room. Part of the roof over the forward central room has survived. In the middle tier central room there is a deep recess in the west wall with the remnants of stone shelving. There is also a small window in the east wall and small bits of roofing adhering to the walls of the rear central room. The total length of the two middle tier and rear tier central rooms is 5.4 m. An entranceway (1.3 m by 50 cm) connects the middle tier central room to the one extant rear room (1.4 m by 1.9 m). The all-stone roof is fully integrated in this backroom.

Residential Structure RS7

Residential structure RS7 is located 9 m north of RS1, at the highest point of the site (4990 m). This small structure was built against a cliff and measures 4 m (east-west) by 2.5 m (north-south). Only parts of the outer south and west walls are left standing. The east wall-footings are also in situ.

Lower rdo khang

On a ledge above ChökuChos sku monastery there is yet another dokhangrdo khang (6 m by 5 m) (4930 m). The south or forward wall of this structure has been mainly reduced to its wall-footings. Fragmentary walls still stand in the north portion of the building, and there is one in situ corbel resting on the 1.7 m high northeast corner. In the couloir, at nearly the same elevation as the lower dokhangrdo khang, there is a cave in each of the two cliff faces that enclose it. The west cave has footings in front of it, which may have supported an anteroom (5 m by 6 m). The west cave (6.5 m by 2 m) was partitioned by walls into two or three chambers.

Affiliated sites

ChökuChos sku monastery

The monks of ChökuChos sku (4850 m) report that their monastery was founded circa 1250 CE by a disciple of Gyelwa GötsangpaRgyal ba rgod tshang pa named Sanggyé NyenpoSangs rgyas gnyan po. The current assembly hall (dükhang’du khang) and protector chapel (tsenkhangbtsan khang) were rebuilt in the same place as their pre-modern predecessors. This Drukpa Kagyü’brug pa bka’ brgyud monastery is renowned for its talking statue of Chöku PakpaChos sku ’phags pa, which was once a protector of the Buddhist kings of GugéGu ge. This sacred image is said to have been brought from India to the monastery with the aid of the wily god Gangri LhatsenGangs ri lha btsan.

Extensive monastic ruins are found on the slopes below the ChökuChos sku monastery. At this lower site there were at least one dozen sizable buildings and a number of smaller ones as well. The size of the rooms and characteristic constructional features of the structures demonstrate that most if not all were made with timber roofs. In aggregate, these ruins constitute a much larger monumental presence than that of the contemporary monastery. These lower structures are somewhat susceptible to rockslides originating from the couloir above and this may have had something to do with their abandonment. Cultural luminaries such as Sherap ZangpoShes rab bzang po (the head lama of SaktilSag thil monastery in GertséSger rtse) report that a large contingent of monks inhabited these ruins some 800 years ago. The monks of ChökuChos sku say that the 19th century CE lama Pema DegyelPad ma bde rgyal reoccupied some of the structures below their monastery with his many followers.119

Also below ChökuChos sku monastery there are a series of caves in the cliffs, the most famous of which is Langchen PukGlang chen phug (Elephant Cave). Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che is supposed to have meditated in this cave. Langchen PukGlang chen phug is 6 m in length and has several collateral chambers. Two other caves in the vicinity, associated with Guru RinpochéGu ru rin po che, are ChöpukChos phug (Buddhism Cave) and Pema PukPad ma phug (Lotus Cave). Another cave, KhyungpukKhyung phug (located below the Guru DrupchuGu ru sgrub chu spring), is thought to have a self-formed Khyungkhyung (horned eagle) on the ceiling.


[119] Circa 1890 CE, the charismatic Pema DegyelPad ma bde rgyal founded Namkha KhyungdzongNam mkha’ khyung rdzong monastery near the headwaters of the Maja TsangpoRma bya gtsang po (Karnali river).

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.