Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
by John Vincent Bellezza
Edited by Geoffrey Barstow, Mickey Stockwell and Michael White
Tibetan & Himalayan Library
Published under the THL Digital Text License.

II.4. Shrines and miscellaneous constructions

Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong

Basic site data

  • Site name: Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong
  • English equivalent: Black Dog Gorge
  • Site number: F-3
  • Site typology: II.4
  • Elevation: 4620 m
  • Administrative location (township): ZhungpaGzhung pa
  • Administrative location (county): GegyéDge rgyas
  • Survey expedition: TUE
  • Survey date: September 20, 2005
  • Contemporary usage: Light grazing.
  • Identifiable Buddhist constructions: None.
  • Maps: UTRS VI, HAS A2
  • View Place Dictionary Entry
  • View Sites Images

General site characteristics

Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong is located in a narrow valley that is closely bound by mountains on nearly all sides. The tallest of these mountains is the red territorial deity (yüllhaYul lha) of Tsaktik KyangtraBtsag tig rkyang khra, situated due east of Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong. The site consists of an integrated necropolitan complex situated on a moderately sloping bench flanked by gullies. The northeast-southwest oriented Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong valley is made up of a series of benches and gullies, and declines moderately to the southwest. Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong does not enjoy long views in any direction, rather it was sited to have a fully sheltered or hidden aspect. The terrain is sandy and strewn with rocks. The necropolis is generally oriented in the intermediate points of the compass, perpendicular to the axis of the bench. This uniquely designed complex consists of a temple-tomb or mausoleum, an appended enclosure, a series of small quadrate constructions, and other minor structures. All structural elements of Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong are built of blue-gray limestone and to a lesser extent of sandstone in various colors. Undressed variable-length (up to 40 cm long) pieces of stones were used in construction. Two samples taken from different load-bearing tamarisk beams embedded in the southwest wall of the temple-tomb have been dated circa the fourth or fifth century CE.230

Oral tradition

According to residents of ZhungpaGzhung pa, Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong is an ancient monument.

Site elements


The site is dominated by the shell of an edifice, which probably functioned as a mortuary temple and burial monument. This building measured no less than 6.3 m (northeast-southwest) by 3.1 m (southeast-northwest). It probably contained two chambers, at least one of which is L-shaped. The edifice has a coursed-rubble fabric and the thick seams contain copious amounts of a clay- or mud-based mortar.

The forward/southeast wall is 3 m to 4 m in height. Due to the ravages of time, the forward wall now has a V-shaped gap in the middle of it. The southwest half of the forward wall was generally built with larger stones than the northeast half. The construction and presentation of the forward wall suggests that is was not too much taller originally than its current height. About 1 m up from the base of the northeast half of the forward wall there are herringbone courses of masonry. Stones and earth are heaped up below the herringbone stonework. This is a distinctive stone working technique found in larger temple-tomb edifices appended to arrays of pillars as well as in some castles. For instance, Rala KharmarRa la mkhar dmar (see A-65) founded by the first Buddhist king of Stod, Nyima GönNyi ma mgon (probably in the early tenth century CE) exhibits herringbone stonework. The existence of this special style of masonry at both Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong and Rala KharmarRa la mkhar dmar indicates that it persisted in the Upper Tibetan architectural canon for no less than 450 to 600 years. Here we have an example of a specific stone working technique that was carried from the protohistoric period all the way down to the dawn of the great Buddhist resurgence in western Tibet.

The southwest wall is 4 m high. At the base of this wall there are either the remains of a small structural extension or a buttress. In the middle of the southwest wall there is a cavity (80 cm by 50 cm by 70 cm [deep]). This cavity came about through damage to what may have been a purposely built recess in the structure. The cavity reveals three tamarisk beams (10 cm to 15 cm diameter), which are an integral part of the construction of the southwest wall.

The southwest half of the temple-tomb is dominated by a narrow (70 cm to 80 cm wide) L-shaped chamber (each of its two sides is about 2 m long). This chamber is liable to have had both burial and funerary ritual functions. Most portions of the outer walls surrounding this chamber are 40 cm to 60 thick. The portion of the forward/southeast wall bounding the inner side of the “L,” however, is 1.8 m thick. This much thicker wall section significantly adds to the structural integrity of the chamber. There is an opening (20 cm by 25 cm) near the top of the southeast end of the southwest wall of the chamber. This opening is supported by a brown sandstone lintel, 35 cm in length. There is also an opening (20 cm by 25 cm) in the upper southeast wall of the chamber, which has a sandstone lintel, 25 cm in length. The deliberate inclusion of apertures in the L-shaped chamber, may suggest that it had habitational functions, perhaps related to the conduct of mortuary rites. These openings may also have played a role in the desiccation of the interred remains by providing ventilation to the chamber. The walls surrounding the chamber are up to 2.2 m in height. This demonstrates that the floor of the chamber was elevated as much as 1.8 m above ground level. The elevation of the chamber may possibly be related to eschatological beliefs, concerning the celestial realm, that were held by the builders. Elevated burial chambers are, of course, also characteristic of the mountaintop cubic tombs (II.3) and temple-tombs appended to arrays of pillars (II.2c). The narrow nature of the chamber, the massive forward wall buttress and comparative architectonic data from other archaic monuments, indicates that Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong may have had an all-stone corbelled roof.

On the exterior face of the northwest wall there are still traces of clay plaster, illustrating that Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong was not left with raw stone walls. We might even consider that this plaster was painted and decorated with mineral pigments, as are some archaic horizon shrines found in sheltered locations and nearly all lamaist facilities of the historic epoch.

Save for the forward wall, the northeast half of the temple-tomb has been reduced to heaps of earth and stone rubble. It probably featured an L-shaped or some other type of chamber. Temple-tombs and other archaic funerary monuments of Upper Tibet usually exhibit symmetrical design features. Nevertheless, the difference in the southwest and northwest halves of the forward wall of the edifice may suggest that the chambers were of different designs.


To the northwest of the edifice there is a series of small quadrate masonry structures, which are mostly grouped in two rows. These two rows are oriented southeast-northwest, having the same alignment as the two shorter walls of the temple-tomb. These superficial structures, 19 in number, consist of a layer of stones laid flat on the ground. There are two main types among them: enclosures made up of a single line of stones with open interiors, and stones tightly knit across the breadth and length of the structure. It is possible that they had minimal superstructures made up of several vertical courses of masonry, but there is no extant structural evidence of this feature. The area around the quadrate structures is covered in loose stones, which probably originated from the quadrate structures themselves. The morphological traits of the quadrate structures, their organization in rows and their presence at a funerary site, recall the totho of the BönBon tradition. According to Loppön Tendzin NamdakSlob dpon bstan ’dzin rnam dag (in personal communication), BönBon’s most senior scholar, this is their most likely identity.231

The shorter, southwest row of quadrate structures begins 8.8 m northwest of the edifice. Beginning from the specimen closest to the edifice, these constructions have the following dimensions and characteristics:

  1. Structure S1 (90 cm by 1 m) has a top sheathed in stones, which project a maximum of 20 cm above ground level.
  2. Structure S2 (80 cm by 70 cm by 20 cm [maximum projection above ground level]) is situated 1.3 m northwest of structure S1. It consists of tightly knit stones embedded in the ground.
  3. Structure S3 (60 cm by 70 cm by 25 cm) is situated 1 m northwest of S2. It consists of a perimeter of stones with just one stone in the middle.
  4. Structure S4 (60 cm by 60 cm by 20 cm) is situated 1 m northwest of S3. It consists of tightly knit stones embedded in the ground.
  5. Structure S5 (60 cm by 60 cm by flush with the surface) is situated 75 cm northwest of S4. It consists of a surface sheathed in stones.
  6. Structures S6, S7 and S8 are located near the edge of the gully that forms the northwest bounds of the site.
  7. Structure S6 (1 m by 1.2 m by 25 cm) is situated 5.2 m northwest of S5. It apparently had an open center surrounded by perimeter walls.
  8. Structure S7 (1.6 m by 1.6 m by 60 cm) is situated 2.5 m northeast of S6. This specimen seems to have had an interior free of stones.
  9. Structure S8 (1.1 m by 1.1 m by 30 cm) is situated 7.5 m north of S7. This specimen also seems to have had an interior devoid of stones. There is an erect stone 30 cm in height in close proximity to S8.
  10. Structures S9 and S10 are intermediate structures situated between the two main rows.
  11. Structure S9 (80 cm by 75 cm by 20 cm) is situated 70 cm northeast of S1. This specimen consists of a closely knit mass of stones.
  12. Structure S10 (1.2 m by 1.2 m by 40 cm) is situated 1.8 m east of S9. This specimen is covered in rubble.
  13. The northeast row of quadrate structures begins 3 m northwest of the edifice. Beginning from the specimen closest to the edifice, these constructions have the following dimensions and characteristics:
  14. Structure S11 (1.6 m by 1 m by 40 cm) is highly disintegrated and covered in a heap of stones.
  15. Structure S12 (1 m by 1.2 m by 20 cm) is situated 4.4 m northwest of S11. It has an interior free of stones.
  16. Structure S13 is situated 1 m northwest of S12. This is a highly degraded specimen.
  17. Structure S14 is situated about 1 m northwest of S13. This is a highly degraded specimen.
  18. Structure S15 (80 cm by 65 cm by slight projection above ground level) is also highly degraded.
  19. Structure S16 (60 cm by 50 cm by 10 cm) is situated 50 cm northwest of S15.
  20. Structure S17 is situated 1 m northwest of S16. This is a highly degraded specimen.
  21. Structure S18 (1 m by 90 cm by 30 cm) is situated 1 m northeast of S12.
  22. Structure S19 (90 cm 50 cm by 1 cm) is an isolated specimen situated about 12 m southwest of the edifice. Approximately 8 m southwest of the edifice there is a standing stone 30 cm in height.
Slab walls

Between S8 and S17 there is a zone of slab walls, covering an area of 2.2 m (northwest-southeast) by 1.2 m (northeast-southwest). This array of upright slabs begins 2.3 m southeast of S8. The slab-wall fragments are oriented southeast-northwest and are spaced around 20 cm apart. The individual slabs are 10 cm to 50 cm in length, and are flush with the ground surface or project above it to a maximum height of 5 cm. There are also lines of parallel slabs running at right angles on each end of the array.


Appended to the southeast side of the temple-tomb are three walls that, together with the southeast wall of the edifice, make up a square enclosure (10.5 m by 10.4 m). The three outlying walls (around 90 cm thick) are composed of stones laid flat. In some places along the perimeter there are small wall segments composed of two or three vertical courses of stones. These wall segments are around 30 cm in height, indicating that the enclosure was a substantial structure. Many stones lie in its interior, which undoubtedly were once part of the Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong facility. There appears to be an opening or “portal” in the forward/southeast wall of the enclosure. The enclosure with its forward opening, layout and wall design is reminiscent of the enclosures used to house pillars (II.1b).


[230] These timbers are found in a cavity that formed through damage to the structure. The three tamarisk rounds act as internal support for the southwest wall. The removal of a full cross-section from two of the three timbers revealed remarkably intact heartwood (thanks to the frigid, high elevation sterile environment). Tamarisk still grows nearby in the lower ShangShang valley. Given the availability of this species of wood in the locale, the fairly small girth of the members, and the exclusive nature of the site, it seems likely that the tamarisk rounds were specially cut for use in the Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong building project. An assay of the Khyinak RongKhyi nag rong samples yielded the following results: radiometric, sample no. Beta-212490; conventional radiocarbon age: 1690 +/-50 BP; 2 Sigma calibrated result: Cal 1710 to 1510 BP; Intercept of radiocarbon age with calibration curve: Cal 1570 BP; 1 Sigma calibrated result: Cal 1690 to 1660 BP and 1630 to 1540 BP. Radiometric, sample no. Beta-212491; Conventional radiocarbon age: 1660 +/-60 BP; 2 Sigma calibrated result: Cal 1710 to 1410 BP; intercept of radiocarbon age with calibration curve: Cal 1550 BP; 1 Sigma calibrated result: Cal 1610 to 1520 BP.
[231] For a description of BönBon monuments known as totho, see Bellezza, Zhang Zhung, 492–495.

Note Citation for Page

John Vincent Bellezza, (Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010), .

Bibliographic Citation

John Vincent Bellezza. . Charlottesville, VA: Tibetan & Himalayan Library, 2010.