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Ngari
2004-10-27
More than 1,000 years ago, a powerful kingdom with a splendid civilization was born here. But after over 700 years of rule, the kingdom was destroyed by internal disorder and invasion from the outside. What is left here are the ruins of the capital of the Guge Kingdom. Located in Zhada County, the ruins are well-known throughout the world and are under key protection of the State.

Zhada County, more than 3,800 meters above the sea level, is famous for the ruins of the Guge Kingdom and the vast stretches of clay forests peculiar to it. Most of the visitors who travel to Ngari come in order to visit Zhada and the Guge. Xiangquanhe River, one of the four large rivers in Ngari, runs through Zhada, but the majority of the county is dry desert. The clay forests cover several hundred square kilometers, in various unique shapes. The county town of Zhada and the ruins of Guge, which are 18 km away from the county town, are surrounded by uninterrupted clay forests. The scene is really a wonderful view created by the uncanny workmanship of nature.

"Guge" is a miracle. For years it strongly attracted numerous explorers, scholars, artists and journalists who traveled from afar to investigate and search for treasures. According to historical records, after the last king of the Tubo Dynasty, Lang Darma, died, the royal family began to fight for the throne. Gyide Nyimagun, Long Darma's descendent, lost the war and ran away to Ngari, where he established a small kingdom. Later, Gyide Nyimagun divided Ngari into three parts and gave them to his three sons. The Guge Kingdom was ruled by Dezogun, Gyide Nyimagun's third son. His regime ran for more than 700 years before being destroyed in a war. According to the Annals of Kings and Officials in Tibet, a total of 16 kings ruled the Guge Kingdom, and Guge Castle was accomplished through constant construction between the 10th and 16th century. Guge has a very significant position in the history of economic and cultural development of Tibet. Many significant Buddhist doctrines of ancient India were passed on to hinterland Tibet via Guge.Guge was also one of the important commercial ports linking ancient Tibet with the outside world. After the Tubo Dynasty died out,Tibet entered a 400-some year period of isolation. Guge was always a large and powerful kingdom. Even the dust of time cannot hide its prosperity and past glory.

The ruins, located on the small hill of Zhabyran on the southern bank of Xiangquanhe River in Zhada County, cover an area of 720,000 square meters. The buildings follow the hill to its top in a rigid layout and an imposing manner. The castle is more than 300 meters high. It is home to houses, caves, pagodas, blockhouses, defense works and tunnels. The previously stylish caves are now seriously damaged. Few works of architecture remain intact. Although the Guge, through its hardship in history, has lost its prosperity and graceful manner, its appearance is still imposing. It leaves a valuable history and numerous legends.

There are a total of 1,416 surviving pieces of architecture, including 879 caves, 445 houses, 60 blockhouses, 28 pagodas, and four tunnels, which lead in all directions inside the architectural group. At the outer ring there are walls made of loess, which are decorated with many figures of Buddha, scriptures and incantations in Tibetan, and Sanskrit engraved on large cobbles. The houses within the ruins have wooden structures and level roofs. The larger works of architecture include the Red Temple, the White Temple, the king's palace and the meeting hall. The White Temple and the Red Temple are about the same size, covering about 300 square meters. Within the temple there are 36 square pillars. The pillars and the ceiling are covered with colored drawings of patterns and figures of Buddha, and all the walls are covered with frescoes of different subjects. The White Temple boasts a precious mural painting of successive kings of Tubo and the genealogy of the Guge king. The most attractive mural painting in the Red Temple depicts the King of Ngari Yeshe'o greeting Adisha, Buddhist master of ancient India. The painting also vividly portrays a group of girls dancing to the accompaniment of drums and horns. Even with the passing of several hundred years, these frescos remain bright and lustrous. Having been neglected for years, both the Red Temple and White Temple are dilapidated. In 1987, the commission in charge of cultural relics of the Tibet Autonomous Region organized a group of technicians to repair them.

The only path from the base of the hill to the palace halls on the hilltop is a man-made tunnel. The upper part of the Guge Castle holds the Winter Hall and Summer Hall, where the royal family lived. They are empty now. Only the frescos and wooden engravings in Tancheng Hall are well preserved. Guge's colored paintings, frescos and sculptures are rich works of a high artistic level and immense research value.

The Guge ruins are a historical and cultural treasure. To rescue and protect the precious relics, the State sent a relic investigation team to the ruins in 1959. In 1961, the State Council put the ruins under key State protection. In 1987, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage allocated a huge sum for the repairing of the Guge Castle, and the next year, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the Department of Culture of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Ngari Prefectural Government carried out six key maintenance projects based on a number of field studies. The year 1997 witnessed one more rescuing and repairing of the ruins under the instruction of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. Surrounding the Guge ruins are running clay forests which look like a "great wall" safeguarding Guge. The noted Xiangquanhe River is not far away. "Guge" seems to be an encyclopedia, with a long history, deeply-rooted culture, mystic legends and many unfathomable enigmas. The ruins of the Guge Kingdom, standing on the desolate land, silently relate the history and give forth the light of art.
Besides the ruins of the Guge Kingdom, Ngari also boasts a number of noted monasteries, temples and ruins, including the Toding Monastery at the county town of Zhada, the Kegya monastery in Burang County, the Rutog Monastery in Rutog County, and the Doshang and Shangze ruins. They constitute the valuable historical and cultural heritage left by the ancestors of the Tibetan ethnic group.

The vast stretches of the Ngari Plateau were once home to the capitals of the ancient Zhangzhung and Guge kingdoms. Ngari Plateau is also the birthplace of the Bon Religion, an age-old Tibetan religion. Buddhism was passed on to hinterland Tibet via this plateau as well. During their long history, ancestors of the Tibetan ethnic group created a splendid culture and left the Ngari Plateau numerous historical treasures, including Donggar frescos and Rutog rock paintings. Donggar frescos are a recent and important archaeological discovery made by cultural heritage departments in Tibet. They are yet another form of China's cave art, and provide the missing link on the subject of ancient Buddhist cave art in western Tibet. The frescoes also provide important material for studying the history of the well-known Guge Kingdom.

Donggar is a small village with a dozen households in Zhada County. At the foot of a mountain and standing by a river, it is about 40 km northwest of the ruins of the Guge Kingdom. The archaeologists unearthed two grottos, one on the cliff adjacent to the Donggar Village and one in the neighboring Piyang Village. They are the largest Buddhist caves so far discovered in Tibet. Relatively well preserved Donggar frescos are concentrated in three caves half way up the mountain. There are no records of their formation in the numerous Tibetan historic, religious and cultural files, and they remain a cultural mystery that has yet to be fathomed. However, one thing is sure - the grotto frescos have a history of nearly 1,000 years and are of high archaeological and research value.

These frescos are well-knit, with smooth, easy lines, bright colors and unique designs. They have substantial content, including exotic figures, patterns and designs. Painted with a special mineral dye, the frescos still appear new after such a long period of time and will never fade. The major themes of the frescos include figures of Buddha and images of Bodhisattvas, protectors of Dharma, men with unnatural strength, legendary stories about Buddhism, pictures of expounding Buddhist texts, and pictures of worshipping Buddha, as well as various decorating patterns like peacocks, dragon fish, two dragons twinning, two phoenixes standing opposite each other, and the Tantric Mandala. Some of the animals in the frescos, like the dragon, phoenix, lion, horse, sheep, cattle, wild goose, duck and elephant, are not native to the Ngari Plateau. Most commonly depicted are heavenly girls in vivid and varying shapes. The Donggar frescos display a colorful and figurative universe. According to preliminary investigation, there were different types of cave groups, including caves for worshipping Buddha, caves where monks lived and caves for the storage of sundry objects. The exquisite and marvelous frescos are the remains of caves for worshipping Buddha. To protect these two places of wonder, the Donggar and Piyang grottos remain unopened to the public.

Rock art is a kind of stone carving culture. During the early development of human society, humans used stones as tools to describe and record their way of production and life through a simple and natural form - stone inscription. This phenomenon in early society has become precious cultural heritage left by human ancestors. Recently, a large number of rock paintings have been discovered in the Gerze, Ge'gyai and Rutog counties, which have a high elevation in western and northern Tibet. These drawings are carved on stones with hard rocks or other hard objects, making both deep and shallow lines. There are a few colorfully painted pictures. The rock paintings have a wide range of contents, including hunting, sacrificial rites, riding, domestic animal herding, and farming, as well as the sun and moon, mountains, cattle, horses, sheep, donkeys, antelopes, houses and people. Of these rock paintings, those discovered in Rutog County are most outstanding. The rock paintings at a dozen places within Rutog, including Risum Rimodong and Lorinaka are not only large in size and great in number, but are also of high artistic value.

Ngari was once the capital of the ancient Zhangzhung Kingdom. Zhangzhung writing was created by the ancestors of the Tibetan ethnic group and appeared before Tibetan writing. The rock paintings which appeared in the same period as Zhangzhung writing are of great significance to studies in the history, culture and early human life in Ngari and Tibet at large.

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