A prehistoric site of megaliths was discovered in Tibet's Chang Thang in
the 1920s. A traveller who goes in search of it seventy years later comes up
with chortens, and more chortens. What had happened?
by John Vincent Bellezza
'ibetisalandthatpopular imag ination has associated with magic and mystery. Even at an age when science dominates and the frontiers of the planet are clearly delineated, Tibet still shrouds a number of mysteries. This is nowhere more true than in the field of prehistory. While the first Tibetan historical documents, the Dunhuang manuscripts, date back to the 8th century, the Tibetan human legacy extends deep into the stone age. Bronze, Neolithic, Mesolithic and Palaeolithic sites have been discovered scattered across Tibet, from Ngari in the far west to Khani and Amdo in the east.
One of the first scholars to explore the prehistory of Tibet was George Roerich, the Russian-born son of the famous painter Nicholas Roerich. Between 1925 and 1928, George Roerich embarked on an ambitious journey to survey the prehistoric sites in the nomadic areas of the Asian hinterland. He mou nted expeditions in search of p reh istoric monuments to the Altai, Mongolia, Eastern Turkestan and Tibet. A major objective of these journeys, which together came to be known as the "Central Asiatic Expedition", was to explore "nomad barrows" (barrow = ancient grave mound).
Among the extensive discoveries of Roerich were 'slab graves' in Mongolia and
Namru in the Chang Thang, and the widespread incidence of a genre of ornamentation found throughout the nomadic regions in Central and North Asia which Roerich called the "Central Asian Animal Style". In addition, his expeditions discovered megaliths in Mongolia and on the Chang Thang.
Megalithic sites have also been located in Tibet by Dav id Snellgrove, GiuseppeTucci and Sonam Wangdu, but none have matched the spectacular site discovered by Roerich in 1928, in Namru, about 300 km northwest of Lhasa. Discovery of this site,ataplace called Doring, became the crowning achievement ottheCentral Asiatic Expedition, whichhad
already accomplished so much groundbreaking work in archaeology and ethnology. In 1930, Roerich published a monograph with the Seminar-ium Kondakovianum, entitled "The Animal Style among the Nomad Tribes of Northern Tibet", describing the striking megalithic site of Doring.In the monograph, Roerich wrote: "The expedition...was fortunate in discovering several megalithic monuments to the south of the Great Lakes. These were the first megalithic monuments discovered north of the Himalayas. In a place called Do-ring, situated some 30 miles to the south of the Great Salt Lake Pang gon tsho-cha, the expedition found important alignments consisting of 18 rows of stone slabsor menhirs, placed in parallel rows and running East and West. At the Western extremity of the alignment, was placed a cromlech or stone circle consisting of two concentric circles of menhirs or stone slabs. Inside the cromlech were situated three menhirs with a crude stone-table (Ihatho) or altar in front of them. The central menhir was some 2.75 metres in height, had traces of butter libations, and I was told by a local headman that the stone was the abode of a lha or god protecting the route and travellers. The place is named Do-ring, after this menhir. The headman considered the alignments to be natural formations. Ifonecomparesthefamousmegalithic monuments of Carnac in France with the megaliths discovered in Tibet, one is at once struck by the remarkable similarity of the two sets of monuments. The Carnac alignments run from east to west and have at their Western extremity a cromlech or circle of stones. The Dori ng monuments have-precisely the same arrangement."
Upon reading this account of Doring, this writer became excited with the idea of visiting the site and carefully documenting it. The thought of a megalithic site in Chang Thang resembling another in the north of Francewas intriguing, and Doring was well worth a trip. As a traveller and writer of Tibet, I also hoped by visiting Doring to
cometoabetterunderstandingoftheancient origins of Tibetan civilisation.
To my knowledge, no Westerner had visited the Doring site since George Roerich first discovered it nearly 70 years ago. I only hoped that it had withstood the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. Roerich had believed that Doring was a kind of temple used by a "native cult". With the strides made by Tibetan studies in the fields of archaeology, mythology, religion and cosmology since Roerich'stime,it should be possible to present a more detailed picture of Doring.
On 7 May 1994, 1 left Katmandu overland for Tibet with full expeditionary gear and research materials. In Lhasa, I sought out and metSonam Wangdu, Director of the Administrative Commission for Museums and Archaeology Data in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and Adjunct
Professor in the History Department of Sichuan University. Wangdu, who is recognised as the foremost authority on the archaeology of Tibet, told me that there were megalithic sites inSaga and Nagarzecounties as well as in Lhatse and Nagtshang, but that he was not familiar with one called Doring, nor with any megaliths south of the Pangong and Ziling lakes. He did not have knowledge of Roerich's work and its reference to Doring. I reasoned that Doring could have been discovered by a mapping team and never reported to the archaeological establishment.
In 1931,GeorgeRoerich published Trails in Innermost Tibet (Yale University Press),
which includes an account of the discovery of Doring. This book would serve as my guide to rediscover Doring. The 1928 expedition, with fully laden camels and yaks, headed in a westerly direction from the capital of Namru Province called Namru Dzong, which is today the county seat of Palgon. Armed with the geographic data encapsulated in Roerich's detailed work, I too arrived in Palgon, and set out to find Doring.
I travelled aloneon foot, quite a contrast to Roerich's heavily laden expedition, but very effective in terms of the distance one can cover. Travelling solo, I found, also facilitated contact with the drokpa, the nomads of the Chang Thang plateau. Following the directions given in Traits in Innermost Tibet, I skirted the northwest corner of Namtsho Jake, passed the drokpa settlement of Shungchen, and made it to the
Bonpo enclave of Potshe, with its landmark blue-grey mountain with a flat top. Arriving on the northern shores of Chum Tsho (Coral Lake), which until the Chinese invasion of Tibet had supported several Bonpo hermitages, I followed Zhang Chu upstream. Climbing up a small pass called Marokhumchen La, I had an excellent view of the snow giant NyechenthangLha, 85 km to the south-east. I was now in the Zhang Chu basin, utterly enveloped by the vast Chang Thang landscape.
I figured my best chance of reaching Doring was to seek g u id ance at the Zhangmo Gonpa, which by correlating Roerich's route descriptions with my maps I estimated was