Tsaparang was said to be found in Guge kingdom and it was also its ancient capital. This place is very much appealing and attractive to the people who are attracted towards history or historical places. A place called Garuda valley lies in the Western Tibet’s Ngari province used to have this remarkable lost kingdom which ranged and expanded from the upper area of Sutlej River to the modern Ladakh border.
Thöling monastery is away from the former situated location at about 26 kilometers in the west direction. It is found to exist in near immediacy of the Mount Kailash and the religious lake of Manasarovar. It lies 278 kilometers away from Ali as well. The most attractive and attention grabbing property of Tsaparang is the fort which is enormous in size and built on a pyramidal rock which is about 500 to 600 feet high.
If you observe this rock closely, you can detect the presence of labyrinthine caves and tunnels dug onto it. It is speculated that in ancient times, there were two public temples the Lhakhang Karpo (White Chapel) and the Lhakhang Marpo (Red Chapel) accessed by the commoners inhabiting a village near its base. There are a set of serpentine tunnel staircases leading to the monks’ quarters and the royal quarters with increasing height with the summer palace poised at the top.
Historical accounts say that after the assassination of the anti-Buddhist Tibetan king Langdharma in the 9th century, one of his two sons named Namde Wosung had established Tsaparang as the Guge capital. Other accounts claim that Guge came into prominence when Langdharma’s grandson Nyima Gon fled to Western Tibet and subsequently distributed his kingdom among his descendents by the names of Maryul (modern Ladakh), Purang and Guge. Soon Guge acquired a powerful position by 10th century CE when it started controlling the India-Tibet trade route.
Tsaparang along with Tholing came into existence with the reintroduction of Buddhism in Western Tibet by King Yeshe O in the 11th century. The power and prosperity of the Guge Kingdom was felt far and wide and was visited by the missionaries Manuel Marques and Antonio de Andrade in 1624. The church that you find at the foot of the Tsaparang citadel was built by them. With missionary activities rising in subsequent times, Tsaparang was captured by the Muslim besiegers sent by the Ladakh king. Although they defaced Guge Empire, some of the most captivating frescos of Tsaparang have remained intact.
What puzzles modern tourists and researchers of Guge, is why this once lively empire, inhabiting at least by 10,000 people has left behind no descendents at all. Could the 1650’s Ladakhi invasion followed by that of the Red Guards of the Chinese Cultural Revolution have completely wiped out the tunnel residents of the Tsaparang dwellings? Today you can visit Tsaparang as a Tibetan tourist spot and come across an excess of interesting facts and clues about Tsaparang that the pages of history do not provide.
The average buildings of the conical rock over which the ruined citadel of Tsaparang is situated, are carved out of rocks and mud brick. The chapels along the winding path to Tsaparang have stood against the ravages of time and stand out distinctly from the surrounding ruins. The Guge temples containing a wealth of statues were destroyed indiscriminately by the Chinese Red Guards in 1967. Thankfully, just before that in 1948, the German Buddhist monk Lama Govinda and his wife had visited Tsaparang and photographed the temples in their untouched glory.
Along with the Red and White Temples, the smaller temple called Dorje Jigje Lhakhang in Tsaparang and the Tibetan Buddhist Rinchen Zangpo in Tholing are remarkable for their intricate geometric hand-painted patterns. All the three holy abodes are bedecked with a range of natural and imaginary deities that look beautiful despite the notorious vandalism. The 14,000 feet climb to the fortress on top calls for real fortitude, but when you actually go through it and explore the handiworks of the ancient Guge artists with a flashlight, the hard work seems to pay.