The Guge Kingdom was founded in about the 10th century by a descendant of King Glang Darma, who fled from Lhasa after the collapse of the Tupo Kingdom. The kingdom played an important role in the second renascence in Tibet and survived for about 700 years before disappearing mysteriously in the 17th century.
Large-scale of archeological work began in 1985. In the following years of the excavation, a lot of sculpture works and mural paintings were unearthed. Houses, cave dwellings, monasteries and stupas were found on the mountain where the ruins are situated.
Most of the sculptures are gold or silver Buddhist statues, among which the best one is a statue called Guge Silver Eye (Yinyan in Chinese). The murals are preserved in good condition, although they are hundreds of years old. The themes of the murals include every aspects of the social life of that time. A chapel on the summit of the mountain houses a mural depicting male and female Buddhas bringing the Tantric cultivation (civilization) together, while the lower part displays purgatory with naked, enchanting Dakins flanking each side. The artistic and aesthetic value of Guge murals is deemed comparable with that of Mogao Caves (located in Gansu Province, China).
Guge abounded with gold and silver. Sutras written with liquid gold or silver have been excavated in Tholing Monastery and in the villages of Zhabran, Piyang and Donggar. The sutra was written on a kind of dark blue paper, with the lines written alternately in liquid gold and liquid silver.
Guge Kingdom has attracted many explorers, tourists, photographers and artists from all over the world. Englishman Michael Young was the first person who investigated the ruins. In 1912, he traveled along Xiangquanhe River from India and reached the place. The real scientific investigation took place in 1985, when the Tibetan Cultural Committee organized a team to investigate the place. Their field work showed that there are a total of 1,416 surviving pieces of architecture, including 879 caves, 445 houses, 58 blockhouses, 28 pagodas, and four tunnels, which lead in all directions inside the architectural group.
According to historical records, after the last king of the Tupo Dynasty, Glang Darma, was assassinated in 843, 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. Dezogun, Gyide Nyimagun’s third son, ruled the Guge Kingdom. His regime ran for more than 700 years before being destroyed in a war.
According to the Annals of Kings and Officials of Tibet, altogether 16 kings ruled the Guge Kingdom. In the middle 17th century, civil strife happened in Guge Kingdom. The King’s brother asked the Ladakh Kingdom (the present Kashmir) to send armies to attack Guge kingdom, which was destroyed and annexed by Ladakh Kingdom. Later the Tibetan government led by Dalai Lama took over the control of the region.
The center of Guge Kingdom was in the valley of the Zhada Xiangquanhe River. The Kingdom reached Rutog in the north, and the northernmost part was Mt Sinowu of the present Kashmir. Guge bordered India to the south, Ladakh to the west. The Kingdom once expanded to the Gangdise Mountains to the east. Zhabran, the capital was located by the southern bank of Xiangquanhe River, 18 km from the present county town of Zhada.
Guge Kingdom advocated Buddhism. Several people were sent to Kashmir to learn Buddhism. Altogether 108 sutras were translated into Tibetan.
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 Tupo 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.