The Mysterious Himalayan Towers

Around the Western Sichuan province, between central China and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, an area known as the Tribal Corridor, were at one time dotted with thousands of lofty stone towers cunningly designed, skillfully constructed, remarkable in form and scale, and mysterious in origin called the Himalayan Towers. These towers also called Stone star-shaped towers are found between Central Tibet and China. This area has been inhabited time out of mind by a distinctly varied assortment of tribes, often categorized in Chinese ancient texts as the Quiang Ren (ren meaning people).

From 2000 to 2003, Frederique Darragon, an amateur archaeologist shipped pieces of wood from 32 towers to a laboratory in Miami for radiocarbon dating. The procedure yields an estimate of a material's age based on the level of the radioactive element carbon-14 in organic material. Most of the wood samples she had tested are several hundred years old; the towers from which they came are presumably about the same age. But one structure in Kongpo, Tibet, a day's drive from the capital, Lhasa, proved much older. It was likely built between 1,000 and 1,200 years ago, before Mongolian tribes invaded Tibet, around 1240. The dating method isn't definitive and it's possible that the wood used by some tower builders was already very old, in which case the structures may be younger.
Himalayan Towers

Darragon was especially intrigued by the more than 40 roughly star-shaped towers she encountered. Some have 8 points, others 12. In both configurations, star-shaped towers are rare, scholars say. At least two others can be found in Afghanistan, including the Minaret of Bahram Shah in Ghazni. Darragon speculates that the star shape makes the Chinese structures less susceptible to tremors. "All the people I asked in the villages said the towers resist earthquakes," Darragon says. And, in fact, she found that the only towers still standing in the Kongpo area of Tibet are star-shaped, though it's certainly conceivable that those structures have survived for reasons other than their supposed earthquake resistance.

Why were they built? One idea is they served a religious function, perhaps representing the dmu cord that, according to Tibetan legend, is said to connect heaven and earth. "The towers might actually symbolize this cord," says Bianca Horlemann, an independent Tibet scholar in Bethesda, Maryland. Alternatively, some scholars suggest the structures were watchtowers or forts. "The towers were built for defense," says Marielle Prins, a linguist with the Southwest Institute for Nationalities in Chengdu, China. "Most of them are from the Jinchuan Wars [of the 18th century] in which the Chinese emperor spent large amounts of silver and human resources to pacify a small part of the Gyalrong area." Eric Mortensen, a Tibet scholar at National Taiwan University, who has traveled in the region, says the structures were "likely used as signal towers." He bases that conclusion on their locations, which generally provide a line of sight from one to another.


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