Garuda Valley (Khyunglung)

In Indian Mythology Garuda is a mythological bird usually described as having a human form with the head of a bird. Created from the cosmic egg that also hatched the 8 elephants supporting the universe, he was fully mature when hatched. Garuda can easily traverse the universe from end to end. It can kill and eat poisonous snakes with no harmful consequences to itself.

The oldest collection of Indian hymns, the Rig Veda says:

They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni

And he is heavenly nobly-winged Garutman.

To what is One, sages give many a title;

They call it Agni, Yama, Matarishvan...

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Garuda Valley (English name) or Khyunglung (Tibetan name) is an ancient complex of living caves and meditation caves set in the mountains on the north bank of the Sutlej River. (Sutlej River is the holy river which starts from Mount Kailash, Sutlej River in Tibet is called Langqen Zangbo, meaning “Elephant Fountain”).

So the Garuda valley, you can find it about 35 km west of the Tirthapuri hotsprings and Tirthapuri gompa (monastery), which is nearby small town of Moincer (Menshi) in the modern Tibet prefecture of Ali/Ngari in the Tibet autonomous region of China.

And there are more ancient ruins on the tops of the mountains above the Bon monastery of Gurigyam which are about 30 minutes road from Tirthapuri. There is a very few information published about these places and no archaeological investigations have been carried out.

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The living caves of Khyunglung (Garuda Valley) are generally small (about 4 square metres) and have a small raised fireplace at the far end. However, almost without exception, they have no chimney and the blackened ceilings make it clear that the smoke exited the cave through the only entrance, making them thick with smoke when the fire was in use.

Many of the cave are filled with ancient artifacts dating back to the time of the Sham-shung (Xiang-xiong). These artifacts include small stones inscribed with ancient Tibetan script, stone statues of Bon deities, and various vases and pots. There is also no obvious recess for a bed or other storage. It seems that these fires were used for sacrificial offerings. It seems that many of the caves are still being used, because you can see the scattered of bones, feathers and other objects.

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On the territory of the cave complex you will not see water sources or wells. Most likely, people used water from the river below. However the caves are downstream of a large sulfurous hotspring and the water in the Sutlej river at this point is barely potable. In addition, the immediate vicinity of the caves show no signs of agriculture - there are no terraces for fields and the grazing land is very poor. All in all, this seems a very strange place for a permanently occupied city - the Silver Palace of Garuda.

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Some scientists say that the Garuda Valley (Kyunglung) was never an ussuall city. May be it was more of a "convention centre for Bonpo magicians" and that the caves were used for ceremonial purposes during times when the clans gathered. Possible camping grounds for the main retinue would be around the modern village of Khyunglung a few kilometres upstream where the valley is somewhat broader or the area between Gurigyam and Tirthapuri which is still heavily used by yak and sheep herding nomads today. The ruins above Gurigyam appear to be a more likely site for permanent habitation but much more study would be needed to establish this.

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There is also a village called ‘the modern village of Kyunglung’ lies just upstream from the ancient cave complex. It is a tiny community of small households, and the people live and depend heavily on yaks for agriculture and transport. The village itself is very old, and the villagers maintain a way of life that has changed very little in the last hundred years or more. The villagers at Kyunglung follow the ancient religion of Bon, the same religion as their Sham-Shung ancestors.

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