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The original fortress of Gyel-khar-tse is attributed to Pekhor-tse, son of the anti-Buddhist king Langdarma, who vainly sought to perpetuate the Yarlung Dynasty from West Tibet following the assassination of his father.
The walls of the present structure were reputedly built in 1268, following the rise to power of the Sakyapas, and in 1365 a palatial castle was founded on the hilltop by the local prince, Phakpa Pelzangpo (1318-1370), who had acquired influence at the court in Sakya through his repurtation as a brave general in the southern military campaigns conducted by his Sakyapa overlords, and at Zhalu, where in 1350 he entered into a marriage alliance with the lords of Zhalu. As a dowry he was granted the fiefdom of Changra, west of Gyantse, and he invited the great Buddhist master Buton Rinchendrub of Zhalu to riside in a temple which he had constructed there. In 1365, in addition to the Gyantse Castle, he also founded the Tsechen Chode castle and temple complex at the entrance to the Gyantse valley and adopted it as his principal seat. The incarnation of Buton, Drubchen Kunga Lodro, also resided there.
Later, in the 14th century, when Phakpa Pelzangpo’s son, Kunga Phakpa, expanded the Gyantse complex, the royal residence was moved into Gyantse itself. During this period when the power of Sakya and its Mongol patrons was was being eclipsed by the Phakmodrupa Dynasty at Nedong, the princes of Gyantse were able to maintain considerable independence and exerted great influence in both camps.
The first hilltop temple, known as Sampel Rinchenling, was built next to the castle by prince Kunga Phakpa, Its ruined walls still contain extant 14th century murals – some executed in an authentic Newari style and others in the Gyantse Tibetan style, which evolved therefrom.
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