Thursday, June 23, 2011

Viewshed Analysis

One reader from a distant land obviously feels as distressed as many of us here in Bhutan who have been silently suffering the humiliation of the Amankora being built along side the very special Wangdicholing Palace. The reader sent me the following mail.

The reader talks of something called “Viewshed Analysis”. I think I can guess what it means and I am excited by the concept. That is precisely my view as well. I am not objecting to the setting up of Amakora chain of hotels around the country. My objection is that they do so without taste or regard for our culture and heritage and as if to deliberately insult our sense of aesthetics. It is a pity that a bunch of unthinking and incompetent people agreed to allow such a grotesque structure to be built by the side of Wangdicholing Palace. If they cared, they should have allowed the construction of the hotel at another location where it was unlikely to be such an eye sore - like their other hotels in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Phobjikha.

One day, sitting at the Jorden restaurant in Hong Kong market, Tenzin Rigden, one of the senior most journalists of Bhutan asked me a question: How important and valid is culture and tradition in the context of Bhutan of present times?. One of these days, I am going to elaborate on the short answer I gave him, but for now, I invite you to read the following mail and get the implications of what the writer is saying:

Hello Yeshey,

I am afraid I come across as a know-it-all whenever I comment on issues in Bhutan as I have spent mere months there. So, I usually keep my thoughts to myself although I am a follower of your blog and I read each post! The problem of the Jakar Amankora hotel forces me to speak up, however.

For all the talk about protecting Bhutan's culture from foreign influence and controlling the negative impacts of tourism, this is a major, tangible contravention.

There are ways to ensure that if a structure as special as Wangdicholing Palace were to have a development project proposed in its vicinity, it would not be adversely affected. One process would be 'viewshed analysis' which is simply considering the potential visual impact of the proposed development on the historic structure and landscape. The Amankora hotel, which leaves Wangdicholing Palace literally in its shadow, is clearly out of harmony with its historic context. I realize that local administrators in Bhutan don't have access to trained experts and funds to deal with landscape preservation but the monolithic hotel should have been permitted only in a less obtrusive part of the valley.

Since development is happening at such high speed here in my country, we have many processes in place to protect significant structures and landscapes although they don't always succeed. My work now is related to protecting archaeological sites from construction works. I'm working as a civil servant with the Ministry of Culture here in my home province.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I feel extremely inspired and motivated to contribute however I can to the management and protection of Bhutan's historic sites. I hope I can return and do some good work in this area, share what I've learned, maybe even train others. I've had the opportunity for education and experience in this uncommon field, in a setting of rapid development. Nobody in Bhutan right now has this background. I understand and appreciate why there's a continuing backlash against "foreign experts" and I know that non-nationals aren't easily employed in Bhutan (unless sponsored by an NGO, which is my hope) so it would be very difficult to make this happen. But, dreams are not supposed to be simple to achieve, right?

Anyway, thanks for reading all that. I hope you are well and I look forward to your continuing posts and photos.

Take care


  1. Haven't seen the said structure, but any structure besides a historic one would seem an eyesore especially if it is not built in a manner to complement the historic structure. I guess, in this case, Amankora may have hoped to benefit by its proximity to the historic Wangdicholing Palace. Anon.

  2. I haven't seen the hotel either and therefore it is hard to assume the gravity... why don't you do some magic with your camera and present to us the source of this thing you are talking.

  3. Great Idea PaSsu! Look forward to the magic unfold here. Anon.

  4. Hi Anon and PasSu,
    It so happens that I took a photo of the palace and the hotel from a high vantage point last year. This was how the scene looks from Padtseling Goenpa on the ridge above the town:
    They are very close together...

  5. My goodness, Andrea's picture clearly shows how close the hotel is to the palace. How was it possible that a structure of that size was given the permit to be erected so close to the palace?
    Even if the hotel was built in very traditional style, letting its shadow fall on the palace is outrageous. Who gave the permit?