Thursday, July 5, 2012

Rebuilding Wangdue Phodrang Dzong I

-->Even as I was grieving the loss of the magnificent Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, something that kept nagging at me was that the charred and scorched remains of the Dzong is no less important, no less historical, than the Dzong that has been turned to dust. The aftermath of the passage of the event of the night of 24th June, 2012 is and must remain a part of Bhutan’s history. It is an inseparable part of our journey to wherever we are headed and we cannot shake it off our conscience, however painful the memory.

As a photographer and record keeper, it dawned on me that I had a responsibility to posterity, to record what was still left standing after the inferno of the 24th June, 2012. Thus, at 4.30AM on the morning of 29th June, 2012, I drove to Wangdue Phodrang to photograph the ruins. With all that talk about rebuilding the Dzong to its former glory, I needed to keep a record of how the ruins looked, before they are pulled down to make way for the reconstruction work.

Upon returning to Thimphu, I began to examine the images of the ruins on my computer screen. As I continued to sift through few dozen images shot from a variety of angles, a feeling of sadness overwhelmed me. But this time, strangely, my sadness was not for the Dzong that got burnt.

My sadness was for the ruins that will be pulled down soon - to make way for the reconstruction work.

It dawned on me that the historic Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is going to undergo not one, but two calamities. The second calamity - the act of pulling down the final remains of the Dzong that the Zhabdrung built in 1638 - will effectively obliterate, without a trace, a historic edifice that is an inseparable part of our history and nationhood. In its place, we will build, at great cost that the nation can ill afford, a towering monstrosity fashioned out of concrete and steel - a structure that will rob us of a historic monument that can never be replaced.

All over the world, there are ruins of monuments that are considered cultural heritage sites - not because they have been rebuilt to their former glory, but because they have been left standing, as they are, as reminders and proof and as historical evidence of our past glory and pride.

The Pyramid and the Sphinx of Egypt, the Acropolis of Athens, Machu Picchu of Peru, the Roman Colosseum - all these UNESCO heritage sites derive their importance because they stand on their original site and in their original state - without reconstruction or alteration. All these historic ruins remain as they are not because the governments in those countries did not have the money to rebuild them but because they did not want to erase an important evidence of their history and culture.

Can we stop and think for a while and reconsider what may be at stake? Can we consider building the new Wangdue Phodrang Dzong on a different location and not on the same location where the old historic Dzong stood? Can we consider preserving, and not pulling down, the burnt and charred remains of the old Wangdue Phodrang Dzong for the benefit of our future generations?

……… to be continued


  1. i also went there on the 29th and saw that ruins had its own grandeur, and thought it looked more beautiful than before looking almost like its now become a part of the elephant like shaped hill...then i had to re-tune myself to think like others to feel sad that its gone for nobody else shared this same view...hahha...good write aue, i agree with your sentiments...chimi :)

  2. Dear YD
    I re-experienced the pain as I read through and view those pictures. At one point I align with your stream of reasons. Yes there are in history monuments appreciated for its ruins. But again that could have different intensity of value because of its position and country. If we take the example of Drukgyel Dzong which was constructed by Zhabdrung himself it remains as desolate as any ruins. Its importance is prized as second hand clothes and the site has become more dangerous for visitors.
    Although it is said that “people only attribute value to an original masterpiece” There are papers which narrates us about similar issues S. BRUNO FREY & ROHNER.DOMINIC(2006), agrees that “Modern technology allows us to rebuild a monument (almost) identical to the original and to restore it to its former glory. Well-known examples are the Frauenkirche in Dresden or the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne.” They also feel that “Rebuilding cultural monuments has a beneficial impact on the psychological health of the concerned population, lessening the sense of grief and defeat of the citizens (see Oliver-Smith, 1986; Osborne, 2001), and reconstruction will be celebrated by the media as a victory over terrorism. “More so sentiments and attachment can be revived only if one can bring back its original shape.

    Beautiful crafted logic. As much as I could be persuaded by your writing I would very much wish to see Wangdue Dzong in its original shape as I drive pass that cactus invested district.


  3. Thank you for your thought provoking article although it was so frustrating to see "to be continued..." at the end of it! Nevertheless, your piece got many feelings racing through my mind tumbling over each other.

    I share your sentiments. I experienced renewed melancholy on reading your thoughts and seeing your pictures. I mean we saw the Dzong going up in flames on TV, but now I see that the outer structure, that is, the walls are almost in tact, I mean it's like what did the fire consume? I know if I visit the site am going to get totally depressed.

    The most painful and difficult thing to do in our lives is to let go. Some things hurt, but we cling on to it, sometimes for dear life. It's not possible to picture the dzong anywhere else but where we have been seeing before the fire. It would be wonderful for the remains to be preserved as an architectural heritage where we and future generations can visit, but then where else can the dzong be built? Would looking for a new site be a humungous problem? Would building on a new site incur a little less expenditure than tearing down the old site?

  4. Hi Anon,

    I am going to discuss that issue of "where else can the Dzong be built" matter in my second installment.

    Epoch, I am all for rebuilding the Dzong "in its original shape". But that can be achieved without eradicating the real stuff. My second installment will deal with that issue.

    Chimi, thanks for your comment ... one more installment will follow .. so watch this space :)

  5. dear YD

    I am waiting for your second article. I am wondering if you are waiting for the rain to stop :P


  6. The fact that the walls are still standing after such a huge fire tells us how strong they are. And the fire would have baked the walls and made them even stronger.

    I wonder if we can rebuild without pulling down these ancient, strong and 100% proven fireproof walls.

  7. Sorry for the late comment.
    As I went through the article, I wondered how I would feel if I see the Dzong after the destruction. I feel that even upon hearing the news makes it hard to digest such heavy news.
    I is indeed so depressing to witness the ruin of Wangdiphodrang and be the part of history.
    I hope, and just hope that our hope of rebuilding the Dzong to be a successful one.