Four traditional houses above the expressway in Babesa are bestowed with heritage status. One owner had better idea.

At a time when the Thimphu valley is witnessing rapid urbanisation, with huge concrete buildings coming up everywhere, four traditional houses just above the expressway in Babesa stand as heritage sites.

The houses, with typical northern Bhutanese architecture, were left untouched and declared heritage sites in the early 2000s, when Babesa came under the Thimphu City municipal boundary.  Land pooling and construction activities followed.

Owners too did not want the houses dismantled.  They are filled with memories and tales from the past.

One of the houses, however, saw some changes last year.  Two sisters, Tshering Pem and Tandi Om, jointly owned the house.  One of the sons in the family, Wangchuk, decided to convert it to a Bhutanese restaurant and café with a traditional look and air.

The huge altar on the second floor remains untouched like the rest of the structure.  If there are changes in the house, they are in the kitchen and bathrooms.  They are now altogether modern.

The house is believed to be about 200 years old.

According to the family, the house belonged to the 41st Desi, Damcho Lhendup, known in the village as Deb Bachu, who became the desi in 1852.  The house was also the residence of one of the consorts of Lam Drukpa Kuenlay, Bap Bi Bum Chenzom.

Because of such important historical significance, the family said that they preserved the altar, so that they can pay homage to their ancestors and deities.

“We left the house mostly untouched. All traditional household items are there for visitors to see,” said Wangchuk, who is planning to spruce up the restaurant that will cater to visitors from abroad, and locals who are interested to visit.

The two floors of the restaurant will accommodate about 50 people.  Even as renovation work is ongoing, tourists come to visit the place.

“I haven’t done any sort of marketing yet. But people are attracted to it naturally,” said Wangchuk.

Tour operators said that tourists like to visit such traditional places.

“We must make sure that it meets health and safety requirements for tourists,” said a tour operator, adding that it was a comfort that some faces of Bhutan’s past can be saved this way for the posterity.

By Kinga Dema