Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay graced the at the courtyard of the ruins in Paro yesterday

Upon a cold winter morning in Paro in 1905, John Claude White, a British Raj administrator and an accomplished photographer, gazed up from his camp and saw a monolith most exquisite piercing into the vast empyreal blue. He could not believe what he saw, the absolute grandeur of Bhutanese genius pressing down on him. The towering mountains far up north were crowned in white. For what appeared like a long while, White didn’t even blink. The English explorer had lost his speech.

As a close friend of Trongsa Ponlop Ugyen Wangchuck, John Claude White was most cordially received by the Dzongpon of Drukgyal. In the outer courtyard, men were making gunpowder, and a silversmith and a wood-turner were also at work. In the inner courtyard were piles of shingles ready for reroofing the castle. Much later, in 1914, White would recount his Bhutan experience in the National Geographic magazine. He had no idea then that the records that he penned at the base of Drukgyal Dzong, bracing the icy wind of the Bhutanese winter would, in the far later days, become the most useful and illuminating narrative lines of the dzong – Fortress of Victory.

It would have greatly pained White to see the most stalwart and refined conception of the Bhutanese mind, the architectural splendour of supreme attainment that embodied and exuded Bhutanese valour and resilience razed to ashes. Perhaps providence was too kind on him that White did not live long to witness the painful catastrophe. When the most disastrous fire engulfed the famous Fortress of Victory in 1951, White was dead and gone 33 years .

Since then, Drugkyal Dzong, the once most famous of all the Dra-Dzongs in the country that was built to commemorate the victory of the Bhutanese over the Tibetans forces, has lain in ruins, fast receding from the grey streets of Bhutanese memory.

Salang ceremony

Salang ceremony

But Drukgyal Dzong will rise again.

Gracing the Salang ceremony at the courtyard of the ruins yesterday, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the dzong will be “restored to its former grandeur” to commemorate the birth of HRH The Gyalsey and the 400th year of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s arrival in Bhutan. As Bhutan celebrates this year as the birth year of Guru Rinpoche, reconstruction of Drukgyal Dzong is also dedicated to the great tantric master who brought Buddhism to Bhutan.

But, what did Drukgyal Dzong really look like before the fire? What intricate and dizzying compartments did it have? What secret passages and vaults? No ancient voice is now left to educate the modern minds. There are no architectural drawings and clues from the past; they were seldom used in the Bhutanese architecture.

Captain Samuel Turner, who visited Paro 120 years before White, described Drukgyal Dzong eloquently and in revealing details thus: “The castle of Dug-gye-jong is a very substantial stone building, with high walls; but so irregular is its figure that it is evident no other design was followed in its construction than to cover all the level space on the top of the hill on which it stands.

Having ascended to the gateway at the foot of the walls, we had still to mount about a dozen steps through a narrow passage, after which we landed upon a semicircular platform edged with a strong wall pierced with loop-holes. Turning to the right, we passed through a second gateway and went along a wide lane with stables for horses on each side. The third gateway conducted us to the interior of the fortress, being a large square, the angles of which had three suites of rooms. In the center of the square was a temple dedicated to Mahamoonie and his concomitant idols.”

For want of our own, perhaps these records by visitors from abroad will serve as guide, however small their significance. But Drukgyal Dzong will rise to its former glory.

Jigme Wangchuk


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