Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

In Samthang, Wangdue, amid timbers, noise, and more than 30 workers, is 71-year-old Dorji. With more than 37 years of experience in carpentry and construction of lhakhangs and dzongs, Dorji is the head carpenter for Wangdue Dzong reconstruction project.

In one of the working space in Samthang is Karma Tshering with his team, carving the intricate patterns of flowers, dragons and the lucky signs on the thris (throne), pillars and the choeshams, which would be installed inside the 21 lhakhangs in Wangdue Dzong.

Inside the dzong, Sita Kumari Rai has carried mud and stones for more than 100 times a day in the past seven years. Since her first work in Chukha Dzong construction project in 2002, Sita has been working for dzong construction for almost two decades.

The work is expected to complete in mid-2022

Guiding over 300 men and women rebuilding the national treasure is Kinley Wangchuk—project manager and a specialist in Bhutanese architecture with over 30 years experience in the field.

These are the men and women rebuilding the 374-year-old historic Wangdue Dzong.

Perched on a ridge, the dzong was consumed by fire in June 24, 2012.

During the tragedy, the same evening, around 6:30pm, Kinley Wangchuk, now project director, visited the site. “I visited on the same evening with the then home secretary. It was dark when I got here.”

Kinley Wangchuk witnessed Wangdue Dzong crumbling. “There was a big crowd but couldn’t do anything and people were just watching.”

Significant progress has been made in rebuilding the dzong under his guidance.

“I never thought I would be given the project. I had studied the layout of the dzong in the 1990s which helped us today,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

Like Kinley Wangchuk, Dorji, one of the senior workers at the project, also had once worked in renovating the Wangdue Dzong.

Dorji said that he was part of the team that renovated the dzong in 1890s.

In his near four-decade experience in traditional architecture, none was as difficult as the current project.

When work was about to begin in 2014, lack of carpenters and experts were their main challenges. “We asked gups to send their best carpenters but when people turned up, they couldn’t take the responsibility we gave them. They weren’t skilled enough.”

The project had to train workers. Soon, timbers started to go bad.

Dorji said that in some cases, about 50 percent of timber turned up damaged. “We had brought timbers from Khotokha, Nahi, and Bumthang.”

Despite challenges, the project site has become a hub for experts and experienced individuals in the dzong and lhakhang constructions.

Among many is Karma Tshering.

In 2014, Karma Tshering sat with over 80 individuals—all experts in carving and remo, competing for work with the project.

Carving out two intricate dragons won him the project to build alters and thris inside the lhakhangs in the dzong.

Karma’s work can be seen in lhakhangs in Haa, Pemagatshel, Thimphu, and Mongar.

Karma Tshering said that lack of workers was a major issue in the past.

With pay difference of over Nu 500 between the project and private works, many chose to leave.

“Here, for people to stay, people also need some enthusiasm. Otherwise, people leave for better income,” Karma Tshering.

While lack of workers had challenged the progress of the work in the past, employees like Pem Dorji, 63, has chosen to stay.

Since he began work in 2014, a 21-day leave was the only long-term leave he took from the project.

“My mother passed away, so I took the leave,” Pem Dorji said.

Pem Dorji has been working for dzong constructions for more than 27 years. “It doesn’t sit well with me that I take leave when others are working here.”

At the project, work begins with roll call at 6:30am.  The work ends at 5pm.

“Only when the dzong is finally consecrated, I will feel accomplished,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

Many working at the project continues to one day see the dzong stand in its former glory.

When the dzong finally completes Dorji plans to retire.

Sita Kumari Rai in the other hand will go on to work in a different project site.


Dzong reconstruction progress 

More than 87 percent of the project work has been completed today.

Kinley Wangchuk said that internal works (debrey paintings and toilet finishing) of more than eight lhakhangs of 21 in the dzong, has been completed.

He added that 50 percent of internal debrey painting has completed today. “Main work is in the first courtyard right now. Service tunnel and wooden component work is being done right now. Fire hydrant work will start in September, which has been outsourced.”

In the second and third courtyards, levelling, drainage, sewerage, and water supply fitting works are in progress.

“Sewerage system and storm water drainage is completing. And we are moving with the structures as well,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

The complete structure of the dzong is expected to be completed in June next year. The project began in January, 2014.

Kinley Wangchuk said that reconstruction took time because of the features such as the reinforced concrete and earthquake-resilient features in the utse.

Kinley Wangchuk said that raft slabs of around 2 feet as compared to around 7 inches in normal buildings have been installed in Wangdue Dzong.

Service tunnels run underneath the dzong.

All the works are being executed by Bhutanese skilled workers.

“This is the first time we are installing seismic design in the utse,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

The project currently has 30 carvers, 13 painters, 130 masons and helpers, and 70 carpenters and helpers.

Nu 876 million has been spent on the construction of the dzong so far.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk