Culture: Preserving traditional stone masonry houses in Trong, Zhemgang might be financially unrewarding for its owners but these houses are a treasure-trove of Bhutanese architecture, according to researchers from Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan.

“It is special, unique and beautiful not only the houses but also the way everything in its surrounding is used to suit the topography of the landscape,” associate professor, Akiko Yoshimura who is leading the study of Trong village said.

The associate professor said that landscapers from the institute also found every element around the village being used for the village’s benefit.

For instance, every plant in the surrounding areas is found used for reinforcing the footing of the houses on a steep topography.

Prof Tetsuo Furuichi who led the research until 2013 states in a publication on traditional Bhutanese houses published recently that the rammed earth and traditional timber construction techniques certainly breathes architectural splendor.

“But the real surprise was the continual discovery of wisdom underlying in Bhutanese architecture such as wisdom of living with nature formed over a long period of time,” he states, adding the strong sense concealed within the lifestyle created through the skillful use of materials, natural airflow and light alludes a large hint for saving the environment from the continuous destruction of voluminous carbon dioxide.

Chiba institute has been studying traditional Bhutanese houses since 2009 in collaboration with the works and human settlement ministry (MoWHS).

Akiko Youshimura succeeded after Tetsuo Furuichi retired in 2013.

The institute earlier surveyed villages such as Changjiji, Babesa, Shari in Paro, Kurje and Jakar in Bumthang and Shazam in Trashigang.

Through its six surveys, recommendations were proposed in design, community building and collective housing, preserving plans and passing down of traditional housing to future generations to the government of Bhutan and MoWHS.

This month, the institute with MoWHS surveyed Trong heritage village.

Trong is an array of over 20 traditional stone masonry houses clustered neatly on a tiny hillock overlooking the imposing Zhemgang dzong.

While little is known or documented on the origin of Trong and its vintage traditional houses, the villagers date its existence for over 100 years now. Neither the village’s eldest citizenry, Rinzin, 99 or his parents remembered when the houses were built.

“But what I remember is even my grandparents lived in the same house, which is still standing tall today,” Rinzin said, adding that although some extensions were done, chief stone walls haven’t needed any repair from dilapidation or damage from earthquakes.

MoWHS architect, Yangchen Lhamo said it is difficult to trace the history of Trong from lack of written or oral documents.

“But we could possibly presume that the settlement started along with the construction of Zhemgang dzong dating back to 1655,” she said.

Rinzin said the most striking feature of houses in Trong is its resistance to earthquakes despite them being built on rocks without a proper foundation.

The institute is also surveying the topography of Trong using drones, which would enable creating 3D images of the village.

“Topography survey would enable recording wisdoms from the Bhutanese houses of what features can be used in what topography,” Akiko Yoshimura said.

The institute’s lecturer, Hideaki Kawasaki is processing the 3D image from over 1,000 drone footages.

“Not only the architecture but how it fits to the topography is also the characteristic feature of Trong village,” Hideaki Kawasaki said.

The villagers opposing to the idea of a heritage village is also gradually fading especially after His Majesty The King’s visit in 2014.

“Now we are taking more interest to preserve the houses since even His Majesty was delighted with the grandeur of houses in the village,” Trong villager, Chompayla said.

While initial plans to start an eco-lodge in the village failed with the villagers preferring to replace the traditional houses with concrete buildings, Trong gewog however is trying to preserve the houses with plans of opening eco-tourism once again.

“The gewog would once again plan on opening eco-tourism and other plans based on the report of Chiba institute,” Trong gup, Dorji Wangchuk said, adding save for improving internal features, changing its exterior would be disallowed.

Tempa Wangdi, Zhemgang