The village is one of the last standing heritage sites
Younten Tshedup | Zhemgang
In the wake of rapid development and urbanisation, preservation and sustenance of heritage sites is becoming a daunting task.
Traditional architectures disappearing in the shadows of concrete buildings are a common observation in places like Paro, Thimphu and Punakha.
Amid these inevitable transformations, a village in the heart of Zhemgang town stands as a testimony of will, the community has displayed to preserve their rich heritage.
The Trong Heritage Village (THV) is an array of 27 traditional stone masonry houses clustered neatly on a small hillock, overlooking the imposing Zhemgang dzong.
However, about six years ago, the community almost gave in to the mounting pressure of urbanisation. Many of the residents wanted to demolish the old structure to replace it with modern architecture.
An attempt by the dzongkhag administration to convert the location into a heritage village was met with strong oppositions from villagers then. However, the opposition gradually began to fade especially after His Majesty The King’s visit in 2014.
A senior village resident, Tshewang Tenzin, said that as commended by His Majesty people began to take extra effort in preserving the houses. “We can modify and change the internal of the houses but we are asked not to alter the outer appearance of the structures.”
All the 27 residents received a nine-decimal plot each in the core area as compensation in 2016.
While little is known or documented on the origin of the village and its vintage traditional houses, Tshewang Tenzin said that the structures could be centuries old.
The village’s eldest, a centenarian died last year at the age of 102. “Even he had no idea when these structures were built,” he said.
Built without a proper foundation atop rocks, this feature of houses in Trong village is what intrigues experts the most. “No earthquake has damaged any of the houses so far,” said Tshewang Tenzin. “There is no sorcery or magic here but sometimes that’s the only logical explanation to all these.”
Zhemgang dzongdag, Lobzang Dorji, said that if it wasn’t for His Majesty’s initiative, this unique traditional heritage could have turned into concrete structures.
He said that the whole ridge where the village today stands has to be developed and a compound wall built around the village. “We still have to improve the aesthetics of the village with respect to the town and make it look like a real village from the outside.”
Street lamps, underground cable ducts, drainage and concrete footpaths among others have also been developed over the years to support the community living in the village.
Dzongdag Lobzang Dorji said that provisions to generate income for the community are also being looked into. “Charging a nominal entry fee to visitors wanting to take a tour of the village could be done,” he said. “However, the only problem is that there are no visitors to the village today.”
Some of the residents also shared that they would like to establish homestays in the village if there were enough tourist and visitors. “We can come up with cafes and restaurants that would serve local cuisines and delicacies,” said a resident. “We can do this even today but where will we get the customers from?”
The dzongdag said that while some of the villagers expressed their interest to establish homestays in THV, majority of them had their toilets built outside.
“There are a set of regulations and criteria one should meet to run a homestay. We have forwarded one application to the Tourism Council of Bhutan for approval.”