A mason fulfills his wish in contributing to the rebuilding of the Wangduephodrang dzong

Choekhorthangkha looks devoid of the glory and the powerful majestic aura it once boasted over the expansive Wangdue valley.

Wangduephodrang dzong, the edifice of power and a marvel of Bhutanese architecture, stood at the site for nearly four centuries. The dzong was lost to fire in June 2012.

The incident shocked the people of Sha Dargye. It was their symbol of worship, their pride.

But for 51-year-old, Phurba from Rinchengang, Wangduephodrang, the ruins of the fortress are still his pride.

Phurba has grown under the shadow of the dzong and his late grandfather who was one of its builders. Each passing day, he looked up to the gigantic magnificent structure and wished he could build one himself, someday.

Phurba comes from a family of artisans. His ancestors worked as masons when the dzong was built 374 years ago. He is one of the three chief masons working on the Wangduephodrang reconstruction project today.  “I decided to contribute in its reconstruction until the end or until life would allow me to.”

He is supervising men cutting boulders with machines. He hops from one group of men to another throwing loud instructions over the din of rock-cutting machines, waving, and checking if the stones have been cut in the right size.

Phurba started working on the project three years ago. The seasoned mason has an experience of more than 17 years of renovating more than 10 historic monuments such as Punakha Dzong, Dongkola monastery in Paro, Nyezergang Lhakhang in Wangduephodrang, and Gangkha lhakhang in Chapcha, Chukha, among others.

While the goal has remained the same, which is to build the dzong to fulfil the vision and wish of the Zhabdrung, the means have definitely made it easy for the present generation.

The father of five is delighted with the advent of machines for they have cut their days of labour from years to months.

“I have heard stories of how they struggled for days to get boulders, cut them into shape and place them on the walls. Today, it’s a matter of a few hours,” he said.

The reconstruction project, which will complete in December 2021, uses electric rock-cutting machines. The boulders are transported from Tsirang. Rocks and the mud motor are inspected before they are approved for use.

The dzong will be the first to have an underground service tunnel for electricity, telephone and Internet lines, water pipes, and sewer lines. The tunnel, wide enough for two to walk at a time, will be used during emergencies.

He said, the residents of the region-contributed labour for months when the dzong was built. “Today, labourers are paid daily wage, work with modern safety gears, equipment, and given numerous other benefits,” Phurba said. “Those working at the time of my grandfather were definitely much better artisans: working harder given the limited resources.”

The mammoth task of restoring the dzong to its former glory would not be possible if not for the command of His Majesty The King and support of the people.

The project has seen a large number of people turn up to serve lunch to workers. So far groups of sponsors have served 133 tokha to the workers at the site. About 4,300 individuals contributed 4,150 man-days of work.

Residents from Wangdue contributed labour initially. Today, most of the workers at the site are from Tsirang.

A story behind building the dzong at Choekhorthangkha goes something like this. While in Chimmi lhakhang, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel met an old physically challenged man who told him that he would unite the country if he built a dzong on a ridge that resembled a sleeping elephant in Wangduephodrang.

Zhabdrung surmised that the old man was the guardian deity, Yeshey Goenpo or Mahakala. He immediately dispatched one of his followers to study the location. The man returned and reported seeing four ravens circling the ridge, which flew away in four different directions on his arrival. This was considered an auspicious sign, representing the spread of religion in the four directions. Considering this to be a good omen, Zhabdrung constructed the dzong in 1638.

Wangduephodrang dzong lies on a ridge between Punatsangchhu and Dangchu in the windy afternoon overlooking Rinchengang on the right.

Strategic location of the dzongs was one of the main factors that have led to the successful unification of the country.

Wangduephodrang Dzong was built to put Sha-Dagye (eight eastern regions adjacent to Punakha) under control of Zhabdrung.

The governor of Wangduephodrang became the third most powerful ruler, after Paro and Trongsa. The dzong’s strategic position gave him control of the routes to Trongsa, Punakha, Dagana and Thimphu.

The dzong is on the tentative list of the

Once complete, the dzong will house the clergy and the offices of the dzongkhag administration.

As he overseas the work, Phurba cherishes his blessings everyday he comes to work.

“This is my final mission,” he said. “The opportunity to work on the reconstruction of the dzong is the best reward for my skill. I can now die a proud man.”

Tshering Palden