Thousands have come and left the reconstruction site of the mighty Wangduephodrang Dzong. There are more than 300 at the site, rooted with one common mission that money can’t buy.
About half a dozen men and women make at least a few dozen trips up the two steep ladders carrying perfectly cut stone slabs. “The stone and mud we carry is not heavy but in the afternoons the strong wind would blow away a person along with the stone if one is not careful,” a worker says.
“Not only that it blows dust and sand onto you, so you have to watch out.”
The Dzong’s location, being perched on a ridge that overlooks the convergence of the Dangchhu and Punatsangchhu, is the reason for the striving winds.
The work is back breaking; both who build the walls or those who ferry the cast stones. At the end of the month, few of them, the skilled workers get less than Nu 15,000 and other labourers get less than Nu 7,000. Daily wage for hired labour at private works like paddy transplantation earn them at least Nu 5,00 a day. It is not the money but the faith that their work would earn them some merit both in this life and future is what keeps them there and going.
Finding enough workers for such a behemoth task was always going to be a challenge and the local leaders volunteered to help the project get what it needed.
Local leaders agreed on two separate Dzongkhag Tshogdu sessions to contribute at least a carpenter for a month. After failing to contribute two-three carpenters the first time, the 14 gewogs of Wangduephodrang decided to contribute a carpenter each a month for the project. Local leaders reached a consensus after three hours of discussions during the tshogdu in August 2015.
However, that did not happen and in some cases, the gups sent female workers as substitutes. Local leaders later accepted their failure and said that despite several rounds of meeting with the people, the carpenters or stone carvers were either unwilling to go or do not keep their word after agreeing. There are today more than 25 workers from Wangdue excluding project engineers and the project manager.
Carpenters sent as volunteers are paid at par with those who are working at the site. The project paid between Nu 292 – Nu 370 to each carpenter.
The project manager said that the lack of manpower in villages and the daily wage could be the reasons for skilled carpenters’ refusal to work at the site. Elsewhere, the carpenters were paid at least Nu 600 – Nu 700 a day. The project paid up to Nu 486 a day to the most experienced carpenter.
Despite the challenges, the Dzong reconstruction project manager, Kinley Wangchuk said work progress was on schedule.
A veteran in the field of dzong construction, with more than 30 years experience under his belt, Kinley Wangchuk has enough tricks up his sleeve to not only draw in labour but to maintain them for the required work progress.
The third court, which consists of Utse, Kuenray and Zhabdrung lhakhang is 90 percent complete. The first court, which would house the dzongkhag administration office is 75 percent complete.
“There have been some changes in the design of the second court to include reinforcement features against earthquake,” Kinley Wangchuk said.
He said because of this change in the design of court two that comprises the Dukhang, residences for senior monks, the completion deadline of the dzong reconstruction is now deferred to the end of 2022.
There are also some additional works such as the construction of the public parking area and other works.
Kinley Wangchuk tried to recruit some class X and XII -dropouts but they didn’t last. Vocational institute graduates tried but left.
But there are those like Chandralal Dahal from Tsirang who have made it a family affair to rebuild the dzong.
“We’ll earn a lot of merits and earn enough too,” the 48-year-old Mason said.
His two sons, daughter and her husband work at the site.
The project provides them with a uniform set a year, assistance in difficult times like sickness and good food on most of the days.
Kinley Wangchuk said there is no dearth of people serving tokha to the 330 workers. So far 236 were served and more have pledged monthly contributions for tokha.
Seven years ago, the 17th-century fortress that used to house more than 250 monks was completely destroyed in a fire. The main works at the dzong reconstruction took off in September 2014.
The dzong saw similar disasters before. In 1837, the dzong was destroyed by a major fire and later rebuilt. During the time of Lam Neten Pelden Singye, the dzong was also damaged by a severe earthquake in 1897 and minor damages suffered during the earthquake in 2011.
Most workers are from Tsirang and Dagana and some from across the country.
One of the youngest workers at the site is Kinzang Wangmo, a mother of two, who has been at the site for two years. Her husband works at the carpentry section while she ferries stones and mud motor.
Her children stay at the crèche when she works. “Life is good and work is okay,” she said.
There are ex-convicts among the labourers.
As the lunch break is over, workers enter the giant walls that would replace the historic structure which once housed the great Pemai Tshewang Tashi and his leader Andruk Nim. The workers resume their tasks determined to accomplish their mission.
Tshering Palden | Wangdue