Wangduechhoeling Palace, a Historic Treasure
An architectural masterpiece with perhaps the finest representation of nineteenth-century Bhutanese architecture, Wangduechhoeling Palace is a powerful symbol of the establishment of the monarchy in Bhutan. The palace’s construction marks the beginning of peace and stability in the country. Today, due to lack of resources, the palace is in a vulnerable state after fifty years with minimal maintenance and is in urgent need of restoration.
Gongsa Jigme Namgyal, a legendary leader credited with unifying the feudal regions of Bhutan and laying the foundations for monarchy, constructed the palace in 1857. His son Ugyen Wangchuck was born at the palace and was elected the first King of Bhutan, establishing the royal court of the Wangchuck dynasty. As an extraordinary example of traditional Bhutanese architecture, painting, and craftsmanship, the palace has had great influence on Bhutanese culture, and continues to guide and inspire.
The magnificent carvings and paintings on the façade of the palace, the grams of the timber windows, and wall murals are rapidly deteriorating and are in danger of being damaged beyond repair and lost forever if preservation efforts do not being soon. The palace provides an opportunity to restore a unique heritage site allowing all Bhutanese and visitors to have a window to a very special part of the country’s history.
The Bhutan Foundation, in collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan’s Ministry of Home and Culture, is proposing an adaptive reuse project for the palace. This project will showcase this concept as an important tool for achieving conservation objectives and preservation of history and culture in Bhutan. Additionally, given the significance and uniqueness of the palace, it will be important to protect the structure, its valuable contents, and its occupants from fire and therefore this project will take advantage of the latest advances in fire safety while preserving the historical and cultural fabric of the building. As we seek to engage both technical experts from abroad and the local community, the project will also go a long way towards building local capacity as well as serving a model of preservation of heritage sites in Bhutan and the Himalayas.
Located in Bumthang Valley, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan and home to some of the oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries, the palace adds to the cultural uniqueness of the valley. The local community in this sacred valley also plays an important role in building the spirituality of Bumthang. Thus, to engage the local community of Bumthang in this project, with support from World Monuments Fund, Watch Day was observed on October 13, 2012. The Watch Day aimed to create awareness of the restoration that will take place at the palace as well as document oral history. Students of Wangduechhoeling Lower Secondary School participated in an essay writing competition to collect oral stories from the locals, their elders and family members who served our first, second, and third kings. These stories collected by the students played a critical role in additional literature and historical research of the palace. In celebration of the one year anniversary of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, on October 13, 2013, the students were able to present their stories to the entire school during assembly and winners were awarded prizes as well as a special tour of the palace. The students were also able to offer prayers and butter lamps at the altar (utse) in the palace, which truly touched their hearts.
Deki Yangden, a winner of the competition wrote: “ Wangduechhoeling Palace is where history was created, and a unique royal family originated, and it still continues to occupy a big piece in the hearts of every single Bhutanese.”