Active Project

Drametse Lhakhang

Drametse, Mongar District, Bhutan


Drametse Lhakhang, a sixteenth-century monastery straddling a steep and narrow mountain ridge in the verdant slopes of the eastern Himalayas, today houses a community of 80 monks. This Nyingma Buddhist site predates the seventeenth-century consolidation of Bhutan into a single kingdom. The complex consists of a three-story temple in the center of a courtyard surrounded by residential quarters, offices, and classrooms on the periphery. The thick walls of the buildings, made out of stone laid in clay mortar, are coated with characteristic white and red-pigmented limewash. In the interior of the lhakhang, carved, painted wood columns support painted beams and the building’s unique “flying” roof, a low-pitch roof that extends far beyond the edge of the walls without being attached to them.

How We Helped

A strong earthquake, felt in Tibet, India, and Bangladesh, struck less than three miles from Drametse Lhakhang in September 2009. The earthquake was strong enough to cause numerous cracks in the ancient walls of the monastery. Cracking and displacement has compromised the structural stability of the three-story temple. In addition to the surrounding buildings, the pavilion at the entrance to the complex also suffered significant damage. Following the earthquake, WMF, in partnership with the Bhutan Foundation and the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, is providing assistance for emergency repairs at Drametse Lhakhang and Trashigang Dzong, a neighboring fortified monastery and administrative center. WMF mounted a mission to assess the damage and provided recommendations to specialists from Bhutan’s Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites. Repair works are currently underway at both sites.

Why It Matters

This project addresses the monastic community’s desire to repair damage caused by the earthquake while adhering to local restoration principles, such as the exclusive use of homegrown materials and building techniques. Drametse is a key spiritual center of eastern Bhutan, and the Mask Dance of the Drums, a sacred dance of the Drametse community that takes place twice a year in the courtyard of the monastery, has been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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