Tseto Goenpa

Completed Project

A sacred monastery hidden in the Himalayas

Tseto Goenpa is a Buddhist monastery complex believed to be built in the fifteenth century by Lotey Gyemtsho, the High Lama at the time. The complex lies at the top of a mountain in the Himalayas, approximately 3,000 meters high. Surrounding the monastery are three stretching mountain ridges that resemble the vajra, a mythological weapon and a Buddhist symbol of indestructibility and force strong enough to overpower ignorance.

A humble, vernacular structure, Tseto Goenpa is composed of rammed earth walls, clay plastering, spiritual paintings, and a wooden frame, thus reflecting traditional Bhutanese architecture. Decorative carvings and rich, vibrant colors adorn the wooden interior components, including the joists, beams, and columns in the lhakhang (main shrine hall). Hanging on the wall are paintings made from cotton cloth that depict deities, saints, and various religious symbols.

Tseto Goenpa remains a religious hub for residents in the region and a home for the current lama and a small order of monks. In 2011, an earthquake caused extensive damage to the structure and the interior of the monastery.

Preserving a tradition for the future

World Monuments Fund launched a conservation project at Tseto Goenpa in late 2015, thanks to the initiative and generous support of Jill Kearney and Stephen McDonnell. The project was designed to address the damage that had been caused by the earthquake, which included cracking of the delicate earthen walls and the interior wall paintings.

The project centers on the restoration of the monastery so that it can continue to serve its resident monks and attract new monks to service—a goal of the current High Lama. Planned conservation work includes the creation of new spaces, including residences, bathroom facilities, and a kitchen, as well as the installation of equipment needed to deliver safe drinking water to the monastery. Additionally, the project is intended to serve as a model of restoration, through which residents of the local community and engineers and craftsmen from the region can learn seismic strengthening and conservation techniques. The project, completed in late 2017, is designed to respect the authenticity of Tseto Goenpa so that it can maintain significance as an important center of spirituality and religious tradition for the local community.

In October 2019, the project was recognized with an Award of Merit at the 2019 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Last updated: February 2020.

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