Along the Chamkhar River in central Bhutan, Wangduechhoeling Palace rises from the Jakar valley floor, surrounded by the verdant colors of the region’s rice fields. Constructed as a private residence in 1857 for Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel, a legendary Bhutanese warrior, the palace was the birthplace of the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, Namgyel’s son. Under Wangchuck, Wangduechhoeling became the seat of national power in the early twentieth century, housing the king’s offices and courts. In 1950, the capital was moved to Paro, and ten years later the royal family followed. For the last 50 years, Wangduechhoeling has been largely neglected, though a monastic school housing a community of 30 monks has occupied a small portion of the rooms since 2004.
The palace and its ancillary structures remain a classic example of nineteenth-century Bhutanese architecture. White stone walls bonded with earthen mortar, wattle and daub partitions, and richly ornamented timber details characterize the complex, which is built around a central courtyard and houses priceless murals, texts, sculptures, and textiles. Recently discovered vandalism and theft, as well as the construction nearby of a luxury hotel, have prompted concerns regarding the protection and preservation of the palace. Restoration would be an important step in preserving a significant part of Bhutan’s history, and there is interest in developing the palace as a destination for visitors. Such efforts could be an important step in integrating sustainable tourism development, economic opportunities for the local community, and cultural resource management.
Watch Day 2012
Watch Day celebrated students who participated in an essay competititon about Wangduechhoeling Palace, documenting oral histories of relatives and community members who shared their memories of the site. Students were presented with awards and given a special tour of the palace.