How Trong Heritage Village In Bhutan Resisted The Tides Of Urbanisation
His Majesty the king recommended that Trong Heritage Village should be preserved to retain its traditional beauty.
By Younten Tshedup | Kuensel
In the wake of rapid development and urbanisation, the preservation and sustenance of heritage sites in Bhutan is becoming a daunting task.
Traditional architectures disappearing under the shadows of concrete buildings are common observations in places such as Paro, Thimphu and Punakha.
Amid these inevitable transformations, a village in the heart of Zhemgang town tried to preserve their rich heritage.
About Trong Heritage Village
Located at an elevation of 1955m above sea level, the Trong Heritage Village (THV) is an array of 27 traditional stone masonry houses clustered neatly on a small hillock, overlooking the imposing Zhemgang dzong (monastery).
Each house is a two-storey traditional stone structure with wooden windows and shutters and a cobblestone footpath runs through the village horizontally.
These traditional houses are a testimony of Bhutan's remarkable architecture and masonry skills. Each house is uniquely crafted out of stones, wood and mud.
Location of Zhemgang district
Source: Maps of the World
The village spans over 2.3 acres and has a small population of approximately 111 people.
However, about six years ago, the community almost gave in to the mounting pressure of urbanisation.
Many of the residents had actually wanted to demolish the old structure to replace it with modern architecture.
An attempt by the dzongkhag (district) administration to convert the location into a heritage village was met with strong oppositions from the villagers back then.
How His Majesty The King’s visit changed the minds of the villagers
However, the opposition gradually began to fade especially after His Majesty The King’s visit in 2014.
On his visit, the king inspected the houses in the village and was amazed by the remarkable masonry skills of the builders.
The king recommended that the dzongkhag administration preserve Trong as a heritage village to retain its traditional beauty.
A senior village resident, Tshewang Tenzin also said that as commended by His Majesty, the people changed their minds and began to take extra effort in preserving the houses.
“We can modify and change the internal of the houses but we are asked not to alter the outer appearance of the structures.”
In 2016, all the 27 residents received a nine-decimal plot each in the core area as a form of compensation.
Little known origins of Trong Heritage village
While little is known or documented about the origin of the village and its traditional houses, Tshewang Tenzin said that the structures could be centuries old.
The oldest man in the village, a centenarian who died last year at the age of 102 said that he had no idea when these structures were built.
Constructed without any proper foundation atop rocks, the traditional houses' resistance to earthquakes is what intrigued experts the most.
“No earthquake has ever damaged any of the houses so far,” said Tshewang Tenzin. “There is no sorcery or magic here but sometimes that’s the only logical explanation to all these.”
In fact, the village’s unique masonry skills and stability have even attracted researchers from Japan to study its distinctive architecture.
Zhemgang’s dzongdag, Lobzang Dorji said that if it wasn’t for His Majesty’s initiative, this unique traditional heritage could have been turned into concrete structures.
Plans in the pipeline to set up homestays in the village
According to Lobzang, the whole ridge where the village stands today has to be developed and a compound wall built around the village.
“We still have to improve the aesthetics of the village with respect to the town and make it look like a real village from the outside.”
Street lamps, underground cable ducts, drainage and concrete footpaths among others have also been developed over the years to support the community living in the village.
Dzongdag Lobzang Dorji said that provisions to generate income for the community are also being looked into.
“Charging a nominal entry fee to visitors wanting to take a tour of the village could be done,” he said.
Some of the residents suggested that they would like to establish homestays in the village if there were enough tourist and visitors.
“We can come up with cafes and restaurants that would serve local cuisines and delicacies,” said a resident.
In order to set up homestays, there are a set of regulations and criteria to be met.
“We have forwarded one application to the Tourism Council of Bhutan for approval,” said the dzongdag.
This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.