About The Project
Bhutan is largely considered one of the last surviving monarchies in the world. Through most of the country’s early history, Bhutan witnessed attacks mainly from Tibet, and, as a consequence, all prominent structures were designed and built as fortresses or Dzongs in strategic locations throughout the country. Bhutan has continued to maintain these sites, as they are critical to Bhutan’s cultural and architectural heritage. One such site, the Wangduechhoeling Palace, is the birthplace of Bhutan’s monarchy and is in dire need of restoration.
Wangduechhoeling Palace, the Birthplace of Bhutan’s Monarchy
As the birthplace of the first king of Bhutan, Druk Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck, the Wangduechhoeling Palace serves as an important landmark in the history of the monarchy in Bhutan. In addition to its historical importance, the palace is also an extraordinary example of traditional Bhutanese architecture, painting, and craftsmanship that continues to influence Bhutanese architecture today.
The magnificent carvings and paintings on the façade of the palace, the frames of the timber windows, and the wall murals are rapidly deteriorating and are in danger of being damaged beyond repair or lost forever if not conserved soon. The palace provides an opportunity to restore a significant part of Bhutan’s history and make it available to the general public while promoting sustainable tourism.
Documentation of Existing Structure
The documentation component of the restoration and adaptive re-use project includes a survey and condition assessment, advisory and stakeholder meetings, and preparation of restoration and development of project plans. It also includes seeking necessary approvals and establishing a project office with a professional team of local and international experts. Development of surrounding areas will be taken into consideration through meetings with relevant stakeholders.
This phase of the project consists of consolidation of the existing structure and renovation of decayed timber elements with large effort to preserve exquisite murals, paintings, and craftsmanship found in the palace.
Research and Collection
Activities carried out under this phase include documenting the palace’s history, recording oral history, and collecting relevant artifacts. Collaboration with the National Library, Center for Bhutan Studies, and other relevant stakeholders is in place for gathering information.
The long-term objective of the restoration plan is to establish a special museum that demonstrates the history of Bhutan with Buddhism at the heart of its tradition and culture. The museum will promote sustainable tourism that will increase financial opportunities within the locality. Additionally, this museum will become a gateway into Bhutan’s cultural heartland, the Bumthang valley, providing opportunities for the local Bhutanese to learn their own history as well as for tourists. In this phase, a management plan for the museum will also be developed.
February 21, 2020
Wangduechhoeling Palace was announced as one of the first nine projects approved as part of the “Emergency Preparedness for Cultural Heritage Under Threat” program. This is a joint initiative with the Prince Claus Fund and Gerda Henkel Stifung Foundation to develop a preparedness plan against potential fire emergencies to which the structure is particularly vulnerable due to the Palace's wooden architecture. This preparedness grant is a strong step toward securing the safety of the historical site and maintaining its story for future generations as a museum and cultural center.
April 18, 2019
Restoration of several original paintings is currently underway at Wangduechhoeling Palace utilizing traditional methods of dye creation and paint mixing. These paints are made gluten-free to avoid insect damage and, with proper care, can last decades exposed to the elements in Bhutan's Bumthang Valley. Throughout the year, 51 students from the technical training institute trained on-the-job regarding these methods for conservation of historical heritage sites. Moreover, an additional 17 students from the Institute of Zorig Chusum trained specifically on paint conservation and the art of using mineral paints.
March 14, 2018
The Wangduechhoeling Palace restoration is now entering into a new phase, which will determine the future of the palace. This entails bringing back the use and art of traditional mineral paints, a practice that is dying in Bhutan with new acrylic paints entering the market. This next phase also includes creating appropriate fire mitigation and prevention, mechanical systems, and electrical systems. The palace aims to become a public space where Bhutanese and tourists can take a step back in time, experience the life of our former kings and queens, and enter Bumthang valley, the cultural heartland of Bhutan.
The Bhutan Foundation has been working in collaboration with the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Division of Cultural Heritage Sites, to restore the Wangduechhoeling Palace since 2012. After being neglected for 50 years, major restoration work has taken place at the palace, including restoration of the Lingkha Lhakhang (the monastery that lies within the palace grounds), restoration of the Shabkhor (the surrounding structure of the palace around the central tower), restoration of the Chhukhor Mani (water run prayer wheels), restoration of the roof, and documentation of important aspects of the palace, the restoration work, and its history. This work has been possible thanks to all our partners and donors, including the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.
March 9, 2017
Exciting plans are evolving as the Bhutan Foundation and the Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites (DCHS) collaborate to restore and conserve the Wangduechhoeling Palace as a museum and a center for learning to ensure its sustainability and, as a byproduct, provide employment opportunities to the local people. With physical restoration of the palace underway, a two-day visioning exercise was conducted in Thimphu in March to chart out the way forward for the proposed museum. Once completed, the Wangduechhoeling Palace museum will have rooms allocated for exhibitions of arts and crafts portraying the life led by Bhutan's monarchs.
As a result of the visioning exercise, the team is considering giving opportunities to engage the local youth to become museum guides and having live exhibits, including Yathra weaving, a local weaving tradition of the Bumthang valley using yak wool. Additionally, the team will also explore reviving local festivals and events that are historically relevant to the palace. Mr. Zack McKown, of Tsao & McKown, is one of the architect behind the museum design providing pro-bono support to preserve this heritage site. Zack was an integral part of the visioning exercise and provided technical expertise.The visioning exercise was attended by members of the Bhutan Foundation, DCHS and the Department of Culture and the Dzongkhag Administration of Bumthang.
November 3, 2016
Her Majesty Gyalyum Tshering Pem Wangchuck, co-chair of the Bhutan Foundation, visited the Wangduechhoeling Palace project site to assess the ongoing restoration work. During the visit, Her Majesty visited the Lingkha Lhakhang (temple), which was completed in May this year. Her Majesty granted Tokha (traditional lunch) to more than 60 community members in front of the temple and engaged them in a discussion about how they can play a role in preservation of the palace.
In addition, Her Majesty visited all the rooms at the main palace structure, discussing various functions for each of the rooms to be allocated to turn it into a museum. Her Majesty was accompanied by the Director General and officials from the Department of Culture under the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Dasho Dzongdag and officials from Bumthang Dzongkhag, and the Bhutan Foundation.
August 26, 2016
The Bhutan Foundation in collaboration with the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy carried out a four-day photojournalism for multimedia storytelling workshop in Bumthang, Bhutan. 20 students and two teachers from Jakar Higher Secondary School, one media officer from UWICE and two staff from Tashi Deling attended the training.
The training aimed at creating awareness on the significance of the Wangduechhoeling Palace, the birthplace of Bhutan’s monarchy. The workshop also aimed at garnering further involvement and support of the Palace project from the Bumthang community and engagement of the youth in the community to learn about Bhutan’s history. The program enabled the youth and other participants to learn basic story-telling skills using photographs, audiovisuals and caption. These skills were, then, used to collect stories and interact with community members, the monk body at the palace, and others who have spent time in the palace to garner awareness and support around the Palace. The students also created four short videos based on the lives of these individuals and their earliest memories of the palace.
The program was possible with support from the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy, the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE), Bumthang Dzongkhag, Jakar Higher Secondary School, Tashi Deling Construction and the Department of Culture and Heritage Sites, Ministry of Home and Culture.
May 23, 2016
The U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) made its second site visit at the Wangduechhoeling Palace in Bumthang. The team visited Lingkha Lhakhang (temple), which has now completed restoration, and the main palace structure to review and evaluate the quality of work. While in Bumthang, the team met with district officials of the Bumthang Dzongkhag to discuss the possibilities of greater community involvement in the project and to explore ideas for its adaptive re-use.
This project has been possible with continued support from the AFCP and in close partnership with the Department of Culture, Division of Cultural Heritage Sites, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs.
May 24, 2016
During the first phase, major renovation was carried out for a two-storied structure within the Palace grounds to become a Dratshang or residence for the monks. Monks residing in the main palace structure (Shakhor) have been relocated to the residential quarters in the vicinity of the palace. The residence has been modified to create classrooms, prayer hall, bedrooms, fully-equipped toilets with a hot water supply and pantry for the monks.
The first phase of the conservation project spanned for almost a year and ended with the completion of the renovation of the Lingkha Lhakhang (temple) in March. The restoration of the Lhakhang included removal of the entire flooring, window and door components, and all the severely deteriorated timber parts were replaced with seasoned timber. Consolidation of walls that had suffered damages and cracks over the years was also included in this phase. The entire mud plastering in the ground floor was also redone following traditional practices of renovation.
March 29, 2015
In a traditional ceremony, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Gyalyum Tseyring Pem Wangchuck launched the restoration of the Wangduechhoeing Palace dedicated to the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s 60th birth anniversary. His Excellency the Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay accompanied Gyalyum during the event. This project is undertaken by the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs with financial and technical support from the Bhutan Foundation and is implemented by the DCHS in coordination with the Bumthang District. The documentation and planning for the entire palace complex was completed in August 2014, which was made possible with support from the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (India) and the Bhutan Foundation.
In the following months, a project site office will be set up, and the consolidation of the Lingkha Lhakhang (temple), an ancillary structure within the palace complex, will commence. Next year, restoration work will begin on the main palace structure and the five Chukhor Mani (water prayer wheels). The restoration of the Utse (central tower) and the establishment of a museum will be undertaken in following phases.
March 25, 2015
The Wangduechhoeling Palace was the “Watch Site of the Week” at the World Monuments Fund to help spread word about the importance of Wangduechhoeling Palace throughout the world. In addition, the palace was also selected to celebrate “Watch Day” on October 13, 2012, in celebration of the one-year anniversary of His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Her Majesty Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema (Queen of Bhutan). Students from the local school participated in an essay competition to tell stories of the history of the palace. The students gathered stories of the palace from the local community and members of their own families who served in the palace during the times of the first, second, and third kings of Bhutan.
August 30, 2014
The documentation phase of the Wangduechhoeling Palace is completed in partnership with DCHS, Tsao & McKown Architects, and the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.
March 4, 2013
Structural condition assessment, topographical survey of the site, and consolidation and adaptive re-use plans were developed and recommended in collaboration with the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs.
April 1, 2012
In partnership with the Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites (DCHS), Ministry of Home and Culture, the documentation of the existing structure of the Wangduechhoeling Palace began.
October 5, 2011
The World Monuments Fund selected the Wangduechhoeling Palace to be on the World Monuments Fund’s 2012 World Monuments Watch Sites. The Watch intends to call international attention to the challenges facing cultural heritage sites around the world. The palace is one of the most powerful symbols of Bhutan and represents a fascinating period in the history of the country, during which the Wangchuck dynasty arose.
The Bhutan Foundation thanks all our local partners as well as international partners who have continued to support the restoration and adaptive re-use of the Wangduechhoeling Palace. Our main partner on the ground is the Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites, Ministry of Home and Culture, and our international partners include Tsao & McKown Architects, the World Monuments Fund, and the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation.
How You Can Help
The Wangduechhoeling Palace is need of critical help. The Bhutan Foundation continues to seek technical and financial assistance in the completion of the restoration and adaptive re-use of the palace. Please consider making a gift to save the culture and architecture of Bhutan: