Wangduephodrang Dzong

Image of hope

I was in Wangduephodrang on Saturday. I’d gone there to visit the De-Suung training program. After meeting the De-Suups, I stopped by the Wangduephodrang Dzong to see the massive renovation that the dzong was receiving.

While returning to Thimphu, I stopped briefly on the other side of Punatsangchhu to take in at the grandeur of the Wangdue Dzong, and, as usual, marveled at the brilliance of Zhadrung Ngawang Namgyel. He had chosen the site personally, on a ridge overlooking the confluence of the Punatsangchhu and Dangchhu rivers, to defend His newly unified Drukyul against intruders from the South. He had succeeded beyond measure: the dzong, which straddled the high, narrow ridge, was impenetrable and dominated the Wangdue skyline for centuries.

Today, I was back in Wangduephodrang. But this time to join the nation in mourning. The mighty Wangdue Dzong, which stood magnificently for 374 continuous years, was no more. It had been gutted by fire yesterday evening. The fire reportedly started near the entrance of the dzong, and within hours, strong winds had fanned the fire through all buildings completing the destruction in a matter of hours.

Tragically, the very strength of the dzong – that it was virtually impenetrable – prevented all efforts from suppressing the inferno. The entrance was on fire, and the rest of the fortress was inaccessible.

So soldiers, under the personal command and supervision of His Majesty the King who himself had rushed from Thimphu, scaled the southern walls, broke into the monasteries, and rescued the many sacred relics that were in the dzong.

An entire nation is in mourning.

We have lost an important part of our history – a living, breathing monument that until yesterday served, as intended and without interruption, both the civil administration and the monk body. Yesterday evening, almost four centuries of continuous and daily offerings of butterlamps and prayers came to a sudden halt.

We are in mourning. But, miraculously, and against all hopes and expectations, we have, in our possession, the real essence of the Wangdue Dzong. Most of scriptures and statues and artifacts would have been consumed by the fire, but relics – the sacred treasures, many of which had been built and installed by the Zhabdrung himself – are safe. And that’s what really matters.

What also matters is that we begin the process of rebuilding the once mighty dzong immediately. We can rebuild our dzong, as in moments of national tragedy, our people, all of us, come together, easily and naturally, to think and act as one, under the command of His Majesty the King, the source of all our hopes and inspiration.

So there’s no doubt that the Wangdue Dzong will be rebuilt – bigger, better and stronger – and that it will once again, in a few years, dominate our western skylines.

Screaming for answers

The picture above, taken by Bhutan Today, shows victims of the recent Chamkhar fire huddling around their possessions.

Look at that picture. It should make you feel grateful. The picture shows that the residents were able to save at least some of their belongings from the fire that engulfed entire houses. They seem to have rescued clothes, mattresses, blankets, tables, carpets, pots, cupboards and even a bukhari from the fire that destroyed 33 houses. Given the tragic circumstances, we should be grateful for that.

Look at that picture again. It should now make you feel frustrated. The picture shows that the fire could not be controlled even though so many people had the time to rescue so many of their belongings.

Most of the houses in Chamkhar town stand in a line along the main street. So it would have taken time for the fire to spread from one house to the next. It did – that’s why the residents could save so many of their possessions. And yet the fire could not be controlled, not until it reached a three-storied stone structure that prevented it from spreading further.

So why couldn’t the fire be put out earlier? Because Bumthang has only one fire-engine, a second-hand truck manufactured in 1998. What’s worse is that that fire-engine can carry only 10 minutes supply of water. In fact, at full blast, that fire engine uses up all its water in just 5 minutes.

The fire fighters actually almost bought the fire under control during its early stages. But their water ran out. And, because Chamkhar town has no fire hydrants, they had to leave to replenish their small stock of water. That’s when the fire went out of control.

Look at that picture one more time. It should make you angry. The picture shows that, in spite of the two earlier fires, we were not at all prepared to fight this fire.

About a year ago, in the Parliament, during last year’s budget discussions, and before the first Chamkhar fire, I had requested the government to increase funding for our fire fighting programmes. I had argued that our fire fighters need more and better fire-engines. But I had also proposed that, if the government could not buy new fire engines immediately, they should at least buy water tankers to support the existing fleet of fire engines.

Bumthang’s aging fire engine was no match for the three Chamkhar fires. But with support from a simple 9,000 litre water tanker they would have probably been able to control the fires before they wrecked so much damage and suffering to the people of Chamkhar.

Today, the government is trying to find out who caused the fire. The residents are convinced that the fire was not an accident. So they want to catch the person who set their town on fire. The perpetrator must be caught. And be bought to justice.

But the government has so far ignored another, perhaps more important, investigation. They need to find out why, after repeated warnings and fires, they had still not equipped our fire fighters adequately.

Look at that picture. It’s screaming for answers.

MPAB delivers

Super stars

I’m back in Thimphu having completed my medical treatment (I’m fully better now), and after visiting Bumthang where, thanks to His Majesty’s People’s Project, the victims of the recent fire disaster in Chamkhar town and the town itself are already well on they way to a full recovery.

The banner features MPAB artists entertaining RBA soldiers involved in the reconstruction of Chamkhar. The artists also performed for the residents of Chamkhar. And, a day after arriving in Thimphu, they organized a fund raising event at the Clock Tower Square.

Haa fire

Fire-Haa-18-11-09Another disaster has struck, this time in Haa. Earlier today, a fire raged through the upper market in Haa. Four houses were totally destroyed before the fire was bought under control. Residents suspect that the fire was caused by electrical problems.

By mid-afternoon, His Majesty the King was already in Haa.

Photo credit: BBS

Kajana fire

At about 1:30 AM on 14th March, a fire raged through two adjoining houses in Kajana in Haa.

The first house belonged to Aum Dema, aged 60. Aum Dema wasn’t home during the fire – she was at her daughter’s house because she didn’t want to spend the night alone. She would have had to spend the night alone because her husband, Ap Passang, was in Danadingkha Goenpa. And Ap Passang was in Danadingkha fighting a forest fire … as a volunteer. He’d volunteered to spend the night in the goenpa to make sure the forest fire didn’t restart.

Aum Dema lost everything in the Kajana fire. She lost all her possessions including her five cows, all prized jerseys.

The other house belonged to Ap Sangay. He lost his home, his belongings and all the timber for the new house he was building. He wasn’t home. But his family, thankfully, is safe. His family is safe because his son, Sonam Dorji, rescued the other children.

The fire almost spread to Aum Chimi’s house. If it had, it would have spread through Kajana village. And destroyed most of the houses.

The other residents of Kajana are grateful for two factors that saved their village. One, they have a farm road; and because of that, two, the police firefighting team were able to prevent the fire from spreading.

I salute Ap Pasang, Sonam Dorji and the police firefighting team in Haa.