The Tower of Trongsa

The serrated ridges around Trongsa form a vast rim from where hill slopes run sharply to the valley floor. The slopes are covered by a lush forest of evergreen and seasonal colors. Numerous white waterfalls streak the hillsides and drop into the Mangdue Chhu, which rushes down to the great plains of India. At the centre of this massive natural cradle sits the majestic Trongsa Dzong, crafted from a vision of Palden Lhamo.

This was where Bhutan’s Monarchy was born. For centuries the Dzong was a centre of religious and political evolution and now stands as one of the greatest monuments in the land.

High above the valley, at a strategic vantage point over Trongsa Dzong, rises its watchtower, the Ta Dzong. This “Tower of Trongsa” now tells the stories of the dzong and the valley that it has watched over for centuries.

His Majesty the King inaugurates the Ta Dzong today as a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty, landmarking yet another significant event as the nation celebrates 100 years of the Monarchy.

The Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone structure rising five storeys, was built in 1652 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, a task entrusted to him by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy museum, that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity.

The central Utse structure is connected to two four-storey towers by multi-floor wings. A total of 11 galleries sit comfortably at split-levels over five floors to a rooftop that functions as a viewing gallery. Overall, the tower, that kept enemies at bay, exudes a feel of history as well as a sense of change.

At the heart of the museum sits the Raven Crown worn by Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. The Crown symbolises the triumph of the Bhutanese Monarchy and the supreme protector role of the Druk Gyalpo. The third floor of the Utse is dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty, with ceremonial and personal belongings of the Kings and Queens of Bhutan. The displays include Jigme Namgyel’s sword, Gongsar Ugyen Wanghcuck’s gho, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck’s wine flask and radio, and a full dress set of the fourth Druk Gyalpo His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

There are 224 items on display. They include a sacred image of Sung Joenma Dorji Chang (self spoken Vajradharna), a bronze statue of Pema Lingpa, made by himself, and a number of centuries-old treasures like dance and ritual costumes and objects, ancient prayer books, paintings and scrolls, and textiles.

The Ta Dzong is a living museum and the main lhakhang in the Utse is dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha (Gyaltsab Jampa), also known as the Future Buddha). A Khesar Lhakhang is dedicated to Khesar of Ling. The tower has always been a place of retreat and there are hermits in practice, including two yogis, who are in life long meditation.

Marie Christine Weinberger, the former counsellor of the Austrian development cooperation office (ACO) in Bhutan, became a familiar figure in Trongsa through the project. It was her last project before she retired and she said that her satisfaction came from being able to help create a world class museum, that would make Trongsa, and Bhutan, more valuable and attractive for visitors.

The present counsellor, Christian Mazal, said that ACO was deeply honoured that His Majesty the King himself was inaugurating the Ta Dzong Museum. He described the museum as “a new landmark in Austria-Bhutan relations”, a project that was completed after the restoration of Trongsa Dzong. The Nu 120 million project included the improvement of the foot trail across the river to the dzong along with the Bazam foot bridge. Apart from being a place of prayer for the people, he said it would play an important role in educating the people on culture and religion, and contribute to Bhutan’s economic development as a tourist attraction.

The museum, which has been designed and rebuilt under the supervision of professional architects and restorers from Austria, is a state-of-the-art monument. Veteran Bhutanese culturists say that it is a good example for Bhutanese restorers, who have to take up similar work in future.

With the inauguration ceremony, an important element of Bhutan’s past comes alive and merges with the present to provide lessons for the future.

Lyonchoen Jigmi Y Thinley said that the restoration of the unique Ta Dzong into a museum was a tribute to five successive great Kings of Bhutan’s Monarchy. “Bhutanese officials and people have always wanted to express our deep appreciation to the dynasty, that has made all of us proud to be Bhutanese,” he said. “We’re confident of continued peace and prosperity in the knowledge that the royal dynasty will always be with us.”

Expressing his appreciation to the government of Austria for helping the people of Bhutan offer this tribute to their Kings, the prime minister said that the restoration of the Ta Dzong was also a tribute to the great builders of the past, “who were our ancestors”. “It symbolises our determination to preserve and protect our cultural heritage and our unique identity. We must not just look at creating wealth but at recognising our cultural wealth and consolidating our assets.”

The Ta Dzong is the only structure, that has been restored specifically to tribute the Wangchuck dynasty as Bhutan celebrates the centenary of the Monarchy.

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