The quake-damaged temples in the complex are sorely in need of a quick fix
The temples of Phajoding monastery that dot the hilltop overlooking Thimphu valley are still standing.
But a closer look reveals their depilated condition. All 13 temples that together make up the Phajoding monastery are on the verge of collapse, waiting for renovation work to begin, after the two consecutive earthquakes in September 2009 and 2011 deteriorated their state. Almost all the temples were built around 17th century.
Of the 13, the three main temples – Jampa, Wongmi Nyi, and Khangzang lhakhangs – are in a critical state, with beams coming out of place, cracked walls, rotten floor planks, broken ceilings and statues, and the buildings literally crumbling.
Most cabinet ministers, who visited the monastery, agreed that the temples needed immediate repair, monastery authorities said.
Jampa lhakhang’s caretaker Penjor said he has been on tenterhooks each time there is a strong wind.
“The whole building shakes, parts of the beaten mud wall fall off, and the wooden structures squeak,” Konyer Penjor said.
The earthquakes have left the temple severely damaged. A one-storied tall standing clay statue of Chenreyzig leans slightly forward out of its original position on the ground floor of the temple. Pillars on the first floor are tilted and parts of the walls have come off.
Jampa lhakhang, at one time, was the residence of the former Je Khenpo, Geshey Geduen Rinchen, and later used as study hall by the monks. Today, it is empty and scarcely used.
A few metres above Jampa lhakhang stand the other two bigger lhakhangs, Wongmi Nyi and Khangzang lhakhangs.
The whole altar of Wongmi Nyi lhakhang rests on poles that dzongkhag officials put in place after they assessed the structures for earthquake damage a few years ago.
“Adjacent to the lhakhang is the former residence of Je Jamba Drakpa, the 21st Je Khenpo of Bhutan, which is really in ruins,” the monastery’s principal, Chimi Dorji, said. “It’s really painful to see these sacred monuments in such sorry state.”
The earthquakes have even cracked the one-storied-tall Guru statue in Khangzang lhakhang. “The walls behind the statue have cracked almost an inch wide,” the lhakhang’s caretaker Namgay Dorji, 27, said, lifting the scarves on the statue to reveal the damaged parts.
Most parts of this temple are of out bounds for the monks for safety reasons.
The more pressing concern however is the safety of the monks. “We’re afraid that the buildings might collapse any time,” a monk Jigme Ugyen said. “We just hope they don’t fall on us.”
But if the buildings come down, authorities said, it is very unlikely that there would be no casualties. The are live electric wires running below ceilings that might fall any time. Should some parts fall apart, an outbreak of fire seems inevitable. The principal said all 13 temples are in similar conditions.
The 40 monks use the temples for study, prayer and performing rituals. Devotees visiting the monastery said it was sad for a monastery so close to the capital to be in such a dilapidated state.
“We need to do something, not just the government, but people must contribute for such significant monuments,” a civil servant, Sangay Rinchen, said.
A freelance trekking cook, Chimi, said the foreigners expressed alarm at the state of the temples.
Home minister Minjur Dorji said there was no budget to renovate the temples, and that the government has proposed Nu 10M in the 11th five year plan.
The minister said first, one of the temples has to be renovated to store the relics from other temples to begin with.
But, since the monastery does not have road access, transportation of materials could prove expensive, because they need to be carried on horseback, pushing up the overall renovation cost.
And while the authorities wait for the funds to flow in, the monks of Phajoding monastery watch the temples fall apart each day.
By Tshering Palden
Correction: An earlier version of the story had said the home minister had sought funds from a Rotarian in Australia. The Rotary Club does not fund renovation of temples.