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Protecting our dzongs and lhakhangs

As we witnessed a historic moment unfold at the Wangduephodrang Dzong yesterday, we were reminded of the significance of our rich culture and tradition that have defined our national life all through to the 21st century. The installation of the serthog on the dzong’s utse signified the importance we give to the preservation of our art and architecture and the unique ways of living that make who we are – the proud Bhutanese. It symbolised victory and unification of the Bhutanese spirit and valour against challenges and calamities.

His Majesty The King graced the ceremony. Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and National Council Chairperson Tashi Dorji were among the many who attended the ceremony.

The occasion, momentous as it was, also was a reminder that we need to do more to protect our cultural and historic monuments. We have lost many lhakhangs and heritage sites to fire in the recent memory. In 1998, when fire engulfed the main lhakhang of the Taktshang Monastery in Paro, we lost not only an iconic Bhutanese architecture but also reliquaries of special significance to Bhutan and the Bhutanese. We haven’t forgotten the fire accident that damaged Gasa Dzong and Pagar Lhakhang. As recent as May 19, fire razed two-storey lhakhang and drasha of Chokhorthaling Goenpa in Punakha.

Reports have found our dzongs and lhakhangs are poorly equipped to deal with fire accidents. Electric short circuit is almost always the cause of fire. Yet in our dzongs that also house offices of civil servants have poor wiring due to large number of users. An RAA report found that Royal Bhutan Police personnel operating smoke detecting devices and alarm systems in the dzongs are inadequately trained to understand even the basic functions of the devices like fire extinguisher.

Protecting our dzongs and lhakhangs from disasters like fire is important because it can be done. Addressing security and safety issues regularly can go a long way. We may rebuild our monuments but the loss of national treasures that our lkhakhangs and dzongs contain cannot easily be retrieved.

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