Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The former glory of Drukgyal Dzong

That was then, this is now:

This week, I was lucky enough to lay my hands on a photocopy of an article on Bhutan that appeared in the National Geographic Magazine in April 1914. The title of the article is "CASTLES IN THE AIR: Experiences and Journeys in Unknown Bhutan" and was written by John Claude White, Political Officer of British India stationed in Gangtok, Sikkim. (Note: you can click on any image to enlarge it.)

Besides other interesting information on the conditions of Bhutan then, the article presents impressive pictures and descriptions of Drukgyal Dzong which now remains in ruins. According to this article, "The Dug-gye armory is said to be the best in the country, and is contained in a fine room, with a large bow window facing south and looking down the valley – in the Tongsa Penlop’s opinion the best balcony in Bhutan”. 'Tongsa Penlop' here refers to the First Druk Gyalpo. He was the Trongsa Penlop and not yet crowned when John Claude visited Bhutan in 1905 and 1906.

For the sake of all people who have seen the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong and wonder how it once looked like, I am sharing some pictures, courtesy of John Claude White.

The following is an excerpt of what the author says about the Dzong (click on it to enlarge and read):

In a paper written by His Excellency Lyonpo Thakur S. Powdyel when he was the director of Centre for Educational Resarch and Development, titled "Druk Gyal Dzong : The Two Faces", he laments the fact that “the most significant symbol of our victory should languish in a tragic state of ruin”.

A Symbol of victory: (Some excerpts from Lyonpo Thakur's paper)

As if Zhabdrung’s departure from Ralung was not enough, the Tsang Desi vowed to destroy the former and gain total control of the Southern Land. The first attack was launched in 1617 - just a year after Zhabdrung's arrival in Bhutan, the second in 1634, and the third one coming in 1639, in all of which the Tibetan invaders were thoroughly routed.
Finally, a peace treaty was signed in 1639 and Zhabdrung was recognized as the Supreme Authority of the Land of Four Approaches in 1640.
In the meanwhile, events took a different turn in Tibet when the Gelugpas supported by the Mongols toppled Tsang Desi and nullified the earlier settlement with Zhabdrung, making irresponsible and impossible demands on the latter. The result was the resumption of war in 1644 by the combined Tibetan-Mongol army against Bhutan.
The war eventuated in a crushing and disgraceful defeat of the invaders and the signing of a new settlement in 1646 with the Tibetans agreeing never to attack Bhutan again. The terms of the settlement were, however, never respected and the allied Tibetan-Mongol army launched another attack in 1649, with increased reinforcements and power.
The second Tibetan-Mongol invasion, as the event is called, had the attacking troops marching as far as Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro, holding these places under siege for close to four months.

The attack on Paro was led by Depa Norbu. The might of the Bhutanese forces, however, soon proved invincible and the invading army was routed clean during a night attack and made to flee for life towards Phari. The pursuing Bhutanese army followed them and meted out the most humiliating defeat the Tibetans had ever suffered. All the weapons were seized and the enemies taken hostage.
The Bhutanese troops under the command of La-ngon would have killed the enemies if it were not for the good offices of one Lama Kuenga Sonam who negotiated peace between the Bhutanese and the Tibetans. The prisoners of war were set free to return to Tibet - but not before surrendering all their arms and ammunitions to the victorious Bhutanese army.

The terms of surrender were signed at Phondoe where the Bhutanese constructed the famous monument - to commemorate the victory of the Bhutanese over the Tibetans, as well as to prevent possible future attacks - the Druk Gyal Dzong.

According to his paper, “One of the special functions held at Druk Gyal Dzong was the three-day annual prayer. The prayers would start on the 27th day of the 10th month of the Bhutanese calendar and conclude on the 29th. It was the last day of the prayers in 1951 that saw the face of the Victory Dzong change for ever.
The wind blew hard that night and toppled one of the butter-lamps in the utse. The fire soon spread, fanned by the breath of the night wind. To make matters worse, it is believed that a bat's wings caught fire too. As the bat flew madly about in panic, it lit fire wherever the wings touched. Soon, the dzong was an inferno of blaze”

Lyonpo Thakur further laments “It was bad enough to let the famous symbol of our victory be reduced to smoke and charcoal, in the first place. What is worse is that we have apparently grown comfortable looking at the spectacle of ruin. We escort the tourists to the top of our broken citadel, regale the sense of "strangeness and beauty" as Buckley (2003) refers to, pose for pictures with the face of ruin as our backdrop. That is about all."

Links to sources:

For a shortened version of Lyonpo Thakur's paper that appeared in Kuensel, please visit this link: http://www.kuenselonline.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=3154

The copy I got of JC White's paper was hardly legible though the pictures looked okay. So I did a search on the Internet and I was able to locate a copy on the net too. You can find it here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/19697099/Castles-in-the-Air
Text is good, but no pictures were visible on this link.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A poem's power

Not many people read poems these days. But sometimes the power of a poem could be so profound that it can motivate you to achieve your dreams even in the face of most challenging of circumstances.

Few days ago, I was watching NHK Television before Japanese Astronaut Naoko Yamazaki blasted off towards the International Space Station onboard the shuttle Discovery on April 5th, to became the second Japanese woman to go into space after Chiaki Mukai. Yamazaki, a mother of a daughter talked of the various challenges she faced preparing for this day for the past 11 long years.

What kept her going most of the time was the motivation she derived from the following lines of a Poem by Japanese Poet Takamura Kotaro, she said.

[Boku no mae ni michi wa nai, Boku no ushiro ni michi wa dekiru.]

There is no road before me, But I can leave a trail behind me.

The poem was introduced to her by a teacher in her school, and since then it had a strong impact on her, she said.

Walking the talk is important, but sometimes an inspiring talk could be half the walk.

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