The authorities want to preserve this village as it is, in its traditional medieval form – to attract tourists – but some villagers are not keen on the status quo and are instead pushing for an overall change in the scenario.
The village in question is Trong, located near Zhemgang town.
The dzongkhag, in 2003, had declared Trong a “heritage village,” meaning house-owners were generally restricted from making changes in the appearance of their houses or surroundings. The village is a cluster of 35 two-storied traditional stone houses, complete with wooden windows, doors and staircases. It is a display of scenic Bhutanese architecture but a look behind the scenes reveals beams that are rotting and walls, which are cracked.
Some house-owners want to tear down the old walls and build them anew, with modern construction material like cement and bricks. They are aware that Zhemgang town faces an acute shortage of housing and, by building extra rooms, hope to have a shot at earning good rental income.
The dzongkhag is trying to attract tourists through promotion of culture-based tourism in the region. “Trong village, with its different cultural identity, could attract a lot of tourists,” said the dzongkhag’s planning officer, Thinley Choedhen.
Zhemgang dzongda, Kunzang N. Tshering, told Kuensel that the dzongkhag is trying to initiate Trong as a heritage village to preserve a traditional village in the heart of town. “The residents will be entitled to urban benefits though the village is preserved in its rural setting,” he said.
The villagers will get some subsidies through local development initiatives like backyard farming, home stays, handicrafts and coffee houses will be promoted, say the dzongda.
The dzongkhag submitted proposals to maintain Trong as a heritage site to the tourism council of Bhutan and the budget is through in principle. “Once we get the approval, the dzongkhag will consult the people and discuss the modalities,” dzongda Kunzang N. Tshering said, adding that the budget will be used to repair and maintain traditional structures, wood and stones, in houses, provide proper drainage and sanitation facilities with footpaths around the whole village and road access for fire engines.
Not all are unhappy with the idea. Resident Lemo, 43, said that the heritage village could be a window to traditional and architectural houses in future.
Trong tshogpa Lham Dorji said that it could benefit residents as there would be more economic opportunities through tourism. “Trongpas will contribute to the preservation and promotion of our age-old culture and tradition,” he said.
However, a Trong resident, on request of anonymity, said that retaining the architectural beauty would cost them potential income that could come from concrete buildings. “Located very close to Zhemgang town, Trong village is obviously a prospective commercial hub and will benefit the residents more,” he said.
“Like everybody else, we want to dismantle these old houses and build concrete buildings, that are good to look at and comfortable to live in,” a father of 6 children said.
Zhemgang dzongda, Kunzang N. Tshering, said that the plan and initiative to retain Trong as heritage village is the dzongkhag’s priority but it would depend on the residents. The thromde chimi will consult the residents of Trong to choose either of the two.
The dzongda said that if Trong residents were not happy with the proposal, the dzongkhag would shift the heritage village proposal to Dangkhar, another cluster village, a few kilometres from Zhemgang town.