02 June, 2019

THE LIVING RUINS OF ZHONGAR DZONG


If ruins could speak, the ruins of Zhongar would tell us how it was ruined and then abandoned.

Some years ago, when I wanted to visit the ruins of Zhongar Dzong in Mongar, a close relative of mine discouraged me citing a dreadful reason. I have heard about a terrific Zhongar Neypo that appears in a form of giant snake. Not every sees it but who ever sees it doesn't survive. It is believed that Zhongar Neypo guards the ruins of Zhongar Dzong to this day.

As time passed, my curiosity grew even more. This time I decided to go there but without disclosing my plan to any one so that no one discourages me for making this trip. Pema from Zhugthri had agreed to accompany me and guide me as well. Zhugthri is a beautiful village located at the foot of the hillock on which Zhongar Dzong was built.

On the day of visit, three men joined me. Pema led us through thick bushes, clearing the way his sword. We followed him closely like children following their mother. It took as about twenty-five minutes to drive from Lingmethang to Zhugthri and another twenty minutes on foot to get to the ruins.

The ruin is much bigger than what I had expected it to be. How magnificent it would have been during its glorious days! I wonder. It has a watch tower, a central tower and a courtyard. The workmanship of stone-mud masonry is admirable. The walls stand strong despite being abandoned for centuries. Pema explained the Dzong consisted of four main components, namely Dratuel Dzong to the east, Jachung Taa Dzong to the west, Chudong Tsenkhar to the south and Dumra Sipki Dzong to the north. We entered from Jachung Taa Dzong. The rest of the components are least inviting.

Zhongar Dzong was said to have been built in seventeenth century during the time of Gyalpo Karpodhung, the ruler of the locality. For this task, he invited a traditional architect from Paro named Bala, popularly known as Zochen Bala.

An interesting story has that a demon of that locality did not want to have Zhongar Dzong built in that area and waited at the only bridge connecting the area with other places to devour Zochen Bala  but failed. The demon could just see a wooden tri-square moving in air along the bridge. It was actually Zochen Bala who was crossing a bridge with his hand tool, a tri-square. Tri-square is locally known as lopon and believed to protect its owner from evil spirits. Therefore, our Carpenters and traditional Architects revere tri-square even to this day and carry along as an amulet to protect them from malicious spirits.

During the time of site selection, Zochen Bala purportedly saw a white bowel on a hill top where he later built a Dzong. Thus he  named the place as Zhongkar meaning 'white bowel'. However, over the period of time, name got changed from Zhongkar to Zhonggar. 

Upon completing the construction successfully, a lama from Kengkhar offered statues as its relics (Nangten) and another lama from  Kilikhar crafted altar (Choesham). Interestingly, though these two lamas never met and discussed anything about their offerings, the statues and other relics fitted exactly into the altar as if it was pre-measured  and designed.

Construction was completed. While Gyalpo Karpodung was happy to have such a marvellous monument, he grew equally apprehensive that Zochen Bala might build an equally marvellous or even better ones for others. Therefore, during the gathering at Zhugthri to see off Zochen Bala back home, Gyalpo Karpodung cut off Zochen Bala's hands. As Zochen Bala was dying with pain, he cursed that Zhongar Dzong be destroyed and he be reborn as Zhongar Neypo to harm people and animal in the locality as they have been ungrateful to him. His curse did materialise. Zhongar Dzong first suffered a disastrous fire and was later damaged by a powerful earthquake that lasted for a week. Zochen Bala was believed to have born as Zhongar Neypo a.k.a Golongdrak Tsen and caused much harm to the locals there.  According to some elders in the locality, Zhongar Neypo can be seen in a form of bull-sized frog, tiger and a beautiful woman carrying an empty basket. Sometimes, he would take a ghostly form. He has not only frightened locals to death but also terrorised travellers passing by. Those days, there was no road and people travelling to Bumthang had to pass through that area.

Many attempts were made to tame Zhongar Neypo but the Neypo was more powerful. Finally, Patseling Trulku was invited to tame this Neypo. The Trulku entered the place that is believed to be the fort of Golongdrak Tshen and sat in meditation there. Trulku already announced that he was to meditate there for seven days and on one should disturb him. After five days, king grew impatient and sent one the his attendants to keep watch on the Trulku. Attendant reached the scene and saw a huge snake prostrating before the Trulku. When Trulku came out on the eighth day, he informed that Neypo could not be tamed completely because of king's distrust and disturbance caused during the process. So, it is believed that the Neypo exists even to this day and continues to cause harm. Therefore, it is for this reason why people do not visit the ruins often.

Why wasn't the Dzong reconstructed or repaired after the damage? The answer is: most people wanted to abandon this place since it was infested with diseases and the main reason being Neypo's terror. So, when officials from Trongsa Dzong arrive there to assess the damage, the locals bribed the officials to report wrongly that the Dzong was beyond repair and to propose abandonment. The same was reported to Trongsa Penlop. 

Thereafter, its administrative functions were shifted to the present day Mongar Dzong. Most of its Nangtens were taken to Mongar Dzong, and some were taken to Jarungkhashor Choeten at Kuruzampa. A much famed copper cauldron is believed to have been taken to Punakha by Zhongar Dzongpon Chakpa Sangay. Zhongar Zongpon Namela is still remembered by people for his humorous dealings. 

My visit to the ruins was a memorable experience. So long I travel along the east-west national highway between Lingmethang and Thridangbi village in Mongar, I will not miss a glance of these ruins. I am convinced that the ruins were once a magnificent Dzong where my great grand parents and their parents too would have contributed to building it.


The walls stand strong despite being abandoned for centuries

Jachung Taa Dzong
The Central Tower
Stone-mud masonry is admirable
Jarungkhashor Choeten, Kurizampa


28 April, 2019

CHALLENGES AND GREY AREAS IN OUR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS





Ours being a developing country, construction projects are rampant. Every year a huge budget is emphasized for various infrastructure developments. Unfortunately, to get a better quality construction within the scheduled time & budget continues to remain a challenge. One may argue that is a global trend, may be true but we cannot remain complacent as we belong to a society where recourses are limited. We are not rich enough yet our farsighted and visionary leaders never restrict construction projects. Therefore, it is time if, not late to think twice and ensure the most effective utilization of our limited resources. Time is now to learn from the past and equip us with better tools and techniques. It is never impossible if all the stakeholders work together in close coordination with a basic integrity at heart. The following are some of the key areas where we need to look into:

1.    Adequate Planning
Having a well-developed project plan is one of the critical factors for project success. Traditionally, adequate project planning is often ignored and the value of a project plan to save time, money and many problems is not realized during the initial stage. Therefore, it is important to have adequate planning to keep construction project from hitting a standstill during the implementation stage. Client and Consultant need to work together to freeze the scope of work, approval of drawings & designs, obtaining statutory clearances and many more. This would facilitate uninterrupted implementation and other issues during the construction stage.

All relevant contract clauses including the completeness of item of works in Bill of Quantity, precise cost estimates and contract duration must be well defined. Sometimes, with intend to save cost the projects are often awarded to the lowest evaluated bidders without adequate assessment on reasonability, capabilities, past performance and ethical behavior of bidder(s). Some bidders would quote far below the client's estimate in order to get the work awarded but would face difficulties during the project execution. I am not trying to generalize all our contractors; there are some who are doing quite well. As a contractor, misquoting a job estimate can be massively detrimental. In some developed countries bidders whose quotations are the highest and the lowest for a particular project are disqualified for evaluation/award of work to discourage them from quoting too high or too low. It may be worth an idea to give a thought, as it looks applicable in our system too.

    2. Role of Client and Contractor
The Client must ensure a prompt decision and timely payment to Contractor. Contractors should not suffer due to delayed decision, payment or vague instruction. Any attempt for corrupt practice or undesired action by Client's representative(s) must be promptly reported to the appropriate office and vice versa. Both the Client and Contractor must remain bonded by a jointly signed Integrity Pact submitted during the submission of bids. The Management while facilitating the project management team with the sought decisions and resources must also remain as watchdog but should avoid undue or too much interference as it leads to project failure or delays, this is quite unhealthy.

Quality of work is something that cannot be compromised for anything. All bidders must quote their price with reasonable profit margin. And, once the work is awarded Contractor must adhere to the quality requirement within the norms and parameters in the contract. Today, our institutions like Royal Audit Authority and Anti Corruption Commission are doing a marvelous job. A provision in contract has to be there to invite such institutional bodies to construction site, ad-hoc and at any time during the construction period to check how diligently the works are carried out and any unethical practice.

    3. Conclusion
Well! Not all stakeholders in construction industries are bad but neither all are good. Therefore, we need to realign our mindset wherever required. The daunting task in the field of project management is to achieve quality, cost and progress without compromising one for other two. We can make it happen, as it is not impossible.

Lastly, as much as budget and quality of work are, delays are never a good thing. When a job is behind the schedule, it impacts the next scheduled project. With collective concern for the limited resources we have, let us make our construction practices efficient for betterment of now and future.