Bhutan submits eight sites for UNESCO World Heritage Sites

This is the first time Bhutan has come up with the list. Wangduephodrang Dzong was one of the sites submitted before it tragically burnt down

Bhutan on March, 8th 2012 nominated eight sites to be listed under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List. The sites include two national parks, two wildlife sanctuaries and four cultural heritages of Bhutan. Ironically, the Wangduephodrang Dzong was on the list.

The Director General of Department of Culture Dorji Tshering, said this is the first time that Bhutan has submitted such a list to UNESCO.

The cultural heritages are ancient ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, the Dzongs of Punakha, Wangdue, Paro, Trongsa and Dagana under one category as centre of temporal and religious authorities; sacred Sites associated with Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his descendants and Tamzhing Monastery.

Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP), Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) are the four natural heritage sites.

By September 2012 Bhutan will know which of the sites have made it to the List.

The World Heritage List includes 962 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. These include 745 cultural, 188 natural and 29 mixed properties in 157 States. As of March 2012, 189 have ratified the World Heritage Convention.


Cultural heritage

The Director General of Department of Culture, Dorji Tshering said, “Since Wangduephodrang Dzong was included in the tentative list before the fire the change will be updated with the UNESCO.”

On the benefits of making it to the list, he said that he is not aware of the tangible benefits but there are benefits of being included in the heritage of humanity which in itself is recognition. He also said UNESCO in the future will provide advice and support when sought.

There are two justifications for the Outstanding Universal Value for the ancient ruins of Drukgyel Dzong.

One is that Drukgyel Dzong was founded by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal when the sovereignty of the country was being consolidated in the 17th century. The Dzong is historically very important to Bhutan and forms an integral part of the Bhutanese civilization. It was built to commemorate the victory over external Tibetan and Mongol invasions. The country witnessed continuous peace and security since the construction of the Dzong. The memory of the Dzong is vividly preserved among people the Dzong burnt down just before modernization took place in Bhutan in the early 1960s. The current state of the Dzong as a ruin appeals even more to the sentiments of the Bhutanese people.

The other reason is that Drukgyel Dzong is the best example of a fortified Dzong built in the 17th century. It was one of the four principal defense forts guarding the approach from Tibet. Drukgyel Dzong still has the well preserved original features of a defensive structure as other the other forts have been adapted for administrative offices and residence for monks. Though a ruin, the Dzong shows unique and intriguing design and construction techniques.

Three criteria justify the value of the Punakha Dzong, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, Paro Dzong, Trongsa Dzong and Dagana Dzong. The DG said that the history of these Dzongs reflects the dynamism of Bhutanese history and culture since the unification of the country.

Many important historical events had taken place in these Dzongs.

Several renovations, alterations and expansion works of the Dzong structure are still traceable and are evidence of the crucial roles played by these Dzongs as the centre of government and culture in the course of Bhutanese history. The Dzongs are living witnesses to the successive social development and cultural evolution of the country.

These Dzongs are built on strategic locations such as on hill tops overlooking the valley or at a confluence of rivers providing military vantage and other advantages.

Sacred Sites associated with Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his descendants includes twelve key sites of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo; four Dzongs (fortress), four Drags (cliff) and four Phugs (caves) scattered within Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Gasa districts.

Tamzhing monastery is directly connected with Terton Pema Lingpa, the great ‘Treasure Revealer’ of the Bhutan, who is an important historic and religious figure in Bhutan. The monastery is the main seat of Terton Pema Lingpa and exceptional evidence to the living Peling tradition teaching in Bhutan. It is also the site from where the sacred dances of Peling traditions originated. Since these dances are strongly associated with the living cultural tradition of Bhutan, it is a very important site to Bhutan in the context of tangible as well as intangible heritage. Terton Pema Lingpa was highly regarded by all four schools of Vajrayana Buddhism and in the Nyingmpa school he is considered only second to Guru Rinpoche. The Royal family of Bhutan and the sixth Dalai Lama are some notable descendants of Terton Pema Lingpa. He was born in Bumthang and was the pre-eminent treasure discoverer who was blessed by Guru Rinpoche himself.


Natural Heritage

The Head of Wildlife Conservation Division under the Department of Forest and Park Services, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Sonam Wangchuk said, “We are optimistic that this will go through as all the natural sites fulfill all the criteria of UNESCO World Heritage sites.”

“If it goes through, which we are hopeful of, our conservation effort put in by our beloved visionary monarchs, leaders and people of Bhutan will be further alleviated at the international level,” he added.

The justification of Outstanding Universal Value for Royal Manas National Park is that eight different cat species are present within the same protected area which is very rare in the world. The park also has the highest recorded tiger density in the world as per a recent tiger survey conducted (one tiger per 25 sq. km) and its spectacular landscape.

Six justifications are given for Jigme Dorji National Park. The park is the only one in the world where the Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) meets the Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia). It also has the record of the highest sightings of the Royal Bengal Tiger at 4200 meters above sea level among the Tiger Range Countries. The largest population of Takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei) thrives there and it has all the National Symbols of the country including Cypress (Cupressus corneyana), Blue Poppy (Meconopsis grandis), Raven (Corvus corax) and Takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei). The park has also the largest number of international tourist treks. Furthermore, it is Bhutan’s only park with the largest number of hot springs and medicinal baths.

Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary boasts of being one of the two major roosting habitats for the globally endangered Black Necked Crane and having the only endemic (locally available) butterfly in Bhutan that is Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail. It is also a famous domestic pilgrimage site due to the presence of significant cultural and religious sites like Singye Dzong, Risumgonpa, Pamaling, Dechenphodrang, Gonpa Karpo, Lhakhang Karpo and Sangay Lodrou. The park is an example of harmony between nature, culture and people. All these holy places are linked to Guru Rinpoche or the second Buddha who is a revered figure in Buddhism.

Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary made it to the list due to the co-existence of one of the most unique semi-nomadic cultures in the world and rich biodiversity enclave in the same protected area. The Sanctuary harbors 35 species of Rhododendrons in the wild out of the total 46 species in the country. It is popularly known as ‘Paradise of Rhododendrons’ in the country

DG Dorji Tshering said, “Once we get the sites approved, more cultural heritage sites will be put up for listing. We may even submit the entire country which has the potential to be submitted for inscription.”

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  1. Royal Manas for Tigers and others (even the Indian side of manas is a world heritage), JDNP for Takin, BWS for Ludlow but Sakteng for what? Oh! Brokpas………..right right.

  2. What about Paro Taktshang,Kichu Lhakhang at Paro and Jambay Lhakhang at Bumthang.Those are the one of the most secret places in Bhutan. Regarding the i Think Simtokha Dzong is the First Dong built by Zhabdrung in Bhutan

  3. Agey Haap, FYI ‘most sacred’ does not count for world heritage status. Taktshang, despite being sacred, is a brand new building. In that sense it will have 0 heritage value. Semtokha dzong has a brand new roof, so it is a bit questionable.

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