Museum on the Highway

If you are travelling to Thimphu and have half an hour to spare would you like to time travel three centuries back into Bhutanese history at Wangsisina? It’s not known when the house was exactly built but in 1788 the 19th Druk Desi lived in that house, which is evident that the house existed even before that. The house remained a huge source of mystery for many years.

When I was younger, every time we travelled that road someone in the bus would always tell a story about this huge house below the road. I heard different stories on different occasions ranging from legend to myth to folktales, all surrounding that massive house.

I heard there was a lake underneath the house where a wish-fulfilling mermaid lived. I heard a whole episode of Gasa Lami Singye story set in this house because it was said that Changi Bum Gylem was reborn in this house. It was also said that this house produced more Dashos than any other house. I vaguely remember another story involving the massive cliff on the other side of the river.

Now that the house is opened to public as a heritage museum anyone can visit and discover the inside of the 18th century structure. The face of the house we see from the road was a recent addition after the road was built from above the house. Other than that nothing much seemed to have changed over the centuries. The house is facing the river, along which the tradition route runs and the architecture of the front is nothing like we see today. The architecture we see today in our villages must have evolved in the 19th century.

As we walked into the courtyard of the house the first thing that overwhelmed us was the massive compound wall. It’s the tallest wall I have ever seen. The door, the staircase and every piece of woodwork and the walls showed the age of the house, and the deep craters on the railings and stairs told stories of generations of powerful families whose hands touched them.

Only half a century ago it was said that the family kept over hundred servants and given the size of the room that stored grains it’s no exaggeration. The massive compound walls and the remains of the numerous what-seemed-like servant houses told that it really did have an army of servants. Why not, the house was seat of three Druk Desis and other prominent figures since 1788.

1788: Druk Tenzin, 19th Desi

1792: Tashi Namgyel, 20th Desi

1805: Sangay Tenzin, 23rd Desi

But more than the generations of powerful male members the house was known for the female members with the title Wangsisi Chum (Rich Lady of Wangsisna). Six generations of Wangsis Chum are recorded after 1805; They were Chimi Wangmo, Tandin Bidha, Dargom(1911), Phub Sithu(1927), Sangay Dema(1948) and Dechen Wangmo, who is currently living there with her children. Her children are the 12th generation of the family. Perhaps one of these ladies must be the reincarnation of Changi Bum Gylem that I heard of.

The best part of the museum is that it hasn’t changed anything at all. Everything is left as it is. To cater to visitors they have built a dining room outside the campus wall that can accommodate over 30 guests at a time.

By Passang Tshering

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