Sunday, February 6, 2011

What links a Buddhist monastery to an American university?

In 1907 John Claude White, a British political officer, visited Bhutan to attend the coronation ceremony of the king. During his stay, White took several pictures in the country including one of Drukgyel Dzong (dzong = fort-monastery) located 14 km from Paro city towards the Tibetan border. This photo later became famous worldwide when it was issued in the US National Geographic magazine in April 1914.

"I hope it will not be my last visit, as I look forward to meeting Sir Ugyen and his sister again, as well as all the Bhutan officials, and to revisit the country in which I have spent so many pleasant months." - said White, but it was in fact to be his last visit.

Reading the National Geographic magazine, Kathleen Worrell, the dean's wife got the idea of copying Bhutanese architecture when constructing new buildings for the University of Texas at El Paso, US. New university buildings were needed due to a devastating fire. Influenced by Ms. Worrell and her husband, the architect indeed took the distinctive style of the dzongs as a good example in his plans. However, there were two Bhutanese specialities he more likely didn't follow : complete lack of plans and nails when constructing a dzong.

In 1951, a fire started by a butter lamp destroyed Drukgyel Dzong which is still in ruins today. Yesterday, I had the chance to visit the beautiful place from where I could see the snow-covered 7314m Jhomolhari peak, Bhutan's most sacred mountain.

If you arrive in Paro airport you are greeted by Bhutan's five kings. The black and white picture of the first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, was actually taken by Mr. White. Then, you can stop for a second lamenting about fires destroying buildings; globalization and the power of the media; and funny similarities in names : see Paro vs. Paso.

Drukgyel Dzong as showed in the National Geographic in 1914

Drukgyel Dzong today

Year 1907
Year 2011

University of Texas at El Paso in 1919

The University today

 The five kings of Bhutan. The left photo of Ugyen Wangchuck was taken by Mr. White.

1 comment:

  1. What fantastic pictures! Drukgyel Dzong was my favourite place in Bhutan. The atmosphere of the monastic castle survived the fire.