Wangdu Choling Palace


At the altitude of 2600 meters, Wangdu Choling is located 1 km to the north-east of Jakar dzong slightly above the Chamkhar chu (river) and on its right bank, at a place formerly known as Samkhar. It is composed of a main complex, a temple outside and prayer- wheels.

Although the lay-out of the main complex is inspired by the Dzong (fortress), the structure is less imposing and the number of large windows make the palace a more pleasant place to live

A stone paved courtyard is enclosed on all sides by two-storey high buildings forming a rectangle (shagkhor). In the middle of the courtyard stands the main tower (Utse) – four storey high. The windows, although very narrow at the bottom of the buildings, encompass the whole upper floors, forming wall-like windows called rabsel. There were three entrance gates: one in the west, one in the north, and one in the south.

The main tower housed temples on the upper floors and apartment on the middle floors while the bottom floors were used for storing grains and armoury. Important guests, especially lamas, could also be hosted in one of the rooms of the main tower.

In the shagkhor, the ground floor was used as storage rooms, brewery, weaving rooms, and close servants’ rooms while the upper floor with its large windows had reception areas and living quarters.

One of the features of the palace is the landings or waiting-rooms which could accommodate servants and entourage. The royal family always had helpers in attendance whom they could call and who also acted as ushers for visitors. Each apartment in the Shagkhor had a bedroom, a sitting room, a small waiting room, a small store, a bathroom, and a toilet. The 2nd King’s apartment was on the southeastern corner.

The Lingkana temple is part of the Wangdu Choling palace complex.
It is a beautiful building looking like a large house 100 meters away on the North side of the palace. The temple’s foundation date is not clear. Maybe at the time of Jigme Namgyel but most probably at the time of Ugyen Wangchuck.

The Water prayer-wheels (Chukhor Mani)

There are five Chukhor Mani to the east of
the Lingkhana temple. Though the first one, closest to the palace is said to be as old as the palace, the four others were built by Ashi Choki and Dasho Ugyen Wangdi in 1964-1965.

The Lingapang Archery Range (Bajo)

On the west of the palace, the great fair of Wangdu Choling used to be held during the time of the 2nd King but the space was meant for the archery, that the 2nd king used to relish for days.


WangduCholingmeansthe“religiousplacewherethepowerisgathered”.Itisafittingnametocommemorate a victory (Wangdu) and the religious part of the name (Choling) was given to Jigme Namgyel by his lama Changchub Tsöngru (1817-1856) when he taught a religious discourse there.

To celebrate his victory in 1857-1858 against Tshondru Gyeltshen for the post of governor of Trongsa, Jigme Namgyel built the Wangdu Choling dzong in 1858 in the plain of Samkhar below Jakar Dzong, where he had settled camp.

In 1862, Jigme Namgyel‘s wife, Pema Choki, gave birth to their second child who was called Ugyen Wangchuck who would become the 1st King. When the Duar War concluded, Jigme Namgyal retired in 1866, passing on the seat of Trongsa Penlop to Dungkar Gyaltshen, his elder brother. During his brief retirement until 1869, he spent his life at Wangdu Choling with his family. The central tower (utse) is the work of Jigme Namgyel but extensions were added by his son Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan (1862-1926).

When Jigme Namgyel’s son Ugyen Wangchuck, succeeded him as the Penlop (governor) of Trongsa, he entrusted the family estate of Wangdu Choling and all its wealth to his sister Yeshe Chodron.

Although it had stood as private residence of the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel, it became Royal Palace when Ugyen Wangchuck was proclaimed the first monarch of Bhutan in 1907. Since then, both first and 2nd King used Wangdu Choling Palace as their residence.

After the death of his mother in 1884, Ugyen Wangchuck gave the Wangdu Choling dzong and its other valuable assets to his sister Yeshe Chodron and her husband. An oral story in Bumthang says that the shagkhor (enclosure of living quarters) of Wangdu Choling was built by Ashi Yeshe Chodron and not by Jigme Namgyel. Rather than residing at Wangdu Choling Ugyen Wangchuck preferred to live at Kunzang Choling Gonpa above Lamey Gonpa, and Thinlay Rabten just above Jampa Lhakhang.

Wangdu Choling in fact belonged to the king’s sister Yeshe Chodron but it came to be a royal palace at the time of the 2nd King via his 2nd marriage by a twist of history.

Ashi Yeshe Chodron suggested that her nephew King Jigme Wangchuck also marry her other grand daughter Ashi Pema Dechen, the younger sister of Queen Phuntsho Chodron, and offered them the Wangdu Choling Dzong, the family estate which Ashi Pema Dechen was to inherit from Ashi Yeshe Chodron. In 1932, the King married Ashi Pema Dechen, and took over the Wangdu Choling Dzong and established his royal court there.

The 2nd King Jigme Wangchuck planned to reconstruct Wangdu Choling Dzong in 1950-1951 but some how only the large windows were reconstructed.

After the funeral rite of his father at Kurje in 1952, the 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck moved his base from Bumthang Wangdu Choling to Paro Ugyen Pelri palace and then to Thimphu Dechencholing.

Ashi Pema Dechen the Younger Queen Mother decided to stay back on her property and lived there with her son prince Namgyal Wangchuk and three princesses Ashi Choki, Ashi Deki and Ashi Pema, who were the subsequent and ultimate dwellers and estate holder of the Dzong.

Restoration projects are now slated with a first phase concerning the whole structure.

Architectural style / school and related art works

The stone work and the wood work on the palace are magnificent. The contrast between the white-washed walls and the intricate and painted woodwork of the upper floors demonstrates a great sense of aesthetic. The pitched roofs give to the structure an impression of lightness which is a hallmark of Bhutanese architecture. In the central tower of the main complex, there are the temple of local and protective deities (gonkhang) and the fortune temple (yangkhang).

The Gonkhang has beautiful images of the Buddha, the Zhabdrung and Guru Rinpoche. The main local deity is Dralha Pungu (“Nine warrior brothers”). The paintings are blackened but represent the Eights manifestations of Guru Rinpoche and Pema Lingpa (1450-1521), the ancestor of the royal family.

The Yangkhang has images of Tsheringma (deities of Long Life) and Namsey (deity of Wealth).

The Shagkhor’s apartments are painted and decorated with exquisite religious or lucky motives. Most of the paintings date from the second half of the 20th century.

The inner northern and western gates are decorated with fine paintings of the Four Guardians, the Old Man of Long Life and mythical animals.

The Lingkhana temple is surrounded by a row of prayer-wheels and behind them, there are beautiful engraved slates. Downstairs, occupying a room, stands a large prayer-wheel.

The images in the Guru Lhakhang upstairs comprise Khenlop Chosum (Guru Rinpoche, King Trisong Detsen, and Khenpo Boddhisattva). The other statues include the deities of Long Life (Tshe-lha Namsum). It also houses a Kanjur, the words of the Buddha in 108 volumes. On the east wall, there is a Zandopelri (Guru’s paradise) with lamas of the Nyingma school: Lonchen Rabjam, Pema Lingpa, Dorje Lingpa, Jigme Lingpa. On the west wall are paintings of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage with the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the middle.

Social cultural function

The palace complex, besides being the summer seat of the 2nd King and therefore the centre of administration, had many more functions. There was a weaving centre for the royal family, stores for prized possessions, stables, a trade market in summer when a fair was held on the flat archery range, and a place for rituals for the neighbouring Samkhar community.

In 2001, a monk was appointed as superior (kangjup) in Wangdu Choling from Trongsa monastic body as people living near by expressed their interest in having monks for the benefit of their community and there was none since the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) had taken over the palace. Therefore, under the initiative of Kangjup Jampel Dorji, a school with 15 novice monks were established on 13th April 2004 and is under the Trongsa monastic community. First headed by Lam Jampel Dorji until 2012, the head is now Lam Sonam Wangchuk.

The monastic school was upgraded with 30 monks and has 4th standard, after which they have to continue their education at Trongsa dzong monastic institution.

However, even before the establishment of the school and appointment of the superior, there was a resident caretaker looked after by the royal family for daily offerings and conduct rituals in Wangdu Choling temples and the Lingkhana temples. He used to come from the monasteries of Tharpaling or Nyimalung in the Chhume valley of Bumthang.

Besides religious ceremonies performed for the nearby community of Samkhar up on request and the daily rituals, the Lingkhana temple hosts yearly a seven day ritual called Sindog Khorlo from the 21st day of the 9th month and lasting a month for the protection of the king and the country. The monks perform daily rituals in the temple but the temple does not have a temple for protective deities (gonkhang). The gonkhang is in Wangdu Choling central tower.

Gengop Karchung. (2013). “Wangdu Choling dzong: the masterpiece of Gongsar Jigma Namgyel”, JBS vol. 28, 73-89.
Pommaret, Francoise. (2015). “Men have titles, women have property. Note on the history of Wangdu Choling, Bumthang, Bhutan” in H. Havnevik & Ch. Ramble (eds.) From Bhakti to Bon. Festschrift for Per Kvaerne.Oslo, 395-408.

Dr. Francoise Pommaret, Adjunct Professor, ILCS, RUB, 2011

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