Saturday, 30 March 2013

Back Story | The Caretaker of Wangdichholing

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

One of my favorite locations for photography in Bhutan is the Wangdichholing Palace in Jakar. No longer a palace, it's now virtually uninhabited save for the morning classes for Buddhist monks-in-training and novices from the nearby monastery, and a caretaker couple who live in a small room at ground level.

A still beautiful structure, with turquoise-colored wood panels and typical Bhutanese decoration, the palace was built in 1857, on the site of the battle camp of the Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel, father of the first King of Bhutan. It was the first palace in Bhutan not designed as a fortress. Both the first and second king adopted it as their main summer residence.

The woman, who could between 60 and 100 years old, and as deaf as a post, was quite voluble and seemed curious as to why we were photographing so much in the courtyard of the palace. We were actually photographing a lot...gathering novice monks to pose as naturally as possible against the wobbly wooden staircases, and having them run on the rough cobblestones. One of us was even photographing novice monks using slave strobes, much to their delight.

She must've seen many others come before us to this popular spot, but we were perhaps some of the first to arrive with such an array of cameras, lenses and strobes that it attracted her curiosity.