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The ancient ruin of Drukgyel Dzong, considered as the most beautiful and famous archaeological sites in Bhutan, is situated on a ridge in the upper Paro valley. Since its construction in 1649, Drukgyel Dzong had been served as an important base for defense in the region until 1951 when it was destroyed by fire. Even after the destruction, the ruins of the Dzong continued to be protected as an important monument linking people of Bhutan with the great events that contributed in maintaining sovereignty of the country.
Drukgyel Dzong is one of the Dzongs built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the linage holder of Drukpa-Kagyud Buddhist School and the unifier of Bhutan who came to Bhutan in 1616 escaping the conflict over recognition of the principal abbot of the Drukpa-Kagyud School in Ralung, Tibet. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and his successors constructed several fortresses called Dzong in the process of gaining control over different regions of the country, which were dominated by clergies and leaders of different Buddhist schools. These Dzongs were designed as fortress at the time of power struggles as well as a court of clergies and administrators after Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal established the unique dual government system headed by Je Kenpo (the Head of religious affairs) and Desi (the Head of temporal affairs).
Unlike other Dzongs built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and his successors, Drukgyel Dzong was served solely for defensive purpose without administrative and religious functions, especially against external threats from the border. The Dzong had housed the best armoury in the country at the time. As the name of the Dzong indicates (Druk is the local name for Bhutan, while Gyel means victory), it is said that it was built to commemorate Bhutanese victory over the combined forces of Tibetan and Mongolian army, which attempted several invasions to the country. Thus, the Dzong was built at the strategic site near the border with Tibet for strengthening defense against future invasions.
The existing ruins of the Dzong are comparatively well preserved. One can without much difficulty understand or distinguish features of the complex. Although most of timber components of the Dzong such as roof truss, door and window frames, and floors and ceilings are almost totally absent, major portion of stone and rammed earth wall structures are still standing. They provide for visitors in understanding ideas and practices for defense in the olden times.
The Dzong consists of Utse, the central tower building, which housed a shrine of guardian deities, and Shabkhor, rectangular buildings surrounding the courtyards. It was built adapting to the geographical condition of the hill and formed a distinct design. The high and massive stone masonry walls of Shabkhor buildings stood on the steep slope of the hill entirely enclosing the inner space of the Dzong, making approach to Dzong possible only from the single entrance, which is heavily guarded by several ta-dzongs (watching forts) cylindrical in shape situated between the entrance and foot of the hill. Secret tunnels providing protected passages to fetch water from the river below the hill as well as to send troops during the time of war are said to have existed. Presently, cylindrical tower buildings called chu-dzong (water fort) can be seen connected with each other with paths enclosed by defensive walls.
Drukgyel Dzong founded by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal during the time of consolidation of the sovereignty of the country in the 17th century is historically very important to Bhutan and forms an integral part of the civilization of Bhutanese society. It was built to commemorate the victory over the external invasion. The monument since its construction witnessed continuous peace and security of the country. The memory of the Dzong is vividly preserved among people as the unfortunate event turning the Dzong into a ruin occurred 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.
Drukgyel Dzong is the best example of a fortified Dzong built in the 17th century. It is said that four principal defense forts were built during the time guarding the approach from Tibet. Drukgyel Dzong is one of these forts with well preserved original features of a defensive structure as other forts are adapted for administrative offices and residence for monks.
Though a ruin, Drukgyel Dzong shows unique and intriguing design and construction techniques. The overall plan was designed to be strong defense fort against invaders while harmonizing with the natural terrain and setting. The massive masonry walls built on the steep natural slope equipped with various devices to beat up and ambush enemies demonstrate great degree of creativity and craftsmanship of the people during the period.
The ruin of Drukgyel Dzong maintains the original setting and retains significant portion of the original walls and other building components, which helps one to understand forms and functions of the Dzong.
The Dzong was never reconstructed since 1951 fire. It was freed from any form of changes as opposed to other Dzongs, which were subjected to major renovation and alteration in order to integrate new functions and usages into old structures, accelerated by the process of modernization and development.
Drukgyel Dzong is the best example of 17th century fortified Dzong built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Other existing Dzongs were designed or modified to serve the residence and offices of the clergies and administrators.