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Thembang Fortified Village

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Arunachal Pradesh
Coordinates: N27 20 E92 23
Ref.: 5913

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Thembang, the settlement of the Monpas is a village within a fortified area measuring approximately 3.2 Acres. It is a host to several ancient and historical structures and has drawn the maximum attention for the fortified Dzong constructed using traditional technology of the region. Due to the richness of heritage structures found in the village, locals consider the village of Thembang itself as a monument.

Thembang Dzong is located approximately 55km north-east of Bomdila township at the altitude of 2169 m. above MSL. under the Thembang administrative circle in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. The area falls to the east of Tawang-Bomdila road and about 14 km far away from Munna camp. Thembang village and Dzong are surrounded with the majestic beauty of lush green hills, steep gorges and snow clad peaks. The River Dirang cascades down the gorge running along the western side of Thembang gorge in the South-East direction.

The Dzong has two gates — one at northern side and the other at the southern side of village fortification. The northern gate measures 3.50 m. X 5.00 m while the gate at the southern side is in the nature of an emergency or escape gate. The construction of the Dzong and the gates follows traditional construction systems of the Monpas, which includes composite stone masonry and wood architecture. Ornamental features include carved stone blocks, mani walls (stone walls with prayers engraved on them), traditional wood carvings, paintings and manuscripts, etched as murals and graffiti along the houses and ancient ruins.

The Dzong area is inhabited by the Dirkhipa clan of the Monpas since many generations. Due to increase of their population, a section of the Dirkhipa clan is also settled outside the old Thembang Dzong. There are 42 households in the village and the total population is 250. Most of the dwellings are made in traditional method of indigenous Monpa architecture. Thembang Dzong was also constructed using same traditional architecture which is still prevalent.

Pre-historic archaeological evidence has also been excavated by the Archaeological Section of the Research Department, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh at Thembang. Some of the items recovered include Neolithic Celt, various Neolithic tools, Stone Age axe etc.

The predominant religion at Thembang is Buddhism and ownership of properties at Thembang is not individual based but controlled by the local panchayat and deemed as community ownership.

The area adjacent to Thembang is rich with biodiversity and a wide variety of wild animals, including rare species such as Red Panda, are found in these forests. The locals of Thembang respect this ecological richness and have incorporated its aspects in their socio-religious practices. The Monpas knows to maintain the ecological equilibrium as part of their socio-cultural life. The area is also homeland of different species of herbs and orchids which have medicinal value. They are having the sound knowledge in practice of ethno medicine as part of their traditional wisdom.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Thembang lies in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is also known as the ‘land of the rising sun.’ The state has international border on three sides where it shares boundaries with the countries of Bhutan in the west, China in the north and north-east, and with Myanmar in the east. This gives Arunachal Pradesh a multi-cultural, multi-racial lineage that depicts Tibeto-Burmese and Mongoloid traits. The West Kameng district, in which Thembang is located, shares immediate border with Tibet on the north and Bhutan on the west that has similar influence on the socio-cultural systems in the district, including architecture that is manifest in the presence of Dzongs, a type of fortress architecture that is found in Bhutan and Tibet.

However, the region is similarly linked with the other north eastern states of India and shares strong socio-cultural ties. This makes Arunachal Pradesh, and by its extension Thembang, unique in its location and cultural influences that reflect both Tibeto-Bhutanese as well as North-East Indian characteristics.

The immediate geographic setting of Thembang at a high altitude within the mighty Eastern Himalayas replete with a picturesque setting, abundant flora and fauna that have shaped the traditional knowledge systems of the village in a specific way, also make it unique.

Since Thembang Dzong is believed to be constructed before 1100 CE, it may very well be the precursor to the more majestic Dzong architecture of Bhutan and a pioneering case study of a fortified village in the eastern Himalayas.

The greatest strength of Thembang lies in the traditional knowledge systems of the Monpas that is indicative of their consciousness in maintaining the built as well as natural heritage of their area as their traditional glory.

Criterion (ii): Thembang exhibits an important interchange of human values on developments in Dzong architecture within Arunachal Pradesh, a region of unique cultural integration in the world.

Criterion (iii): Thembang bears an exceptional testimony to the living cultural traditions of the Monpa tribe, which depicts influences of diverse cultures – the Bhutanese, the Tibetans and the indigenous North East Indian. This includes their social structure and practices, rites, rituals and their vernacular building knowledge systems.

Criterion (v): Thembang is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement depicting vernacular architecture high up in the mighty eastern Himalayas bordering two significant cultural influences that is known for the Monpa’s ingrained sense of responsibility to their environment and their efforts to maintain their natural and cultural heritage resources for posterity.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The village and Dzong of Thembang maintain almost all aspects of Authenticity and Integrity including its pristine setting. The physical Authenticity and Integrity of the Dzong are supported by the traditions and customs of the Monpas which are conducive to maintain the built heritage using the traditional building knowledge of the region for posterity. Further, Thembang is a protected archaeological monument under the care of Archaeological Section, Research Department, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh.

Comparison with other similar properties

Thembang can be compared to the following World Heritage and Tentative List Sites:

Asante Traditional buildings, Ghana World. Heritage Site, Criteria: v
The Asante Traditional Buildings of Ghana are inscribed as the last material remains of the great Asante civilization, which reached its peak in 18th Century CE. While these buildings also depict vernacular architecture practices of that period, this is an archaeological site unlike Thembang which is living, over a thousand years old and yet maintains Authenticity in its traditional building systems.

Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes, Senegal. World Heritage Site, Criteria: iii, v, vi
The Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes of Senegal are outstanding witnesses to the cultural specificity and interaction between the local population of different regions manifest on their agro-pastoral, social, ritual and spiritual practices, and represent original response to the natural environmental constraints so as to use wisely the limited resources of the area. While Thembang shares similar aspects of cultural specificity and original response to natural environmental factors, the situation is not restrictive here but abundant and requires a human response that calls for conservative approach rather than exploitative, which is what Thembang demonstrates.

Viñales Valley, Cuba. World Heritage Site, Criteria: iv
The Vinales Valley is an outstanding agrarian landscape in which traditional methods of agriculture have remain unchanged for several centuries. The region also preserves a rich vernacular tradition in its architecture, crafts and music. Similar in many ways, Thembag is a much smaller area, only a settlement that demonstrates centuries old traditions of the Monpa tribe. It is also not an agrarian landscape but a tribal culture.

Old villages of Hollókő (Hungary) and its surrounding. World Heritage Site, criteria: v
The old villages of Hollókő, Hungary are already inscribed as World Heritage and the new proposal is to make it a trans-boundary nomination by including Rimtea and surroundings from Romania. The property is an exceptional example of a deliberately preserved traditional human settlement representative of a culture that has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change. These villages, which developed mainly during the 17th and 18th centuries, are a living example of rural life before the agricultural revolution of the 20th century. Thembang is also a rural settlement from a different part of the world with a distinct rural life that is also untouched from the adverse effects of globalization but not deliberately preserved. It retains its centuries old traditions and buildings only on the conviction and social practices of the Monpa tribe.

Dzongs: the centre of temporal and religious authorities (Punakha Dzong, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, Paro Dzong, Trongsa Dzong and Dagana Dzong), Bhutan. Tentative List, Criteria: iii, iv
The Dzongs of Bhutan are a much more evolved form of the Dzong and served as the principal seats of Buddhist schools. These were developed as strategic footholds for gaining influence of particular Buddhist schools and controlling over the region under the power of the schools. Thembang is a simple rural settlement demonstrating vernacular building traditions and intangible cultural practices, making it a different typology altogether. However, Thembang is older than the Dzongs of Bhutan and could be one of the pioneering efforts that influenced the development of the bigger Dzongs in the region.

Nationally, Thembang is partially comparable with numerous rural settlements spread across the Himalayas that demonstrate vernacular architectural traditions. However, the peculiar geographic location, diverse cultural influences, historicity of Thembang and the presence of a Dzong are unique and unlike any other settlement.