PAST PROJECTS  |  2012 - 2017

Skurbuchan Khar

(Fortress)

Conservation of an ancient Palace and refurbishing its interiors for community engagement.

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Introduction

Skurbuchan is a scenic village located in Khaltse Tehsil in Leh District. The village is towards the west of Leh at a distance of 65.5 kilometres.  The tower-like tall structure of Skurbuchan Khar, the Monastery and various stupas that dot the landscape are also an interesting tourist destination along with the villages of Dha and Hanu nearby. For many years, the deteriorating and crumbling structure of the Skurbuchan Khar and its ancillary buildings have been a subject of concern and focus of conservation efforts of both the community and the interdisciplinary specialist team of the Achi Association. The conservation work was initiated by a group of young heritage workers comprising trained young professionals and monks.  The village and monastic community strongly supported the project, and a mission was envisaged to safeguard one of the most significant landmarks of Skurbuchan and its surrounding villages. 

 

Situated on a brusque ridge high above the settlement, the Skurbuchan Khar (Palace temple), is a visually powerful structure and an important regional landmark. It has high historical and spiritual significance for the local population and surrounding communities. The rammed-earth fortified tower was extended and converted, probably in the mid-nineteenth century, to a temple. The interior contains a colossal statue of the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara, wall paintings, eight chörtens, and moveable clay statuary.

The entire temple complex is maintained by the monks of the Skurbuchan Monastery of Drikung-Kargyu lineage and continues to maintain the religious functions associated with it. The participation of the community in every ritual that takes place in the temple is significantly high and it is also frequently visited by the villagers, mainly the elders, to perform the skora around the temple structure.

Conservation

Skurbuchan Khar was probably built in four phases. The first phase of the Khar was a defensive tower, similar to the tower higher up the ridge. Like the upper tower, it was built of rammed-earth, and was probably open on the south side, so that if overrun by attackers it could not be used as a stronghold against village counter-attacks.  The top floor retains triangular observation windows and angled shooting crenellations. Later, the tower was converted into the Avalokiteshvara temple by the removal of lower floors and the addition of a stone and brick 3-storey structure on the south, 1-storey lower than the tower. This extension contains a 2-storey high entrance lobby open at the south, an upper room (zimskhang?) with a southern rabsal and north screen facing the statue, and ancillary staircase rooms.  The three small windows in the upper room were later bricked up and the internal walls painted. In the third phase, a lower extension was built to the south, containing a principal decorated room with a rabsal at the east (the rinpoche room), over storerooms/stables. And finally, a final extension to the south created a main entrance door and passage, and two small rooms above. This extension largely collapsed some 20 years ago.

 

The building Skurbuchan Khar had been in a dilapidated condition for many years. There were large structural cracks appearing all along the length of the wall posing threat to the stability of the building. It seemed like problems in the foundation of the building where causing the west wall of the building to sway away from its original position. The cracks in the walls also damaged the unique and exquisite wall paintings inside the building. The large clay image of Avalokiteshvara and other smaller images of various Boddhisatvas are damaged due to neglect and water infiltration through roofs. The rooms adjacent to the upper level temples and the terrace areas were also deteriorating and almost lay in ruins. The beautifully carved and painted wooden frames at the first floor level and decorative wooden members are damaged at various places. 

 

This project is motivated by the genuine concern of the Skurbuchan villagers that such an important constituent of their common identity and community life might become irreversibly ruined. For some time they had made efforts to reach out for partners that could assist them in the repair of the endangered historical structure. Village authorities raised local funds to cover the costs of all necessary materials, the salary for the local head-mason and workers. In addition, the community will provide for the necessary number of volunteers to assist in the work.

The Skurbuchan Khar is the property of the local community and the Monastery of the village and its senior members are committed to this initiative. The head of the lineage to which this monastery belongs, H.H. Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, stands firmly behind the project and has publicly encouraged the community to give all their support.

The close partnership between the village of Skurbuchan and the Achi Association India with its experts and young heritage promoters offers the possibility to implement an initiative which is truly anchored in the community and responds to its expressed needs and concerns. From the start, the project will be driven by the main stakeholders - the monastery and the villagers - and by the heritage promoters who will accompany and guide them all along, under the technical support and project coordination of the Achi Association’s professionals. The initiative is designed to make active use of local knowledge and capacities and it encourages the community to assume a high level of responsibility and ownership of the project, financially as well as in the decision-making process and actual execution of the work. It is expected that this pilot experience will contribute to establishing a more community-centered and sustainable model for heritage conservation.

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The Skurbuchan Khar

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The collection of ancient utensils in the Skurbuchan monastery.

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Ritual Objects in the Khar

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The Skurbuchan Monastery

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Konchok Mothup explaining to children the history of the Khar and its cultural elements.

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Local basket weaving traditions from the village of Skurbuchan.

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Image of 100 arm Avalokitesvara in the Palace or Khar.

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Wall Painting Conservator, Noor Jahan explaining about the wall paintings of the Khar. 

Outcome

As a response to the concerns of the Skurbuchan community, the Achi Association offered its support and engaged in conversations with the village and monastic authorities. A meeting was called in August 2011 by Gen Konchok Motup, the young heritage promoter from the Achi Association India. It was attended by the village-head (Goba), two respected community elders (former Gobas), the local head-mason or mistry (Tsikspon), the representative of a regional civil society organization, two of Achi India’s young heritage promoters as well as a member of the Achi Association. During this meeting, an agreement for future cooperation on the conservation of the Khar was reached. The community representatives committed to provide materials and local labour, informing the potential partners that some funds are already available for this purpose and pledging to raise more. The Achi Association India expressed its intention to locate funding to match the local commitment and thus cover the costs for the participation of the heritage promoters and professional consultants. Furthermore, a committee was formed in Skurbuchan integrated by selected community and monastery representatives to coordinate efforts.

 

A thorough technical assessment of the condition of the Khar was carried out, including a structural evaluation as well as an appraisal of its architectural and artistic integrity and state of conservation. Based on the results, a plan for conservation was designed, including urgent short-term remedial action and a longer-term restoration/preservation and maintenance strategy. This process was undertaken by Achi Association’s conservation architects and a wall-painting and sculpture conservation expert with the collaboration of local masons and artists, in consultation with monastic representatives.

 

The Skurbuchan Khar had various conservation issues involving its structure, wall paintings and clay sculptures. The first phase of the work involved the conservation intervention to tackle the urgent task of lending structural stability to the historical monument, particularly stabilizing the foundation and controlling the buckling/bulging of the three-story external walls, fastening/tying together the load-bearing elements and closing the gaps and cracks that have resulted from them yielding apart. In addition to this, stability was given to the roof of the main entrance porch in order to remove the emergency infill wall which has been built to prevent its collapse and now completely obscures the entrance to the main temple space.

 

This was followed by conservation works on the wall paintings and sculptures which involved stitching of the cracks, consolidation of the lost parts and cleaning of the surfaces. The project of conservation of wall paintings was resumed again in 2016 and 2017 alongside the Education Outreach Pilot project.