On Sunday September 8, 2011, a powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Bhutan. The epicenter was recorded about 400 kilometers from Paro in the neighboring Indian State of Sikkim. After nearly 400 years of stability, the 17th century Paro Ta-Dzong, now the National Museum, suffered extensive damage. The building sustained considerable destruction, with the upper section of the stone wall on the main tower collapsing and stress cracks throughout the lower sections. Damage was further exacerbated due to its location on the windward slope of hill overlooking Paro valley.
Fortunately, this did not culminate in damage to the artifacts, albeit a few clay statues installed on the mandala tree in the sixth floor Tshogzhing Lhakhang. Immediate precautionary measures were taken to save the original structure from completely collapsing. The affected section of the stone walls were shored up with iron beams. A gaping hole was sealed off with stone and mortar in an effort to buy sufficient time to evacuate the artifacts from the exhibition galleries and plan the thoughtful careful renovation of the structure with minimal changes to the original structure.
The evacuation activities were successfully implemented with the transfer of artifacts from the galleries into storage areas located on the fourth floor. The museum resumed operations with temporary exhibitions that are developed and showcased in a separate administrative block, along with exhibitions in natural history and the mask galleries.
The renovation of National Museum of Bhutan was initiated/implemented in 2014 with funding support from the Government of India under the auspices of the Royal Government of Bhutan by the Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites, Department of Culture, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs.
The first phase of the renovation included demolishing the sections of the stonewalls which were deemed structurally unstable. The removal of the wooden components that included sections of the roof, truss and windows in keeping with the values and traditions associated this heritage monument was completed. Within a month,the reconstruction of stonewalls began, using traditional masonry techniques to rebuild the section of the wall from the ground up. The architectural and structural design of the renovation was developed in keeping with the original building using local craftsmen. Refurbished and or new windows and a door were installed along with arrow slits conforming to the original structure.
By December 2017, the outer structural reconstruction works were completed. In order to maintain the aesthetics of the original floor plans and historic exhibition galleries, minimal modifications were made in the interior. The old built-in-display units were restored and additional display units were developed in conformity to the original designs. However, this was an opportunity for some conservation related improvements, including a complete makeover of the museum lighting in both galleries and display cases.
Although all efforts were made to maintain the display units in the original designs, new and safer, archival mounting techniques were adopted and new exhibit labels developed, to enhance the information, knowledge, viewing, and security of the artifacts.
Due to unforeseen and additional renovation work necessary to meet the high standards befitting the National Museum, as expected by the Department of Culture, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, the re-launch could not be made as planned.
Today with renovation and rearrangement of galleries complete, after more than eight years of closure the re-launch of the National Museum of Bhutan is scheduled on 24th June, 2020, co-incinding with the 3rd Day of 5th Bhutanese month of Iron Male Rat year.