Achi Association
  • 8 chörten building

WANLA - 8 chörten building


Floorplan of the 8 chörten building before intervention (drawing: John Harrison).
Floorplan of the 8 chörten building

The project

The first project in Ladakh started by Achi Association India was the restoration of the Kagan Chörten in the village of Wanla. Funded by the Cultural Preservation Program of the German Foreign Office and private donors, the project was implemented during one summer´s campaign. Participation by village volunteers was high and years later the community still praises the project.

Successively, another heritage preservation project took place in Wanla, named “Conservation of wall paintings in the Avalokiteshvara Temple and revival of the Heritage Path in Wanla”. During this campaign important talks with the village community took place to evaluate Achi Associations past activities in Wanla and plan further projects. Gratitude was expressed for the past work of Achi Association in the Avalokiteshvara temple and at the Kagan Chörten, and assistance requested for the upkeep of the religious structures alongside the ancient pilgrimage/circumambulation path, further on named “Heritage Path”. The Achi Association India aimed to carry forward the revitalization of the Heritage path, with the restoration and conservation of a significant building on its way, the 8 chörten building. 

The 8 chörten building is located in the old part of Wanla, called Zomal. It is a structure housing the eight different types of chörten with a roofed circumambulation path. It was traditionally owned by one family, but has been handed over to the community to gain more support for its upkeep. 

The building suffered from severe structural problems. The inner walls were leaning heavily and the structure was on the verge of collapsing completely. The painted walls had cracked in several places under these forces and roof leakages had caused damage on the wall paintings. Therefore it was proposed to restore the construction structurally and thus safe the building and its precious interior from destruction.

All restoration and conservation activities were implemented during two campaigns. The first campaign beheld the structural restoration of the 8 chörten building and took place during June and July under the guidance of a conservation architect and wall painting conservators.

A second campaign in August concerned the conservation work after the structural restoration, meaning cleaning, securing the plaster of the painted walls and chörten and protecting the new wooden constructions.


The 8 chörten building

Restoration proposal: plan with two new wooden structures (in green) and roof (drawing: Hilde Vets).
Restoration proposal: plan
Restoration proposal: section (drawing: Hilde Vets).
Restoration proposal: section
Restoration proposal: south façade and new wooden structure (in green) (drawing: Hilde Vets).
Restoration proposal: south façade

The 8 chörten building (deshek chörten gyad ) is situated on the ritual circumambulation path of the village (the so-called Heritage Path or rgya-skor ), and is built on a ridge at Zomal side facing the castle ruins of Wanla. It is a religious structure housing the eight different types of chörten. Paintings of approximately 110-120 years old are covering the walls of the inner shrine. 

The construction is mainly made up of one rectangular inner room which is then surrounded by a ‘veranda’ where people circumambulate the shrine. Both the veranda and the inner room share the same roof. The veranda is open on both lengthwise sides. On the short sides it is closed with mud brick walls. 

The roof is a traditional wooden construction, covered with an earth/clay mixture and supported by the tiny wooden columns of the veranda and the rear wall of the inner room.  

The inner structure (shrine with the eight chörten on a row) is likewise made of adobe walls, while one of the long sides (the south façade facing the Wanla castle ruins) consists mainly of a wooden screen held by short walls.  This wooden screen encloses eight windows (according to the number of chörten), which can be closed with wooden shutters. The one long and two adjoining short brick walls of this inner room surrounding the chörten are covered with wall paintings on a clay plaster. The wall paintings do not continue on the short sides of wall where the screen is attached to.   

This interesting building was in a very bad condition and in danger of collapsing.

The architectural surveys of the previous years pointed out that the rear wall of the inner structure and the large front window were moving seriously outwards due to several reasons. The thin supporting wall (made of only one phagbu or mud brick of 20 cm width), the insufficient wooden supports of the ‘balustrades’, the lack of a supporting beam above the large opening of the front window, the heavy load of the roof, the situation towards the main wind direction, etc. would account for the outward movement.

This had caused severe cracks in the walls and roof, and serious water damage to the paintings and supporting walls. 

Within the span of one year, the building (and certainly the roof and the parapets) was showing even more damages because people were afraid of going on the roof to maintain it.

Thus, a restoration proposal was made and discussed with the other conservation architects of Achi Association. It was decided to put in supplementary wooden structures to support the roof and to take away most of the load from the reclining wall and wooden screen. This implied a demolition of the roof and some dilapidated parts of walls, putting in the new wooden structures followed by the reconstruction of walls and roof.