Wednesday, February 10, 2016
There is a small, hidden place in Southern Asia called Bhutan. It is a quiet place that values happiness and peacefulness with soaring snowcapped peaks, alpine meadows and densely forested hills and ravines abounding in exotic flora and fauna. While it might sound like it could be right out your backyard, Bhutan has kept to itself for hundreds of years.
Bhutan is one of the most isolated nations in the world; foreign influences and tourism are heavily regulated by the government to preserve its culture. That seclusion did not stop a Wood-Mizer sawmill from making its trek to the ancient country.
The Wood-Mizer LT40 was transported to Bhutan chiefly to aid in construction projects. Initially the Druk Sherrig Company used the mill which served the company well for several years as they worked on commercial projects.
In 2002, Yangphel Construction purchased the Wood-Mizer sawmill from Druk Sherrig to build a prestigious, multi-building hotel. Yangphel is a diverse business; prominent in construction and tourism: an unusual combination in other parts of the world but not in Bhutan. The company is owned by a charismatic business developer/tourism entrepreneur – and former archery champion – Ugyen Rinzin. The 36-year-old works with officials to open the doors of the kingdom a little at a time; promoting tours while adhering to Bhutan’s restrictive travel policy.
Mr. Rinzin knew the operator of a travel company in Montana. When he advanced the idea that he wanted to build a hotel for travelers to Bhutan, word got around in Montana that something spectacular would be developed - forever bridging the two worlds. Local woodworker, Bruce Tollefson, expressed an interest. “I like to travel and my passion is with wood so I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to do both,” explained Bruce. Bruce’s reputation for being an expert craftsman and his eagerness to work on the project got back to the right people and he was hired.
One of Bruce’s responsibilities was to train Bhutanese construction workers on using a Wood-Mizer sawmill. Working around wood the majority of his life, Bruce was familiar with the “famous sawmills” but had never owned or operated one himself. He learned to use a Wood-Mizer in about 30 minutes while still at home, and then took his knowledge to the mountain kingdom where he showed key members of the team how to operate the LT40.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the Wood-Mizer. I was able to learn how to operate the machine quickly and then train others in a completely different world. They picked it up quite well,” recalls Bruce.
Bruce, along with others from Montana, would travel to Bhutan at different times and stay a few weeks to several months to guide a crew of Bhutanese craftspeople in the construction of the majestic hotel complex. Thinking back to his first couple of visits, Bruce recalls after he left the crew to run the Wood-Mizer on their own, they were proficient sawyers. When he returned six months later, he “couldn’t keep up” with them.
Since the hotel grabs a foothold on uneven terrain along the Paro River, the mill’s portability was a critical aspect. It was transported to the rocky site in 2002 and cut logs and dimensional lumber for 18 hours each day, seven days a week for nearly three years. The manual mill handled all sizes of logs with the average for this project being 20-24 inches in diameter. Mr. Rinzin estimates 4,200,000 board feet of wood was cut for the massive undertaking.
As further testament to the amount of lumber produced, Bruce puts forth, “There is no lumber yard in Bhutan, so every piece of wood used in the project has to come through that Wood-Mizer.”
The LT40’s versatility in cutting logs and dimensional lumber comes to the forefront considering it cut and trimmed lumber for all of the interior framing, flooring and trim work. In addition, all the windows and doors, including their wooden frames and casings, are built on the site, as are the striking, decorative beams.
The Montana group managed logistics of purchasing, procuring and shipping the equipment used year-around on the project. “We set up a well-equipped woodworking shop to process the Wood-Mizer lumber with planers, shapers, joiners, table saws and accessory tools. Everything was build completely by hand,” says Bruce.
The new hotel, Zhiwa Ling (meaning peaceful place), is a major step forward into the world for Bhutan. Located on 13 acres, the main building is three stories with conference facilities, two different restaurants and three royal suites,” says Bruce. The royal suites compare favorably with those in five-star hotels – with two bedrooms, a main living room and kitchenette in each. The suites host affluent business people, politicians and others attracted by Bhutan’s emerging business profile and natural beauty.
Most travelers will stay in one of 40 units in eight buildings as part of the hotel complex. Four three-story buildings house six units each, and four two-story buildings contain four living units.
In an international building project such as this, Bruce says, “A lot of things are critical to it and Wood-Mizer had a huge role. The mill is a great product and does a great job. Wood-Mizer was also there with service and parts when we needed something.” Such deliveries included Wood-Mizer Blades which Bruce ordered well in advance and commends Wood-Mizer for flawless delivery to Bhutan.
As a flower opens to the world, Bhutan is slowly welcoming visitors. The new hotel, opened in October 2005, serves as a good entry and exit point for mountain climbers, trekkers, business people and politicians. Tour groups have already booked the hotel for their first and last night’s stays as part of their 8-to-10 day itineraries in Bhutan. In between, the travelers may sleep in villages and outdoors, but their trips will begin and end in luxury.
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