Nestled in the eastern edge of the Himalayas, the Kingdom of Bhutan boasts of spectacular mountain views and some of the happiest people in the world. And with this beautiful outlook of life came the creation of Dochula Pass, a breath-taking mountain pass, in commemoration of Bhutanese soldiers who passed away in military operations for the country.
Along the Dochula Pass, there are 108 memorial chortens (also known as stupas) called the 'Druk Wangyal Chortens' for each soldier's life lost in war. The hills are also decorated with colourful religious flags in five colours to represent the natural elements: blue for the sky, red for fire, green for water, white for clouds, and yellow for earth. To the local Buddhist people, these flags are symbols of veneration and the inscriptions of prayers on each flag signals peace and prosperity for Bhutan.
A visit to Dochula Pass is truly a memorable experience as you travel along the road, colourful flags on each side, and amazing views of the majestic, snow-covered Himalayas before you. Whether you chose to travel by car or foot on this pass, you're likely to walk away with a deep sense of serenity and humility that the Bhutanese pride themselves on.
Dochula Pass Memorial Chortens
'Chortens' are important monuments and shrines in Buddhist culture. Typically, they are saint's tombs or monuments dedicated to Buddha. The 108 Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens of Dochula Pass were built under the patronage of the eldest Queen Mother, Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, to honour the Bhutanese soldiers who died in December, 2003 battling Assamese insurgents from India. Ultimately, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk's army was victorious in dislodging the rebels from the 30 different camps along the Bhutanese border shared with the state of Assam. The King returned to Thimphu on 23rd December, 2003 and approved construction of the memorial chortens. They were officially completed in June, 2004 and consecrated with religious ceremonies in the same month.
The Dochula Chortens have been built in three layers. The first level has 45 chortens, the second level has 36 chortens, and the topmost layer has 27 chortens, all built around the main structure. Each chorten was built following strict, religiously ordained processes. Square wooden poles have been carved from juniper trees, found within each chorten. This is called the 'sokshing' and it is believe to provide a link between heaven and earth. The sokshing is made following astrological beliefs, painted a bright red color before it is installed on a previously-decided auspicious day. Then, inscriptions are carved as sacred hymns are sung, joined by religious items like prayer bells, precious stones, and clay stupas. To end the process, the sokshing is wrapped in a silk cloth.
The overall view of these 108 memorial chortens is a pretty sight. They seem to ride out of the ground, rising far above your vision as you watch from below. Just beside these chortens is the country's first Royal Botanical Park. The atmosphere here is calming, going hand-in-hand with the Buddhist believe of the cycle of life and the beauty of death.
Dochula Pass Altitude
Dochula Pass crosses through the snow-covered Himalayas from Thimphu to Punakha. It has rising elevations at different points from 10,200 feet to 10,300 feet and eventually 10,330 feet. It's no wonder then that is closely located to Mt Masanggang, the highest peak in Bhutan at a whopping 23,000 feet elevation.
Dochula Pass Temple
In close proximity to Dochula Pass and the memorial chortens is a monastery called Druk Wangyal Lhakhang. It was built in honor of the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who was fourth 'Druk Gyalpo' (head of state). It was built with the intention of accompanying the chortens, overlooking the forest of snow and the Himalayas. This is an important place of worship for locals who come to the monastery to pray almost daily. The monastery took many years to complete, ultimately finishing in June 2008, just in time to commemorate 100 years of monarchy in Bhutan. The temple's walls are thus painted with themes of Bhutanese history. Many art aficionados have called these paintings an amalgamation of old and new Bhutanese art aesthetics - after all, you can find intricate paintings depicting the fight against Indian rebels in the forest right beside murals of monks with laptops.
Dochu La Wangyal Festival Every year, in the open grounds beside the monastery, the Dochula Druk Wangyel Tsechu (or festival) is celebrated. It generally takes place on 13th December every year. It began in 2011 to commemorate the victory of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk and the Bhutanese army in protecting the Bhutanese land back in 2003. It is only a one-day affair, but it is celebrated with great pomp. If you are able to visit Dochula Pass in time for Dochula Druk Wangyel Tsechu, you'll get to witness Bhutan's rich culture and tradition first-hand. For example, special costume mask dances were composed by Dasho Karma Ura for this very occasion.
Best Time to Visit Dochula Pass
The best time to visit Dochula Pass is between September and February to catch picturesque views from this mountain pass. Due to its high altitude, Dochula Pass generally sees cold temperatures throughout the year. The minimum temperature can drop down to 5 degrees Celsius while maximum temperatures are around 10-12 degrees Celsius. This leads to a lot of fog and haze and many times, it can be difficult to spot the Himalayas or the pristine forests from Dochula Pass on particularly low-visibility days.
How to Reach Dochula Pass
Dochula Pass is easily accessible by road. A part of the Thimphu-Punakha Highway, it can take anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours to reach Dochula Pass by car from Thimphu. To its east, you will find a road leading towards Punakha Valley where two rivers of the country meet.
Dochula Pass Hike For adventure lovers and fitness enthusiasts, the roads leading to the pass make for a picturesque hike. It can be tedious, and the altitude doesn't make the walk any easier, so it isn't recommended for those not up to a challenge. If you decide to venture this route, you'll be blessed with beautiful views on each side leading up to the pass.
Built from a violent history, Dochula Pass is now a site of serenity for the locals. It marks an important moment in Bhutanese history. It's an amazing place to visit during any trip to this magnificent country and it's one of the best views of the Himalayas that don't require much of a hassle.