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Dochula Pass- The highest mountain pass in Bhutan with a spectacular view

On the second day of our trip to Bhutan, we crossed the Dochula Pass from Thimphu to Punakha, the highest highway point of Thimphu.

Dochula Pass (8)-01 mountain view

Bhutan is a country located high in the Himalayan mountain range. It is a little paradise that few have experienced. It is governed by the biggest living Buddhist monarchy and is renowned for its monasteries, temples, and forts. It is a place where the onslaught of modernization has not destroyed the culture and traditions. 

Bhutan is a nation that gauges its development by happiness rather than mere wealth. So we are glad to be here to experience its culture and many spectacular sights. One such important landmark is the Dochula Pass.

Dochula Pass (1)-01 stupa for burning

Getting to Dochula Pass in the early morning

We left at 8 am, and after traveling for 50 minutes through some of the most lovely flora and scenery, we finally arrived at Dochula Pass. The mountain pass is around 20 kilometers long.

Dochula Pass has serene mountain views as the majestic backdrop for taking pictures. We reached there early in the morning and immediately headed towards the most significant landmark Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens.

Dochula Pass (14)-01 mountain

Although Bhutan’s Dochula Pass is not the highest mountain pass in the world, it undoubtedly is one of the most breathtaking views of all the mountain passes. The exceptional location, the 108 chortens on a slope of lush greenery, conveys an intriguing tale of the spirituality and history of Bhutan.

Dochula Pass (11)-01 mountins as background

Dochula Pass is a picturesque mountain pass that connects Thimphu to Punakha, passing through the snowcapped Himalayas. The pass reaches 10,000 feet above sea level and is near Mt Masanggang, the highest peak in Bhutan at 23,000 feet.

It is the ideal location to have a panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range. Today is a clear day. We saw the most beautiful vistas of the snow-covered Himalayas and oversaw the Punakha Valley on top of Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens.

Dochula Pass (2)-01 trees

Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens

Dochula (22)-01 rows of stupas 2

As we climbed, the temperature was cold initially, but we were finally greeted by sunshine and a blue sky. We could catch glimpses of the Himalayan range, including Gangkar Puensem, the world’s tallest unclimbed mountain at 7,158 meters. 

The view of snowcapped mountains surrounding the chortens is downright breathtaking. 

Dochula (18)-01

He wanted to honor those who fought for their country against Indian militants and envisioned it as an iconic landmark where people could appreciate the beauty of nature.

When was the Dochula Pass built?

The Dochula Pass was built in 2003 by the Third King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. as a route linking Thimphu with Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang. It took several years to complete and was finally finished in June 2008, in time to commemorate 100 years of monarchy in Bhutan. 

Why was the 108 memorial chortens built?

Dochula (5)-01 side view of the stupas

At the peak of Dochula Pass is the majestic Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens. These 108 Chorten (also known as stupas) was built to memorialize Bhutanese soldiers who sacrificed their lives over Indian rebels and to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the conflict in 2003. Buddhism considers the number 108 auspicious, and constructing 108 stupas is a traditional method to show respect for the Buddha and his teachings.

As a tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives during the 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents, Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck built 108 memorial chortens known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” at the pass. These chortens were constructed next to Bhutan’s first Royal Botanical Park and serve as a historical tribute to the bravery and sacrifices of the royal Bhutan army. The chortens were completed in mid-June 2004 and consecrated with religious rites on 19-20 June 2004.

The stupas at Dochula Pass have a hemispherical dome-shaped construction with a square base built of stone. A cylindrical tower (spire or harmika) sits above the dome. There are pathways for circumambulation in between the stupas. These stupas symbolize the spiritual and cultural values of the Bhutanese people and are influenced by traditional Bhutanese and Tibetan architecture.

Dochula (10)-01 top of stupa

The stupas’ primary colors are white, with a red band at the top and golden rings between the red band.

The chortens are all arranged quite symmetrically, and when you look at them attentively, you can see a tiny Buddha resting in each red band of each chorten between the two white circles.

(4)-01 Bhudda between two white dots

The 108 chortens at Dochula Pass were constructed according to traditional religious rituals. They were built in three layers: the first layer had 45 chortens, the second had 36, and the top layer had 27 chortens surrounding the main chorten.

The Operation All Clear

(19)-01 the main stupa

From 2003 to 2004, there was a military operation called Operation All Clear with the Indian military. The hideout of the militants fighting for the separate state of Assam was in Bhutan. Since the Indian army cannot cross the border into Bhutan, the Indian government is putting pressure on Bhutan’s government. The king and the Prime Minister were leading the military at the front line in this operation. Therefore the morale of the army was so boosted that within three days, the enemy was utterly wiped out. Interestingly, our driver was also one of the armies during the operation.

(6)-01 stupas

Construction of the stupas

(20)-01 rows of stupas

The construction of the stupas, also known as Druk Wangyal Khang zhang chortens, was an intriguing procedure that complemented Bhutanese customs and ceremonies. It featured butter-filled bronze utensils and grain offerings. Buddha statues with prayers engraved on them were added later, toward the end. A sokshing, or a long wooden pole made of juniper trees, must be installed within any chorten to establish the existence between heaven and earth. The sokshing is wrapped in silk on a lucky day before entering the chorten. Usually, the sokshing is painted crimson, engraved with religious chants, and painted red.

Druk Wangyel Cafe Dochula

The Druk Wangyel Cafe is opposite the memorial stupas on Dochula Pass. Most tourists will cross the main road to use the washroom. The staff was courteous, even though we did not dine there. They are more than willing to let us use the washroom.

We were at the Dochula Pass for about 45 minutes before resuming our journey to Punakha. We also visited the Tiger’s Next Monastery on the last day of our trip. You can find our blog post here.