Chaitra Arjunpuri: Druk Wangyal Chortens

Fog-covered Druk Wangyal Chortens – 108 memorial chortens or stupas – built by Ashji Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother, seen from the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang monastery in the Dochula Pass, Bhutan, on a chilly morning.

Dochula is a mountain pass in the snow covered Himalayas on the road from Thimpu to Punakha. They are built in three layers, the first lowest level layer has 45 chortens, the second has 36, and the top layer has 27 built around the main chorten.

Known as chortens of victory locals call them as gYul Las rNampar Gyal wai’ chortens, these are built as a memorial in honour of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India.

It particularly marks the victory of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who dislodged the rebels from their camps (there were 30 camps) in Bhutanese territory.

Visiting Bhutan was a longtime dream and it came true when my boy was about to turn two. We decided to celebrate his birthday in the Land of the Thunder Dragon. As we had planned for over a three-week stay in the tiny nation nestled in the Himalayas, we wanted to cover as many places as possible throughout.

On the day we decided to go to Punakha, we woke up early and left the hotel, as we wanted to reach Dochula Pass, situated at an elevation of almost 3,100 meters before it got too crowded. The Pass is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country and is visited by almost every traveler in the country. The mountain Pass in the snow-covered Himalayas is located on the way between Thimpu, the new capital, and Punakha, the old capital of Bhutan.

We reached the Pass around 7.30-8 in the morning and realized almost every single tourist vehicle stopped there either for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner at the small and cozy restaurant near the pass.

First, we went to the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang monastery. Constructed in 2008, it is a memorial to celebrate the 100 years of monarchy in Bhutan. Then, we went to the fog-covered Druk Wangyal Chortens – 108 memorial chortens or stupas – built by Ashji Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother. Built in succeeding rows, they are easily recognizable by their white and red colors. They are built in three layers, the first lowest level layer has 45 chortens, the second has 36, and the top layer has 27 built around the main chorten.

Known as chortens of victory locals call them as gYul Las rNampar Gyal wai’ chortens, these are built as a memorial in honor of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India. It particularly marks the victory of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who dislodged the rebels from their camps (there were 30 camps) in Bhutanese territory.

These chortens were constructed by religiously sanctioned procedures and rituals with a particular process. When the height of a particular chorten reached one meter, a pit was dug in the center and packed with bronze utensils filled with butter and symbolic offerings of grains. When their heights increased at the next stage, the pits would be again filled with images of Buddhist gods made of clay and then stuffed with papers inscribed with prayers. This was followed by the most important stage which consisted of placing the sokshing, also known as “the life tree of the chorten”.

According to the belief sokshing, a long square wooden pole made from the juniper tree, provides a link between the heaven and the earth within a chorten. Not all can make this pole, and only a person who has suitable qualities from an astrological point of view can make it. The pole was painted in red color and engraved with sacred hymns and banded with religious stuff such as gilded images of gods, prayer bells, small clay stupas, and also precious stones and jewelry. The sokshing was then wrapped around by silk cloth and then fixed in the partly built chorten on an auspicious day.

Walking around the chortens and soaking ourselves with the beauty and serenity of the Himalayas around was no less than a magic. Before leaving the Pass, we had our breakfast in the restaurant there and moved towards Punakha, cherishing the sight of 108 chortens at the Dochula Pass.

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