The Dochula Pass is a mountain pass in the snow covered Himalayas within Bhutan on the road from Thimpu to Punakha where 108 memorial chortens or stupas known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” have been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother. Apart from the chortens there is a monastery called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honour of the fourth Druk Gyalpo (head of the state of Bhutan), Jigme Singye Wangchuck the open grounds in its front yard is a venue for the annual Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival. The pass with 108 memorial chortens is adjacent to the country’s first Royal Botanical Park.
The Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens are red-band or khangzang chortens, 108 in numbers, built in a central hillock at the pass, under the patronage of the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. In local language they are called gYul Las rNampar Gyal wai’ chortens or chortens of victory. These were 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 from where they raiding Indian territory of Assam. After the war the king went back to Thimpu on 28 December 2003 and at this stage the 108 chortens were being built. They were completed in mid June 2004 and formally consecrated and sanctified with religious rites held on 19–20 June.
108 chortens in three layers at the Dochula Pass
Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens at Dochula Pass
The chortens are built in three layers, the first lowest level layer has forty five chortens, the second has thirty six and the top layer has twenty seven built around the main chorten. The construction of these chortens was done as per religiously ordained ritualistic procedures. As the height of the chortens attained 1 m a pit was excavated in ground in the centre, and symbolically offerings of grains and bronze utensil filled with butter were placed in the pit. At the next stage as the height of chortens increased, images of Buddhist gods made of clay stuffed with papers inscribed with prayers were interred. In the next stage, which is considered the “vital stage”, in erecting a chorten was the fixing of the sokshing meaning “the life tree of the chorten”. The sokshing, which is believed to provide a link between heaven and earth within a chorten, is in the form of a long square wooden pole made from a juniper tree made by an individual who has appropriate qualities from an astrological point of view. The pole was painted in red colour and inscribed with sacred hymns and banded with religious paraphernalia 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.