Another dawn, another magnificent sunrise, was gently coaxing the thin veil of fog to retreat, as we breathed in the spicy and slightly pungent scent of the cypress trees on which long ropes of prayer flags were tied. The prayer flags carried the benevolence and blessings from the 108 chortens (or stupas) on top of the Dochula pass to all the sentient beings in the Universe. As the perfumed breeze gently caressed our cheeks, I couldn’t help but wonder about the beautiful tale of bravery and inspiration these 108 chortens symbolized.
The Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, commissioned the monument called “Druk Wangyal Chortens” after King Jigme Singye Wangchuck was victorious in the struggle called “Operation All Clear” to dislodge the rebels who were using Bhutan as a base to raid India. This was a memorial for all the soldiers who lost their lives in the 2003 war.
Mountain passes are always beautiful, because who can deny the bounty of nature at such an altitude, with snowcapped mountains giving a majestic backdrop of tranquillity to the lush green hillside. But when creatively built cute chortens, a picturesque café and wreaths of prayer flags fluttering above the head are added to this heady mix of peace and beauty, one is intoxicated with yet to be heard stories of spirituality and bravery. There is no need to imagine how this all came to be, because even before I am tempted to do that, the essence of the place just sinks into the heart, and hushes my mind to be still and revel in the joyous bosom of Nature.
What made this simple mountain pass, Dochula pass divine and ethereal?
Perhaps it could be the story carried by it, perhaps it was the peace from the souls of all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the peace of the land, or perhaps it could just be that Himalayan air had magic sprinkled in it.
As we parked our car and climbed up to go around the pristine white painted chortens, it did not feel like we were up 3100 m (10171 ft) high up in a mountain pass. It just felt like a car ride out to a picnic spot. Check out all the mountain ranges you can view from this location.
We observed many Bhutanese families having picnic hampers and simply enjoying the scenery of a warm summery day. My favourite game as a child was hide-and-seek and I couldn’t help but wonder that this would be such an ideal place to play that game. These 108 chortens could easily hide a child behind it. And just as I was musing exactly this, I could see a young Bhutanese child peeking out, from behind a chorten. I smiled and waved. He shyly smiled and ran away.
I turned back to admire the view of the Himalayas from the small hillock on which the chortens were built. The clouds settling down in the depressions in between mountains, each mountain rising up above the other like wave after wave, the play of light, as the sun and fog play peek-a-boo with each other covering certain mountain ranges and not the other – it was all an enthralling sight to watch. A lifetime may not be sufficient to just gaze at the Himalayas from this location.
I sighed and continued my upward ascent to reach the small hillock’s summit. My son was running around, there was an active joy exuding from him, and that made me so happy. He is not at all a morning person and was not in the greatest moods, for we had woken him up so early to take this car ride all the way to Dochula pass. But after all who could carry the grumpiness amid the heavens.
We spent some time walking amidst the chortens. There were 3 concentric circles of chortens – 45 in the outermost circle and 27 in the innermost top circle. And we kept gazing back at the Himalayas, every time echoing a silent admiration for the snow-clad. My fascination to reach that highest peak of Bhutan – Masanggang (7158 m) grew with each glance. Well, perhaps someday …
After a while, my husband decided we all had to have a cup of tea. And so we made our way to The Druk Wangyel Café Dochula.
A most amazing thing happened at the café! I looked at the menu and told my son in my mother tongue (Tamil) that I was not in the mood to eat anything specifically. My son nodded that neither was he. And there was an accented Tamil voice saying that we should have a drink of Bhutanese tea in that case. I turned around, but could not find any South Indian looking faces. I then looked at the guy who had given me the menu card and he smiled.
He certainly wore a Gho, the national clothing of Bhutan but continued in Tamil, “I was in Tamil Nadu State for my studies.”
“Which city in Tamil Nadu?” I asked.
“Coimbatore,” he replied.
I don’t know if this is karma or anything else.
I lived the first 24 years of my life in Coimbatore. I studied there, went to the university there, got married, had my baby, and pretty much consider it heaven on Earth.
“Where did you study?” I asked, not able to contain my excitement and curiosity.
“ABC University for my graduate studies, and then at XYZ for my post-graduate management studies,” he replied, “but then I want to do what my heart wants to, and so here I am at this café, coaxing Tamil speaking travelers to savor some Bhutanese tea.”
“Wow!!! I did my post-graduate studies at the same university too! And this certainly is karma.”
“My name is Dorji, not Karma,” and he laughed.
We chatted for a few minutes about how much the uni had changed and how happy I was that he had learned Tamil in those few years, and so on.
Here is a pic of Dorji and my son.
The tea was all the nicer after this incident. What are the odds that you meet a Tamil speaking Bhutanese from your own university? And let me tell you, there are about 25+ major languages in India and Tamil is just one of them. Ah, and there are almost 1000 dialects recognized in India officially.
The Universe was just finding so many ways to send ‘joy’ to me. That much was certain!
There were flower blankets all around the café. Kids were picking wild strawberries and mushrooms from around the path to the chorten.
There is a temple next to the chorten – the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang which has some paintings of the fourth king of Bhutan. There are some interesting paintings like monks using laptops, a Druk Airplane and so on. The temple is decorated with a few paintings of the fourth king of Bhutan fighting the Indian rebels during “Operation All clear”.The structure of this temple is so intricate and every nuance of the architecture leaves you spellbound.
As we made our way back to the car, and onwards to the muddy roads leading to Punakha valley, I wonder about the making of this beautiful paragon, the 108 chortens, the cafe, the temple, the complete ambiance of peace and natural beauty leading us on, each one symbolizing bravery, honor, spirituality, culture, and inspiration. It was birthed out of a violent history, but it exudes beauty and inspiration.
This place which was a very misty and densely forested mountain pass just a few decades ago, is now a place where one wants to habit for eternity, thanks to the Queen mother.
I wonder – what are we, humans?
We can create marvelous wonders from uninhabitable and unapproachable and dangerous forest lands.
We can create beauty from dark and violent pasts.
We can birth a love for nature, and showcase peaceful things from the remnants of a war.
Our abilities are immense. Our evolution towards progress is unlimited. But we can also manifest it, only when we cease to exist. A spiritual awakening always comes at a loss – like the loss of ego or even life in some cases, an experience of pain, a glimpse of darkness which we do not want to visit again, and so on.
“No creature can attain a higher grade of nature without ceasing to exist.” – Ananda Coomaraswamy, Metaphysician.
I do not know what I lost as the car sped away.
I do not know yet, what I gained.
But I do know that a lot of lives were lost and this war memorial erected.
I do know that the dense unpopulated forests gave space to get this erected and let us humans breathe in the peace and drink the serene view.
When we effortlessly and painlessly witness creation’s beauty, I think “gratitude” is the only word that comes to my mind. I realize that I am part of this wondrous tale of bravery and culture and spirituality and peace, even if it is just to witness it.
Share with us a few of your inspirational and spiritual journeys in recent times?
Photo Credit: The Author