5 reasons why I loved Dochula Pass in Bhutan

posted in: Asia, Bhutan, Nature | 44

The dictionary meaning of “Mountain Passes” is essentially a connecting bridge between two ranges or valleys. In reality, these are known for being more than just natural bridges. For instance, Khardung La is famed for being the highest motorable pass in the world while the Zoji La Pass is known for its steep inclines. And then, there are some passes that tend to be a destination rather than a mere stop-over – creating a place in your heart – for not just its natural beauty but for what they stand. In my case – that pass is the enchanting Dochula Pass in Bhutan.

Dochula Pass in Bhutan
Dochula Pass in Bhutan

They say that the Dochula Pass is the prettiest pass in Bhutan. While I am no authority to endorse that record, I have to admit that it is the most beautiful one that I have seen. Its beauty lies not just in its settings but also, for what it represents. In fact, there are five reasons as to why I fell in love with Dochula Pass. These are the same ones that will explain why I call this mountain pass a destination rather than a stop-over. At the end of the post, I will not be surprised if you too have fallen in love with Dochula Pass.

About Dochula Pass

3100m above sea level, the Dochula Pass is not the highest pass of Bhutan. However, it is a significant one as it connects Thimphu to Punakha. Just 20 km from Thimphu, the Pass is a part of the restricted area permit that you need to get at Thimphu. (See the Bhutan Guide for Permits here) . It is also, known for its beautiful war memorial – made to honor the soldiers who perished in the Bhutanese war against the Assamese militants. With a scenic route along pretty Apple orchards, the Dochula Pass is a popular picnic destination for the locals.

Druk Wangyal Temple with its guest house at Dochula Pass
Druk Wangyal Temple with its guest house at Dochula Pass

I had set aside about 30 minutes for a stop-over. A big mistake if you ask me for what I actually, spent was over an hour and a half. This is not counting the extra 30 minutes that I spend on my way back from Punakha to Paro. For now, I will let you believe that I was crazy but I bet you will be eating up those thoughts in a moment – especially after you have read my 5 reasons for falling in love with Dochula Pass.

1) Picture Perfect Dochula Pass

Dochula Pass in Spring
Dochula Pass in Spring

Every mountain pass can be deemed as scenic. Naturally, with those huge peaks in the background – there can be no ugliness. However, when you have colorful Prayer flags entwined in Cypress trees with snow-clad misty summits at the far end, there is just another edge to that landscape. Add to that the colorful carpet of flowers that are further, accentuated by the blooming rhododendrons. That is how I found Dochula Pass in April.

Carpet of flowers at Dochula Pass
A carpet of flowers at Dochula Pass

Granted that it was Spring when I went there but come November – the place transforms into a winter wonderland with snow all around. A different kind of beauty with the white all around. All said and done – there is no denying that Dochula Pass is just Picture Perfect!

2) 108 Chortens of Dochula Pass

Once you get over the natural beauty of Dochula Pass, you begin to feel it. The feeling of beauty emanates from the 108 stupas or Chortens at the Pass. The Chortens were made in memory of those soldiers who lost their lives in a war to drive out militants that were not even attacking Bhutan. These Assamese Militants were in fact, targetting India while taking shelter in Bhutan. The Bhutanese soldiers successfully attacked and drove them out, however, losing a few of their own in the process.

The Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens at Dochula pass in Bhutan
The Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens at Dochula pass in Bhutan

The Queen mother – Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk commissioned these 108 stupas as a mark of honor for these brave soldiers. The Druk Wangyal Chortens, as they are called, has been built in 3 concentric circles. The lowermost circle has 45 Chortens while the topmost has 27. The number 108 is not the number of lives lost but has a significance in the Buddhist culture.

There is a serenity that follows you as you walk around these Chortens. I imagine that it permeates from the souls of the departed who are at peace now – having been sanctified by these religious symbols in a place that is just as pristine and perfect as the world they probably are in!

3) Glimpses of the snow-clad Himalayas

Glimpses of the Himalayas from Dochula Pass
Glimpses of the Himalayas from Dochula Pass

On a good clear day, especially from September to December, you can see the Eastern Himalayas with their snow-capped peaks.  We visited in April. Did I get lucky? Well, the first visit – nope. However, with our second visit enroute to Paro from Punakha, I stopped for about half an hour to see those lovely peaks.

Snow peaks of Himalayas as seen from Dochula Pass in Bhutan
Snow peaks of Himalayas as seen from Dochula Pass in Bhutan

There is something fascinating when you see those white tips through the frosty mist of the WOW that escapes your mouth. The chill that escapes sends goosebumps down your spine, especially when you realize that the one peak that you are looking at is the highest one in Bhutan. That honestly, is how I describe my sighting of the Mt. Masanggang at 7158 m. I had to recheck the board there thrice to confirm the same. Maybe you too, can compare the same.

Names of the peaks seen from Dochula Pass in Bhutan
Names of the peaks seen from Dochula Pass in Bhutan

4) The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang at Dochula Pass

Druk Wangyal Lhakhang at Dochula Pass, Bhutan
Druk Wangyal Lhakhang at Dochula Pass, Bhutan

Reason number four is the gorgeous Buddhist temple opposite the Druk Wangyal Chorten. Built on an incline, framed by the gorgeous rhododendron trees, this golden-roofed temple beckons people to discover its intricate wall carvings and paintings. I only managed to grab a picture of the lovely door for after you enter the temple, photography is not permitted. Besides, frankly once inside, you will be blown away by the magnificent artwork around.

Door of the Druk Wangyal temple, Dochula Pass
Door of the Druk Wangyal temple, Dochula Pass

The temple paintings are a little modern for they showcase Druk aircraft and some modern scenes of the Royal family. Central to the temple is a huge statue of Guru Rinpoche, flanked by the other Buddhist gurus. There is a separate section for only men – which I found unusual for this was the first temple where there was such a restriction. I asked my hubby to tell me the secrets it withheld from us – he said – “Nothing unusual!”. Now truth or just fiction – somebody else confirm, please. 🙂

The front Facade of the Temple at Dochula Pass
The front Facade of the Temple at Dochula Pass

The temple was built by the Queen Mother in honor of the 4th King of Bhutan – Jigme Singye Wangchuk after he returned victorious from the Bhutan battle against the Assamese militants. The front yard of the temple is used for an annual festival that takes place in December. Attached to the temple at its base, is an equally lovely guest house that our guide mentioned as the Royal one.

Royal Guesthouse of Dochula Pass, Bhutan
Royal Guesthouse of Dochula Pass, Bhutan

5) The hidden caves of Dochula Pass

Now comes the 5th and the most important reason for me to love the Dochula Pass. This one comes from my Indiana Jones spirit as I found a treasure trove hidden close to the Chortens. A small hillock behind a lovely building has tiny pathways that lead to the secret hide-out of the monks. A network of meditation caves is what I found.

Meditation caves at Dochula pass, Bhutan
Meditation caves at Dochula pass, Bhutan

It felt as if I were living in a scene from the Lord of the Rings. The entire enclosure looked like the lair of Frodo – the hobbit and his mates, except that in this case, the might have to be Buddhists. The stone caves camouflaged by the green climbers had beautifully carved entrances with the symbol of Bhutan – the dragon. Within the caves, painted in Gold were pictures of various avatars of Guru Rinpoche – including the fierce form that he took for the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.

Close up of Meditation caves at Dochula Pass, Bhutan
Close up of Meditation caves at Dochula Pass, Bhutan

These caves are used as meditation caves for the Buddhist Monks. Not much I could gather about them – as to when and why they were constructed for they are quite away from the regular attractions of Dochula Pass. In fact, our guide too, did not know about them, until I led him to it. I bet, now he will be showing those off to the other visitors of Dochula Pass. And why not? It is a treasure to be shared!

Well, those were my 5 reasons to love Dochula Pass. And also, reasons that make the Dochula Pass more a destination in Bhutan than just a mere mountain pass. Agree?

Dochula Pass

Getting here

  • The only way to get to Dochula Pass is by car. You can visit the same as you travel from Thimphu to Punakha.
  • To get to Thimphu, you can either travel by flight to Paro and then, take a car or a taxi. Or you can take a road trip as I did, from Bagdogra in India. More details on these can be found on this Bhutan Travel Guide.

Travel Tips

  • There are no entrance fees for Dochula Pass. However, this is a small temple fee that you need to pay to get to the top.
  • The Pass is open through the year but requires a permit for tourists to visit. This can be got at the Thimphu permit office. I have explained the requirements of the same in this post.
  • Dress in layers for the temperature at the Dochula Pass is always low. A snow jacket and boots are recommended, especially in Winter.
  • Photography is permitted around the pass, except within the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang.
Local Fruits of Bhutan
Local Fruits of Bhutan
  • Along the way to Dochula Pass, remember to keep an eye for the fresh fruits stalls. These are different types of apples that are grown locally.

 

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44 Responses

  1. Zara

    I wish to visit Bhutan. This is great motivation for me. Can you list some other destination in Bhutan?

    Great Article

  2. Preya

    Wow! such a beautiful place. Images are very beautiful and eye-catching. thanks for sharing such an amazing post.

  3. Ryan K Biddulph

    I gained a deeper appreciation of passes Ami during my prior 3 months in New Zealand. Arthur’s Pass dropped my jaw. Dochula Pass seems to have that same eye-popping nature. I enjoy the awe-inspired feeling of driving through a pass as mountains tower over you on your left and right. What an experience. This reminds me of how small I am.

    • Ami

      The Pass makes you get off the car and explore. And possibly that is why I just loved it. I hope you can get around to visiting it yourself. While I get to see Arthur’s Pass. 😀

  4. Aisha

    Amazing! Dochula Pass looks like an absolutely beautiful place to visit and your photos and descriptions completely brought it to life! I always enjoy destinations with rich history and beautiful structures and this gem in Bhutan seems to be overflowing with both!

    • Ami

      Indeed, Bhutan has such a rich culture. Am sure you will enjoy it for that. And of course, lovely landscapes too. Hope you can visit it, Aisha. Thanks for stopping by

  5. Soraya

    The dochula pass in Bhutan does look incredibly beautiful – I love the carpet of flowers and the glimpses of the Himalayas in the distance. The history of the Chortens is so sad, but they have built a beautiful site in memory of the soldiers. Druk Wangyal looks incredibly beautiful – and I don’t mind that you can’t take photography once inside. It gives you a digital break and lets you focus on how breathtaking this Buddhist Temple is. Ahh Bhutan is on my bucket list and I hope to get there one day.

    • Ami

      I hope you can tick that off. It is a lovely country, Soraya. And of course, if you go there, no missing the Dochula Pass. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Pooja

    I was in Bhutan last August. It was a revelation. Loved the place especially Dochula Pass. It’s absolutely stunning. Thanks for bringing back memories.

    • Ami

      Am sure you still have that Bhutan fever. They say it never goes away. I am suffering too and I hope I can visit it again. Cheers

  7. Yukti

    I am mountain lover and therefore I would love this place. Dochula Pass is really picture perfect location and I would really empty out my memory device. I would love to visit Buddhist Temple as it so colorful and stunning. The carpet of purple flowers over green grass is wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ami

      Thanks Yukti. I had to stop myself from over clicking. It is that kind of place.

  8. Lisa

    What a beautiful place to visit, and with so much history behind it too. It’s all completely new to me, and it was nice to read about the meaning of these stupas. The views of the Himalayas is just a bonus, and you’re right about the mesmerising colours of the temple. I don’t think I’ll make it Bhutan, so this was lovely for me to read.

    • Ami

      I am glad you loved the virtual journey with me, Lisa. Stay tuned and I will share some more on this lovely country.

  9. Medha Verma

    I love the hidden caves and the beautiful flowers at Dochula Pass! I am yet to make it to Bhutan but it’s in my list and as and when I am reading such lovely posts, I am adding places to build an itinerary. Thank you for the advice on getting a permit before visiting Dochula Pass. Bhutan seems to be the sort of place that requires a guided tour company to make all arrangements before travelling so that all these details can be taken care of!

    • Ami

      The permits are a piece of cake for the Indians. For the foreigners, they do not have much choice and it comes with their package. It is just good to be prepared for these things. Eitherways, no denying that Bhutan is just lovely

  10. Suma

    From your pictures I can definitely understand why it is one of the prettiest passes in Bhutan. The view of the Himalayas is the best best part according to me. And ofcourse the 108 Chortens and the hidden caves enhance the beauty of the Dochula Pass even more. Thanks for the share.

    • Ami

      Glad you liked it,Suma. For one, there is no avoiding the pass for it is an essential connection between two key towns. However, the mistake we make is we assume it to be just a pass. 😀

  11. sherianne

    I can understand why you consider it to be the prettiest – carpet of flowers, the memorial, those caves, snow capped mountains, it’s really gorgeous

  12. Anne

    Omg my heart sank when you said restricted. This looks totally anazing and I need to get my ass into gear and visit

    • Ami

      It needs a permit but is not restricted to visit. 🙂 And the Permit is easy to get. Hope you can visit it soon.

  13. Chloé Arnold

    This place looks GORGEOUS!! The architecture is truly a piece of art. Thank you for the tip on getting a permit- I doubt I would have thought to look into this in advance. And it’s good to know we should dress in layers- even when it isn’t winter. Would love to see this first hand!

  14. Kirstie

    Your shot of the Dochula Pass is amazing! I also love that they arranged their fruits like that in those little transparent plastic bags. They look fresh!

  15. Anda

    Dochula Pass surely is beautiful. Visiting the mediation caves might have been quite interesting. They look indeed like a scene from the Lord of the Rings. Bhutan is pretty high up on my list of exotic destinations I’d love to visit.

    • Ami

      I hope you can visit them soon. The hobbit structures and the pass in general, will definitely delight you.

  16. sara

    I’m so glad you had the time to extend your original plan of 30 minutes to an hour and a half.

    I would just be over the moon to be able to glimpse the Himalayas, that alone would take a chunk of my time.

    The Buddhist temple really is gorgeous. Those spring flowers adding to its beauty. And how cool are those hidden caves. I can see why you spent so much time there, I would have too.

    • Ami

      Thanks Sara. Now that you are prepared, just keep aside that time. 🙂 Hope you visit that soon.

  17. Indrani

    Indeed a beautiful pass of Bhutan. The prayer flags have enhanced the beauty of the place. You have rightly pointed that out. The story of 108 stupas is really touching. I too may end up spending more time here.

    • Ami

      Consider yourself prewarned now that you know this. Hope you can make it to Bhutan soon, Indrani.

  18. Suruchi Mittal

    I am already in Love with Bhutan after reading all your posts and Dochula Pass is no less. It is really quite scenic. The 108 chortens there is something unique and the Temple too is quite colorful. These monk caves reminded me of the Tabo caves in Spiti Valley. Great pictures.

    • Ami

      Aww…that is the best compliment for me. Glad to know that Bhutan appeals through my eyes and I hope you can visit it soon.

  19. Jennifer Melroy

    I love the view of the Himalays from the top of the pass. I love mountain flowers as well they seem to grow so much prettier than at lower elevations.

    • Ami

      The undisturbed altitude possibly helps those flowers grow better. Glad you liked the pics. Cheers

  20. Bhutanese Guide

    Beautiful pictures Ami! Indeed, Dochula is one the prettiest passes in Bhutan.
    If one’s lucky, Dochula during the winter when it snows is even more beautiful, with the stupas partially covered in snow.

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