Chorten Kora – Stupa that tells stories of Tawang and Bhutan

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Chorten Kora is one of the popular tourist attractions of Eastern Bhutan. It’s on the right bank of Trashiyangtse Kholung Chu River, below Trashiyangtse town. It was built in 1740 on the spot where Lam Ngawang Loday subdued a demon that harmed local people and travellers.

It was very difficult then to make pilgrimage trip to Nepal from Bhutan. So it’s said that Chorten Kora was built as an alternative Stupa of offering for Bhutanese. Its architectural design is suppose to resemble Boudhanath Stupa of Nepal.

Aerial view of Chorten Kora

The view of Chorten Kora Stupa from Trashiyangtse Highway.

During annual Chorten Kora Tshechu, hundreds of people from Tawang will gather to circumambulate Chorten Kora and then pay respect to their Princess. She has entered this chorten alive to remain under meditation on behalf of all sentient beings.

So story of Chorten Kora is still about the close relationship between Tawang and Trashiyangtse so much is about spiritual sacrifice of Tawang Princess. There is also a belief that Gorsam Chorten of Tawang was built on the same day with Chorten Kora of Yangtse Bhutan.

Close Friendship of two Lamas

If there is a history book or reliable written accounts, I will easily get the historical background and significance of Chorten Kora. I couldn’t find any except for few hard-to-trust details online. So I asked few senior people from Trashiyangtse about it.

Road to Trashiyangtse Chorten Kora

Giant prayer wheel at Yangtse with Chorten Kora in background.

Lam Ngawang Loday and Lam Sangye Pradhar were friends. As monks they received religious sermons from same teacher in Bhutan. Their friendship continued even after they went their separate ways in spreading Buddhism. Former settled in Yangtse and latter in Tawang.

When they once went to pilgrimage to Nepal, they were inspired by the design and beauty of Jarung Khashor – the great Boudhanath Stupa of Nepal. They both agreed to make one replica of this stupa each in their own region. So they made models of Jarung Khashor. Lam Sangye made it out of radish whereas Lam Ngawang made out of wood block.

Yangtse town in winter

Trashiyangtse town during winter when smoke rise in morning.

They both promised to start construction on a same date. Lam Ngawang Loday came to Yangtse and started building Chorten Kora. And Lam Sangye Pradhar went to Tawang and built Gorsam Chorten. Lam Sangye Pradhar’s model shrunk during the journey. So Gorsam Chorten now has bigger flat base and smaller head.

Therefore, it’s said that Gorsam Chorten took 13 years to complete. Chorten Kora took one year less. Today these twin stupas; Chorten Kora of Trashiyangtse and Gorsam Chorten of Tawang are symbolic representation of this friendship. Their friendship is basis of introduction of Chorten Kora history and also that of Gorsam Chorten.

Princess Ashi Cheten Zangmo

When Chorten Kora was about to finish, Ashi Cheten Zangmo from Tawang voluntarily came to entomb herself. She promised to remain in meditation for the benefit of all sentient beings. Some oral traditions have that she came under force. The popular Chorten Kora movie of Bhutan and its Chorten Kora songs are based on other side of this story.

Gorsam Chorten of Tawang

Gorsam Chorten of Tawang, a twin of Chorten Kora. Source: Claude Arpi.

Since then people from Tawang have been visiting Chorten Kora every year during Chorten Kora Tshechu. A separate day as ‘Dakpa Kora’ is there for them to pay respect and say prayers for their princess. Number of people coming from Tawang for this festival is reducing every year. However,  it’s still treated as a tomb of their Ashi Cheten Zangmo.

The pinnacle of the stupa is leans towards Tawang. They believe is a symbol of love and care of Ashi Cheten for her people. It’s also believed that Tawang people could grow crops only after Ashi Cheten Zangmo went inside Chorten Kora.

There is a story how people from Tawang used to walk for days across mountains just to reach Trashiyangtse in offering their first harvest. Now with cross-border movement restrictions, they come only during Chorten Kora Tshechu.

Annual Chorten Kora Tshechu

Chorten Kora Tshechu was then the only festival in Eastern Bhutan. Dakpa Kora (Tawang people Kora) and Drukpa Kora (Bhutanese Kora) are the main events of this tshechu.

Chorten kora festival

Annual Chorten Kora Festival. Source: BookBhutanTravel.

Dakpa Kora starts on 15th day of first lunar month and Drukpa Kora on 30th of the same month every year. Old people from Trashiyangtse have memories of how they used to enjoy Chorten Kora Tshechu making new Dakpa friends and lovers, in some cases.

Since the waxing moon will be bright, people would circumambulate the stupa days without nights teasing each other and finding matches. There are stories how young people found their matches during the Tshechu and leave Yangtse as married couples.

People from Tawang married during Dakpa Kora would take each other as a gift from Ashi Cheten Zangmo. Since it’s the occasion of teasing and being teased, you shouldn’t get angry if others tease even your spouse. Legal term like Eve-teasing should remain ashore when you are in Chorten Kora Tshechu!

The Roads and Domestic Flights

If Yonphula Domestic Airport is operational, tourists can directly travel to Eastern Bhutan from Paro International Airport. From Yonphula it’s 78 KM with short stopover at Trashigang town for sightseeing. You might consider visiting Trashigang Dzong and Ranjung Woesel Choeling Monastery.

Road to Trashiyangtse

Road to Trashiyangtse is along the scenic basin of Kholongchu River.

You can also alternatively travel in public buses. There are direct public bus services from Samdrup Jongkhar, Thimphu and Mongar to Trashigang. From Trashigang, it’s about 2 hours’ drive along the scenic basin of Kholong Chu River.

Season for Trashiyangtse Travel

If you are on culture tour to Eastern Bhutan, you’ll get best of it if you can attend Chorten Kora Tshechu. It usually falls in February. You need to confirm the schedules before starting journey though.

Yangtse town in autumn

Trashiyangtse town taken from top of 125m mobile tower.

Otherwise you can visit during Spring, Autumn and Winter if you are for sightseeing or pilgrimage. During monsoon, it would be better you don’t travel east. The unpredictable weather of Bhutan and frequent road blockage might take away your travel bliss.

Tourist attractions in Yangtse

Chorten Kora is an important Buddhist structure in Trashiyangtse. There are also many other tourist attractions or places of interests in Trashiyangtse. Few minutes’ drive away from Chorten Kora is Dongdi Dzong, an old Dzong of Trashiyangtse.

Dongdi Dzong Old dzong of Trashiyangtse

Dongdi Dzong, an Old Dzong of Trashiyangtse.

Gomphu Kora or Gom Kora is yet another tourist attraction in Trashiyantse. History of Gomphu Kora also has similar stories of Dakpa. Guru Padmasambhava has also blessed it. Gomphu Kora Festival that happens sometimes in March is equally worth attending.

Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary would treat you with visual experiences of bird Black-necked Cranes. These birds come from Tibetan Plateaus at the start of winter. People also visit Rigsum Goemba, Tshenkharla Dzong and Kharsa Lhakhang.

Black-necked cranes in Bumdeling

Black-necked Cranes during winter at Trashiyangtse Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary.

Trashiyangtse is land of Dapa – bowls from wooden burls. If you want to see people turning wood blocks to make Dapa and also practicing other traditional arts of Bhutan, you can visit Yangtse Zorig Chusum School.

Eastern Bhutan Travel – Conclusion

Chorten Kora stupa might be just a small stupa. But it’s a symbol of friendship of Founder of Chorten Kora and his friend. It signifies friendship of Tawang and Trashiangtse as much as it’s about sacrifice of Ashi Cheten Zangmo.

It’s in Chorten Kora Festival, teasing each other is part of the festival. People from Tawang and Bhutanese come together during Chorten Kora Tshechu. It doesn’t consider the fact of being from different countries, but embraces universal human desire of love for good communal living. Therefore, from culture perspective Chorten Kora deserves to include in Eastern Bhutan Itinerary.

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About Author

An auditor by profession, but a traveller, blogger and photographer by passion. This site was created to share travel stories of various destinations within Bhutan and also travel tips of travelling to Bhutan. Read More>>

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