For over a decade, several guerrilla groups seeking to establish an independent Assamese state in northeast India set up a total of 30 insurgent camps in the forests of southern Bhutan, which shares a long border with the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. It was estimated that roughly 3,000 rebels were operating in different camps, from which they launched cross-border hit-and-run raids and attacks on targets in Assam.
Six years of negotiations aimed at removing the rebels peacefully failed in the spring of 2003. On December 15th, 2003, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk led the Royal Bhutan Army in military operations against the guerrilla camps, in coordination with the Indian armed forces who lined the border to the south to prevent the guerrillas from escaping. It was the first military conflict Bhutan had seen in the 50+ years since gaining independence from the British Empire. Utilizing his entire militia force of 6,000, His Majesty attacked the rebels, capturing all 30 camps by December 27th, 2003. By January 3rd, 2004, all 30 militant camps and additionally 35 observation posts were destroyed, dislodging the militants. In total, 485 militants were captured or killed. 11 Royal Bhutan Army soldiers were KIA, with another 35 WIA.
To honor the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed, Her Majesty Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck commissioned 108 chortens (stupas) to be constructed at the Dochula Pass. Known as the Druk Wangyal Chortens, the chortens have been built atop a strategic mound that offers stunning views of the Himalayan mountain range.
Some of the 108 chortens at Dochula Pass.