One of the many schools opened in the reign of the second King

Trashigang school in the 1960s (Photo courtesy: Thinley Gyamtsho, RCSC Chairman)

Trashigang is one of the biggest Dzongkhags in Bhutan and its Dzong is a mystical fortress  ‘hanging from the sky’. One of the greatest scholars, Amdo Gaden Chhophel had said in 1945:




བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལྷ་ཡི་སྒང་བརྒྱུད་ཀུན་ཁྱབ་པའི།།    དགེ་འདུན་སྡེ་གཉིས་སྤེལ་བའི་མཛད་སྒོ་སྐྱོང་།།

མངའ་རིས་འབངས་ཀྱི་རི་བོ་མཐོན་པོའི་རྩེར།།  དཔལ་དང་འབྱོར་པའི་གངས་ཀྱི་ཅོད་པ་ལ།།

རྟག་ཏུ་གནས་པའི་མི་རྗེ་གདོང་ལྔ་པ།།      ཡངས་པའི་སྤྱན་གྱིས་ཕྱོགས་བཅུར་གཟིགས་པར་འཚལ།།

Trashigang School

Many schoolswere opened in 1952, at the end of the reign of the second King. The school in Trashigang was one of them.

In 1952, 30 students were selected by Dr. Karchung, Lopen Kharpa and Dasho Karma Dorji2 at Dong Dongma3 near Ronthung. Dasho Trashigangpa4 was in Gu Dama (Darrang Mela)5 as it was in the winter. The students were initially housed and taught inside the Kanjur Lhakhang6 at Rongthong for two months7. From there, they were sent to Bidung Lhakhang for three months. By then, two houses were ready near Baykhar Natkstang. One long house was divided between Lopen Kharpa on the extreme left and Dasho Karma Dorji on the extreme right with the dormitory for the students in between. The other house had two classes8 under Lopen Kharpa and Dasho Karma Dorji.

The students under Lopen Kharpa9 included Dasho (Major) Wangdi10, Bidung Namgay, Drametse Dasho Dorji Wangdi,11 Galing Dasho Sangay Rinzin,12 Khaling Kunzang Choda, Pakaling Neten Tshering, Dorji Bartsam Phuntsho,13 Samkhar Choni Dorji,14 Samkhar Maj Chophel,15 Ozorong Tashi Wangdi,16 Tongling Sonam Tshering and Tsankhar Tobgay.

Dasho Karma17 taught Drangrong Jamtsho, Galing Dakpa, Jalung Norbu, Kanglung Sonam Tshering (A), Kanglung Sonam Tshering (B), Kanglung Tshewang Phuntsho, Dasho Karma Dorji,18 Sonam Tobgye,19 Ramjar Jambay,20Ramjar Dorji, Ramjar Dolang, Pakaling Sonam Tshering, Pakaling Tenzin, Radhi Lobzang, Khaling Kunzang Sonam, Khaling Tshering, Khapti Sangay, Tshatshi Tshewang Gyaltshen (retired as Rabjam), Thinlay, Wamrong Thinlay, Yangneer Sonam Tshering, Rongthung Dhendup, and Aum Karma Yangzom (Brig Tangbi’s wife).

Dasho Pasang, Major Ugyen Tshering (RBP), Rongthung Karma Tenzin, Col. Kesang Jigme, Rangshikhar Tshering Phuntsho and Daniel21 joined in Bartsam for half year.

The school was shifted back to Trashigang on the command of His Majesty Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck during his Eastern Bhutan tour in 1957. The school was situated in the new hospital constructed by Dr. Karchung under the instruction of Ashi Tashi.22 Thereafter, seven of the students were sent to Kalimpong for studies, while others were sent for various training courses including training in land surveying, compounder training and sericulture in Silchar Assam.

Around 1960, “Tashigang elementary school was established where the Junior high school stands today. It is near the top of a hillside on the north-west slope of a spur of the mountain on which Tashigang dzong is built. The ridge of the spur slopes down gently, behind and parallel to the original U-shaped school building which remains part of the school today”.23

There were five classrooms. On the right side of the U-shaped building was the class for the senior students. I was there. Lopen Kharpa taught us. On the left side, was the class for the junior students taught by Dasho Karma Dorji24. Behind our classroom was the primary class taught by Lopen Jamtsho from Trashigang Dangrong. The other three rooms were not used. Miss Pant changed our classroom.

My teacher Mr. Singh wrote to me: 25

“…the school is progressing well. It is famous throughout Bhutan. So far it is the best school in the country (in the Maharaja’s opinion also) next year it is going to be the High School…  He gave Rs. 1000 for the boys of this school because he is very happy to know that they are progressing well.. boys are very happy to get FAKPA SHAA plenty to eat… Tashigang is progressing fast. You have not seen `the motor `road`. It has come up from Phomshing right over “the wireless station to the `Mititang `and below “our school to the Guest House and further with a zig reached `the gate of the hospital. These days bulldozers and machines are busy `widening the road and extending it from the Mititang right below the Wireless station to the Dzong. A new guest house is made just before the Thrimpon’s House. A telephone exchange is planned to be made in Mititang this winter. Hospital has now a packa cement flooring and plastering, new flush latrines and many good changes. By next year this school will have some more new buildings – more teachers and more boys. Thus this place is growing…”

Further, he wrote to me: 26

“…chhechu is from 9th to 11th Nov. Everyone is happy. But I am not so happy here for personal reasons. The environment in the school as well as in the town is changing fast and a good development is coming up. Tashigang is growing into a beautiful town. You will see many…” 

My classmates27

There were three rows in my class. Bidung Tendril,28 Ugyen Tenzing,29 Yangnyer Karchung,30 Rangshikhar Tshering Phuntsho31 and Col. Kesang32 were in the first row.

In the second row were Sangay Wangdi,33 Ramjar Sangye Tenzin,34 Galing Tshering Phuntsho,35 Kanglung Tshewang,36 Dasho Thinley Dorji,37 Lyonpo Jigme Tsuelthrim,38 Lyonpo Thinley Gyamtsho,39 Rongthung Tempai, Barstam Tenzin Wangdra and his brother, and Sangye.

I occupied the third row with Tandrin Gyaltshen,40 Ugyen Tshering,41 Khaling Thinley,42 and Dasho Pasang Tobgay43.


The information on the subjects taught is from my exercise book from 1959 to 1963, and my recollection. It shows that we were studying word meanings from different textbooks. Our subjects included many value-based lessons. Some of the subjects were Hindi Parichai (acquaintance with Hindi), Hindustani Reader [Hindi Reader], Nawin Hindi Reader [New Hindi Reader], etc. The lessons also included important topics on “good habits”, such as how to curtail greed, tactics for remembering things, how to maintain a healthy life, the importance of avoiding fighting and quarreling, and the duties of children. I still remember a few poems, which were loaded with moral values. Later, I went to look for those books in Trashigang School but they were all burnt.

According to the time table (“routine”) of 1963, there were seven periods a day. During those periods, English, Grammar, Arithmetic, Science, Hindi, Dzongkha, History and Geography were taught.  The last period of Wednesday was for gardening44.


Lopen Kharpa

My teachers in Trashigang School were wonderful and taught well. Lopen Kharpa alias K. Wangdi was my father’s classmate at Kalimpong in 1914. He was from Khar in Pema Gatshel. He taught us Hindi, English and Mathematics. According to Father Mackey, 45

“Mr. Kharpa, who was in effect the Bhutanese head of the school, was not so bad, but one of the lopens was called Lopen Tak-Lopen “tiger.’ He was excessive in his punishments and the boys lived in terror of his wrath, which could be invoked by the slightest infraction-perhaps just a movement, a slight noise, or less than perfect work. The lightest punishment might be a swift blow to the head with a stick. 

“Mr. Kharpa, his second-in-command, was fluent in English. Many Bhutanese officials, and not just those from Southern Bhutan, spoke Nepali. Many others spoke Hindi, having been educated in that language, and Hindi and Nepali are close enough to allow reasonable communication. This was the case with Thrimpoen Tamji Jagar. He spoke Hindi and Father Mackey spoke Nepali; they understood each other and got along very well. …He had been selected in 1914, under the first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, to go to school in India, at the same time as Karchung and Kharpa. He took teacher training at the University of Calcutta, and so he and Mr. Kharpa were the first two trained Bhutanese educators. Babu Tashi started some of Bhutan’s first schools, under the second king, and tutored the third king. He spoke Sharchopkha (his first language), Dzongkhag, Nepali, Hindi and English…”

At one point, Lopen Kharpa went to Kalimpong for a refresher course. He was very proud of that course. He said that his teacher was there along with others and during the course they were asked one question, i.e what frightens the child most? He mentioned that he had answered that darkness frightens a child most but all the answers including his were wrong.

Lopen Kharpa and his friends including my own father never talked about their school days. However, Lopen Kharpa talked about Lyonpo (Dr.) Tobgyel, who was his pupil in Haa School. He was proud of him but I never heard Lyonpo46talking about Lopen Kharpa.

Lopen Kharpa was an excellent and dedicated teacher. He was very strict. The Indian teachers were very nice to me but Lopen Kharpa’s teaching was superior. I owe him for certain values in my life through his teaching from 1960 to 1963. Despite his enormous contributions to education starting from Haa, Wangduephodrang, Trashigang and Sherubste schools, he paled into oblivion. I learnt from his nephew that the last years of his life in Khar were sad and lonely. Old age is excruciatingly sad.

My other teachers in Trashigang School include Mr. Pradhan, Miss Sangay Dolma,47 Miss Pant48, Mr. Singh  and another teacher was from Dehradoon.49

Teachers from Kalimpong

The first batch of Indian teachers was from Kalimpong in 1961. They were Madam Sangay, Mr. Shankar, Mr. David, Mr. Karthak, Mr. Som,  Mr. Thapa, Mr. Laxman, etc. Mr. Shankar was the first teacher to like me though he was strict and feared. He was transferred to Sakteng and he was a popular teacher there. With their arrival, the medium of instruction was changed from Hindi to English.

Teachers from South India

In 1962, another batch of Indian teachers from South India came to Bhutan. Most of them accompanied late Prime Minister Jigmi Dorji, who traversed many mountains and streams, faced difficulties bravely and taught the Bhutanese students selflessly.

Lhuentse and Mongar School

Father Mackey found the headmaster at Lhuentse, an Indian named Krishnan50, running a “fine little school. Measured in terms of access from the southern boarder, it was the most remote school in Bhutan. To get there before the Tashigang road was built, teachers like Krishnan had to walk for at least two weeks from the Indian border. Then they would face feelings of remoteness, cultural differences and a complete lack of amenities like entertainment and electricity, as well as difficulties in getting supplies.”51

“At Mongar, Father Mackey found a school even better than Lhuentse, with the Indian headmaster, Sivadasan, doing an excellent job. This was the only school he found that attempted to follow a syllabus. While there, Father Mackey had the pleasure of riding a horse with a real saddle, and he took the opportunity to ride to Lingmethang, a rich farming area located west of Mongar.”52 

The Indian teachers, who came to Bhutan were great.

 “Father Mackey had a lot of respect for most Indian teachers. He could see the dedication it took to do a good job in the remote areas of Bhutan, such as he had seen in Tashi Yangtse, Lhuentse and Mongar. Before the road arrived, these teachers have to walk from the Indian border, sometimes for weeks, to reach their schools. And as any outside supplies had to come the same way, they were extremely limited and expensive.”53 

Father Mackey arrived in Trashigang. According to him, “…Ashi Tashi was the one who decided that he should build the new high school in Eastern Bhutan… Ashi Tashi told him that most development had taken place in Western Bhutan, and now it was time to build something significant in the East.”54 

Father Mackey was the beacon. Without him, technical education in Bhutan and many Bhutanese would have suffered. His students were engineers, doctors, scientist, etc. Those students who furthered their education in India often did exceptionally well in science. And a high proportion of students from Bhutan’s first class VI, later became key people in professions like education and civil engineering

During the Trashigang Tsechu in 1963, Father Mackey arranged a gymnastic demonstration. To the astonishment of the public, many students performed “gymnasts dive and somersault over the horse and through rings of fire.” 55  One student who was talented at all these was Sangay Penjore.56 Thereafter, the school was closed for winter holidays. During the holidays, Father decided to tutor us. During those days, Father Mackey invited Dasho Thrimpon, my father and the public for the science exhibition57 which was followed by a concert including singing. We sang “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” and “Oh! Macdonald had a farm” and participated in acting a scene from the “North wind” from the English textbook. I was the North Wind.  It was my first participation in a concert. By February 1964, I left for the Dr. Graham’s School in Kalimpong.

Role of Education

Babu Tashi, an expatriate teacher, Tamji Jagar and Father Mackey (Photo courtesy: Thinley Gyamtsho, RCSC Chairman)

Education in Bhutan had historic role during different eras and epochs. Forty-six students from 1914 were teachers, engineers, doctors, veterinary doctors and surveyors.

Modern Bhutan enhanced its demands for quantity and quality human resources. Construction of roads from Phuntsholing to Thimphu required many liaison officers, and administrative and clerical staff. Trashigang School provided that manpower. The Yurung School provided vocational manpower particularly in animal husbandry, except Lyonpo Zanglay who went on to join a different profession.

The students from Haa, Paro, Thimphu and Wandiphodrang were sent to Birla Mandir in Nainatal, St. Roberts in Darjeeling for further studies. On their return, they became Ministers, secretaries and directors under His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. They were followed by Bhutanese who had studied at schools such as Dr. Graham’s School and St. Augustine in Kalimpong and North Point School and St. Pauls in Darjeeling. Thereafter, students from Mongar, Trashigang, Yurung, Kanglung College and Simtokha Language Institute emerged. It was the beginning of the homegrown education. Education liberated them from the curse of birth to blessed success. Without education, my father would have languished in Dungmin in poverty. I would have been doomed.

Apart from transforming and liberating role of education in Bhutan, the students gained insights into different values. The scholars, who studied in Tibet were awed by that country58. While those who studied in the SUMI admired wisdom of ancient India with anti-colonial sentiments which contrasted with the values of the Anglo-Indian schools. Their influence were the cardinal virtues59 (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude), the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and calvinist values of hard work and dignity of labour. Consequently, Bhutan suffered from their condescending attitude. The Bhutanese culture, traditions and history were never recorded. It was the rural population, who eulogized and exalted the Bhutanese culture and tradition, and exhorted nationalism. It received royal patronage with the revival of nationalism and patriotism under the Fourth King and the wisdom of Lord Buddha’s echo –

“One’s life’s journey faith is nourishment, virtuous deeds are shelter, wisdom is light by day and right mindfulness is protection by night. If a man lives a pure life, nothing can destroy him.”


Trashigang was a historic Dzongkhag. Its importance was adequately accorded by His late Majesty Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck during his visit to Trashigang in 1965. On his arrival, he commanded his attendant, Tseten Dorji to compose a song after viewing the Trashigang Dzong from Drangmi Chhazam60, Bamri Drang61 and Rangshikhar62. Later he edited and supervised the chorography as follows:

In the eastern region of gorgeous gem, existence of the exquisite Dzong is glorious;

Great Trashigang Dzong suspended in between the sky and space;

From the soaring sky, I marvle when I gaze at the dazzling Dzong;

It resembles the palace of the serpents from the shore of riveting river63;

To the wandering travelers, it scintillates like fish;

From the lower place of the iron bridge,64 as I look at the Dzong;

It resembles the heavenly paradise of the Gods, I glimpsed between the dancing clouds;

The dual celestial of moon and the sun shone between the Dzong;

Melody of Dung (Trumpet) and Jaling (Clarinet) reverberate between the clouds.

Built in this region, the Dzong is the loveliest. 

Contributed by  Sonam Tobgye, Thrimchi  Lyonpo


 1 Schools were also opened in Paro, Thimphu, Wandue Phodrang, etc.

2  Dasho Karma was the son of Daga Dzongpon Chhungkhap Rinzin Dorji. He studied in Bumthang from 1930 under Lopen Tashi. He was awarded Red Scarf and retired as a Judge of the High Court. 

3  Major Chhophel so stated. ..It was a strange place as it was in the paddy fields.”

4  Dasho Tashigangpa left for Bumthang to attend the funeral of the Second King, who expired on 24th March 1952. Dasho Tashigangpa himself died in Bumthang on 1st August 1952.   

5  Refer British Report dated June 1930 and 3rd April, 1943 January and February when many Bhutanese migrate south to Darrang Mela and barter and exchange fruit and curious for salt, cloth and other necessities to keep them during the winter months. These all begged for quinine and unless a considerable quantity be taken, one stock runs out in a few days.

6 Looking back, it was an auspicious beginning with the holy texts of Lord Buddha.

7  Major Chhophel. He and Dasho Pasang helped me with this article.

8  Source: Dasho Pasang Tobgay.

9 Two of Lopen Kharpas sons from his wife (Haazam) followed him to Bartsam.

10  He was also the son of Daga Dzongpon Chhungkhap Rinzin Dorji. He retired as a Dzongda.

11  Trongsa Zimpon admitted him to the Bartsam School. He was awarded Red Scarf and retired as Judge of the High Court.

12  He was awarded Red Scarf and retired as Judge of a Dzongkhag Court. He was a trained surveyor.

13 He was Rabjam and served as a Laison Officer.

14  He retired as a Judge.

15  According to Lopen Kharpa, Major Chhophel was an intelligent man. He is said to have done well in the Army Intelligence Course. 

16  He was a Rabjam. He verified that he was selected by Dasho Tashigangpa along with his three friends, Tshatshi Rabjam Tshewang Gyaltshen, Ugyen (left school) and Drangrong Jamtsho.. 

17  Dasho Karma Dorji taught mask dances to the students. His grandfather, Zhongar Apgyan was the authoritative sources of mask dances.

18  He was awarded Red scarf and retired as Dzongda. He was the son of Dasho Dr. Karchung.

19  He was the son of Dasho Dr. Karchung.

20  He was the son of Dasho Dr. Karchung.

21  His father was a E. Dhan, who started a school in Dewothang in 1945. Lopen Sherab, Towpo, Orong Chhoiten Tshering, Lata Wangchhuck and other were his students. Lopen Sherab was one of the three teachers in Yurung School.

22  Ashi Tashi was in Trashigang to monetize taxes in 1955. She had sent compounders Dasho Jigme and his brother Dhendup in 1955 after their training in the Charteris Hospital in Kalimpong. However, they spent one year in Samdrup Jongkhar to inoculate against the out break of small pox. They came to Tashigang only in 1956 and worked in the new hospital. (Dasho Jigme and his brother Dhendup were the sons of Kengkhar Dungpa, Dasho Tandrin. He was the youngest son of Dasho Zhongar Apgyan.)

23 Refer “The Jesuit and the Dragonby Howard Solverson at Page 96.

24 He was from the third batch of students in Bumthang under my father.

25  My teacher Mr. Singh’s letter dated 17th October 1966. He was an artist.

26 Mr. Singh’s letter dated 7th November 1967. 

27 I arranged them according to the sitting arrangement in my class.

28  I never met him later. He was a teacher. 

29  Son of Dasho Karma Dorji. He left with his father who was appointed as Lhuenste Thrimpon.

30  He was a successful bandmaster in the Royal Bhutan Army. I tried to contact him.

31 He was Engineer and a successful person.

32  Col. Kesang was the youngest in the class and he was best in Mathematics. Rightly, he studied engineering and he is a Member of the National Council He was the son of Ramjar Lama, who was very intelligent and a holy person. Besides that, his mother was married to Tsebar Wangdi, who studied in the first Bumthang School with the Second King in 1915 and he was very rich. 

33  There was a huge rock near the School. He often sat with me and studied there during lunchtime. He impressed me, as he was able to translate Hindi lesson into English during my first week in the school. He made me nervous. He later worked in the Trade Ministry. 

34  He was a gentleman and reliable person. I contacted him later but he was not successful including his marriage. He could have done better in his life.

35 He was affable person and later he was a staff in Trashigang Dzong.

36  He was a simple person, who was elected as a Gup. His son-in law, Nawang Sonam is with me.

37  Son of Dasho Karma Dorji. He left with his father who was appointed as Lhuenste Thrimpon.

38  He was a tough but I was fond of him in the School. He is a great community leader. Consequently, he is the first democratically elected Speaker.

39  He was hard working . He wrote capital cities of the countries in my notebook in 1960s. It is with me.

40  He was the only son of respected ex-Tangu lama, who was a talented person, who was a painter, photographer, tailor, embroidery, etc.

41  His father was Dasho Tenzing Dorji. He was clever and he was my close friend. He was a calligraphist.

42  He was a friendly person. I tried to contact him later.

43  He is a through gentleman and dependable person. He was an excellent Dzongda in Pema Gatshel and a good Judge in the High Court.  

44  Lopen Kharpa had planted many mango plants. Alas! They have perished.

45  Refer the Jesuit and the Dragonby Howard Solverson at page 95 and 107.

46  Lyonpo (Dr.) Tobgay studied in SUMI from 1937 to1947.

47  She was from Kalimpong, whose parent was a Bhutanese. She used to complement my eyes. 

48 Refer the Jesuit and the Dragonby Howard Solverson at page 95.

49  He has M.Sc degree. He used to teach us mass, volume, etc. in class two.

50  Refer the Jesuit and the Dragonby Howard Solverson at page 100.  

51  Ibid at page 100

52 Ibid at page 101

53 Ibid at page 112

54 Ibid at page 90. 

55 Ibid at pages 113 and 114

56  He is the first cousin of my wife, who used to be known as Stumpy from his days in Dr. Graham’s Homes Kalimpong. He is a talented, intelligent and a good person. One day, he told me there are always two sides except laziness.”

57 Refer “The Jesuit and the Dragonby Howard Solverson at page 112.

58 The positive aspect was that Bhutan was enriched by rare collections of documents, statutes, etc.

59 Plato’s cardinal virtues are justice, wisdom, courage and self-control.

60 Royal command was to look up from the right side.

61 Royal command was to look up from the left side. The mythology states that the invading Tibetans were petrified as they said, Trashigang Dzong is not built on the land; it the Dzong suspended in the sky.

62 Royal command was to down from the higher place of Rangshikhar.

63 Drangme chhu.

64 According to Dasho Damchho (Rabjam), chagzam was rebuilt by Dasho Tashigangpa in 1942 after the continuous rain of thirteen days in fifth month of the Bhutanese month. There were thirteen black smiths at the time of the construction.

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