Tribute to Yab Dasho Ugyen Dorji (1925-2019)

The Bhutan's business community would like to offer our heartfelt condolences and deepest respect to Their Majesties, Yum Thuji Zam, The Royal Family and Members of Yab & Yum’s family, upon the peaceful passing away of Yab Dasho Ugyen Dorji at the age of 94, in the early hours of the 8th day of the 3rd month of the Female Pig Year (12th May 2019) in Punakha.
Yab Dasho Ugyen Dorji (Yab Dasho) is a descendant of both the mind and speech incarnations of Bhutan’s founder, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. He was born to Dangla Trulku Sangay Tenzin and Ashi Dorji Om in the year 1925 at Kungacholing in Paro.

As we join the Family in mourning, of children losing their parent/grandparent, spouse losing one’s beloved, nation losing a benefactor to the needy, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha losing a patron to spiritual and social activities, loss of a sibling, uncle, friend, we mourn too, for an irreparable loss of a historic era.

A business stalwart was Yab Dasho and with his passing it sadly brings the end of an era, an era that must be noted in the pages of history, being the first businessman during the time that our country started to modernize.


Yab Dasho Ugyen Dorji started his business in 1959 by being the first person to open a retail shop near Punakha Dzong where he sold textiles bought from Kalimpong and groceries.

At the advent of the country's 1st Five Year plan in 1961, Yab Dasho set for Thimphu and opened a shop in Changlimithang, where he sold groceries, stitched clothes and traditional boots. Yab Dasho, being the ever enterprising person that he was, moved even to Paro and started a shop and later again moved back to the capital, built a hut near the Dzong premises and continued running a shop.

Around this time, Thimphu Dzong was undergoing renovation and taking the cue from Yab Dasho, a pioneer from then, people from Nobgang, Punakha, Gaselo, Chapcha and Sheymakha came to the capital. Inspired by Yab Dasho, they too opened shops side by side, near the Dzong in what was then known as Thara Lushi Tsawa (a pear tree which is still there gave the name to this place).

Throughout his life, Yab Dasho has always been very instrumental in inspiring and motivating his fellow citizens to contribute in the process of nation building by playing a crucial role in the development of Bhutan's private sector.

There was a sawmill located in the present day Lingkana (Palace) which must have been set up to cater to the Dzong renovation, and I can still remember how as children, we used to carry a small “tshew” bamboo baskets to gather the “zhokho” (wood shavings) as fuel for the kitchen hearth.

In 1968, all the shopkeepers had to change the location of their shops to where the main Thimphu town stands today as the Royal Government allotted them new plots.

House No 1, Line No 1 was the first plot assigned to Yab, (beginning of clock tower) followed by House No 2, 3, 4 etc. My Apa’s plot was House No 11, Line No 1, all in all, there were 16 plots allotted then, ending at present day Zimchu building belonging to Yab Dasho’s late brother Goob Lhenkey Gyelsten.

The opposite plots on the left side of Thimphu Main Town were addressed as House No 1, 2, 3 … Line No 2 and they were allowed to build one floor apropos to two floors on Line No 1.

Hence, led by Yab Dasho, the Bhutan's first generation of business community started contributing to His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo's aspiration of economic self reliance.

In 1973, fire gutted five houses starting from our House No 11 till House No 7.

In 1976, Yab Dasho’s house No 1 along with four other houses was burnt to the ground.
However, that did not stop Yab Dasho from literally rising from the ashes to foray and venture into unexplored arenas of business. Yab Dasho worked even more tenaciously day and night and always kept himself ahead of his camaraderie. As part of a programme by the Royal Government to promote agriculture in the mid 60’s, people were encouraged to plant apple trees and seedlings were distributed free of cost. Taking advantage of the offer, Yab Dasho acquired land in Hongso and planted a thousand apple seedlings.

Yab Dasho then ventured into being a merchant of timber, starting a sawmill in Thimphu and later the Evergreen Sawmill in Phuentsholing. With the success of Evergreen Sawmill in Phuentsholing Yab Dasho expanded the establishment to Daifam too. Yab Dasho’s idea not only benefited the consumers in the locality but also the nation in getting quality timber on time. This was important as Bhutan was getting into the process of infrastructure development with the Five Year Plans.

Despite the vagaries of travelling extensively for the sawmill business, even at a risk to life at times, Yab Dasho is to be admired for the visionary entrepreneur that he was from the beginning of development of Bhutan’s 1st Five year plan in the ‘60s, spanning over Five decades.

Yab Dasho Ugyen Dorji laid the core foundation of the company and it is because of his hard work, relentless effort, that the Singye Group of Companies was built and has progressed steadily over the many decades.

Starting then, with a singular business outlet, today the business has grown into a multi- business organization with various main sectors like Trading/Manufacturing, Construction, Hospitality and Education etc. Its contribution in terms of taxes to the nation is immense, besides the employment opportunities it provides to the Bhutanese people.

Yab Dasho has also served as the representative of the business community in the National Assembly and played pivotal roles in liberalizing trade and engaging more Bhutanese in different businesses.

Across the business society, our admiration for Yab Dasho is manifold, for HE was a man of destiny, a self made man, spurred on by a strong determination to forge ahead in the face of adversity. We have all learned so much from his fortitude, dedication and compassion.

Yab Dasho’s departure represents a very sad moment of grief for His Family and the Nation. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Family. While we mourn this great loss, we must in the same vein find solace that Yab Dasho lived a long life, a purposeful and meaningful life, as Yab continues to touch many lives through his good deeds.
Yab Dasho’s profound and precious gift of Lhakhangs, Chortens, Statues and Religious Texts will always continue to connect all the sentient beings to the great soul, the Yab Rinpoche as fondly revered by the Nation. Besides others, Yab Rinpoche's noble deeds of transforming the human minds into Buddha nature is manifested by the serene Wolokha Nunnery constructed and supported by him.

Yab Dasho Ugyen Dorji was a man of great vision, bountiful in nature and his life was dedicated to the greater good. He was a loving husband, a doting father and His personality and charisma will be remembered for a long time. Yab Dasho will be remembered too, as a man who was ahead of his time and a pioneer among entrepreneurs and his role in the historic contribution to the birth and development of business in Bhutan.

Phub Zam
Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry

This body is not me; I am not limited by this body,
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born and I have never died.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars, manifestations from my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide- and seek.
So laugh with me; hold my hand,
let us say good-bye; say good-bye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
Thich Nhat Hanh ( from the book - No death, No fear)