In December 1977, a convoy of Royal Body Guard jeeps on their way from Trashigang came to a halt when a cow resting in the middle of the road near Pam village, refused to budge.
Out came a herder from the bushes, a tall figure trying to make the cow move. The cow remained stubbornly on the road. Realising it was a Royal convoy, the man bodily lifted the cow, and placed it on the side of the road, thus making way for the royal entourage.
This almost legendary story is of Migoe, and the incident in question changed the life of Choki Dorji. Having witnessed the rather remarkable display of strength, His Majesty the Fourth King Commanded that Choki Dorji be drafted in the Royal Bhutan Army. He was 23, and stood at 6 feet two.
Given his height and the burly physique, Choki Dorji earned the nickname Migoe- some say the name was given to him fondly by His Majesty the Fouth Druk Gyalpo personally.
Migoe went on to become a household name. He learnt to play basketball, and was selected for the Armed Forces basketball team, and later to play on His Majesty’s team for about 25 years.
Last week, Migoe passed away peacefully at the Thimphu national referral hospital. To those who saw the recruit become a basketball star in the 1980s, always playing with His Majesty, it was the end of era. Migoe was 64.
Former RBA soldier, Sonam Dorji, who served as Samkhar gup, recalled that when Migoe was living in Dangrey village, above Trashigang dzong, villagers used to call him Dangrey Choki.
According to Sonam Dorji, who is now 75, Dangrey Choki worked as a groom for the former army officer Sangay Tempa, who had about seven mules. Migoe could, and often did, carry weights equal to two mule-loads and could easily lift a heifer or a horse.
Goob Ata Dophu, who served His Majesty the Fourth King since 1961, said that Migoe’s parents were also strong and tall. His mother was known as Dangrey Ausa and his father, who was from Bartsham, was known as Apa Ashomla (corn stalk). “They served under Trashigang Dzongpon Sey Dopola, and they were well known,” Ata Dophu said.
“We don’t know how our father got recruited in the RBA. But people used to narrate the cow story,” Migoe’s 27-year-old eldest son Tashi Tobgay Wangchuk, said.
Those who played basketball with Migoe say that his personality was at variance with his physique – the tall, muscular man was really a simple, humble, and down-to-earth person.
Former chief justice, Dasho Paljor J Dorji (Benji), who played against Migoe on many occasions, said that his strength was such that once he had the ball, no one could stop him.
Dasho Benji fondly recalled the pranks he used to play on Migoe, and also that once, when they were put in the boxing ring facing each other, Dasho fled hastily. Migoe by then had become a skilled boxer.
Migoe was a talented entertainer, and on festive occasions, when asked to entertain crowds, he would dress up in a Kira- an incongruous look for such a large man, or as a pazab (traditional soldier)- a role that suited him rather well.
Karma Lam Dorji, former general secretary of Bhutan Basketball Federation, remembered the 10-12 years playing against Migeo’s team when he was a young basketball enthusiast. “When we played with Migoe it was like running into a tall brick wall,” he said.
However, the former basketball coach remembers Migoe as a gentle person. “At first sight Migoe could be intimidating- he looked powerful, and you may have expected him to be aggressive. But Migoe was not like that at all. I remember noticing that he was not bothered by winning or losing. He was an exceptionally gentle and mild-mannered person.”
The former sports director of Sherubtse College, Rongthong Sangay, 76, also recalled his matches with Migoe. “You couldn’t steal the ball from him. He made it look so easy to score,” he said. “His team used to dominate every game, and won every single time,” he said.
Reminiscing about the times spent with the gentle giant, Colonel (retired) Kado, who played basketball against His Majesty the Fourth King’s team from 1981 to 1999, said that Migoe’s greatest difficulty was finding the right sized shoes. Migoe wore size 13.
Basketball enthusiasts today attribute the popularity of the sports to His Majesty the Fourth King and the unbeatable team that included Migoe. His Majesty’s Royal patronage led to the formation of Bhutan Basketball Federation in 1983 as an affiliated member of the Bhutan Olympic Committee, and a full member of the International Basketball Federation.
Migoe resigned from the Armed Forces in 2002 as a Pelpon and resettled in Samtse. The late basketball star is survived by his wife and three children.