This New Year, I have made some resolutions. I promised to myself that I will no longer drink beer, eat noodles and sleep to the point of getting depression. While I don’t like to hang out with friends gossiping about politician’s protruding teeth or lady’s extra-sized bosom, I need some ways to spend my time meaningfully if there is so called meaning in mundane works. So I promised to read some books and regain my past habits. Reading has been my favourite past time before I gave into drinking and other cardinal vices. So I began by collecting books from friends and book stores. Book collection is harder than I thought. Unlike in the school, I could neither borrow nor stealthily pick up from library when librarians are busy gossiping. Some friends who used to be book lovers have either gave into their family life or money-making while others either concentrate on professional life or professional pleasing. So I found out now buying is only the way. After deductions of that and this, I only get a few thousands from which I have to pay housing, food and clothing. Only 1-2 thousand which earlier used to be beer-money is left. Of course, I can’t give up my drinking totally so that leaves me only one thousand for buying books that also assuming that some far relatives of friends and relatives don’t get suddenly sick or die in the hospital. And God be praised, I just don’t understand how did books by Bhutanese authors get so expensive. I wonder if they are charging for quality of papers used instead of its content. After much thought, I decided to buy few books on monthly basis. My problems didn’t end with procurement of few books, reading was much harder than I remember.
One thing that struck me while reading those books was that Bhutan was not as isolated as many of us think it was. In history books in school, we were told that only in 1960s, Bhutan came out of isolation. Our relation with Tibet preceded the visit of Guru Rinpoche. Our relationship with Indian kingdom could be same but earliest record I found was during time of Zhabdrung, he was invited to one of Indian kingdom through one rich man of Chukha. Our officially relation with Nepal was happened as early reign of 3rd Druk Desi (though it could be earlier as I read only few books) through sending of Bhutanese lama to Nepal king or earlier going by nature of gifts sent to Zhabdrung by friendly countries. But it seemed that first major contact with East India Company or British was in 1772 A.D. In 1772, Desi Zhidhar or Sonam Lhendup of Bhutan defeated King of Cooch Behar (Bengal) and brought the king and his brother as captives. Bhutan considered Cooch Behar as her protectorate though Bhutan seemed to have lost documents that legitimized her claims. The defeated kingdom sought help from East India Company (hereafter Company) which was looking to broaden its expansionistic colonial policy. Besides, the Company was uncomfortable with gangs of Sanyasis robbing its protected areas along the frontier as well as occasional raids by Bhutanese frontier officials. Governor General of India Warren Hastings agreed to support Cooch Behar’s campaign against Bhutan under following terms;
1. Cooch Behar to pay all military expenses against Bhutan
2. Cooch Behar to pay half of her annual revenue to the company annually
3. If she tries to go away from influence of the company, company was to take away all her revenues
Thus treaty was signed between two on 5th April 1773. On other hand, Bhutan was going through internal intrigues which was not so uncommon since the time of 3rd Desi Minjur Tempa. Tshenyi Lopon Kunga Rinchen of Zhung Dratshang was once friend of 16th Desi Zhidar. It was agreed between two that if Zhidhar become Desi first, he would install Kunga Rincen as Je Khenpo, and if latter become Je Khenpo first, he would appoint Zhidar as Druk Desi. Desi Zhidar was not able to enthrone his friend as Je Khenpo. Besides, they backed different incarnate Lamas to the throne of Palden Drukpa. Therefore, Tshenyi Lopon who now desired to become Druk Desi tricked Desi Zhidar into leading military campaign against the Company.
British sent troops under Captain Jones to support Cooch Behar while troop of Cooch Behar was led by Commander Nazir Deo. Their combined forces defeated combined force of Bhutan and some resisting forces of Cooch Behar. Meanwhile in Bhutan, Kunga Rinchen managed to get enthroned as 17th Desi. The edicts were issued saying that Zhidar was not to be allowed to enter country. Zhidar escaped to Tibet and got himself protected by Panchen Lama, regent of Tibet.
Due to defeat, Bhutan sought mediation of Panchen Lama. It likely was Desi Zhidar himself who sought Panchen Lama’s help. Panchen Lama sent letter to Governor General Hastings claiming that Bhutan was autonomous part of Tibet. He requested the Company to stop military assault. Governor General who wanted trade route to Tibet via Bhutan relented. The ten-point treaty called Anglo-Bhutan Treaty was signed April 1774. The gist of treaty were as follow;
1. Each country to return land annexed during war mutually and boundary before war was to be respected
2. Bhutanese to return king and his brother to the Company
3. Any subjects who are under jurisdiction of company commit crime in Bhutan’s territory, they were to return to the Company for trial
4. The rebels of Company were not allowed to hide in Bhutan
5. Bhutan to permit the Company cut duty free timber from Bhutan’s forest
The Company ever desirous to open trade route sent George Boggle Mission to Tibet via Bhutan on May 1774. On July 1774, Desi Kunga Rinchen received Boggle in Tashi Choeddzong. While many considered mission as failure, he succeeded however in signing commercial treaty with Bhutan supplementing Anglo-Bhutanese treaty. Common people can remember him as man who introduced potatoes to Bhutan. After that many missions were sent; mission of Captain Alexander Hamilton (who accompanied Boggle) was sent twice followed by Samuel Turner mission. Bhutan and company seemed to have enjoyed relative peace till disastrous mission of Ashely Eden in 1864 which coincided with rise of Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal. Jigme Namgyel and Wangdi Dzongpon probably under advice of Raja Paksha (fugitive of Indian Mutiny and advisor to Trongsa Penlop) insulted arrogant Ashely Eden and latter was made to sign treaty which was not acceptable to the interest of the Company. Taking advantages of lack of English knowledge on Bhutanese side, he signed treaty (wrote under compulsion below signatures) to save his own skin. Once he got back to India, he recommended military action. Thus Duar Wars were fought and all Duars were lost. The treaty of Sinchula was signed in 1865 and Bhutan was compensated mere 0.1 million Indian rupees for loss of Duars. The treaty Sinchula bound Bhutan to be guided by India on her foreign relations. The unfortunate clause continued till February 2007 which was amended during signing Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty.
However, it was good lesson learnt. Bhutan understood the might of British. Bhutan further cozied upto India as Chinese influence in Tibet increased. By 1904, Bhutan was firmly in good book of British India. Sir Ugyen Wangchuck with aide of his advisor Gongzim Ugyen Dorji played masterstroke in mediating between Young Husband Mission and Tibet. This role alone probably saved Bhutan from China and later paved ways for independent Bhutan (without having to go under either independent India or Chinese Tibet).
Of course, we can’t deny the role of 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck for sustaining Bhutan’s independence by joining United Nations.