Sikhim and Bhutan/Chapter 19

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Installation of Sir Ugyen as Maharaja of Bhutan. Presentation of gifts. Tea ceremony. Oath of allegiance. Seal of the Dharma Raja. Chinese influence on the frontier. Christmas Day. Feeding the poor. Return of escort. Discussion of State affairs with Maharaja and council. I leave for Jaigaon. A Takin. Inspection of frontier. Wild animals.

December 17, the day of the installation of the Maharaja, dawned brightly on a scene of great bustle and preparation. Punctually at ten o’clock our procession started for the Jong, all the members in uniform, preceded by the pipes and drums playing “Highland Laddie,” and followed by my orderlies in their picturesque Sikhimese dress and the escort of the 62nd. At the entrance to the main gateway I was received by the Tongsa Penlop and the council, and conducted to the hall, which was gaily decorated with floating banners of brocade and gyaltsen, and with precious religious picture-scrolls embroidered in silk. At the upper end of the room was a daïs, with three wooden thrones covered with cushions and silk cloths, and in front of each a small table with a ceremonial offering of fruit.

The Tongsa occupied the centre throne, placing me on his right hand, and the Lama Khenpo, Ta-tshang Khenpo, on his left. The other members of the Mission were seated on chairs on the right of the aisle, the members of council, headed by the Paro Penlop, just below them on the same side; opposite, on the left of the aisle, was the Tango Lama and other representative lamas, in their gorgeous robes of office, and wearing brocade hats. My orderlies and the escort were lined up behind my seat and the chairs occupied by the other members of the Mission. Facing the Tongsa, at the further end of the room, was an altar covered with lighted silver butter lamps. The broad aisle in the centre of the room was kept clear, but all other available space was filled by a dense throng of spectators, monks and laymen on either side, minor Jongpens and officials at the lower end. In the gallery a band of lama musicians was stationed, and another dense mass of interested onlookers, some of whom even invaded the roof to watch through the space removed for light and air, although they were repeatedly driven off by the lamas.

The Tongsa wore a robe of blue brocade, with the star and ribbon of the K.C.I.E. and the scarlet shawl, the distinguishing mark of the council.

The proceedings were opened by the formal presentation of the Durbar gifts from the Government of India, which were brought in and placed in front of the Tongsa Penlop. This was followed by the presentation of the Ta-tshang Khenpo’s gifts, which were laid on the floor by his attendants. Next came the Tango Lama, as head and representative of the monastic body. Leaving his mitre and silken cope in his place, he advanced in the ordinary red monk’s garb and prostrated himself twice, then returned to his seat and resumed his vestments. After the Tango Lama came the councillors, in order of seniority, following them the Jongpens of the different Jongs in a body, and so on until all had made their several obeisances and contributed their offering to the mighty pile of silks, cloths, silver coins, and gold-dust in the centre of the hall. The Maharaja-elect and the council then presented the Mission with scarves.

When this was concluded a procession of lamas, with tea-pots and other vessels of copper, gold, and silver, appeared, and the important ceremony of tea-drinking, without which no function in this part of the world is complete, was gone through. Three kinds of tea, rice, and pan were each offered in turn, and in conclusion one of the chief lamas intoned a long grace.

The head clerk to the council now rose, and from the centre of the hall read out from a parchment scroll the oath of allegiance to the new Maharaja, which the chiefs and headmen were about to sign. The Ta-tshang Khenpo from a casket produced the great seal of the Dharma Raja, which was solemnly affixed to the document. This was a lengthy proceeding, carried out with great care, and eagerly watched by the company. The seal measures about five inches square. The paper was first most carefully damped with warm water, then the seal was painted over with vermilion, and finally the impression was taken. Then in turn the council, the lamas, the Jongpens, and other high officials each affixed his seal; but their impressions were in black, not vermilion; and the lamas, on leaving their seats, whether to present the Maharaja with gifts or to affix their seals, always took off their hats and robes of office, resuming them when they again seated themselves. The following is a translation of the document:

ToThe foot of the two-fold Judge. 
“To The foot of the two-fold Judge.

Most Respectfully Prayeth,

“There being no Hereditary Maharaja over this State of Bhutan, and the Deb Rajas being elected from amongst the Lamas, Lopons, Councillors, and the Chiolahs of the different districts, we the undersigned Abbots, Lopons, and the whole body of Lamas, the State Councillors, the Chiolahs of the different districts, with all the subjects, having discussed and unanimously agreed to elect Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk, Tongsa Penlop, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, as Hereditary Maharaja of this State, have installed him, in open Durbar, on the golden throne on this the 13th day of the 11th month of Sa-tel year, corresponding to the 17th December, 1907, at Poonakha-phodang.

“We now declare our allegiance to him and his heirs with unchanging mind, and undertake to serve him and his heirs loyally and faithfully to the best of our ability. Should any one not abide by this contract by saying this and that, he shall altogether be turned out of our company.

“In witness thereto we affix our seals.”

Seal of the whole body of lamas, headed by the Khenpo and Lopon. Seal and sign of Chotsi (Tongsa) Chiolah. Seal and sign of Zung Donyer Tsewang Paljor. Seal and sign of Thimbu Jongpen Kunzang Tinley. Seal and sign of Poonakha Jongpen Palden Wang-chuk. Seal and sign of Angdu-phodang Jongpen Kunzang Norbu. Seal and sign of Rinpung Chiolah (Paro Penlop) Dow Paljor. Seal and sign of Tarkar Chiolah Tsewang Dorje. Seal and sign of Deb Zimpon Kunzang Tsering.

Second-class Officers.—Seal and sign of Zung Donsapa Shar Sring. Seal and sign of Zimpon Nangma Namgyal. Seal and sign of Ta-pon Rigzin Dorje. Seal and sign of Chapon Samdub. Seal and sign of Poonakha Zimpon Sangay Tinley. Seal and sign of Poonakha Nyerpa Kunley. Seal and sign of Ghassa-jong Tarpon Goley Ngodub. Seal and sign of Thimbu Zimpon Sithub. Seal and sign of Thimbu Nyerpa Phurpa Tashi. Seal and sign of Linzi Nyerpa Taya Gepo. Seal and sign of Angdu-phodang Zimpon Tsewang Ngodub. Seal and sign of Angdu-phodang Nyerpa Gharpon. Seal and sign of Rinpung Donyer Palzang. Seal and sign of Minpung Nyerpa Yesha. Seal and sign of Rinpung Zimpon Sigyal. Seal and sign of Dug-gye Jongpen Samten Wot Zer. Seal and sign of Hah Tungpa Ugyen. Seal and sign of Bya-gha Jongpen Tsemed Dorje. Seal and sign of Shon-gha Jongpen Dorje Paljor. Seal and sign of Tashigong Jongpen Sonam Sring. Seal and sign of Lhuntse Jongpen Tinley Gyatso. Seal and sign of Shalgang Jongpen Karma. Seal and sign of all the third-class officers of Poonakha. Seal and sign of all the third-class officers of Tashi-cho-jong. Seal and sign of all the third-class officers of Angdu-phodang. Seal and sign of all the third-class officers of Tongsa. Seal and sign of all the third-class officers of Rinpung (Paro). Seal and sign of Chotre Zimpon Dorje. Seal and sign of Tarkar Zimpon Dorje. Seal and sign of Nyerchen Wangpo. Seal and sign of all the subjects of Tsochen-gyed. Seal and sign of all the subjects of Thekar-kyon-chu-sum. Seal and sign of all the subjects of Shar-tar-gyed. Seal and sign of all the subjects of Bar-khor-tso-tug. Seal and sign of all the subjects of Tsen-tong-ling-tug. Seal and sign of all the Hah subjects. Seal and sign of all the subjects of Shachokhorlo-tsip-gyed. Seal and sign of all the subjects of Bar-khor-tso-tug.

Sikhim and Bhutan - Oath of Allegiance.jpg


Two copies of the document were prepared and duly signed and sealed, and the Tongsa Penlop was thus formally elected as His Highness the Maharaja of Bhutan, Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk, K.C.I.E. I then rose, and handing his Highness his Excellency the Viceroy’s kharita, or complimentary letter, made a short speech congratulating the new Maharaja, saying:

“Maharaja Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk, Lamas, Penlops, Jongpens, and Headmen,—

“I have to-day been present at the election of Sir Ugyen as Hereditary Maharaja of Bhutan, and congratulate you, Sir Ugyen, most heartily on your accession to the gaddi, and the people of Bhutan on their choice of a ruler.

“I have knowm Bhutan for many years, and, with an intimate knowledge of the political questions relating thereto, I am convinced that you have taken a wise step in thus consolidating the administration of the State. Sir Ugyen has been my friend for many years, and you could not have made a better choice. His integrity, uprightness, and firmness of character commend him to every one, and his accession to the Maharajaship is not only a gain to Bhutan, but is of great advantage to the British Government, who will henceforth have a settled Government, with a man of strong character at its head, to negotiate with. My sincere hope is that you, Sir Ugyen, may long be spared to carry through the many improvements and schemes for the advancement of Bhutan which you and I have so often discussed, and I again congratulate you on your accession, and feel confident that the affairs of Bhutan under your guidance will be in the best of hands. I also have great pleasure in handing you a kharita, conveying to you the congratulations of his Excellency the Viceroy and the Government of India.

“In conclusion, I wish you long life and prosperity, and may your descendants be equally worthy to succeed you for many generations to come.”

The other members of the Mission presented the Maharaja with white scarves, and congratulated him on his accession and on being the first King of Bhutan; for “Gyelpo” is the title given him by the people of Bhutan, not Maharaja, and its literal translation is “King.”

The Maharaja, in return, expressed his satisfaction at the presence of a Mission from the Government of India on this eventful occasion, an occasion which he hoped would mark the opening of a new era of prosperity for his country, and his great pleasure in welcoming at the head of the Mission, as the representative of the Government of India, an old friend of many years’ standing. This brought the ceremony to a close, and we left the hall in the order we had come, to the accompaniment of solemn music played by the lamas’ band, the Maharaja and myself heading the procession. We accompanied the Maharaja to his private apartments, where refreshments in the shape of omelette, rice, fruit, and lychees were handed round, and after talking over the events of the day I returned to camp.

This was a momentous day in the history of Bhutan. The country had now a recognised head; Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk; the Tongsa Penlop, had been unanimously chosen by the lamas, headmen, and people as their Hereditary Maharaja. Sir Ugyen is a man of particularly strong character, who has during the last eighteen or twenty years piloted Bhutan through a series of revolutions to a state of peace and prosperity, who has the welfare of his country at heart and thinks of it before all things. He is a man universally liked and respected, and is peculiarly fitted to be the first Maharaja, and should he live long enough I am certain his rule will be entirely for the benefit of his people and their country. What he lacks to strengthen his hands are funds with which to carry on the development and improvements. The opening up of the country he has already commenced, and it is sincerely to be hoped that the Government of India may see its way to giving him the necessary assistance in the shape of a substantial loan on easy terms, or, better still, an increase of his annual subsidy. The aid is required now, not in the distant future, and I hope the fact that I am no longer on the spot or able to press the matter on Government will not mean that the proposals made will be allowed to fall into abeyance, but that the Indian Government will give, and give generously, what is required. I cannot pass over the fact that the present time is a critical one for relations between India and Bhutan, and that if we do not support the new Maharaja openly and generously grave complications, may be the result. At the present moment Bhutan and its people are thoroughly and entirely friendly to the English, and wish beyond everything to enter into close relationships with them, but since the withdrawal of the Lhasa Mission Chinese influence is more active than ever on this frontier, and Bhutan, from lack of active help and sympathy on our part, may, against her will, be thrown into the hands of the Chinese by sheer force of circumstances, for China, as we know, is not likely to lose such an opportunity, when the expenditure of a few thousand rupees will gain her end, and such a departure is to be most highly deprecated from all points of view.

In honour of the Maharaja’s accession I gave a dinner to Sir Ugyen and his councillors, and invited them for seven o’clock, but they all arrived about five. It was a little difficult to entertain them until dinner was served, but fortunately I had a number of mechanical toys and an electric battery to show them, and with all of them they were just as pleased as a crowd of overgrown children.

I had brought the annual subsidy of 50,000 rupees with me which, under the treaty of 1866, by which the Bhutanese ceded the Duars to the Government of India, is paid to them, and presented it in full Durbar. Our large shamianah was prepared for the ceremony, and the guard presented arms as the Maharaja entered the enclosure. Sir Ugyen and his council presented us with scarves, and a small offering of salt and cloths was laid in front of me. I then formally handed over the treasure, which was packed in boxes, to the Maharaja; at his request one box was opened and a thousand rupees were counted out. The boxes were then taken over by the Deb Zimpon and removed to the Jong. The subsidy is usually paid at Buxa, in the Duars, but it was more convenient for us both to make it over at Poonakha this year.

At the Maharaja’s special request I was present unofficially, as his friend, at the first private council meeting after his election, and discussed with them and advised them on various matters connected with the administration of the State. I considered his request a great compliment, and was only too pleased to assist him in any way I could.

I prolonged my visit to Poonakha for some days, exploring and visiting the Jong, exchanging visits with the chief officials and headmen, and making one or two excursions to neighbouring monasteries. I revisited the Talo Monastery, the residence of the Dharma Raja, and found it as beautiful and charming as on my first visit, and the old Tango Lama, who, until the new incarnation is found, officiates as head of the monastery, as genial and hospitable as of old. We passed a night there, and returned to Poonakha through lovely scenery, along a road with oak, walnut, and wild pear-trees on both sides, and quantities of bracken and wild roses.

On Christmas Day the post came in most opportunely with our letters, and later the Maharaja and council arrived with their followers to be photographed. It is a great pity that in the photographs the colouring of the group does not come out, as that was the most effective part of the picture. The council were in bright-coloured silk robes, each with his crimson shawl of office; standard-bearers in gaily striped bokus; fighting men with swords, leather shields, and brightly polished steel helmets ornamented with colours; archers with bows and arrows, gun-carriers with all kinds of strange weapons, and many others, all quaintly and picturesquely dressed.

Later in the day we distributed doles to the poor in the neighbourhood. More than a thousand turned up, a most quiet and orderly crowd, who waited with the greatest patience each for his turn. I had them marshalled in double lines, sitting on the ground, and Rennick and Campbell passed down the lines, giving each person a four-anna bit. Even the babies were made to hold out their hands, though the parent speedily seized the coin. We brought an unusual Christmas Day to a close with a dinner-party, followed by a magic-lantern exhibition, at which the Maharaja and council were our guests; and with this entertainment the ceremonies attending the Maharaja’s installation came to an end, and the following day our party was broken up. I sent Campbell back to Chumbi with the escort, while Rennick and Hyslop returned to India viâ the Buxa route.

I remained behind, at the urgent request of the new Maharaja and his council, to discuss with them many projects and schemes for the welfare and improvement of the country. These covered a large area—schools and education, population, trade, the construction of roads, the mineral resources of the country and the best method of utilising them, the desirability of encouraging tea cultivation on the waste lands at the foot of the hills, which are excellent for the purpose and equal to the best tea land in the Duars.

The discussions were long and earnest, and the Tongsa and all his council entered most fully into everything. The great stumbling-block to all advancement was the lack of funds, and this was clearly recognised by them all, as well as the fact that money must be raised; but the difficulty was how to do it. The sale of timber, mining concessions, and grants of tea land would all be means of bringing in a considerable revenue, and they decided to move the Government of India in the matter. After spending several days in discussing these proposals I also was obliged to take my departure, much as I regretted having to do so. Sir Ugyen was much distressed, and felt my going keenly, as, owing to my approaching retirement, it was the last time we should meet officially, though I hope some day to visit him again on my own account.

Sir Ugyen accompanied me about four miles out of Poonakha, and under the shade of a large pine-tree we sat for about two hours for our final talk, and then took a sad farewell of each other.

I have never met a native I liked and respected more than I do Sir Ugyen. He is upright, honest, open, and straightforward, and I wish it had been possible to remain in India till he had at least commenced some of his schemes of reform. He has a very difficult task before him, and at this time especially requires help given to him sympathetically and directly, without the trammels of official red tape.

My intention was to reach the plains at J aigaon, travelling viâ Paro and Dongna-jong, and Ugyen Kazi accompanied me. After staying for the night in my old camping-ground at Lung-me-tsawe, I reached Paro, and was received by the Paro Penlop, who had returned immediately after the installation in order to superintend the rebuilding of the fort.

While sitting round the camp-fire that night the Ghassa Jongpen’s men brought me a magnificent specimen of a male takin (Budorcas taxicolor Whitei). The carcase was frozen hard, and it was only with great difficulty that I succeeded in having it skinned. It was a weird sight to watch the men working by the light of the fire and bamboo torches, but the operation was at last completed, and the meat distributed. Every one was eager to secure a portion, as it is believed to be a cure for many diseases and a sure panacea in the case of child-birth.

In my travels in Bhutan I have several times heard of takin in the neighbourhood, but never had time to go after them, as their haunts were always too far off my route.

On leaving Paro I turned to the south and went down the valley over a hitherto unknown route, camping for the first night at a village called Pomesa. The march up the ridge above the Hah Valley, which we crossed by the Doley-la, was good going, and we passed through some very fine forests. From the ridge I descended to the Hah-chhu by an easy road, which led chiefly through oaks and Pinus excelsa, passing Bite-jong on the way, but from the Hah-chhu on to the top of the next ridge, over which we crossed by the Lome-la, the road was not good. For a great part of the way there were magnificent forests of Pinus excelsa, Abies Brunoniana, and silver fir, many of the trees exceeding in size anything I have ever seen. If these forests, with the water-power at hand on all sides, were properly worked they ought to supply all the tea districts in India with boxes, and would then soon bring in some of the much-needed revenue to Bhutan; but European capital and supervision are absolutely necessary, or otherwise the forests will be destroyed.

From the Lome-la the track down to the Dongna-jong, and on to the plains does not deserve the name of a road. It is nothing but a watercourse most of the way, with mere tracks along bad precipices and almost perpendicular falls, while from Dongna-jong it follows the bed of the river, and must be absolutely impassable in the rains. It was a marvel how my mules managed to get down, but with the exception of being a little footsore they were none the worse, and a few days’ rest put them in condition again. One of the reasons this part of the road is so bad is that it is on the slopes of the hills immediately above the plains which receive the full force of the southwest monsoon, probably not less than 300 inches of rain in the year, and no road, unless very carefully looked after, can stand that. It is quite useless from any utilitarian point of view, but the scenery throughout is lovely.

I was not sorry to reach Jaigaon, Mr. Trood’s comfortable bungalow, where I was most hospitably entertained, and where I stayed for three days to recruit and to transact some work with some of the tea-gardens on the frontier.

From Jaigaon I travelled west along the boundary to view land suitable for tea on the Bhutan side, and at the same time to look at some copper deposits which I hope may eventually prove profitable to Bhutan.

After inspecting them I turned back and went to the east of Bhutan to look at a coal-mine, travelling viâ Dhubri and Gauhati. By this time the different kinds of transport I had used during my tour had included, I should think, about every known sort. I had made use of coolies, elephants, mules, ponies, donkeys, yaks, oxen, carts, pony-traps, rail, and steamer, and the only available animal I had not employed was the Tibetan pack-sheep.

The hills where the coal is situated lie on the northern slope of the Himalayas, and are densely clothed with forests, but with practically no population, as it is too fever-stricken to allow of any one living there. They are, however, the haunt of almost every kind of wild animal—elephant, rhino, tiger, leopard, bison, mythun, sambur, cheetah, hog-deer, barking deer, &c. The river-beds are full of runs leading to the various salt-licks which occur in the hills. On one of my visits to the coal a magnificent tusker went up the valley ahead of me, and Ugyen Kazi, who pitched his camp higher up the valley, was obliged to move his tents owing to the numbers of wild elephants making it too unpleasant for him to stay on. While I was examining the coal a large tigress with her cub walked down the valley, and on my return I found her pugs, with the little one’s pug inside one of her own. It would be an ideal place for shooting, but not easy to follow game, owing to the extreme steepness of the sandstone cliffs.

The elephant in its wild state can go over, or down, nearly anything, and the tusker I mentioned I found had gone up a precipice thirty feet high at an angle very little short of perpendicular.

I found the coal very much crushed and squeezed out of its original bed. The quality also was not very good, with too much ash, but it might be utilised to make gas, which could be supplied to the neighbouring tea-gardens at probably less cost than the timber now in use for fuel. After inspecting the coal I left Ugyen Kazi to attend to some timber contracts he had undertaken, and to the sale of the Bhutan lac, and fortunately finding a dog-cart available, set off to drive to the ghat at Rungamatti, a quicker way of travelling than on an elephant. There had been some rain, but the roads were in fair order. At Rungamatti I had a long wait for the steamer, which had stuck on a sandbank somewhere further up the river, and in consequence we were nearly twenty-four hours late in reaching Dhubri, the present terminus of the railway; but from there there was no difficulty in getting back to my home at Gangtak. This ended my last official visit to Bhutan; but I hope it will not be my last visit, as I look forward to meeting Sir Ugyen and his sister again, as well as all the Bhutan officials, and to revisiting the country in which I have spent so many pleasant months.

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