Sikhim and Bhutan/Chapter 03

CHAPTER III

A SHORT HISTORY OF SIKHIM

The earliest settlers in Sikhim, or Dejong—“the land of rice”—were the Lepchas, who called themselves Rongpa, or dwellers in the valley; they seem to have migrated from the hills of Assam, but when, there is no means of ascertaining. At all events, they were in Sikhim as early as the thirteenth century. The present ruling family are of Tibeto-Chinese origin and came from Kham-Mina-Andong, a small principality taken by the Chinese about 1732 where their ancestor, the great-great-grandson of the Tibetan King of Tibet—Ti-son-desen (A.D. 730) founded a small kingdom. Various scions of the family found their way back to Tibet, where they rose to high positions. Coming to more recent times, one of their descendants, Khye-Bumsu (stronger than 10,000) was so strong that unaided he set up the four immense pillars of the great Sakya Monastery; he migrated to Ha, where he overpowered the Titan robbers of that district and is worshipped for his prowess to this day. His children crossed over to Sikhim and settled at Gangtak.

In 1641 A.D. the Lhasan Lama, with the aid of two other saints, converted the Sikhim people to the Buddhist faith and appointed Penchoo Namgyel to be the first Gyalpo or King. Thotup Namgyel, the present ruler, is the ninth.

In the time of the third Gyalpo—Chador Namgye—Sikhim was overrun by the Bhutanese under Deb Naku Zidar (1700 to 1706). The Tibetans drove them out and Chador, in gratitude, founded the great monastery of Pemiongtchi, the largest in Sikhim, and wholly Tibetan in character. He also designed an alphabet for the Lepcha language and reduced it to writing.

His successor, Gyurma, was married to a lady from Lhasa, who was so exceedingly ugly that rather than live with her he abandoned his throne and fled disguised as a mendicant: in his reign Limbuana, now the eastern province of Nepal, was lost to Sikhim.

In the time of the sixth Gyalpo—Tenzing Namgyel—(1780 to 1790), the Gurkhas rose and overcame the Newars and Limbus in Nepaul, and in 1788 to 1789 invaded Sikhim and seized Rubdentze: Tenzing and his son Chophey Namgyel fled to Tibet for help. Luckily the Gurkhas in 1791 made war with Tibet and sacked Tashelhunpo, but were in the following year defeated by the Chinese and had to make an ignominious treaty. Sikhim got back a small portion of her State, but was obliged to pay the Gurkhas tribute to Nepal until 1815, when the latter were defeated and driven out by the British, who in 1817 restored West Sikhim and the Terai to the Raja. Several disputes between the Tibetan and Lepcha factions, often ending in bloodshed, broke out from time to time, causing disturbances on the Indian frontier, until in 1826 Government had to interfere, and in 1828 Captain Lloyd was sent to settle matters and reported the excellent prospects Darjeeling held out as a sanatorium. In 1834-35 another internecine strife broke out, and Captain Lloyd interfered and obtained a grant of a strip of territory running from Darjeeling to the plains. In 1849, after Drs.Hooker and Campbell had been maltreated while travelling in Sikhim, the Terai and more territory was seized, and finally, after a military expedition to Tumlong, the capital, the treaty of 1861 was enacted, which confirms our possession of the present district.

Again troubles between the Tibetan and Lepcha parties broke out in 1880, and Mr. A. W. Paul was sent to Tumlong, and in accordance with their own laws, persuaded the rival parties to come to an agreement, which has been kept ever since; from 1880 onwards constant intercourse was kept up and the Lepcha party learnt to rely for justice on the Government at Darjeeling. Unfortunately in 1886, after sanctioning the assembling of the Macaulay Mission to Tibet at Darjeeling, the Home Government prohibited the Mission from moving a yard further, and the Tibetans, misunderstanding the motives of such inaction, advanced into Sikhim and erected a fort at Lingtu within Sikhim land, and actually in sight of Darjeeling: if the Macaulay Mission had been allowed to advance even as far as the Jelep frontier, in all probability more friendly relations would have been opened up and all subsequent troubles avoided. The expedition of 1888, undertaken to punish the Tibetans for their temerity, brings the history up to the date of my appointment, since which time all relations with neighbouring States have continued on a most friendly footing. The Lhasa expedition, although its base was in Sikhim and its line of communications traversed the country, had no quarrel with Sikhim, and received hearty co-operation and assistance from the Maharaja and the Sikhim officials, and unless Tibet and China should again become aggressive, I see no reason why its peaceful security should not continue.