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The Younghusband Mission to Lhasa
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Ugyen WangchuckThe Younghusband Mission to Lhasa
A new book by a Bhutanese researcher, Sonam Kinga
Ugyen Wangchuck
at the conclusion of Younghusband mission in Lhasa,
To his left: His cousin and father-in-law Kunzang Thinley.
(Photo: Johnston and Hoffman, British Library ;
The Raven Crown by Michael Aries)
What today most Bhutanese know about Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck are some obvious facts: that he was elected as the first hereditary Monarch of Bhutan and that he was knighted by the British empire in 1905.

A new book by a Bhutanese researcher, Sonam Kinga, Ugyen Wangchuck The Younghusband Mission to Lhasa, throws considerable light on the personality of the towering man and his scrupulous diplomacy in his dealings with the British.

The book is divided into two sections. The first outlines the story of Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck, who accompanied Younghusband in a mission to Lhasa in 1904. The second is a Dzongkha and the English translations of the lozey (which celebrates the jubilant success of Ugyen Wangchuck's role in the mission) composed by the serf Jachi Tshewang Peldon, a poem by Zhabdrung Jigme Chogyal (composed in Ugyen Wangchuck's honour when he left Bhutan for Tibet to mediate in the mission), and a katsom denouncing the Anglo-Tibetan conflict of 1898 written by the Nyenzer Trulku's Lhatsab (regent).

The book, published by Galing Printing and Publishing, begins by looking at the historical events of the late 18th century which brought both Bhutan and Tibet into contact with British India.

By the beginning of the 20th century, according to Sonam Kinga, Bhutan had established "firm relationship with British India governed by the 1865 Treaty of Sinchula". At that time Ugyen Wangchuck had risen as the unchallenged and undisputed leader of the country. Thus the British chose to deal directly with him for matters concerning Bhutan.

The British, undeniably having gained his trust, also chose him to accompany Younghusband in the mission. But what still remains vague is, what role did Ugyen Wangchuck play in the mission? What were his contributions to the success of the mission? The Younghusband mission to Lhasa, the author says, was a part of the "Great Game", a clandestine struggle between Russia and Britain for mastery of central Asia. The British feared the closing frontiers of Russia drawing southward. Therefore, the sense of urgency on the part of the British to accost the young Dalai Lama, win his political trust and establish a formal Anglo-Tibetan diplomacy was great.

On January 8, 1903, the British sanctioned a mission to Lhasa to negotiate with the Tibetans. But disagreement and distrust between them foiled the mission which got stalled for almost a year. It was then that the British gradually felt the need for Bhutan's support to "resolve their differences with the Tibetans". And they counted on one man, Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck.Although initially the British sought Dzongpon Kunzang Thinley's help in their negotiations with Tibet, the negotiations had failed. It was then that the master mediator came into the scene.

The author states that Ugyen Wangchuck's grasp of "both imperial realpolitik and the Tibetan outlook made him an invaluable mediator". He was the only player who enjoyed the trust of both Younghusband and the young Dalai Lama and his desire was "to see that the British arrived at a peaceful settlement with the Tibetans". This he did in Lhasa, convincing both parties in an amicable solution. The mission was successful. The Anglo-Tibetan Convention was signed in September, 1904, in the Potala Palace.

Ugyen Wangchuck's successful mediation had evoked a national mood of jubilance. This was a psychological defeat of other hopeful leaders of the country. He was made the Knight Commander of Indian Empire in 1905. Ugyen Wangchuck had become the unquestioned leader of Bhutan even before the Monarchy was founded in 1907.

The Wood Monkey Year, 2004, is the hundredth anniversary of Ugyen Wangchuck and the Younghusband Mission. This book celebrates the significant event which ultimately celebrates the great leader of Bhutan - Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. Sonam Kinga's book bases itself on the best of the sources, that is, on the account related by Younghusband himself in his book India and Tibet. It also draws useful and insightful material from other Indian and British sources.

Contributed by Gopilal Acharya, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper
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