Saturday, June 14, 2014

When the Prime Minister visited Tibet

Prime Minister Nehru on his way to Bhutan
As Prime Minister Modi prepares to pay his first foreign visit to Bhutan, I post here some pictures of another visit, Jahawarlal Nehru's in 1958.
Nehru's letter to the Chief Ministers explains his visit.
The interesting feature is that the Prime Minister and his daughter Indira Gandhi had to cross the Chumbi Valley in Tibet. On his way to Bhutan, they spent one night  in Yatung where an Indian Trade Agency was located and on the return journey, they stayed another night in Yatung.
Read this earlier posting about the Indian missions in Tibet. 
And about China grabbing Bhutanese territory.
I wish Narendra Modi could take the same route than Nehru.
Unfortunately, the times have changed ... not for the good.

Letter From Jawaharlal Nehru to the Chief Ministers
Gangtok, Sikkim
October 15, 1958
My dear Chief Minister,
My last letter to you from Gangtok in Sikkim, on the eve of my journey to Bhutan via Tibet. After I left Gangtok, I was almost entirely cut off from communications till my return to Gangtok two and a half weeks later. I received an occasional message by wireless from Delhi. But this was rarely sent as I had requested that only something that was really important should be forwarded to me. Usually we could listen in to the AIR news broadcasts in the evening, as we had a radio with us. There were no newspapers at all and I had a sensation of being in another world.

2. The little corner of Tibet that I saw upset my idea of that country. I had always thought that on the other side of the Himalayan ranges, there was the high tableland of Tibet, more or less flat and treeless. As a matter of fact, on the other side of the Nathu La, there were the same precipitous mountains covered with thick forests. This was the Chumbi Valley where Yatung is situated and, broadly speaking, it was similar to Himalayan scenery. At the top of the Nathu La ended the road that our engineers had constructed, and on the other side we had to descend by precipitous bridle paths. This road on our side is a remarkable feat for which our engineers deserve great credit. If a road could be built on the other side of the Pass, connecting Yatung, then there would be through road communications between India and Tibet. On the Tibetan side this road will be a much simpler proposition than the one that we have built on our side. Through road traffic would make a great difference to trade as well as to travellers. There is still a considerable inflow of goods from India to Tibet although this has gone down during the last year or two. I was told that upto last year quite a number of automobiles had gone this way after having been taken to pieces and carried by porters.

3. The change from Sikkim to Tibet was noticeable, though not very great. Some little distance before we reached Yatung, we were received by representatives of the Chinese General in Command at Lhasa [General Tan Guansan] and of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.  Tibetans peered at us from their houses or from the roadside, curious about us, and yet not quite sure whether they should come near us.

4. Yatung was a small spread out town. The main market road was full of Indian shops. There were, I believe, over ninety such shops, many of them having started business in the course of the last three years, when this trade was highly profitable. Conditions were more difficult now and so a number of these Indian shops were closing up. The Chinese authorities had put up a number of new buildings-schools, hospital, community centre and residential houses for themselves. Our own Trade Agent's house had its own little hospital and buildings for the staff. In Gyantse and Lhasa our representatives were very badly housed. In Gyantse, a great flood two years ago had destroyed our house and over ninety of our personnel had been drowned. It struck me how difficult were the living conditions of the members of our staff in various parts of Tibet. There was the harsh climate and the high altitude; the lack of social life or amenities and a sense of seclusion from the outside world. Only physically tough people could stand these conditions for long.

5. On crossing the Tibet-Bhutan border, we were met by the Prime Minister of Bhutan  and a numerous cortege. We journeyed on horseback or mule-back, a long caravan, going ever higher and higher. The Bhutan Government had taken great pains to improve the bridle paths and erect log huts en route for our night rest. The mountain scenery was more attractive and impressive. Some of us had felt a little uncomfortable on the first day of our journey because of the height, but soon we grew accustomed to that altitude and nothing untoward happened. We had a doctor with us, who carried all kinds of drugs and medicines and numerous oxygen cylinders. I am glad to say that those oxygen cylinders were never used and ultimately, on our return journey, we left most of these oxygen cylinders at our hospital at Yatung.

6. The next day's journey brought us to two high passes,  both above 14,500 feet. We left the tree-line and ascended to these heights where only flowers and grass persisted. There were lovely Alpine flowers throughout. It was surprising that in spite of long hours on horseback or sometimes on foot, we felt refreshed after every rest. The air was exhilarating and altogether this visit proved to be quite an exciting event in our lives.

7. When we were approaching within two or three miles of Paro, where the Maharaja was awaiting us, we had to form up into a procession which gradually descended along the mountain side to the valley below. I have seldom seen anything more spectacular than this long procession consisting of people 100 king like medieval knights, dignitaries of the Buddhist church in their special robes, troupes of dancers, etc. Thus we came down the winding road to the valley below where practically the entire population had assembled.

8. We spent five days at Paro. We had met the young Maharaja and his wife  in Delhi some years ago, and the y proved to be charming hosts. In theory, the Maharaja is the all-powerful ruler of his little State. In practice, he is very much one of the people, mixing with them and not very different from them.

Here are some pictures of the Photo Division.

Indian and Chinese flags in Yatung
With Maharaja of Sikkim
With Maharaja of Sikkim and Political Officer (Apa Pant)
With Maharaja of Sikkim and Indira Gandhi
In Yatung with Indian Officers serving in Tibet
Received in Yatung
In Yatung with Tibetan and Chinese offficials
With Indian Trade Agent in Yatung
PM arrives in Bhutan
With Indira Gandhi
In Bhutan
On the way to Bhutan, the Indian Consul General
is behind the Prime Minister
In Yatung
Dinner with Chinese Officials in Yatung
Receiving an Indian Delegation in Yatung
On the way to Bhutan
Addressing an Indian delegation in Yatung
Addressing an Indian delegation in Yatung
Nehru spent 2 nights in the Indian Trade Agency in Yatung
Dinner in Bhutan
Inspecting the Sikkim Guards
In Bhutan
In Bhutan
In Bhutan

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good photos!

Indeed Indira Gandhi went with him all the way. It should be mentioned because of what she did in years to come.

The Chinese officials in Yatung were led by Zhang Jingwu who traveled there from Lhasa just for this reason.

Claude Arpi said...

It was not General Zhang Jingwu, but General Tan Guansan, 1st Political Commissar of the PLA in Tibet who received Nehru in Rinchengang, near the Sikkim border.