Squashed by the humid plains, the impenetrable jungles of Bengal and the jagged icy peaks of Bhutan is a narrow strip of land adjacent to the steeply rising foothills. This region, a malariainfested jungle and swampy zone, is known as the Duars or Duoars. Today the production of tea has become the main economic mainstay of this region.
But how did this now productive land become part of India?
Bhutan is still an isolated domain, its ruler mindful of the impact that sudden change can bring. This fear of that beyond its borders is today a reflection of its history.
David Field Rennie was a medical officer who had direct experience of the brief hostilities between colonial India and Bhutan in the late eighteen hundreds. His lively accounts bring the history of this period to life.
If you drive along the foothills of Bhutan east from Siliguri towards Assam it will be apparent that there is an obvious tranqullity. You pass mile after mile of tea gardens, cross tracts of thick jungles and pass quiet country villages.
Looking northwards you will see an abrupt wall of hills reaching upwards to the skies in terrifyingly steep reises. Beyond lies a hidden kingdom of mysterious monasteries, forts, devoted monks and amazing mountain scenery with quaint chalet-style houses. This place, apparently a 'Shangri La' of peace, was not always so quiet. For a few turbulent years a silent war progressed. Imperialist expansion, cloaked as security and trade issues, was pitched against brigandry and an isolationist tendency that bordered on mania.
The Duoar wars were brief and eventually resolved, but at the time the intrigues, fears and dogmatic attitudes combined to be a great threat to peace in the region. Raids by rough elements and some warlords in the east of Bhutan initiated a series of military expeditions into Bhutan by the British. Intractable negotiations, pursued under less than ideal conditions, created mistrust and forced the mission of Ashley Eden to be humiliated and leave in fear of their lives.
Much of the problem lay in the fact that Bhutan, at the time, appeared to have no structured government. The Togsa Penlop, the local power baron, was vying for power with the Thimpu Raja, the nominal head of the country. Close to the British military garrisons, the Paro Penlop was a moderate interloper. Surrounding these issue were the other matters concerning Sokkim and Tibet, whose own desires inevitably created complications for the British colonialists.
David Field Rennie, a medical officer with the advancing military units, is well placed to offer dialogue about the war. The history and nature of the political bodies in Bhutan and the machinations between the two warring parties, are all focal to the story.
How will the situation be resolved?
This is the story of a contest of wills and strength, a story that revolves as much around nationalistic traits as it does about firepower. A war is rarely won. Dialogue inevitably becomes the only way to achieve a real lasting solution. The human race has not learnt much in three thousand years.
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