Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Why Bhutan?

When we were all in Myanmar last year we had such an amazing time that our minds turned to where on earth we could travel in our old cars which was equally as exciting. Barbara Shooter, I think, suggested Bhutan a country she has travelled to many times. I don't think that anyone could think of a more remote and challenging destination and so it was left to Barbara and Liz to see whether it was feasible or not. Clearly it is because on 1st November 2015 Paddy and I will be picking up his Buick in Calcutta and after a short visit to the largest population of Bengal tigers left in the world we will be driving north to Darjeeling and then up into Bhutan. I cannot think of a more exciting challenge.

As with Burma I have discovered all sorts of family connections with northern India and Bhutan.

First and foremost Alice's Great Great Uncle, Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen travelled to Bhutan in 1864. Henry Haversham was of course one of our great adventurers, his name resides in the main lecture hall of the RGS and he gave his name to the second highest mountain int he world (K2 was originally called Mount Godwin-Austen). Having completed an exhausting expedition to Tibet in 1863 he was asked to join Sir Ashley Eden's political mission to the Durm and Deb Rajas the spiritual and temporal rulers of Bhutan since the 16th century. (In 1906 the Rajas were replaced by a British-supported hereditary monarchy which still enjoys enormous popular support). At this time western Bhutan was largely unknown. Only three expeditions had travelled into Bhutan, a trade mission in 1774, Turner in 1783 and Pemberton in 1837. Henry Haversham's route was to follow that of Pemberton entering Bhutan from the South west, a particularly mountainous area of high passes, dense forests and deep gorges.

The Eden Mission departed from Dalingkot (now called Kalimpong) near Darjeeling on 1st January 1864 an extraordinary decision given that they were attempting to tackle such mountainous country in the dead of winter. Haversham first headed for Jalpaiguri in North Bengal to collect provisions. The mission crossed the border at Sipchu and then crossed Tsangbe La and Tegong La (3719m) passes. The survey team was caught in a blizzard on Tegong La and bivouacked for three days. Two men died but the survivors persevered crossing Cheli La (3807m) and finally reached Paro. Having rested the mission pushed on crossing Bie La(3403m) passing the fortress at Tashichodzong (now the modern capital of Bhutan Thimphu), traversing the Dochu La (3000m) and finally dropping down to Punakha.

Punakha was the winter seat of the Bhutanese government. Eden's mission was to bring Bhutan under "British protection" which infuriated the Bhutanese. His incompetence was met by infuriated Bhutanese who rewarded his incompetence by slapping him in the face with a piece of wet barley dough, a local insult. Remarkably a map of this first section still exists with Haversham's camp sites marked on it. After negotiations broke down the mission returned to Darjeeling by April.

Haversham commented upon his return that the expedition would have been more successful of at least one of the party could speak Tibetan. Nonetheless Haversham's field work proved valuable as it drew attention to the accessibility to an army of the Teesta and Chumbi valleys which lead into Tibet. This intelligence almost certainly provided the access route for Younghusband's 1904 Tibet invasion and the first Everest expeditions in 1921, 1922 and 1924.

In October 1864 Haversham was ordered to join the Right Column of the British army stationed at Guwahati. From there he travelled to join the Left Column's siege of Kalimpong where he acted as ADC to General Dunsford. From there he assisted in the recapture of Chamurchi which had been lost to a successful surprise Bhutanese attack. From there he single handedly took up the survey of the Duars up to the Gorun and Paro rivers. This was his second expedition into Bhutan. In April 1865 he was struck down by "jungle fever" and had to be transported back to Calcutta.

Haversham explored the jungles of northern Burma and Assam, Kashmir he participated in four Karakoram, Ladakh and Tibet expeditions and two into Bhutan. He was indeed one of the more resolute and versatile British explorers.

Next in my list of family connections is Arthur Odling, Alice's Great Grandfather. Arthur was a partner in the ARMO Tea Plantation at Kalimpong near Darjeeling.

Finally there is also my Great Grandfather who was also a tea planter just outside Guwahati. I will be doing considerably more research before I leave for Calcutta in November.

ref: Catherine Moorehead, The K2 Man (and his Molluscs) The extraordinary life of Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen, p 114-118

No comments:

Post a Comment