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Colonel who took Tibet in cobweb

Gangtok, Aug. 11: Where traders wait to capture a market, invaders thundered to conquer a nation a century ago.

In June 1903, just before the monsoon “burst”, the British India military led by adventurer Sir (Colonel) Francis Younghusband marched through the hill state and Jelep-la to invade Tibet. Lhasa fell.

The 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia but four of his cabinet ministers signed the Treaty of Lhasa with the British in 1904. But Tibet never bowed to British rule. The invasion is only remembered as “the great misadventure”.

But Jelep-la’s history has been overshadowed by Nathu-la’s future, in which, traders await the reopening of the silk route to Tibet’s market.

Going by Younghusband’s biography, written by Patrick French, the young Colonel was summoned to Shimla by then viceroy Lord Curzon in the last week of May, 1903.

Curzon is said to have told Younghusband that he was the only man in India who could conquer Tibet.

Made the Tibet Frontier Commissioner, Younghusband led an army of musket-toting sepoys and a file of ration-carrying coolies on the conquest.

He is said to have stayed for a brief period at Rockville Hotel in Darjeeling before entering Sikkim.

Younghusband, the soldier, mystic and explorer is often referred as the last great imperialist of the Victorian age. His adventures in Sikkim were well recorded as he maintained a diary.

In Sikkim, he was enthralled by nature more than politics, writes French. Younghusband’s notes while making his way through Sikkim on a mission to Tibet has as many references to nature as to politics, French wrote in the biography.

On his entry into the Himalayan kingdom, he is said to have spent a night at Rangpo, the border town between Sikkim and Bengal. He reached Gangtok the next day and met then British political officer to Sikkim John Claude White, who was also in charge of Tibet affairs.

Sikkim had close links with Tibet at the time — then Chogyal Thutob Namgyal had married Yeshe Dolma, daughter of a Tibetan nobleman.

While in Sikkim, Younghusband had an audience with the Chogyal and his queen. Before entering Tibet, Younghusband and his large army camped for two months in Sikkim for additional reinforcements and supplies. An ardent adventurer, he spent his time exploring the bewitching kingdom.

Much of the history has been lost in the mists of time. The state archives at Gangtok have little on Younghusband’s mission. Though an index in the registers shows records of the British-Tibet wars from the British political officers’ files, Younghusband’s exploits are missing.

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