Hundred years of Monarchy: A walk down the memory lane
The history of the Kingdom of Bhutan dates back as far as the 2nd century AD or even further. However, the recorded history is available only from the 7th century AD with the construction of Kyichu lhakhang in Paro and Jampel lhakhang in Bumthang. This was followed by the visit of the Indian saint Guru Rinpoche in the mid-8th century to Bumthang as well as by Lhasey Tsangma, the Tibetan Prince who was exiled from Tibet to Bhutan in the 9th century. He was instrumental in establishing many noble families especially in Eastern and Central Bhutan. The next prominent figure was the visit of Lam Phajo Drugom Zhigpo from Druk Ralung, Tibet in the 13th century considered the forerunner of Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism in Bhutan. A wave of many other Lamas from different schools of Buddhism also contributed to the socio-political and religious growth of Bhutan though their visits were marked by constant feuds and schisms.
The arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1616 brought about a total transformation of the country. Bhutan was unified into one state and a system of governance introduced known as Choesi Nyeden which became a mechanism towards her evolution later as a nation-state. For the first time laws were codified, tax reforms initiated and Dzongs which served as seats of governance built in each region that came under the Drukpa rule.
The next phase of the Bhutanese history is the era of the Desis from 1651 to 1907. Bhutan saw as many as 54 Desis of different competence beginning with Umze Tenzin Drugyal. Intrigues, feuds and clashes between power houses as well as with British-India in the south were a common feature of this era. During this era Bhutan saw as many as six missions and had several clashes with the British-India which ultimately led to the signing of the Treaty of 1774.
The best example of the Bhutanese unity can be seen during the detrimental Ashley Eden mission of 1864 and the ensuing Duar War. Led by Jigme Namgyal, who was then serving as the Trongsa Penlop, the Duar War finally led to the signing of the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865.
This era can be rightfully called the age of Jigme Namgyal as he was the most influential man in Bhutan. As the 48th Druk Desi, he curbed many internal feuds and even after his resignation from the post of Desi in 1873, he remained the main locus of power and an advisor to the central government.
While being able to carve a political niche for himself and emerge as the most powerful personality in the country the Bhutan that he bequeathed to his son Ugyen Wangchuck who was then the Paro Penlop was still marred by intrigues and family feuds. The assassination plan conspired by his adopted brothers Thimphu Dzongpon Alo Dorji and Punakha Dzongpon Phuntsho Dorji led to the battle of Changlimithang of 1885 which is often quoted as the last civil war in Bhutan. Ugyen Wangchuck using his diplomatic skills came out victorious and restored peace and order in the life of the Bhutanese people. A man of vision and a seasoned diplomat he successfully restored the prolonged strained relations between British India and Bhutan by accompanying Younghusband to Tibet in 1904 as a negotiator. As a mark of appreciation for his services he was also accorded with the insignia of the Knight Commander of the Indian Empire.
Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck was an epitome of bravery, diplomacy, compassion, peace, statecraft and wisdom.