Once upon a time: The eastern Himalayan canvas

[ Prof AC Sinha ]

1. Lord Curzon, the Tibet expedition and the end of the Great Game

George Nathaniel Curzon (1859-1925) was an arrogant Englishman who was not only a megalomaniac imperialist but was also persistent, hardworking and resolute in his decisions, even against known British opposition. While early in life, he had undertaken a difficult journey to the Russian central Asian empire and came to the conclusion that, in spite of its cultural and industrial backwardness, the Tsar’s empire was a threat to the British Indian possession. And for that any type of speculation, rumour, movement of communities or individuals, and travel on trade and pilgrimage were proof of the Russian design of an impending attack on India. Moreover, in spite of past British commitment for their autonomy, for him the buffer states of Iran, Afghanistan and Tibet had to function as per the British dictates, so much so that, for him, the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet was a myth which could be violated as per convenience. He had undertaken four visits to India prior to his appointment as the viceroy. At the age of 40, he was appointed as the viceroy and he immediately got busy in his hobby horse. He learnt through his pliable spies that a Buryat Mongol, Lama Aguan Lobsang Dorjief, had been travelling between Tibet and Russia via India and had been passing intelligence between the Dalai Lama and Tsar Nicholas. Furthermore, he came to know that the lama had travelled thrice in 1898, 1900 and 1901. It was too much for him as an avowed Russophobe to swallow the information. Thus, the die was cast to the last gamble of the forward policy across the Himalayas in the form of the Lhasa expedition.
There appears to be some grain of truth in Curzon’s crazy expedition to Lhasa. The 13th Dalai Lama of Tibet was nobody’s fool; rather, he must have had a sharp bent of mind. He had watched helplessly as a young novice how the British and the Chinese were playing with the vital interests of Tibet without taking Tibet in confidence. Possibly, he might have given a thought to an alternative support system, and that alternative emerged in the form of the Mongolian option. The Tibetans consider the Mongols as their own and the Buddhist Mongols consider the Dalai Lama as their guru. Thus, in the Tibetan worldview, neighbouring Mongol cousin Dorjief was a natural ally to the lama. And when Dorjief might have mentioned a possibility to involve the tsar in the cause of Tibet, the Dalai Lama might have been interested. And the immediate events occurring in China were favourable to the lama at the time, which followed the overthrow of the old Manchu empire by nationalists like Sun Yat-sen, and then a conflict between them and communists. In this situation, the 13th Dalai Lama declared his independence. When the Chinese mounted an attack on Lhasa, the lama did not hesitate to take shelter in British India for the cause of his independence. However, the British consistently maintained that China was the suzerain power over Tibet. The Dalai Lama ran a type of church state, in which there were no standing army and no civil police and the rest of the formal state administrative structures were parts of the monastic establishments. In fact, nobody ever considered Tibet to be a politically independent country. So much so that the retreating British establishment had anticipated that a resurgent China might make moves on Tibet. And for that, the British Indian government had left an advisory on 10 August, 1946 to the future government of India with copies sent to the rulers of Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim, which recommended the maintenance of the status quo in the region as the best option.

Lord Curzon chose Sir Francis Younghusband (1865-1942), who was a product of the Sandhurst Royal Military College, to lead the expedition. He had undertaken a seven-month-long journey on horseback from Peking to Kashmir across the Gobi desert and western Tibet. Sir Younghusband was sent on secret explorations to the Karakoram ranges and the Pamir knot, which came to be known as northern Kashmir in course of time. Curzon’s next choice was a civil engineer, JC White, the then political officer in Gangtok, who had intimate knowledge of the region and key persons who would be useful to the cause of the British willingly. Moreover, the entire local resources of Sikkim, the point of entry to Tibet from India, were at White’s disposal. But before that, the Bhutanese vakil to the political officer in Gangtok, again White’s choice, Ugyen Dorji, was entrusted with two letters, one after another, to the Dalai Lama, informing him of the British anguish over the lama’s alleged contact with Russia. The letters were returned unopened from the Potala, the holy seat of the lama, to which Lord Curzon took serious offence. A third letter was sent through a Ladakhachi notable, which met the same fate in March 1901. At last, Ugyen Dorji was commissioned for the same purpose for the third time. But this time it was a letter directly from Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, to the Dalai Lama, which was in fact an ultimatum. Once more, the lama refused to entertain Curzon’s move to negotiate with him and returned the letter unopened in October 1901. As there was an impasse in communication to Tibet, the British government gave permission to the Younghusband expedition to cross into Tibet with a view to forcing them to talk to the British.
Colonel Younghusband, supported by political officer JC White, crossed the international border to Tibet along with 200 Indian troops. But the Tibetan functionaries refused to talk to them on their side of the frontier. And thus the mission had no choice but to come back after wasting some months in the wilderness. Naturally, Lord Curzon took it as a personal loss of face. Thus, a body of 3,000 soldiers was commissioned under major general James Macdonald. Another 7,000 camp followers were required to support the expedition to Tibet, which was to proceed to Lhasa to negotiate directly with the Dalai Lama. There was a huge number of journalists, naturalists, curio collectors, a variety of explorers and even butterfly catchers to cover the land of mystery. But prior to that, there was a serious problem of supply of essential commodities to the forces and others in the country without proper roads, organized markets and storage of provisions. And for that yaks, ponies, camels, bullocks, mules and a huge army of coolies from Sikkim were pressed in. A most serious human problem in the feudatory of Sikkim was created on the occasion by imposition of kalabhari (black load: a 40-kg heavy man load of consumer goods wrapped in black tarpaulin) at this stage. Kalabhari was a type of slavery in which landlords were to provide coolies to carry loads of provisions purportedly for the armed forces on way to Tibet free of cost. The history of Sikkim records that the kazis and thikedars aristocrats continued with the practice of kalabhari for their lucrative private trade to Tibet for decades, even after the Lhasa expedition. At last, it was abolished by the first diwan, JS Lall, in 1951 on the incessant demand and agitation of the Sikkim State Congress.

The expedition found its way blocked with a stone wall at the village Gyeru, near the town of Gyantse, and it was guarded by about a thousand Tibetan soldiers in their traditional arms like matchlocks, swords and stones. There was a lama with them, who pleaded with Sir Younghusband to turn back as no foreigner was permitted to enter the land of the lamas. The visitors refused to pay attention to the plea. Rather, they asked the Tibetans to disarm themselves and disperse, which the Tibetans refused. In fact, it was the Tibetan general on the spot who opened fire first, possibly out of nervousness. And that led the British army to retaliate, which was a one-sided armed attack on an unruly crowd. The final count was 628 Tibetans dead and 222 wounded and it was ‘a pure and simple massacre’. In fact, it was a black day for the British armed forces. Instead of running away from the fire, the Tibetan soldiers walked off slowly with their head bowed and apparently bewildered at the whole affair. Look at the Tibetans’ understanding of the armed encounter: ‘when their wounded soldiers and civilians were being treated by the British army doctors in the makeshift camp hospital, they were puzzled as to why should they have been fired upon them first if they were to be treated of their wounds’. On the way to Lhasa, most of the monasteries were looted of most of their holy artefacts by the curio collectors. At last, the expedition reached Lhasa in August 1904, while the Tibetans were clapping hands, meaning ‘driving the evil spirits away’.
The reigning Dalai Lama had already left Lhasa along with some of his advisors and retreated towards Mongolia, leaving behind his famous red seal with his key confidants. The amban, the Chinese officer in Lhasa, welcomed the expedition and helped Sir Younghusband in his dealings. Moreover, he proclaimed that the Dalai Lama was removed from his position, a proclamation which was defaced instantly by the Tibetans. The amban was jeered at and even stones were thrown on him. The British forces found the city dirty and squalid and Tibetan religion to be ‘grotesque’. Moreover, there was no evidence of Russian presence in Lhasa in any form. There was nothing left for Younghusband but to arm-twist the lama’s representatives to sign an Anglo-Tibetan Convention. An indemnity of 5,00,000 pounds was imposed on the Tibetans (who had no cash transaction of any type at that time) to be paid in 75 years. And the British forces decided to occupy Chumbi valley in the south, bordering Sikkim and Bhutan, until the full amount was paid. Authorities in London were angry at these harsh stipulations and ordered Sir Younghusband to stay in Lhasa till the objectionable clauses were altered. But Younghusband ignored their orders and staged a hasty return with the forces after seven weeks of occupation of the Tibetan capital. In fact it was a censor to him that the war indemnity was reduced by two-thirds and the occupation of the Chumbi valley to a mere three years. Incidentally, the Chinese promptly paid the three annual instalments of indemnity and recovered the valley from Charles A Bell, who had been appointed the administrator of the valley.

The British establishment officially censured Francis Younghusband for overstepping his brief, which, in fact, was a censure to Lord Curzon. When the two great advocates of the expedition to Lhasa met in India, Curzon declared to his protæcopy;gæcopy;: “If your mission had been anything but the most complete success, it would have been the ruin of me.” Curzon would be called back to London soon in 1905. Russia would be defeated by an Asian power, Japan, in the same year, calling halt to its eastward expansion. The Russian and the British empires would sign the Anglo-Russian Convention on 31 August, 1907 at St Petersberg, recognizing Iran, Afghanistan and Tibet as the buffer states between the two empires, without consulting any one of them. Thus, the ‘great game to the central Asia’ came to an end. In fact, in the words of the historian of the Great Game, Gerald Morgan, there were two conclusions to be drawn: “The first of them is that Russia never had either the will or the ability to invade India. Whatever the hot-headed soldiers on both sides might threaten or expect, it was always the statesmen who prevented a war. The second conclusion is that contrary to Russian fears, India never had the military capacity to move into central Asia… Trade, not the war, was the Company’s role.”
British India had awakened to the potential security problems arising from the Himalayan region by the confused signals coming from China. But they were also captive of their own predicament: their policy of an opaque political status of Tibet. For that, they maintained Nepal as a soldiers’ farm by humouring the autocratic Rana rulers at the cost of their shah sovereigns. Theocratic Bhutan was turned into a dynastic Wangchuk principality, largely on British inspiration, so much so that JC White, their regional factotum in Gangtok, was deputed to oversee the proceedings of the coronation of the new king Ugyen Wangchuk on 17 December, 1907 at Punakha Dzong. An obliged Ugyen Wangchuk would soon exclaim: “Bhutan has joined the British empire.” JC White, the creator of Gangtok township, the capital of Sikkim, cajoled the titular Namgyal ruler to build his mud-and-stone fort (the Chota Kothi) at the other and lower end of the Gangtok ridge. Incidentally, he had already established the most imposing modern structure in Gangtok, the Residency
(the Bara Kothi), known as the watchtower over Tibet, at the most commanding and highest spot on the ridge above the town. Two rulers would soon join the crowd of the Indian princes in the Delhi durbar in 1911. The British were careful in choosing Tibetan-knowing functionaries as the successors to the political office in Gangtok, who could navigate the lamaist aspects of these polities: Charles A Bell, Col Frederick G Bailey, Basil G Gould, and the like.

2. Simla Conference, McMahon Line and Charles A Bell’s proposal for NEFA

After receiving instalments of war indemnity from the Chinese as per the requirement of the diluted provisions of the Lhasa Convention, 1904, British India vacated Chumbi valley in 1908. By then, things were boiling for them at the northeastern extremity of the British Indian Empire. It so happened that in their prime drive for collecting maximum amount of land revenue from the tenets of cultivated land from the plains, the British drew an imaginary line separating hill districts from the fertile plains, and this line came to be known as the inner line since 1871 in the state of Assam. However, they did indirectly control the affairs of the hill regions even beyond the inner line, though they were also known as the unadministered territories of the empire. Old conventions in different parts of India recognized hills, rivers, forests, and such other visible physical landmarks as the diving limits of the regimes, but it were the British who came with the idea of definite boundary lines, to be drawn on the ground. Once they identified an area as a revenue administrative unit, it was to be surveyed and measured for revenue administration. However, they did presume an external line to be the limit of the British imperial possession. And notionally, the external limits in the Himalayan region were presumed to be based on the principle of watershed: if a peak or summit of the mountain stops the flow of water, and which leads southwards, then that should be the northern limit of the British Indian Empire.
There were some problems between the tea-chest manufacturing factories located within Assam and their woodcutters from the adjoining forests extending beyond the inner line in the Assam Hills (present Arunachal Pradesh) in the beginning of 1900. The Abors, now known as the Adis, demanded compensation from the woodcutters for extracting wood from the forests which belonged to them by tradition, which the woodcutters were unwilling to pay. Plywood factory owners presumed that they could collect wood from forests as their right. That small local dispute appears to have been mishandled by the local authorities. With a view to settling the above issue, the governor of Assam authorized the sub-divisional officer, Sadiya, to proceed on an expedition to the Abor Hills and sort out the problem. The sub-divisional officer was on an exploratory expedition to the Abor Hills, where all but for a few coolies and members of the expedition were ambushed and killed by the local tribesmen. Naturally, there was clamour for retribution from the local British authorities, tea planters and tea-chest manufacturing factories. Soon after that, the British mounted an impressive retaliatory Abor expedition in the winter of 1911. The claimed culprits were apprehended without much trouble and they were tried and duly punished in the course of time. However, the British took the advantage of the occasion and surveyed the entire region and divided it into three administrative frontier tracts in 1912. But the survey also made the administration aware of another aspect of the region: its imprecise and informal nature of northern boundary in the Himalayas.

The British took the initiative to call a conference at Simla among the Chinese, Tibetan and the British representatives with a view to negotiating the northern boundary between the Assam Hills (present Arunachal Pradesh) and Tibet in 1913-1914. Sir Henry McMahon, the British plenipotentiary to the Simla Conference, was the host to the delegates: Longchen Shatra, the prime minister of Tibetan administration, Lhasa and Chen-en fen, controller of foreign affairs, government of China, Shanghai. A Tibetan-knowing officer, Sir Charles A Bell, the political officer at Gangtok, was assisting Sir McMahon. The conference met at Simla between October 1913 and July 1914. From the British point of view, the agenda was to settle the northern boundary of the Assam Hills. From the Chinese side, it appears that their main concern was to negotiate the boundary between the inner Tibet (the eastern Tibet, which was under their control) and outer Tibet (Tibet under the Dalai Lama). From the Tibetan point of view, it was a significant conference in which a lot was at stake. What China was calling the inner Tibet was in fact Tibetan inhabited region which was under their control. As far as the Chinese delegate was concerned, he had little interest in the Indo-Tibetan border. But it was of vital concern to the Tibetan delegate. Longchen Shatra understood the implications of the watershed principle as a factor of international boundary. He argued effectively the case of Tawang as a part of Tibet, which was located south of the main watershed line in the Himalayas.
While the conference proceedings were conducted by Sir McMahon with the delegates formally, it were Sir Charles Bell and Lonhchen Shatra who held discussions through the medium of Tibetan on the Indo-Tibetan boundary. Shatra argued that Tawang had been an inseparable part of their history as one of the previous Dalai Lamas was born in Tawang; the residents of the region belonged to the Tibetan stock; they spoke Tibetan language, and they paid taxes to the Tsona Dzong across the Himalayas. And he gave the examples of Sikkim and Bhutan, which by then were under the British Indian Empire, which were part of the Tibetan sphere at one time. He did not see any contradiction in Tawang being a Tibetan territory and its location in the south of the Himalayas.
Sir Charles Bell argued that informal relations of settlers paying homage to the guru was one thing, but paying taxes as a tribute to the state was another matter. As time had changed, Sikkim and Bhutan were within the British Indian Empire, so should be Tawang in Assam Hills in the same line. As far as loss to the territory of Tawang to Tibet was concerned, the British might consider another plateau-like formation on the northern border in the Assam Hills convenient to Tibet in lieu of that. Longchen Shatra could not press for Tawang after that and maps of what came to be known as the McMahon Line were initialled and exchanged among the delegates. But the conference continued and when the final documents were ready, the Chinese delegate refused to sign them later.

Charles Bell succeeded JC White as the political officer of Sikkim in 1908 and he retired after 10 years. Prior to that, he was the sub-divisional officer (SDO) of adjoining Kalimpong in the district of Darjeeling. He was asked to prepare a survey of the land revenue in the subdivision. He found out that a chunk of territory, which otherwise should have been part of Darjeeling district, was wrongly transferred to Bhutan after the Sinchula Treaty, 1865 between India and Bhutan. But considering the intimate relation with Bhutan, the British government of India decided not to press for correction of mistake thereafter. He undertook a journey to Punakha in January 1910 and negotiated the Anglo-Bhutanese Treaty as the political officer at Gangtok. Prior to that, considering his knowledge of the Tibetan language, he was appointed as administrator of the Chumbi valley for a period of three years, 1095-1908. In the course of time, he would write two authoritative books on the history, culture and religion of Tibet.
After completion of the Simla Conference, he proposed to the government of India the creation of a new administrative unit for the region: North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA). Possibly, his inspiration might have come from the North Western Frontier Agency (NWFA), which was created a few years earlier to administer unruly Afghans on the western frontiers adjoining Afghanistan.
Charles Bell’s NEFA was to include Sikkim, Bhutan and the Assam Hills in the scheme. Moreover, he proposed its administrative headquarters to be located at Tawang in the Assam Hills. He did not stop at that point; rather he proposed a suitable candidate for the post of the first commissioner of his NEFA: a domiciled Bhutia administrator, La-Den-La, who was known for his efficiency as a police officer in the district of Darjeeling. Unfortunately, Sir Bell was not keeping physically well for some times. At last, he took premature retirement in 1918 and left for England. By then, Great Britain was involved in the first world war and the priority of the NEFA appeared to have been lost sight of the persons concerned. It is another matter that the government of independent India would create the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA) out of the Assam Hills in 1954.

Those were the days of the first world war when the Simla Conference was held, in which the British were active participants. However, the negotiated boundary, the McMahon Line, was not identified on the ground; no landmarks of the boundary were agreed on the ground; and territories claimed to be within the boundary were neither claimed to be in possession, nor physically taken over by the British thereafter. Thus, the Simla Conference was in a way total failure from the British point of view because of their casual attitude during the conference and thereafter. When the war ended, the Indian National Congress under Mahatma Gandhi had launched the non-cooperation (Khilafat) movement against the British colonial rule. This was followed by a phase of uncertainty of nationalists agitating for the independence of India and the British, not only opposing it, but ruthlessly crushing the movement in a variety of ways. Thus, nobody cared for an obscure corner of the British Indian Empire in the eastern Himalayan region and proceedings of the Simla Conference. Just before the beginning of the second world war, somebody remembered the Simla Conference, and its proceedings were published by the government of India in 1937 in the anthology of treaties. And that was the 1940s: the decade of upheaval as far as British India, China and Tibet were concerned. Everybody who mattered was busy with something or other more important in the three concerned countries. The British Indian Empire ended and an independent India was born in 1947; the People’s Republic of China (PRC) replaced the Komintang outfit of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ‘liberated’ Tibet in 1950. While independent India considered the McMahon Line as the international border between the two countries, the PRC repudiated it and there was no audible voice from anywhere on the issue from the Tibetans. Unfortunately, India inherited part of the problem because of the British duplicity in playing the game of ‘suzerainty’ and ‘sovereignty’ with reference to Tibet’s status with China.

3. McMahon Line, Tawang, Bhutan and involvement of Tibetan keshag

The British Indian government did nothing for the Assam Hills in general and Tawang in particular for the next three decades after the Simla Conference, when they were still in India. Perhaps the inhabitants of Tawang went ahead as before, dealing with the regional Tibetan authorities thereafter. However, the people of Tawang were deeply involved with their western neighbour, the Bhutanese administration, in those eventful days. The second druk-gyalpo (b 1905; r 1926-1952, Jigmi Wangchuk) and the last official incarnation of the druk-shabdrung (the dharamraja) were born in 1905. While the Wangchuk king was born in Tongsa in central Bhutan, the dharamraja was born in Tawang. As per their tradition, the child dharamraja along with his mother and her family was brought to Talo monastery in western Bhutan, where he was to reside and get educated for his future role by qualified teachers.
Incidentally, the people of Tawang used to graze their cattle in Mira and Sakden villages in eastern Bhutan, closer to them during the winter months, and used to pay to the Bhutanese in butter for that. When the residents of eastern Bhutan would go on a pilgrimage to Tibet, Tawang people would keep the tract clear for the pilgrims without charge. This practice was stopped by the order of king Ugyen Wangchuk after the establishment of monarchy in Bhutan.

The dharamraja’s mother was reported to be an ambitious lady. She was upset that the Wangchuk king was the effective ruler of the country, while her son, who should have been the king as per tradition, was nobody. It is reported that some villagers from Tawang reached the maharaja on behalf of the Tawang Council to issue an order of introduction to meet the child dharamraja. When they met him, they confided to his holiness’ mother that their traditional rights of grazing in the Bhutanese villages had been curtailed. The lady got the child dharamraja issue the order reinstating the villagers’ right of grazing in the Bhutanese villages. Mira-Sakden villagers objected to the Tawang people sharing their grazing grounds more brazenly and they informed the Tashigong dzongpen (district administrator) of the development. Naturally, the matter reached Tongsa, and the maharaja was not only upset but he was also angry as his orders were being overruled. Instead of appealing to his highness, the maharaja of Bhutan, the Tawang people reached the Lhasa authorities with their grievances against the Bhutanese king.
The maharaja, Sir Ugyen Wangchuk, wrote to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 3 August, 1925 on the grazing dispute between the Tawang villagers and Mira and Sakden villagers of Bhutan. Sir Wangchuk informed the lama that three Mogtok villagers, Zung Dorji, Lobzang and Norbu, came to Bhutan in 1923 and obtained a letter from him to meet the dharamraja, who wrongly granted them 15 grazing grounds in the Bhutanese villages. This document was executed by the dharamraja’s mother, as he was still a minor. Earlier, a deb raja of Bhutan, Zhidar (r 1770-’73), had permitted Tawang people to graze their cattle on village Mira land in Bhutan on payment of traditional fees in kind when the grass in their villages was exhausted. As the dharamraja’s authorization was illegal, the maharaja ordered the authorities to enforce the order and stopped the forceful grazing of cattle in the Bhutanese villages.
Tawang villagers claimed that once they were stopped in grazing their cattle in Bhutanese pastureland, 250 cattle had died. They attacked Mira village to take revenge and even looted their houses. The king sent soldiers along with the village headmen to prevent further trouble. The maharaja also asked the Tibetan authorities to send an officer to investigate the issue and punish the three ringleaders of the trouble: Zung, Lobzang and Norbu.

In response, the maharaja received a letter from keshag (the Tibetan council of ministers) reiterating the old arguments that it was an old practice duly permitted by the Bhutanese authorities and there was no reason why it should not continue. If there were misunderstanding, let the officers from both sides meet in 1926 and settle the matter on the spot. A fourth letter was received by the maharaja of Bhutan from the Tibetan cabinet, arguing that it was an old practice duly sanctioned by the deb raja of Bhutan, which was reissued by the new dharamraja. “In case it was wrongly done, then we request you to please reissue a fresh one.” The maharaja replied that the two sides were getting along well with each other in the past, but the people of Tawang caused the trouble and the matter had become complicated. He informed that Bhutan had decided that they did not want any butter as grazing fee from the Mogtek people.
Furthermore, he requested to issue the order accordingly and pleaded that when the herdsmen would not come to graze their cattle in Mira village, there would be no cause of a dispute in future.
The people of Tawang informed the maharaja of Bhutan in a letter that they were neighbours and had best of the terms in the past. Furthermore, they informed that, as it was not possible to graze cattle in Mira-Sakden villages in Bhutan anymore, a reasonable compensation for the death of 250 cattle (in the absence of grazing grass in the Bhutanese villages) be paid to them. A last and the seventh letter in this context was received by the maharaja from the council of ministers, Lhasa, informing him that as Bhutan did not want the Tawang people to graze their cattle in Bhutanese pasture land in Mira-Sakden villages, they were collecting information from elsewhere for the similar practice. They would collect information on grazing fees to be paid by the Bhutanese herdsmen and would inform the maharaja in course of time.
However, the issue did not die soon. So much so that the Bhutanese forces led by the dzongpen of Tashigong mounted an attack on the Geuden Namgyal Lhatse monastery in Tawang in 1935, in which an ordained monk was injured. The maharaja of Bhutan promptly organized monetary compensation to the Tawang monastery for the said injury to the monk. Late Kuenley Dorji, the president of the Bhutan National Congress, informed the author that he had seen the bullet marks on the walls of the monastery, which was caused during the operation mounted on the occasion.

Col Frederick G Bailey was in the know of all these developments in his 10 years long term as the political officer for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. But there is no known evidence that the British Indian government did anything for Tawang in particular and the Assam Hills in general after the Simla Conference, 1914. The only thing they did about it was that the proceedings of the Simla Conference were published by them in 1937. The credit goes to Indian administrator Maj Robert Khating, the divisional officer of the Balipara Frontier Tract, who extended effective Indian administration in Tawang in 1951. Incidentally, transhumance is a common practice all over the Himalayan region, wherever dry grass land is available. It is implied that herdsmen have only conventional seasonal grazing rights over the grazing grounds without involving ownership of the land. The ownership of the land remains with the prevalent regional authority. However, the People’s Republic of China has staked a claim on ownership of the entire eastern Bhutan on the basis of past grazing claims of Tawang region. Of course, they claim Tawang as theirs and do dispute the Indian claim on the McMahon Line as the border and the proceedings of the Simla Conference, which was initialled by their representative. (Prof AC Sinha is former dean of the school of social sciences, NEHU, Shillong and a national fellow at NMML, New Delhi. He has researched and published books on the eastern Himalayan region.)