Tuesday, May 30, 2017

History’s relation with Geography: Based on the impression of how geography of Bhutan has influenced its history.

“Almost always the present can be explained only by the past.  It is by the interaction of history into geography that one attains the very soul of a country.” Jean Sermet.

Geographer Jan O. M. Broek has written that one of the main distinctions between geographers and historians is that the former try to understand the structure of a region without looking into its past while the latter seek to view the integration of the region over time.

The relation of History and Geography is intertwined. They cannot be studied in isolation. They can only be comprehended and understood in unison. History will describe the people and their culture where as the facets of location, climate and land features are subject matters of Geography.

All Curdles of Human civilization, be it Nile civilization, Indus Valley, Mesopotamian civilization, etc. started along the big rivers and also across flat land where agriculture could be easily carried out. Why? Because rivers provide the requirements as follows; 1. Constant water supply. 2. Water for agricultural activities. 3. Fertile soil for agriculture activities. 4. For ease of transportation via water ways and 5. Flat lands are easier for construction of buildings and houses.

These civilizations had very rich customs and culture which are the bases for the current culture and traditions people across the globe practice and preach. These civilizations gave the world languages, religions, rituals, beliefs, inventions and the set references for people to progress and promote communities and societies for the betterment of the mankind.
The influence of geography on history of mankind and of countries is the paper’s subject of interest. The relationship of History with geography is evident and thus the influence of geography in shaping the National history of Bhutan is worth discussing. The following paragraphs attempts to explain Bhutan’s history being greatly influenced by its geographical features.

I have discussed how Bhutan’s History can be traced with regard to its geographical elements thereby showing a close relation between History and Geography. The purpose of this paper is also to show the influence of one subject over another. The dissertation is being presented through series of sub-topics for clarity and to achieve more detailed explanation.

Bhutan as a Sanctuary:
Bhutan was regarded as a safe haven for exiled leaders and Buddhist practitioners. The pristine environment and high mountains invited many scholars to meditate and a few to seek refuge in the wilderness of Bhutan.

Sedha Gyab, one of the sons of King Singala of Serkhya (Kapilavastu) was forced to go into exile after he lost in one of his family disputes. He decided to move towards Bhutan and took refuge in Bumthang where he proclaimed as the king there.

Later when he fell seriously ill, Guru Rinpoche was invited for the first time to Bhutan so he could cure him. On Guru’s arrival, many places in Bhutan were blessed and turned into Beyuls, these hidden lands are believed to be the secret entrances to the Guru’s Paradise.

An Indian Prince called Vesantara (Drimed Kuenden) accompanied by his wife and two children were also exiled to the mountains of Bhutan. On their journey through the Black Mountains (Jowo Durshing) the prince gave his eyes to a blind old man and later gave away his children to the local people of Bubja village under Trongsa Dzongkhag. His kind heartedness and uncommon generosity have moved Bhutanese to become more compassionate.

Your famous religious and military General Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel had to move out of his homeland Tibet to Bhutan because his life was at risk. The dispute over the issue of reincarnation of Kyenkhen Pema Karpo, a great Drukpa Scholar, accompanied with various good omen to travel south, he left his land to live in Bhutan.

He could establish Drukpa Kagyupa as the most dominant sect of Buddhist teachings in Bhutan and gave Bhutan a unique identity and create a nation state.

The arrival of these great Buddhist scholars and their contribution has shaped Bhutan’s history. Bhutan neither can rely on its military force nor does it have a stable economy to assert its independence and sovereignty. The culture and tradition are the arsenal in ensuring the country’s security and sovereignty in the years to come. These aspect of rich culture of Bhutan has also enable us to earn foreign revenue through ever growing tourism sector. It has also helped Bhutan earn a reputation in the world stage.

The State of Isolation:
A landlocked country sandwiched between two Asian giants and the various geographical features (Education, 2009) like dense forest and malaria inflicted swampy plains in the south, snow-capped mountains and passes being covered by snow throughout the year, the mountainous terrains and being located far from the silk route led Bhutan to its state of isolation.

While in the state of isolation Bhutanese could build and preserve the rich culture and tradition which are the pride of the Nation. The Bhutanese people worked hard to sustain themselves during isolation and they became fearless to any foreign intruders with who they fought gallantly to protect their land.

The state of isolation was indeed a blessing in disguise because we remained independent, culture was preserved and we didn’t have to face the crisis like the economic depression of 1930s and the World War I and II. The sheer location and the geographical features prevented Bhutan to get involved and thus gave Bhutanese people and the able leaders the luxury to define their own destiny. It was only in early 1960s under the leadership of Third King of Bhutan Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who steered country’s development by opening the doors of the country for modernization.

British Raj, British –Bhutan relation and its Impact:
The location of Bhutan led British send mission after mission (Education, 2009) to Bhutan so they could set up their trade links with Tibet. British wanted Bhutan to act like a stepping stone or a bridge for them to travel to Tibet and greatly sell goods to make profits for themselves. These missions which span a period between 1774 with Gorge Bogle’s mission to A.J Hopkins visit in 1926 during the coronation ceremony of King Jigme Wangchuck the Second Hereditary King of Bhutan has significant influenced in shaping the history of Bhutan. A few missions were detrimental on Bhutan’s sovereignty and many other missions were to consolidate the renewed friendship shared by the British and Bhutan for mutual benefit.

The dark episode of Duar War between Bhutan and British (Hasrat, 1980. pp 109-119) resulted in the annexation of the great fertile plains of Assam and West Bengal by British from Bhutan swiftly changing the map of Bhutan. British wanted these plains as it were very fertile land favorable to plant tea, wheat and timber.

To put an official end to the Duar War British proposed a treaty which Bhutan readily agreed to sign in fear of another war. This Treaty which came to be known as Treaty of Sinchula commenced a new relationship with British India which only got better in following years in terms of personal ties between the successive monarchs and the British Raj and later with independent India.

As the country’s military strategist during the Duar War Jigme Namgyel gained respect both from his enemies and from his own people in the battle field. He was thus accepted as the leader of Bhutan which further solidified his hold over the country.

Ugyen Wangchuck, Jigme Namgyel’s son, was presented with insignia of the Knight Commander of the Emperor of India (K.C.E.I) by Sir John Claude White and with the insignia he was honored with ‘sir’ title for his service as a successful mediator between Tibet and British India. Sir John Claude White, the then Political officer of Sikkim, was well received at Punakha Dzong. The sheer geo-politics involved in his accompanying Younghusband to Lhasa in 1904, the kind of respect he received in Lhasa resulted in making him the most suitable and capable future leader for Bhutan. Soon after his return from Lhasa Sir Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned as the first hereditary Monarch of the country.

Bhutan’s Development plans:
With ever increasing Chinese Influence in Tibet, British India and Ugyen Wangchuck both felt the need to renew the Treaty of Sinchula for mutual protection and to stop the Chinese influence towards south. In 1910, the government of British Indian and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Punakha.

In the following years, the culmination of India gaining its Independence from British Raj in 1947 and signing of the Indo-Bhutan Treaty in 1949 and the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1950 the independent India extended their friendship to assist Bhutan in all its effort to develop and modernized (Hasrat, 1980) the country. The friendship extended was also to ensure mutual protection of Bhutan and India from the Chinese dominance in the region. With the visit of India’s first Prime Minister Shree Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958, with India’s support many roads were constructed to connect Bhutanese towns with Indian towns across the border to facilitate development.

The first five year Plan (1961-1966) set Bhutan on the way to planned national development with an approved outlay of Rs 1,747 Lakhs sponsored by Government of India.

Bhutan’s Current Stand:
Dorji Penjore writes, ‘Vulnerability’ best sums up the plight of small states in any discourse on security. Many size factors interplay to entangle most small states in a network of insecurities, and smallness has seldom been beautiful’. It appeals to Bhutan more than any other countries.

Bhutan is sandwiched between the two giants of Asia namely India and China. Literarily walking between the giants (Penjore, 2009), one country wanting to keep Bhutan as their area of influence and the other wanting to have it as their area of influence. Bhutan needs to strike a balancing act in dealing with both the giants. Chinese claim over many parts of Bhutan, their desperate demands to establish diplomatic ties with Bhutan and its reciprocal reactions on Bhutan India relationship will continue for many decades to come. The whole conflict and hate-love relationship between Bhutan, India and China originated from a geographical element ‘Land’ and sere location of Bhutan. That’s the relation of History (of countries) with Geography.

Having said and done, keeping aside the geo-politics, the geographical features of Bhutan like the lust green landscape, rich bio-diversity, perennial rivers, snow-capped mountains and lakes in high mountains have earned every Bhutanese citizen a reason to celebrate. It has gathered accolades from global communities. The world community looks at Bhutan for inspiration. Bhutan is a carbon negative country and a country which is so much in love with its natural resources. What Bhutan has achieved so much in so little time is an eye opener and a thought provoking achievement for the rest of the world. In true sense, a new history of a small Himalayan kingdom is in the making. A history is being made from the oasis of nature, the geographic beauties.

History and Geography subjects are like two faces of the same coin. When we learn history of a country or people we do learn about the climate, and the natural diversity of the place that had impact on their livelihood. The rich history of Bhutan in lot many ways is credited to its own geographical features and its location at least in terms of its concentration and longevity. From the creation of nation-state to the complexity of modern geo-politics that Bhutan is submerged in the relation between history and geography is the interplay in the core of Bhutan’s existence.

Countries having similar geographical features will have similar histories to tell. There can’t be one without the other. Historians narrate events including man, places and universe where they have not participated or have never had the firsthand experience and the geographies study places, nature and universe to narrate historical detail about them. History and Geography is interconnected at various level and their relationship depends heavily on each-other.


Education, M. o. (2009). A history of Bhutan-19th-20th century-Course Book for class VIII. In      M. o. Education, A history of Bhutan-19th-20th century-Course Book for class VIII (pp. 3-        7). Paro: Curriculum and Professional Support Division,Department of School Educaion,           Ministry of Bhutan.

Hasrat, B. J. (1980). History of Bhutan. In B. J. Hasrat, History of Bhutan-Land of the     b               Peaceful Dragon (pp. 135-136). Thimphu: Education Department, Bhutan.

Hasrat, B. J. (1980). History of Bhutan-Land of the Peaceful Dragon. In History of Bhutan-             Land of the Peaceful Dragon (pp. Chapter 6- 34-45). Thimphu: Ministry of Education.

Hasrat, B. J. (1980). History of Bhutan-Land of the Peaceful Dragon. In B. J. Hasrat, History         of Bhutan-Land of the Peaceful Dragon (pp. 46-59). Thimphu: Ministry of Education.

Jan O. M. Broek, “The Relations Between History and Geography,”Pacific Historical Review   (September 1941): 10: 321.

Penjore, D. (2009). Security of Bhutan: Walking Between the Giants. Journal of Bhutan                     Studies.

Sermet cited by Raymond E. Crist, “Some Aspects of Human Geography in Latin American Literature,” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology (October 1962) 21:4,                p.407

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