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Edmund Candler
The Unveiling of Lhasa

The Unveiling of Lhasa
Edmund Candler

The Unveiling of Lhasa


The recent expedition to Lhasa was full of interest, not only on account of the political issues involved and the physical difficulties overcome, but owing to the many dramatic incidents which attended the Mission's progress. It was my good fortune to witness nearly all these stirring events, and I have written the following narrative of what I saw in the hope that a continuous story of the affair may interest readers who have hitherto been able to form an idea of it only from the telegrams in the daily Press. The greater part of the book was written on the spot, while the impressions of events and scenery were still fresh. Owing to wounds I was not present at the bombardment and relief of Gyantse, but this phase of the operations is dealt with by Mr. Henry Newman, Reuter's correspondent, who was an eye-witness. I am especially indebted to him for his account, which was written in Lhasa, and occupied many mornings that might have been devoted to well-earned rest.

My thanks are also due to the Proprietors of the Daily Mail for permission to use material of which they hold the copyright; and I am indebted to the Editors of the Graphic and Black and White for allowing me to reproduce certain photographs by Lieutenant Bailey.

The illustrations are from sketches by Lieutenant Rybot, and photographs by Lieutenants Bailey, Bethell, and Lewis, to whom I owe my cordial thanks.



January, 1905.



The conduct of Great Britain in her relations with Tibet puts me in mind of the dilemma of a big boy at school who submits to the attacks of a precocious youngster rather than incur the imputation of 'bully.' At last the situation becomes intolerable, and the big boy, bully if you will, turns on the youth and administers the deserved thrashing. There is naturally a good deal of remonstrance from spectators who have not observed the byplay which led to the encounter. But sympathy must be sacrificed to the restitution of fitting and respectful relations.

The aim of this record of an individual's impressions of the recent Tibetan expedition is to convey some idea of the life we led in Tibet, the scenes through which we passed, and the strange people we fought and conquered. We killed several thousand of these brave, ill-armed men; and as the story of the fighting is not always pleasant reading, I think it right before describing the punitive side of the expedition to make it quite clear that military operations were unavoidable – that we were drawn into the vortex of war against our will by the folly and obstinacy of the Tibetans.

The briefest review of the rebuffs Great Britain has submitted to during the last twenty years will suffice to show that, so far from being to blame in adopting punitive measures, she is open to the charge of unpardonable weakness in allowing affairs to reach the crisis which made such punishment necessary.

It must be remembered that Tibet has not always been closed to strangers. The history of European travellers in Lhasa forms a literature to itself. Until the end of the eighteenth century only physical obstacles stood in the way of an entry to the capital. Jesuits and Capuchins reached Lhasa, made long stays there, and were even encouraged by the Tibetan Government. The first[1 - Friar Oderic of Portenone is supposed to have visited Lhasa in 1325, but the authenticity of this record is open to doubt.] Europeans to visit the city and leave an authentic record of their journey were the Fathers Grueber and d'Orville, who penetrated Tibet from China in 1661 by the Sining route, and stayed in Lhasa two months. In 1715 the Jesuits Desideri and Freyre reached Lhasa; Desideri stayed there thirteen years. In 1719 arrived Horace de la Penna and the Capuchin Mission, who built a chapel and a hospice, made several converts, and were not finally expelled till 1740.[2 - When in Lhasa I sought in vain for any trace of these buildings. The most enlightened Tibetans are ignorant, or pretend to be so, that Christian missionaries have resided in the city. In the cathedral, however, we found a bell with the inscription, 'TE DEUM LAUDAMUS,' which is probably a relic of the Capuchins.] The Dutchman Van der Putte, first layman to penetrate to the capital, arrived in 1720, and stayed there some years. After this we have no record of a European reaching Lhasa until the adventurous journey in 1811 of Thomas Manning, the first and only Englishman to reach the city before this year. Manning arrived in the retinue of a Chinese General whom he had met at Phari Jong, and whose gratitude he had won for medical services. He remained in the capital four months, and during his stay he made the acquaintance of several Chinese and Tibetan officials, and was even presented to the Dalai Lama himself. The influence of his patron, however, was not strong enough to insure his safety in the city. He was warned that his life was endangered, and returned to India by the same way he came. In 1846 the Lazarist missionaries Huc and Gabet reached Lhasa in the disguise of Lamas after eighteen months' wanderings through China and Mongolia, during which they must have suffered as much from privations and hardships as any travellers who have survived to tell the tale. They were received kindly by the Amban and Regent, but permission to stay was firmly refused them on the grounds that they were there to subvert the religion of the State. Despite the attempts of several determined travellers, none of whom got within a hundred miles of Lhasa, the Lazarist fathers were the last Europeans to set foot in the city until Colonel Younghusband rode through the Pargo Kaling gate on August 4, 1904.

The records of these travellers to Lhasa, and of others who visited different parts of Tibet before the end of the eighteenth century, do not point to any serious political obstacles to the admission of strangers. Two centuries ago, Europeans might travel in remote parts of Asia with greater safety than is possible to-day. Suspicions have naturally increased with our encroachments, and the white man now inspires fear where he used only to awake interest.[3 - Suspicion and jealousy of foreigners seems to have been the guiding principle both of Tibetans and Chinese even in the earlier history of the country. The attitude is well illustrated by a letter written in 1774 by the Regent at Lhasa to the Teshu Lama with reference to Bogle's mission: 'He had heard of two Fringies being arrived in the Deb Raja's dominions, with a great retinue of servants; that the Fringies were fond of war, and after insinuating themselves into a country raised disturbances and made themselves masters of it; that as no Fringies had ever been admitted into Tibet, he advised the Lama to find some method of sending them back, either on account of the violence of the small-pox or on any other pretence.']

The policy of strict exclusion in Tibet seems to have been synchronous with Chinese ascendancy. At the end of the eighteenth century the Nepalese invaded and overran the country. The Lamas turned to China for help, and a force of 70,000 men was sent to their assistance. The Chinese drove the Gurkhas over their frontier, and practically annihilated their army within a day's march of Khatmandu. From this date China has virtually or nominally ruled in Lhasa, and an important result of her intervention has been to sow distrust of the British. She represented that we had instigated the Nepalese invasion, and warned the Lamas that the only way to obviate our designs on Tibet was to avoid all communication with India, and keep the passes strictly closed to foreigners.

Shortly before the Nepalese War, Warren Hastings had sent the two missions of Bogle and Turner to Shigatze. Bogle was cordially received by the Grand Teshu Lama, and an intimate friendship was established between the two men. On his return to India he reported that the only bar to a complete understanding with Tibet was the obstinacy of the Regent and the Chinese agents at Lhasa, who were inspired by Peking. An attempt was arranged to influence the Chinese Government in the matter, but both Bogle and the Teshu Lama died before it could be carried out. Ten years later Turner was despatched to Tibet, and received the same welcome as his predecessor. Everything pointed to the continuance of a steady and consistent policy by which the barrier of obstruction might have been broken down. But Warren Hastings was recalled in 1785, and Lord Cornwallis, the next Governor-General, took no steps to approach and conciliate the Tibetans. It was in 1792 that the Tibetan-Nepalese War broke out, which, owing to the misrepresentations of China, precluded any possibility of an understanding between India and Tibet. Such was the uncompromising spirit of the Lamas that, until Lord Dufferin sanctioned the commercial mission of Mr. Colman Macaulay in 1886, no succeeding Viceroy after Warren Hastings thought it worth while to renew the attempt to enter into friendly relations with the country.

The Macaulay Mission incident was the beginning of that weak and abortive policy which lost us the respect of the Tibetans, and led to the succession of affronts and indignities which made the recent expedition to Lhasa inevitable. The escort had already advanced into Sikkim, and Mr. Macaulay was about to join it, when orders were received from Government for its return. The withdrawal was a concession to the Chinese, with whom we were then engaged in the delimitation of the Burmese frontier. This display of weakness incited the Tibetans to such a pitch of vanity and insolence that they invaded our territory and established a military post at Lingtu, only seventy miles from Darjeeling.

We allowed the invaders to remain in the protected State of Sikkim two years before we made any reprisal. In 1888, after several vain appeals to China to use her influence to withdraw the Tibetan troops, we reluctantly decided on a military expedition. The Tibetans were driven from their position, defeated in three separate engagements, and pursued over the frontier as far as Chumbi. We ought to have concluded a treaty with them on the spot, when we were in a position to enforce it, but we were afraid of offending the susceptibilities of China, whose suzerainty over Tibet we still recognised, though she had acknowledged her inability to restrain the Tibetans from invading our territory. At the conclusion of the campaign, in which the Tibetans showed no military instincts whatever, we returned to our post at Gnatong, on the Sikkim frontier.

After two years of fruitless discussion, a convention was drawn up between Great Britain and China, by which Great Britain's exclusive control over the internal administration and foreign relations of Sikkim was recognised, the Sikkim-Tibet boundary was defined, and both Powers undertook to prevent acts of aggression from their respective sides of the frontier. The questions of pasturage, trade facilities, and the method in which official communications should be conducted between the Government of India and the authorities at Lhasa were deferred for future discussion. Nearly three more years passed before the trade regulations were drawn up in Darjeeling – in December, 1903. The negociations were characterized by the same shuffling and equivocation on the part of the Chinese, and the same weak-kneed policy of forbearance and conciliation on the part of the British. Treaty and regulations were alike impotent, and our concessions went so far that we exacted nothing as the fruit of our victory over the Tibetans – not even a fraction of the cost of the campaign.

Our ignorance of the Tibetans, their Government, and their relations with China was at this time so profound that we took our cue from the Chinese, who always referred to the Lhasa authorities as 'the barbarians.' The Shata Shapé, the most influential of the four members of Council, attended the negociations on behalf of the Tibetans. He was officially ignored, and no one thought of asking him to attach his signature to the treaty. The omission was a blunder of far-reaching consequences. Had we realized that Chinese authority was practically non-existent in Lhasa, and that the temporal affairs of Tibet were mainly directed by the four Shapés and the Tsong-du (the very existence of which, by the way, was unknown to us), we might have secured a diplomatic agent in the Shata Shapé who would have proved invaluable to us in our future relations with the country. Unfortunately, during his stay in Darjeeling the Shapé's feelings were lacerated by ill-treatment as well as neglect. In an unfortunate encounter with British youth, which was said to have arisen from his jostling an English lady off the path, he was taken by the scruff of the neck and ducked in the public fountain. So he returned to Tibet with no love for the English, and after certain courteous overtures from the agents of 'another Power,' became a confirmed, though more or less accidental, Russophile. Though deposed,[4 - The Shata Shapé and his three colleagues were deposed by the Dalai Lama in October, 1903.] he has at the present moment a large following among the monks of the Gaden monastery.

In the regulations of 1893 it was stipulated that a trade mart should be established at Yatung, a small hamlet six miles beyond our frontier. The place is obviously unsuitable, situated as it is in a narrow pine-clad ravine, where one can throw a stone from cliff to cliff across the valley. No traders have ever resorted there, and the Tibetans have studiously boycotted the place. To show their contempt for the treaty, and their determination to ignore it, they built a wall a quarter of a mile beyond the Customs House, through which no Tibetan or British subject was allowed to pass, and, to nullify the object of the mart, a tax of 10 per cent. on Indian goods was levied at Phari. Every attempt was made by Sheng Tai, the late Amban, to induce the Tibetans to substitute Phari for Yatung as a trade mart. But, as an official report admits, 'it was found impossible to overcome their reluctance. Yatung was eventually accepted both by the Chinese and British Governments as the only alternative to breaking off the negociations altogether.' This confession of weakness appears to me abject enough to quote as typical of our attitude throughout. In deference to Tibetan wishes, we allowed nearly every clause of the treaty to be separately stultified.

The Tibetans, as might be expected, met our forbearance by further rebuffs. Not content with evading their treaty obligations in respect to trade, they proceeded to overthrow our boundary pillars, violate grazing rights, and erect guard-houses at Giagong, in Sikkim territory. When called to question they repudiated the treaty, and said that it had never been shown them by the Amban. It had not been sealed or confirmed by any Tibetan representative, and they had no intention of observing it.

Once more the 'solemn farce' was enacted of an appeal to China to use her influence with the Lhasa authorities. And it was only after repeated representations had been made by the Indian Government to the Secretary of State that the Home Government realized the seriousness of the situation, and the hopelessness of making any progress through the agency of China. 'We seem,' said Lord Curzon, 'in respect to our policy in Tibet, to be moving in a vicious circle. If we apply to Tibet we either receive no reply or are referred to the Chinese Resident; if we apply to the latter, he excuses his failure by his inability to put any pressure upon Tibet.' In the famous despatch of January 8, 1903, the Viceroy described the Chinese suzerainty as 'a political fiction,' only maintained because of its convenience to both parties. China no doubt is capable of sending sufficient troops to Lhasa to coerce the Tibetans. But it has suited her book to maintain the present elusive and anomalous relations with Tibet, which are a securer buttress to her western dependencies against encroachment than the strongest army corps. For many years we have been the butt of the Tibetans, and China their stalking-horse.

The Tibetan attitude was clearly expressed by the Shigatze officials at Khamba Jong in September last year, when they openly boasted that 'where Chinese policy was in accordance with their own views they were ready enough to accept the Amban's advice; but if this advice ran counter in any respect to their national prejudices, the Chinese Emperor himself would be powerless to influence them.' China has on several occasions confessed her inability to coerce the Tibetans. She has proved herself unable to enforce the observance of treaties or even to restrain her subjects from invading our territory, and during the recent attempts at negociations she had to admit that her representative in Lhasa was officially ignored, and not even allowed transport to travel in the country. In the face of these facts her exceedingly shadowy suzerainty may be said to have entirely evaporated, and it is unreasonable to expect us to continue our relations with Tibet through the medium of Peking.

It was not until nine years after the signing of the convention that we made any attempt to open direct communications with the Tibetans themselves. It is astonishing that we allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked so long. But this policy of drift and waiting is characteristic of our foreign relations all over the world. British Cabinets seem to believe that cure is better than prevention, and when faced by a dilemma have seldom been known to act on the initiative, or take any decided course until the very existence of their dependency is imperilled.

In 1901 Lord Curzon was permitted to send a despatch to the Dalai Lama in which it was pointed out that his Government had consistently defied and ignored treaty rights; and in view of the continued occupation of British territory, the destruction of frontier pillars, and the restrictions imposed on Indian trade, we should be compelled to resort to more practical measures to enforce the observance of the treaty, should he remain obstinate in his refusal to enter into friendly relations. The letter was returned unopened, with the verbal excuse that the Chinese did not permit him to receive communications from any foreign Power. Yet so great was our reluctance to resort to military coercion that we might even at this point have let things drift, and submitted to the rebuffs of these impossible Tibetans, had not the Dalai Lama chosen this moment for publicly flaunting his relations with Russia.

The second[5 - A previous mission had been received by the Czar at Livadia in October, 1900.] Tibetan Mission reached St. Petersburg in June, 1901, carrying autograph letters and presents to the Czar from the Dalai Lama. Count Lamsdorff declared that the mission had no political significance whatever. We were asked to believe that these Lamas travelled many thousand miles to convey a letter that expressed the hope that the Russian Foreign Minister was in good health and prosperous, and informed him that the Dalai Lama was happy to be able to say that he himself enjoyed excellent health.

It is possible that the mission to St. Petersburg was of a purely religious character, and that there was no secret understanding at the time between the Lhasa authorities and Russia. Yet the fact that the mission was despatched in direct contradiction to the national policy of isolation that had been respected for over a century, and at a time when the Tibetans were aware of impending British activity to exact fulfilment of the treaty obligations so long ignored by them, points to some secret influence working in Lhasa in favour of Russia, and opposed to British interests. The process of Russification that has been carried on with such marked success in Persia and Turkestan, Merv and Bokhara, was being applied in Tibet. It has long been known to our Intelligence Department that certain Buriat Lamas, subjects of the Czar, and educated in Russia, have been acting as intermediaries between Lhasa and St. Petersburg. The chief of these, one Dorjieff, headed the so-called religious mission of 1901, and has been employed more than once as the Dalai Lama's ambassador to St. Petersburg. Dorjieff is a man of fifty-eight, who has spent some twenty years of his life in Lhasa, and is known to be the right-hand adviser of the Dalai Lama. No doubt Dorjieff played on the fears of the Buddhist Pope until he really believed that Tibet was in danger of an invasion from India, in which eventuality the Czar, the great Pan-Buddhist Protector, would descend on the British and drive them back over the frontier. The Lamas of Tibet imagine that Russia is a Buddhist country, and this belief has been fostered by adventurers like Dorjieff, Tsibikoff, and others, who have inspired dreams of a consolidated Buddhist church under the spiritual control of the Dalai Lama and the military ægis of the Czar of All the Russias.

These dreams, full of political menace to ourselves, have, I think, been dispelled by Lord Curzon's timely expedition to Lhasa. The presence of the British in the capital and the helplessness of Russia to lend any aid in such a crisis are facts convincing enough to stultify the effects of Russian intrigue in Buddhist Central Asia during the last half-century.

The fact that the first Dalai Lama who has been allowed to reach maturity has plunged his country into war by intrigue with a foreign Power proves the astuteness of the cold-blooded policy of removing the infant Pope, and the investiture of power in the hands of a Regent inspired by Peking. It is believed that the present Dalai Lama was permitted to come of age in order to throw off the Chinese yoke. This aim has been secured, but it has involved other issues that the Lamas could not foresee.

And here it must be observed that the Dalai Lama's inclination towards Russia does not represent any considerable national movement. The desire for a rapprochement was largely a matter of personal ambition inspired by that arch-intriguer Dorjieff, whose ascendancy over the Dalai Lama was proved beyond a doubt when the latter joined him in his flight to Mongolia on hearing the news of the British advance on Lhasa. Dorjieff had a certain amount of popularity with the priest population of the capital, and the monks of the three great monasteries, amongst whom he is known to have distributed largess royally. But the traditional policy of isolation is so inveterately ingrained in the Tibetan character that it is doubtful if he could have organized a popular party of any strength.

It may be asked, then, What is, or was, the nature of the Russian menace in Tibet? It is true that a Russian invasion on the North-East frontier is out of the question. For to reach the Indian passes the Russians would have to traverse nearly 1,500 miles of almost uninhabited country, presenting difficulties as great as any we had to contend with during the recent campaign. But the establishment of Russian influence in Lhasa might mean military danger of another kind. It would be easy for her to stir up the Tibetans, spread disaffection among the Bhutanese, send secret agents into Nepal, and generally undermine our prestige. Her aim would be to create a diversion on the Tibet frontier at any time she might have designs on the North-West. The pioneers of the movement had begun their work. They were men of the usual type – astute, insidious, to be disavowed in case of premature discovery, or publicly flaunted when they had prepared any ground on which to stand.

Our countermove – the Tibet Expedition – must have been a crushing and unexpected blow to Russia. For the first time in modern history Great Britain had taken a decisive, almost high-handed, step to obviate a danger that was far from imminent. We had all the best cards in our hands. Russia's designs in Lhasa became obvious at a time when we could point to open defiance on the part of the Tibetans, and provocation such as would have goaded any other European nation to a punitive expedition years before. We could go to Lhasa, apparently without a thought of Russia, and yet undo all the effects of her scheming there, and deal her prestige a blow that would be felt throughout the whole of Central Asia. Such was Lord Curzon's policy. It was adopted in a half-hearted way by the Home Government, and eventually forced on them by the conduct of the Tibetans themselves. Needless to say, the discovery of Russian designs was the real and prime cause of the despatch of the mission, while Tibet's violation of treaty rights and refusal to enter into any relations with us were convenient as ostensible motives. It cannot be denied that these grievances were valid enough to justify the strongest measures.

In June, 1903, came the announcement of Colonel Younghusband's mission to Khamba Jong. I do not think that the Indian Government ever expected that the Tibetans would come to any agreement with us at Khamba Jong. It is to their credit that they waited patiently several months in order to give them every chance of settling things amicably. However, as might have been expected, the Commission was boycotted. Irresponsible delegates of inferior rank were sent by the Tibetans and Chinese, and the Lhasa delegates, after some fruitless parleyings, shut themselves up in the fort, and declined all intercourse, official or social, with the Commissioners.[6 - Their attitude was thus summed up by Captain O'Connor, secretary to the mission: 'We cannot accept letters; we cannot write letters; we cannot let you into our zone; we cannot let you travel; we cannot discuss matters, because this is not the proper place; go back to Giogong and send away all your soldiers, and we will come to an agreement' (Tibetan Blue-Book).]

At the end of August news came that the Tibetans were arming. Colonel Younghusband learnt that they had made up their minds to have no negociations with us inside Tibet. They had decided to leave us alone at Khamba Jong, and to oppose us by force if we attempted to advance further. They believed themselves fully equal to the English, and far from our getting anything out of them, they thought that they would be able to force something out of us. This is not surprising when we consider the spirit of concession in which we had met them on previous occasions.

At Khamba Jong the Commissioners were informed by Colonel Chao, the Chinese delegate, that the Tibetans were relying on Russian assistance. This was confirmed later at Guru by the Tibetan officials, who boasted that if they were defeated they would fall back on another Power.

In September the Tibetans aggravated the situation by seizing and beating at Shigatze two British subjects of the Lachung Valley in Sikkim. These men were not restored to liberty until we had forced our way to Lhasa and demanded their liberation, twelve months afterwards.

The mission remained in its ignominious position at Khamba Jong until its recall in November. Almost at the same time the expedition to Gyantse was announced.[7 - The situation was thus eloquently summarized by the Government of India in a despatch to Mr. Brodrick, November 5, 1903: 'It is not possible that the Tibet Government should be allowed to ignore its treaty obligations, thwart trade, encroach upon our territory, destroy our boundary pillars, and refuse even to receive our communications. Still less do we think that when an amicable conference has been arranged for the settlement of these difficulties we should acquiesce in our mission being boycotted by the very persons who have been deputed to meet it, our officers insulted, our subjects arrested and ill-used, and our authority despised by a petty Power which only mistakes our forbearance for weakness, and which thinks that by an attitude of obstinate inertia it can once again compel us, as it has done in the past, to desist from our intentions.']

In the face of the gross and deliberate affront to which we had been subjected at Khamba Jong it was now, of course, impossible to withdraw from Tibetan territory until we had impressed on the Lamas the necessity of meeting us in a reasonable spirit. It was clear that the Tibetans meant fighting, and the escort had to be increased to 2,500 men. The patience of Government was at last exhausted, and it was decided that the mission was to proceed into Tibet, dictate terms to the Lamas, and, if necessary, enforce compliance. The advance to Gyantse was sanctioned in the first place. But it was quite expected that the obstinacy of the Tibetans would make it necessary to push on to Lhasa.

Colonel Younghusband crossed the Jelap la into Tibet on December 13, meeting with no opposition. Phari Jong was reached on the 20th, and the fort surrendered without a shot being fired. Thence the mission proceeded on January 7 across the Tang Pass, and took up its quarters on the cold, wind-swept plateau of Tuna, at an elevation of 15,300 feet. Here it remained for three months, while preparations were being made for an advance in the spring. Four companies of the 23rd Pioneers, a machine-gun section of the Norfolk Regiment, and twenty Madras sappers, were left to garrison the place, and General Macdonald, with the remainder of the force, returned to Chumbi for winter quarters. Chumbi (10,060 feet) is well within the wood belt, but even here the thermometer falls to 15° below zero.

A more miserable place to winter in than Tuna cannot be imagined. But for political reasons, it was inadvisable that the mission should spend the winter in the Chumbi Valley, which is not geographically a part of Tibet proper. A retrograde movement from Khamba Jong to Chumbi would be interpreted by the Tibetans as a sign of yielding, and strengthen them in their opinion that we had no serious intention of penetrating to Gyantse.

With this brief account of the facts that led to the expedition I abandon politics for the present, and in the succeeding chapters will attempt to give a description of the Chumbi Valley, which, I believe, was untrodden by any European before Colonel Younghusband's arrival in December, 1903.

I was in India when I received permission to join the force. I took the train to Darjeeling without losing a day, and rode into Chumbi in less than forty-eight hours, reaching the British camp on January 10.



    January 13.

From Darjeeling to Lhasa is 380 miles. These, as in the dominions of Namgay Doola's Raja, are mostly on end. The road crosses the Tibetan frontier at the Jelap la (14,350 feet) eighty miles to the north-east. From Observatory Hill in Darjeeling one looks over the bleak hog-backed ranges of Sikkim to the snows. To the north and north-west lie Kinchenjunga and the tremendous chain of mountains that embraces Everest. To the north-east stretches a lower line of dazzling rifts and spires, in which one can see a thin gray wedge, like a slice in a Christmas cake. That is the Jelap. Beyond it lies Tibet.