An Interesting Historical footnote

Buxa Fort is now known as a tourist attraction and is in the dense forests of North Bengal. We spent some time there a couple of years ago and took some pictures of the fort and the post office which is one of the remotest in the country. There was a hue and cry sometime back as the Postal department wanted to close it down. However the move has been stalled for the moment.
However the story starts long before the British period when the fort was used to incarcerate political prisoners, including, famously , Netaji Subhash Bose. The Buxa Dooar (Dooar meaning a door) was one of the several entry points into Bhutan from the plains of Bengal and Assam. This particular port was used in the medieval and early modern times as a conduit for trade between Bengal and Bhutan and via Bhutan with Tibet. This trade lasted till the early nineteenth century when the British took over the administration of Cooch Behar and a adversarial relationship developed between the two powers which culminated in wars between Bhutan and the British Indian Government.
This trade was so extensive that two officials were appointed by the Bhutan Government to look after these and related matters. They were called rGya drung and were posted on the South east and South west frontiers of Bhutan. One record notes that the hierarch of Bhutan Ngawang Namgyal( 1594-1651) went to Chapcha near the Buxa Dooar to sort out matters regarding trade. On hearing this, the Raja of Cooch Behar, Pran Narayan sent gifts to him. These included silver trumpets, gold coins, ivory and cloth.

Later the Bhutanese helped the Cooch Behar king Mahendra Narayan, the grandson of Pran Narayan , during his unsuccessful attempt to save his kingdom in 1682 from the exactions of Aurangzeb who was looking for more sources of income to fund his never ending Deccan campaign, which finally finished him off and started the endgame of the Mughal empire. During this time and later during the eighteenth century, Cooch Behar coins circulated in Bhutan and the Cooch Behar mint was used by the Bhutanese to mint their coins. This route was also used by the Bengal traders to continue trading with Tibet even after the Nepalese closed off the usual rotes via Nepal and exacted heavy duties on the only routes that they allowed to function. These were the Kirong Kathmandu and the Kuti Kathmandu routes. Thus the Bhutanese connection allowed the traders to bypass extortions by the Nepal court.. Large trade caravans used to come down from Bhutan. The principal one used to come annually to Rangpur a North Bengal town, now in Bangladesh. The caravan usually came down to the plains in February and went back in may or June. Even during British rule, this continued and Warren Hastings arranged for the waiver of duties for the Bhutanese traders. They were also given special facilities to stable their animals. This caravan used the Buxa route. Benaras silk, cotton and British flannel were the principal exports to Bhutan and Tibetan wool, Bhutanese cloth and Chinese silk was imported. Horses , silver spices tobacco were some of the other this traded .Salt was another major export and a Frenchman, J.B Tavernier who later became the governor of Chandannagore set up a trading centre a few miles south of Jalpaiguri , tried without success to get piece of the trading action.
However Cooch Behar lost its independence from 1789 and the trade routes became less used though trade continued with Bhutan but not with state patronage. However the British still considered Bhutan as a route to trade with Tibet. This changed in the late nineteenth century when Siliguri was connected with the plains of Bengal by a railway. This encouraged the use of the Kalimpong route to trade with Tibet. This trade came to an abrupt end when the Chinese invaded Tibet and has only now resumed via the Changu pass in Sikkim.

Comments

Unknown said…
Is it possible you can post your photos of the old Buxa Post office? I am planning a trip there to see the old Lama Refugee Camp, where the Tibetan monks stayed following the 1959 Chinese occupation of Tibet. We have been given the post office as a starting point in locating the camp. Thanks, Thubten Labdron

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