Bhutan isn’t a country we hear much about in Britain, and some Brits might be tempted to think it’s a kingdom of legend. But, in fact, it’s perfectly real, lying up in the Himalayas sandwiched between India and China. Its capital is Thimpu.
Really, it’s to our shame if we don’t know much about it, because Brits were getting involved with Bhutan very early on. And in this context that "involved, included, invaded". In fact, we first invaded Bhutan in the eighteenth century. Bhutan had been doing a bit of empire-building itself. Nothing on our scale clearly, but it had effectively taken control of Cooch Behar. However, in a battle for control of the Cooch Behar throne, the rival to the Bhutanese nominee decided his best bet was to apply for the support of an even bigger power than the Bhutanese – Britain. So in 1772 Captain Jones arrived in Cooch Behar, expelled the Bhutanese and pursued them into their own territory. Eventually a peace treaty was signed between Bhutan and the East India Company in 1774.
But the peace between us and Bhutan was not always a calm and easy one and in the middle of the nineteenth century we ended up invading Bhutan again. There was a border dispute over control of the Bengal Duars, so not unreasonably the war is sometimes known as the Duar War, or, if you like, the Bhutanese War. The issue was complicated by an internal conflict in Bhutan, which is worth mentioning here for the cast of characters. The secular head of Bhutan was called the Druk Desi. And in this conflict the Dzongpon of Punakha had established his own Druk Desi as rival to the established Druk Desi who was hoping for support from the Penlop of Paro. Don’t worry, I expect a lot of British names sound exotic to the Bhutanese, but these Bhutanese names are impressive. Most Brits have never ever heard of the war, and it wasn’t exactly our finest hour. We were up against forces that consisted of assorted people carrying a variety of weapons from matchlocks to bows and arrows, and some of them wearing helmets and chain mail. They still managed to surprise us at Dewangiri (now known as Deothang) in Bhutan. But inevitably we won in the end and destroyed the fort at Dewangiri.
Finally, in 1910, we signed the Treaty of Punakha with the Bhutanese, which gave us control of Bhutan’s foreign affairs. And that situation continued until we left India in 1947.