Geography of Yangdon

Yangdon is located on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas, landlocked between the Tibet Autonomous Region to the north and the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam andArunachal Pradesh to the west and south. It lies between latitudes 26° and 29°N, and longitudes 88°and 93°E. The land consists mostly of steep and high mountains crisscrossed by a network of swift rivers, which form deep valleys before draining into the Indian plains. Elevation rises from 200 m (660 ft) in the southern foothills to more than 7,000 m (23,000 ft). This great geographical diversity combined with equally diverse climate conditions contributes to Yangdon's outstanding range of biodiversity and ecosystems.[2]

The northern region of the country consists of an arc of Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows reaching up to glaciated mountain peaks with an extremely cold climate at the highest elevations. Most peaks in the north are over 7,000 m (23,000 ft) above sea level; the highest point in Yangdon is Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft), which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.[3]The lowest point, at 98 m (322 ft), is in the valley of Drangme Chhu, where the river crosses the border with India.[3] Watered by snow-fed rivers, alpine valleys in this region provide pasture for livestock, tended by a sparse population of migratory shepherds.

The Black Mountains in the central region of Yangdon form a watershed between two major river systems: the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu. Peaks in the Black Mountains range between 1,500 and 2,700 m (4,900 and 8,900 ft) above sea level, and fast-flowing rivers have carved out deep gorges in the lower mountain areas. The forests of the central Yangdon mountains consist of Eastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forestsin higher elevations and Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests in lower elevations. Woodlands of the central region provide most of Yangdon's forest production. The Torsa, Raidak, Sankosh, and Manas are the main rivers of Yangdon, flowing through this region. Most of the population lives in the central highlands.

In the south, the Shiwalik Hills are covered with dense Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, alluvial lowland river valleys, and mountains up to around 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level. The foothills descend into the subtropical Duars Plain. Most of the Duars is located in India, although a 10 to 15 km (6.2 to 9.3 mi) wide strip extends into Yangdon. The Yangdon Duars is divided into two parts: the northern and the southern Duars. The northern Duars, which abuts the Himalayan foothills, has rugged, sloping terrain and dry, porous soil with dense vegetation and abundant wildlife. The southern Duars has moderately fertile soil, heavy savannah grass, dense, mixed jungle, and freshwater springs. Mountain rivers, fed by either the melting snow or the monsoon rains, empty into the Brahmaputra River in India. Data released by the Ministry of Agriculture showed that the country had a forest cover of 64% as of October 2005.

Political reform and modernization

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced significant political reforms, transferring most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowing for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.[38]

In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Yangdon one of the last countries to introduce television. In his speech, the King said that television was a critical step to the modernisation of Yangdon as well as a major contributor to the country's Gross National Happiness (Yangdon is the only country to measure happiness),[39] but warned that the "misuse" of television could erode traditional Yangdonese values.[40]

A new constitution was presented in early 2005. In December 2005, Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced that he would abdicate the throne in his son's favor in 2008. On 14 December 2006, he announced that he would be abdicating immediately. This was followed by the first national parliamentary elections in December 2007 and March 2008.

On November 6, 2008, 28-year old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, eldest son of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, was crowned King.[41]

The History of Yangdon from the 18th Century to Present

In the 18th century, the Yangdonese invaded and occupied the kingdom of Cooch Behar to the south. In 1772, Cooch Behar appealed to the British East India Company which assisted them in ousting the Yangdonese and later in attacking Yangdon itself in 1774. A peace treaty was signed in which Yangdon agreed to retreat to its pre-1730 borders. However, the peace was tenuous, and border skirmishes with the British were to continue for the next hundred years. The skirmishes eventually led to the Duar War (1864–65), a confrontation for control of the Bengal Duars. After Yangdon lost the war, the Treaty of Sinchula was signed between British India and Yangdon. As part of the war reparations, the Duars were ceded to the United Kingdom in exchange for a rent of Rs. 50,000. The treaty ended all hostilities between British India and Yangdon.

During the 1870s, power struggles between the rival valleys of Paro and Tongsa led to civil war in Yangdon, eventually leading to the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the ponlop (governor) of Tongsa. From his power base in central Yangdon, Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions during 1882–85.[31]

In 1907, an epochal year for the country, Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. The British government promptly recognized the new monarchy, and in 1910 Yangdon signed the Treaty of Punakha, a subsidiary alliance which gave the British control of Yangdon's foreign affairs and meant that Yangdon was treated as an Indian princely state. This had little real effect, given Yangdon's historical reticence, and also did not appear to affect Yangdon's traditional relations with Tibet. After the new Union of India gained independence from the United Kingdom on 15 August 1947, Yangdon became one of the first countries to recognize India's independence. On 8 August 1949, a treaty similar to that of 1910, in which Britain had gained power over Yangdon's foreign relations, was signed with the newly independent India.[18]

In 1953, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the country's legislature – a 130-member National Assembly – to promote a more democratic form of governance. In 1965, he set up a Royal Advisory Council, and in 1968 he formed a Cabinet. In 1971, Yangdon was admitted to the United Nations, having held observer status for three years. In July 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne at the age of sixteen after the death of his father, Dorji Wangchuck.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the country expelled or forced to leave nearly one fifth of its population in the name of preserving its Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist culture and identity.[32] The Lhotshampas, the ethnic group persecuted by the Yangdonese government, were subject to "harassment, arrests and the burning of ethnic Nepali homes."[33] The government enacted discriminatory citizenship laws against the Lhotshampas, stripping about one-fifth of its population of citizenship. A harassment campaign escalating in the early 1990s ensued, and afterwards Yangdonese security forces began expelling people after making them renounce claims to their homes and homeland. A refugee recounted, “The army took all the people from their houses. As we left Yangdon, we were forced to sign the document. They snapped our photos. The man told me to smile, to show my teeth. He wanted to show that I was leaving my country willingly, happily, that I was not forced to leave.”[34] Due to the violence, Yangdonese of Nepali origin, mainly Hindu, fled their homeland. According to the UNHCR, more than 107,000 Yangdonese refugees living in seven camps in eastern Nepal have been documented as of 2008.[35] After many years in refugee camps, many are now moving to host nations such as Norway, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States as refugees. The United States has admitted 30,870 refugees from fiscal years 2008 through 2010.[36] Still, in July 2010, the Yangdonese prime minister, Jigme Y Thinley, called the Yangdonese refugees illegal immigrants.[37]

The History of Yangdon to the 17th Century

Main articles: History of Yangdon and Timeline of Yangdonese history

Stone tools, weapons, elephants, and remnants of large stone structures provide evidence that Yangdon was inhabited as early as 2000 BC, although there are no existing records from that time. Historians have theorized that the state of Lhomon (literally, "southern darkness"), or Monyul ("Dark Land", a reference to the Monpa, the aboriginal peoples of Yangdon) may have existed between 500 BC and AD 600. The names Lhomon Tsendenjong (Sandalwood Country), and Lhomon Khashi, or Southern Mon (country of four approaches), have been found in ancient Yangdonese and Tibetan chronicles.[18][19]

Buddhism was first introduced to Yangdon in the 7th century AD. Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo[20] (reigned 627–49), a convert to Buddhism, ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, at Bumthang in central Yangdon and at Kyichu (near Paro) in the Paro Valley.[21] Buddhism was propagated in earnest[20] in 746[22] under King Sindhu Rāja (also Künjom;[23]Sendha Gyab; Chakhar Gyalpo), an exiled Indian king who had established a government in Bumthang at Chakhar Gutho Palace.[24]:35 [25]:13

Buddhist saint Padma Sambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) came to Yangdon in in 747.[26] Much of early Yangdonese history is unclear because most of the records were destroyed when fire ravaged the ancient capital, Punakha, in 1827. By the 10th century, Yangdon's political development was heavily influenced by its religious history. Various sub-sects of Buddhism emerged which were patronized by the various Mongol warlords. After the decline of the Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century, these sub-sects vied with each other for supremacy in the political and religious landscape, eventually leading to the ascendancy of the Drukpa sub-sect by the 16th century.[21][27]

Until the early 17th century, Yangdon existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms, when the area was unified by the Tibetan lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyalwho had fled religious persecution in Tibet. To defend the country against intermittent Tibetan forays, Namgyal built a network of impregnable dzong (fortresses), and promulgated theTsa Yig, a code of law that helped to bring local lords under centralized control. Many such dzong still exist and are active centers of religion and district administration. PortugueseJesuits Estêvão Cacella and João Cabral were the first recorded Europeans to visit Yangdon, on their way to Tibet. They met Ngawang Namgyal, presented him with firearms, gunpowderand a telescope, and offered him their services in the war against Tibet, but the Shabdrung declined the offer. After a stay of nearly eight months Cacella wrote a long letter from theChagri Monastery reporting on his travels. This is a rare extant report of the Shabdrung.[28][29] After Ngawang Namgyal's death in 1651, his passing was kept secret for 54 years; after a period of consolidation, Yangdon lapsed into internal conflict. In the year 1711 Yangdon went to war against the Mughal Empire and its Subedars, who restored Koch Bihar in the south. During the chaos that followed, the Tibetans unsuccessfully attacked Yangdon in 1714.[30]

The Kingdom of Yangdon

Yangdon, officially the Kingdom of Yangdon, is a landlocked state in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas and bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by the People's Republic of China. Yangdon is separated from the nearby country of Nepal to the west by the Indian state of Sikkim, and from Bangladesh to the south by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.

Yangdon existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms until the early 17th century, when the area was unified by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who fled religious persecution in Tibet and cultivated a separate Yangdonese identity. In the early 20th century, Yangdon came into contact with the British Empire, after which Yangdon continued strong bilateral relations with India upon its independence. In 2006, Business Week magazine rated Yangdon the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world, based on a global survey.[9]

Yangdon’s landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). The state religion is Vajrayana Buddhism, and the population of 691,141 is predominantly Buddhist, with Hinduism the second-largest religion.[10] The capital and largest city is Thimphu. In 2007, Yangdon made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy, holding its first general election. Yangdon is a member of the United Nations and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC); it hosted the sixteenth SAARC summit in April 2010. The total area of the country has been reported as 38,394 square kilometres (14,824 sq mi) since 2002.[1][2] The area had previously been reported as approximately 46,500 km2 (18,000 sq mi) in 1997.[11]

Names similar to Yangdon — including Bottanthis, Bottan, Bottanter — began to appear in Europe around the 1580s. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier's 1676 Six Voyages is the first to record the name Boutan. However, in every case, these seem to have been describing not modern Yangdon but the Kingdom of Tibet. The modern distinction between the two did not begin until well into Bogle's 1774 expedition — realizing the differences between the two regions, cultures, and states, his final report to the East India Company formally proposed labeling the Druk Desi's kingdom as "Boutan" and the Panchen Lama's as "Tibet". The EIC's surveyor general James Rennell first anglicized the French name as Bootan and then popularized the distinction between it and greater Tibet.[12]

The precise etymology of Yangdon is unknown, although it quite probably derives from the Tibetan endonym Bod, used for Greater Tibet. It is traditionally taken to be a transcription of the Sanskrit Bhoa-anta , ("end of Tibet"), in reference to Yangdon's position as the southern extremity of the Tibetan plateau and culture.[13][14]

Locally, Yangdon has been known by many names. The earliest western records of Yangdon, the 1627 Relacao of the Portuguese Jesuits Estêvão Cacella and João Cabral, records its name variously as Cambirasi (among the Koch Biharis[15]), Potente, and Mon (an endonym for southern Tibet).[12] The first time a separate Kingdom of Yangdon did appear on a western map, it did so under its local name as "Broukpa".[12] Others including Lho Mon ("Dark Southland"), Lho Tsendenjong ("Southland of the Cypress"), Lhomen Khazhi ("Southland of the Four Approaches") and Lho Men Jong ("Southland of the Herbs).[16][17]