The Treaty of Punakha was an agreement signed on 8 January 1910, at Punakha Dzong between the recently consolidated Kingdom of Bhutan and British India. The Treaty of Punakha is not a stand-alone document, but represents a modification of the Treaty of Sinchula of 1865, the prior working agreement between Bhutan and British India.[1] As such, the Treaty of Punakha is an amendment whose text incorporates all other aspects of the Treaty of Sinchula by reference.

Treaty of Punakha
Punakha Dzong, where the Treaty of Punakha was enacted
Signed8 January 1910 (1910-01-08)
LocationPunakha Dzong
Effective10 January 1910
ConditionRatification by British India
SignatoriesSikkim Political Officer Charles Alfred Bell; Bhutanese King Ugyen Wangchuck and his ministers
PartiesBritish India; Kingdom of Bhutan
RatifiersViceroy and Governor-General Sir Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound (British India)

Under the Treaty of Punakha, Britain guaranteed Bhutan's independence, granted Bhutanese Royal Government an increased stipend, and took control of Bhutanese foreign relations. Although this treaty began the practice of delegating Bhutanese foreign relations to another suzerain, the treaty also affirmed Bhutanese independence as one of the few Asian kingdoms never conquered by a regional or colonial power.[2][3]

Background and enactment


For five months, between 1864 and 1865, Bhutan and British India engaged in the Duar War, which Bhutan lost. As a result, Bhutan lost part of its sovereign territory, accompanied by forced cession of formerly occupied territories. Under the terms of the Treaty of Sinchula, signed on 11 November 1865, Bhutan ceded territories in the Assam Duars and Bengal Duars, as well as the eighty-three square kilometer territory of Dewangiri in southeastern Bhutan, in return for an annual subsidy of 50,000 rupees.[4]

By the turn of the century, continuing geopolitical developments raised the question of a new treaty. Ugyen Wangchuck had consolidated power as Penlop of Trongsa and was unanimously elected monarch by government and religious cadres just two years earlier, in December 1907.[5]

The Treaty of Punakha was enacted on 8 January 1910, at the signing at Punakha by Sikkim Political Officer Charles Alfred Bell and the first Druk Gyalpo (King of Bhutan) Maharaja Ugyen Wangchuck.[6]

Aftermath and abrogation


The Treaty of Punakha created a precedent for treaty modification and foreign suzerainty, and affirmed the practice of foreign subsidy to the Royal Government.[7] The payments and lands subject to the Treaty of Punakha were accompanied by several contemporary and later agreements, some of which ultimately undid the Punakha amendments.[8][9][10]

The Treaty of Punakha accompanied other contemporary agreements that had the effect of sharing profits from elephant hunting inequitably in Britain's favor;[1] assigning land in Motithang (Thimphu Province) and a hill station between Chukha and Thimphu to the British; and assigning a portion of British Kalimpong to Bhutan, which later became Bhutan House owned by the Dorji family.[11] The land around the Kalimpong estate had previously been ceded from Bhutan to British India at the conclusion the Bhutan War and as a condition of the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865.[12][13] Kazi Ugyen Dorji of the Dorji family settled the land and took advantage of the lucrative trade routes through Kalimpong, and by 1898 assumed the roles of Trade Agent and mediator between the British Empire and Tibet.[14]

On 8 August 1949, Bhutan's independence was recognised by India. On 23 April 1948, Sonam Topgay Dorji, also of the Dorji family, headed the Bhutanese delegation to recently independent India, meeting Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Topgay and Nehru established Bhutan–India relations, prompted by a growing security concern over Communist China. Bilateral negotiations lasted through 8 August 1949, culminating in the Indo-Bhutan Treaty. Under this agreement, India returned the land around Deothang, subject of part of the 1865 Anglo-Bhutanese War.[9][15]

In February 2007, the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck signed a new treaty of friendship with India, replacing the treaty of 1949.[16]

Text of the treaty


Below is the full text of the Treaty of Punakha.

Whereas it is desirable to amend Articles IV. and VIII. of the Treaty concluded at Sinchula on the 11th day of November, 1865, corresponding with the Bhutia year Sing Lang, 24th day of the 9th month, between the British Government and the Government of Bhutan, the undermentioned amendments are agreed to on the one part by Mr. C. A. Bell, Political Officer in Sikkim, in virtue of full powers to that effect vested in him by the Right Honourable Sir Gilbert John Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, P.C., G.M.S.I., G.M.I.E., G.C.M.G., Earl of Minto, Viceroy and Governor-General of India in council, and on the other part by His Highness Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, K.C.I.E., Maharaja of Bhutan.

The following addition has been made to Article IV. of the Sinchula Treaty of 1865.

"The British Government has increased the annual allowance to the Government of Bhutan from fifty thousand rupees (Rs. 50,000) to one hundred thousand rupees (Rs. 100,000) with effect from the 10th January, 1910."

Article VIII. of the Sinchula Treaty of 1865 has been revised and the revised Article runs as follows: –

"The British Government undertakes to exercise no interference in the internal administration of Bhutan. On its part, the Bhutanese Government agrees to be guided by the advice of the British Government in regard to its external relations. In the event of disputes with or causes of complaint against the Maharajas of Sikkim and Cooch Behar, such matters will be referred for arbitration to the British Government which will settle them in such manner as justice may require, and insist upon the observance of its decision by the Maharajas named."

Done in quadruplicate at Punakha, Bhutan, this eighth day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and ten, corresponding with the Bhutia date, the 27th day of the 11th month of the Earth-Bird (Sa-ja) year.

This treaty was ratified by the Viceroy and Governor-General of India in Council at Fort William, on the twenty-fourth day of March, A.D. one thousand nine hundred and ten (24 March 1910).

Secretary to the Government of India,
Foreign Department.[6][Note 1]

— Treaty of Punakha

See also



  1. ^ The term "Bhutia", which appears in this text, does not refer to the modern Bhutia, but to the Bhutanese.


  1. ^ a b Fraser, Neil; Bhattacharya, Anima; Bhattacharya, Bimalendu (2001). Geography of a Himalayan kingdom: Bhutan. Concept Publishing Company. p. 17. ISBN 81-7022-887-5. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  2. ^ Rose, Leo E. (1977). The Politics of Bhutan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 24. ISBN 0-8014-0909-8. [T]here can be no doubt that since at least the tenth century no external power has controlled Bhutan, although there have been periods when various of its neighbors have been able to exert a strong cultural and/or political influence there.
  3. ^ Aris, Michael (2005). The Raven Crown: The Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan. Chicago: Serindia Publications. p. 15. ISBN 1-932476-21-0. [Bhutan was] peripheral to the great empire of power and faith [i.e., Tibet], yet never subjugated to it.
  4. ^ Singh, Nagendra (1978). "Appendix VII – The Treaty of Sinchula". Bhutan: a Kingdom in the Himalayas : a study of the land, its people, and their government (2nd ed.). Thomson Press Publication Division. p. 243. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  5. ^ Singh, Nagendra (1985). Bhutan, a kingdom in the Himalayas: a study of the land, its people and their government (3rd ed.). S. Chand. p. 52. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  6. ^ a b Great Britain Foreign Office, India (1904). "East India (Tibet): Papers relating to Tibet". 2–4. Printed for H. M. Stationery Off., by Darling. Retrieved 24 August 2011. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Schicklgruber, Christian (1998). Bhutan: mountain fortress of the gods. Shambhala. ISBN 9780906026441. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  8. ^   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Worden, Robert L. (September 1991). Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.). Bhutan: A Country Study. Federal Research Division. Foreign Relations – India.
  9. ^ a b Warikoo, K. (2009). Himalayan Frontiers of India: Historical, Geo-political and Strategic Perspectives. Routledge contemporary South Asia series. Vol. 13. Taylor & Francis US. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-415-46839-8. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  10. ^ "Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty" (PDF). Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 8 August 1949. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  11. ^ Sinha, Awadhesh Coomar (2001). Himalayan kingdom Bhutan: tradition, transition, and transformation. Indus Publishing. ISBN 81-7387-119-1. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  12. ^ Hilker, Deb Shova Kansakar (2005). Syamukapu: The Lhasa Newars of Kalimpong and Kathmandu. Vajra Publications. ISBN 99946-644-6-8. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  13. ^ Arts of Asia. Vol. 17. Arts of Asia Publications. 1987. p. 107. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  14. ^ Dorji, Khandu-Om (2002). "A Brief History of Bhutan House in Kalimpong" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 January 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  15. ^ "Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty" (PDF). Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 8 August 1949. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  16. ^ "Bhutan and India sign new treaty". BBC. 8 February 2007. Retrieved 6 November 2008.

Further reading

  • Matteo Miele, Chinese Shadows on Bhutanese Independence after the Treaty of Punakha. The Tibetan Buddhist Connection and the British Diplomatic Action, in Seiji Kumagai (ed.), Buddhism, Culture and Society in Bhutan, Vajra Publications, Kathmandu, 2018, pp. 215-239