Shaping up of an entrepôt
Trade ties between Ladakh and Lhasa kickstarted in late 17th century as a by-product of the Treaty of Temisgam imposed on Namgyal dynasty by Tibetans; and would later be reinforced by the Treaty of Chushul signed between Dogra Raja Gulab Singh and Lama Guru of Lhasa in 1842
Three years ago, on August 5, the Union Territory of Ladakh was created after the promulgation of the J&K Reorganization Act. This three-part series will discuss the fascinating story of Ladhak as the entrepot for the Silk Route which connected Asia with Europe through Central Asia.
At its peak, the Namgyal dynasty, which ruled over Ladakh from 1460 CE to 1842 CE, included the Zanskar and Spiti valleys, and parts of the present day Nepal. However, it was during the reign of the Namgyals that many Islamic Sufi saints, notably Sayyid Ali Hamadani, Sayyid Muhammad Nur Baksh and Mir Shamsuddin Iraqi began the propagation of Islam to the locals. The Nurbakshi tradition which found many adherents among Ladakhis and Baltis was in sharp contrast to the monastic orientation of Tibetan Buddhism and so the Shia Muslims became an important demographic factor in this erstwhile Buddhist preserve.
The Namgyal kings, who assumed the title of Gyalpo (spiritual and temporal heads) had many skirmishes with the Mughals who made Kashmir into a Suba (province) of their empire in 1586. Both armies had their share of successes and failures and alliances of convenience. While the Mughals were dominant in and around the Kashmir valley, in the higher regions, especially in Gilgit Baltistan, the Namgyal army held its sway.
However, the Ladakhi support for Bhutan in its ecclesiastical dispute with the fifth Dalai Lama saw the march of the Tibetan army towards Ladakh. The Namgyals asked the Mughals to support them against the advancing Tibetans, but The Dalai Lama's officials paid off the Moghuls and they abandoned the Ladakhis. The Tibetans now forced the Namgyals to sign the Treaty of Temisgam in 1684, which seriously restricted the political independence of Ladakh but it became the cornerstone of Ladakh's ecclesiastical and commercial relations with Tibet. The treaty provided for the despatch of periodical missions by Ladakh to Lhasa carrying presents for the Dalai Lama. Since the bearers of this religious mission were allowed to carry merchandise, it soon acquired a commercial character. Ladakh got the monopoly to trade shawl-wool produced in Tibet, and the Tibetans acquired the exclusive right to the brick-tea trade with Ladakh. Such trade ties between Ladakh and Tibet were reinforced by the Treaty of Chushul concluded between the Dogra and Tibetan officials in 1842, a landmark agreement to maintain the status quo antebellum between the Dogra and the Tibetan armies on the world's highest battlefield of Ladakh.
The Treaty of Chushul
Treaty of Chushul, written by Shri Khalsaji Apsarani Shri Maharaja, Lhasa representative Kalon Surkhang, investigator Dapon Peshi, commander of forces, Balana the representative of Ghulam Kahan din, and the interpreter Amir Hah, read, "We have agreed that we have no ill-feelings because of the past war. The two kings will henceforth remain friends forever. The relationship between Maharaj Gulab Singh of J&K and the Lama Guru of Lhasa (Dalai Lama) is now established. The Maharaja Sahib, with God (Kunchok) as his witness, promises to recognize ancient boundaries which should be looked after by each side without resorting to warfare. When the descendants of the early kings, who fled from Ladakh to Tibet, now return they will not be stopped by Shri Maharaja. Trade between Ladakh and Tibet will continue as usual. Tibetan traders coming into Ladakh will receive free transport and accommodations as before, and the Ladakhi envoy will, in turn, receive the same facilities in Lhasa. The Ladakhis take an oath before God that they will not intrigue or create new troubles in Tibetan territory. We have agreed, with God as witness, that Shri Maharaja Sahib and the Lama Guru of Lhasa will live together as members of the same household. We have written the above on the second of Assura, Sambhat 1899 (September 17, 1842)."
Eight years earlier, in 1834, the Dogra Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu, a vassal of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, had sent a force of 5,000 men under the command of his Sikh general, Zorawar Singh Kahluria, the Wazir of Kishtwar, to occupy Ladakh. The Dogras withdrew after receiving a nominal tribute but established a garrison in Kargil. In winter of 1834-35, the Ladakhis outflanked the Dogras and wiped out their garrison. The Dogras retreated but the Ladakhis failed to take advantage of this success. In the following year, the Ladakhis were routed; the Dogras took Leh, levied a war indemnity, strengthened the garrison and appointed a representative. The Dogra occupation of the Himalayan kingdom gave them a monopoly over Leh's flourishing entrepot frequented by merchants from Tibet, Sinkiang (Xinjiang) and Kashmir besides control over the lucrative pashmina trade.
In 1839, Dogra commander Zorawar Singh Kahluria defeated Balti forces in battles at Wanko Pass and Thano Kun plains, clearing his path for invasion of the Skardu valley. He seized Skardu Fort on behalf of the Dogra Kingdom based in Jammu.
In 1841, Baltis, under the leadership of Raja Ahmed Shah, soon also rose in rebellion against the Dogras, and so Maharaja Gulab Singh dispatched his commander Wazir Lakhpat to recapture Skardu. The Raja of the Baltis was forced to pay an annual tribute to the Dogra Maharaja in Jammu, while the fort's provisions were provided for by the Balti Raja in 1841. The present-day battalion of the 4th J&K Rifles, then commanded by Gen Zorawar Singh, captured the Mantalai standard, the flag of the Chinese Imperial Army in a battle in Tibet. It is still in possession of the J&K Rifles. Although Zorawar Singh's expedition was defeated at Minstar (or Missar) and Singh was killed, Raja Gulab Singh sent reinforcements under the command of his nephew Jawahir Singh and a subsequent battle near Leh in 1842 led to a decisive Tibetan defeat. Ladhak was annexed to the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, and The Namgyal family was given the jagir of Stok Kangri in the Zanskar range, which they held till 1947.
Views expressed are personal