. The Himalayan ranges form a natural frontier between India and China. These high peaks sheltered many principalities like Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet. Among these Tibet is the most significant for the protection of India’s frontier. Known as the ‘Hermit Kingdom’, Tibet is a landlocked country encircled by a chain of mountains with average height of 10,000 feet above the sea level. With meagre economic resources, its people loved isolation and used the Chinese protection granted in 1728 as a means to ward off foreign dangers. The Chinese suzerainty over Tibet was nominal, and in practice it was never recognized in the nineteenth century. Having no threat from Tibet, a state which had given up war-like activities, and China being militarily weak the British interest in Tibet, the backyard of China, was purely commercial to begin with. Warren Hastings showed keen commercial interest in the region and sent two missions, one in 1774 and another in 1783. But the isolationist and suspicious Dalai Lama, the ruler declined the offer of establishing trade relations with the British East India Company.
Inevitably but gradually the British interest in Tibet increased. Among many factors accountable for this increase in interest, we may mention the following as the most significant ones:
- In view of the declining power of China, and scramble among the foreign powers to divide it into spheres of influence, Tibet assumed great strategic importance particularly for the British and the Russians.
- After the extension of British influence over Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim, the boundaries of British India and Tibet came very close to the each other.
- When the Russian advance reached Pamirs, it posed a threat to the security of India from the northern side.
- Lastly, during the nineteenth century British interest in tea and shawl wool considerably increased. There was a tremendous pressure of the traders on the government to develop regular traffic with Tibet through Bhutan.
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